Life at Sea: Seafaring in the Anglo-American Maritime World, 1600-1900

From naval vessels to pirate ships, explore lives lived on the high seas during the Age of Sail.

Explore three centuries of life at sea through the individual histories of ships’ crews during the Age of Sail and into the era of steam.

This exciting resource brings together unique primary sources drawn from world-class maritime archives and heritage collections. Reflecting current trends in Maritime History, this resource takes a social-cultural approach, focusing on the individual experiences and personal narratives of seafarers and their lives lived on the high seas.

A broad range of sources – from journals and memoirs to ships’ logs and court records offers a unique opportunity to research the lives of seafarers. From ordinary seamen and ships’ captains serving on merchant and naval vessels, to whalers and pirates, this resource offers exciting new insights into the Anglo-American maritime world 1600-1900.

Key Data


  • Depositions in the Admiralty Courts Martial Records, providing incredible insight into everyday life aboard British naval vessels, including recorded conversations between sailors and testimonies - a rare glimpse into daily life in the lower decks
  • The complete High Court of Admiralty Examinations of Pirates, a key source for studying the Golden Age of Piracy
  • A selection of personal journals including those of Edward Barlow and ship’s surgeon Edward Cree which feature extraordinary illustrations depicting life at sea
  • Objects from the National Maritime Museum and Mystic Seaport, giving an insight into the kinds of artefacts typically found in a sailor's and master's sea chest
  • Rare examples of correspondence from ordinary seamen, including letters from sailors involved in the Nore Mutiny (1797)
  • The logbook from the USS Constitution, aka Old Ironsides, for the years 1811-13
  • A selection of Ships’ Musters, which includes the Ship’s Muster from HMS Victory for the year of the Battle of Trafalgar, 1805
  • Records of the American Seamen’s Friend Society comprising reports and correspondence from the society, which was established to improve the social and moral welfare of seamen

Material types

  • Artwork and objects
  • Correspondence
  • Court records
  • Diaries and journals
  • Medical journals
  • Memoirs
  • Ship’s logs
  • Ship’s musters
  • Petitions

Key themes

  • Discipline, punishment, and mutiny
  • Health and welfare
  • Life ashore
  • Maritime trade
  • Piracy and privateering
  • Shipwrecks and disasters
  • Warfare
  • Whaling

Source Archives

  • Massachusetts Historical Society
  • Mystic Seaport Museum
  • The National Archives, UK
  • National Maritime Museum, Greenwich

Editorial Board

  • Dr Richard Blakemore, University of Reading
  • Professor Hester Blum, Pennsylvania State University
  • Dr James Davey, University of Exeter
  • Professor Cheryl Fury, University of New Brunswick, Saint John
  • Professor Paul Gilje, University of Oklahoma
  • Dr Elin Jones, University of Exeter

Supporting Material