The Ship’s Boy

The Ship’s Boy

In this week’s #TallShipTuesday, Providence’s very own ship’s boy took the time to introduce you all to this very important role. The ship’s boy has quite a few duties on a ship. This can be anything from running meals to the captain to taking care of livestock. It can also be running gunpowder to the gunners, and helping to cook in the galley. They even were responsible for the routine maintenance of the ship.

When you think of the Continental navy you may think of gruffy and strong men, but truth be told some ships carried women and children serving as ships boys. Most ships boys came from poor families, were runaways, or orphans. If they had a position aboard then that also meant they would have a place to eat and sleep! Some came from wealthier families and were sent into the service to be placed under the supervision of an officer.

PW4966; Cabin boy’s Royal Navy costume from 1799 by Thomas Rowlandson

The name of the rank was also referred to as “cabin boy” or “powder monkey.” This all depended on where they focused their roles on the ship. The rank of “ship’s boy” itself did not have anything to do with the age of the sailor. Instead, it was based on their experience at sea. This means that most were between 14 and 17 years old. They were more inexperienced and equivalent to a landsman position in many ways, and their pay reflects this. They made less than $10 per month at most.

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