What is this?
Pay Allotment for Jesse Cole
When is it from?
November 17, 1800
Why is it Important?
Although this faded, tattered paper looks pretty unremarkable, it tells us an important story. This is an allotment receipt, authorizing Boston Navy Agent Samuel Brown to pay one half of Constitution seaman Jesse Cole’s monthly wage to his wife Tabitha–eight dollars per month for ten months. On the back of the allotment form Tabitha “made her mark,” thereby ensuring that she would have a steady, if meager, income while her husband was away at sea. We can never know how Tabitha felt as she watched the ship and her husband glide out of sight into the gray waters of Massachusetts Bay, but this artifact speaks eloquently of the emotional and financial bonds that tied together a sailor and his wife on a cold November day in 1800.
For the families of sailors, the time their loved ones 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 might take in piecework or rent rooms to boarders to make ends meet; however, this was often not enough to cover expenses. Pay allotments, then, were a way to help sailors ease the burden of their absence, to provide a small but steady income until their return home.
A pre-printed form later filled in by hand, this allotment is in fair condition. Tattered edges, faded ink, crease lines, and overall discoloration of the paper speak to the age of the document, as well as how it was probably stored â€“ folded into a packet and kept on file by a naval agent for reference. The allotment bears the signature of Constitution‘s captain, Silas Talbot, and purser, James Dublois, as well as Cole’s wife, Tabitha, who made her mark on the reverse.
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