Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Ship Rawlinson (May 1779 to March 1780)

This is a continuation of a series of blog posts on Captain George Cannon. The initial post contains a list of all posts on Captain Cannon.

Parents, Birth and Siblings:

Hugh Cannon, age 22, and Eleanor Addy, written “Ellinor” in their marriage record, age 18, were married on February 9, 1765 in Kirk German Parish in Peel, Isle of Man. Neither of them could write, as both signed their marriage record with an “x”. 15 months later, their first child, George Cannon, was christened on May 15, 1766.

Hugh and Nell had seven more children. John, born when George was two (christened on June 5, 1768), Hugh, born when George was five (christened July 7, 1771), Christian, born when George was ten (christened September 3, 1776), William, born when George was twelve (christened December 6, 1778), Ann, born when George was fifteen (christened September 2, 1781), Eleanor, born when George was eighteen (christened April 18, 1784) and Helen, born when George was twenty (christened in 1786).

Family tradition records that when George was in his early teens, he left his home in Peel to go to the north part of the Isle of Man because he was so jealous of his younger brother, Hugh, who was so very handsome and over whom his mother made such a fuss. [Letter from Georgius Y. Cannon to William W. Cannon, dated January 8, 1966, hereafter the “Georgius Cannon Letter”]

Voyage on the Ship Rawlinson:

If the foregoing story is correct, it may have been what compelled George to go to sea. On May 6, 1779, just before his 13th birthday, George Cannon is listed as 23rd in rank on the ship Rawlinson, sailing out of Liverpool, England, for Jamaica. He was likely the rank of a 'boy' on the ship. [Letter from Stephen D. Behrendt, of the School of History, Philosophy, Political Science & International Relations History Programme at the Victoria University of Wellington, to Dr. Davis, dated April 14, 2005, citing PRO, BT98/40, No. 56, Liverpool muster roll 1780; Family History Library, Film 870295, hereafter “Behrendt Letter”] However, George was probably a sailor on prior ships. Sailors started going to sea as young as age 8 and they usually spent the first few years in a coastal trade. For George, that might have meant around the Isle of Man, initially, and then perhaps over to and around England. Only then, would a sailor typically seek a ship for a longer voyage to the Caribbean. Maybe George left home earlier than his teens, or maybe it was leaving home that caused him to seek a longer voyage.

There were usually one to three ‘boys’ on a ship, between the ages of eight and fourteen. They usually started working for no wage, but their keep, and gradually had their wages increased to a progressively larger number of shillings per month, voyage to voyage, as they gained experience. Younger boys might be ‘cabin boys,’ serving the officers in the cabin in menial jobs such as cleaning the cabin, the knives, scraping the trenchers, fetching water, etc. As they got older and more experienced, they might be ‘common ship boys,’ learning on the job on deck, or perhaps even going aloft, being taught by their shipmates and gradually learning the craft of a seaman. When in foreign ports, the boys typically stayed on the ship as watchmen while the other sailors went on shore. Boys were often the objects of horseplay and cruelty from the officers and other sailors. The majority of ‘boys’ became ‘men’ or ‘seamen’ in their late teens. [Marcus Rediker, The Slave Ship: A Human History (Viking Penguin, New York: 2007), pp. 20-21, 61; Davis, Ralph, The Rise of the English Shipping Industry In the 17th and 18th Centuries (Redwood Press Limited, London: 1962), p. 113; Peter Earle, Sailors: English Merchant Seamen 1650-1775 (Methuan, London: 1998), pp. 25, 44, 49, 214, n. 7]

This was a very harsh and difficult upbringing for George in a very earthy environment. After over ten months, the ship Rawlinson returned to Liverpool from Jamaica, likely with a cargo consisting, at least in part, of sugar and rum, on March 20, 1780.

If family tradition is correct, George may have served a number of voyages, before returning home three or four years later. Perhaps after this voyage, or maybe even a later voyage, George returned to the family farm. There he came to the fence and saw his mother working in the garden, and said to her, “Be thee Nell Addy? I be thy son George.” [Georgius Cannon Letter]

George’s experience at sea likely helped him get nominated to enter the Peel Mathematical School, on April 4, 1781.

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