Saturday, August 13, 2011
Sailor Mouth Saturday: Jewel
While jewels are a favorite find of any pirate or privateer, the vast majority of these gentlemen (or ladies) of fortune never squirreled them away in holes in the ground. Or any other place for that matter. While people still search swamp and bayou for Blackbeard’s or Laffite’s treasures, the only freebooter who actually buried loot was William Kidd. And his was promptly dug up by the then Governor of New York one week later.
Loose, cut jewels were not uncommon cargo aboard ships of various types but they were generally carried in small boxes or pouches, not the overflowing caskets one sees in movies and on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland. Very often these jewels were the private possessions of someone aboard, be they captain, crewman or passenger. Sometimes they were grouped in sets of even numbers and put in settings much like buttons that could be easily popped off by a jeweler. Such groups were generally known as a brace until the early 20th century. Sometimes they were referred to as studs. If you have ever seen the giddily delectable 1970s movie of Dumas’ The Three Musketeers with Oliver Reed as the best Athos ever, you will remember the diamond studs sent to the Duke of Buckingham by the Queen of France. Hilarity and action ensued.
Aboard ship, jewel blocks were not only handy but tended to be an indicator of intent. On a ship of brig size or larger, these blocks were attacked to eye bolts on the yards that would hold studding sails. The blocks and bolts were used to haul these particular sails as far out onto their yards as possible. Since studding sails rely on fairly slender yards, men cannot go out on them to facilitate this process. When jewel blocks were removed, it was a sign that the ship planned to spend time in port. When they were set, she was getting ready to put to sea.
A jewel, in the past, was the word for the place where a wooden bridge touches land. It was also the pivot of a watch wheel.
Most interesting to those of us with piratical leanings, a Norman law in England known as Jocalia referred to the loop hole which exempted gold, silver and jewels – if they were already worked – from smuggling laws. In other words, if a smuggler had a piece of plate or a cut gem among his goods, they were by law his and could not be confiscated. The Jocalia may have been adopted to favor Norman raiding of Anglo-Saxon treasure, but it stuck around until well into the 18th century. It was doubtless a boon to pirates and smugglers alike.
Happy Saturday, Brethren. I’m off to check on my trim and do a little touch up. Oh, and hoist a mug of grog while I’m at it.
Header: Clipper Ship Golden State, artist unknown, with studding sails set