Pay Allotment for Jesse Cole, November 11, 1800
Although this faded, tattered paper looks unremarkable, it tells us an important story. This is an allotment receipt, a pre-printed form authorizing Boston Navy Agent Samuel Brown to pay one half of USS Constitution seaman Jesse Cole’s monthly wage to his wife Tabitha – eight dollars per month for ten months. Tabitha, who was likely illiterate, “made her mark” with an “x” on the back of the allotment form, thereby ensuring that she would have a steady, if meager, income while her husband was away at sea. This allotment also bears the signature of Constitution‘s captain, Silas Talbot, and purser, James Deblois. It was probably stored folded into a packet and kept on file by a naval agent for reference.
This artifact speaks eloquently of the emotional and financial bonds that tied together a sailor and his wife in 1800. For families, the time sailors spent away from home presented both emotional and financial challenges. Although many sailors went to sea to earn a living and help provide for their families, their absence meant the loss of a steady income until they returned. With mouths to feed and households to keep, women would sometimes take in piecework or rent rooms to boarders to make ends meet; however, this was often not enough to cover all expenses. Pay allotments were a way to help sailors ease the burden of their absence and provide a small but steady income to their wives and families until their return home.