Comment: 1774. We got ourselves a Navy. Now lets get some ships!

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1774. We got ourselves a Navy. Now lets get some ships!

By Commander Tyrone G. Martin, US Navy, Retired

1774. [ By law we now have a Navy. ] ... When the U. S. Navy was established in 1794, there were no ships, no crews, and, until 1798, by which time there were both, only an overworked Secretary of War who oversaw the administration of both the Army and Navy. To simplify the problem of determining the amount of food needed for the ships’ crews and its cost, and borrowing from the British Admiralty, it was decided to legislate a specific diet to be served each man each day of the week, regardless of the size of the ship or where she was serving. Commanding officers were expected to adhere to the “menu” and not to deviate from it without documenting the reason. Substitutes for foodstuffs found to be unfit were, of course, permitted. Captains, too, were authorized to buy fresh foods when they were in port, as long as they stayed within monetary allowances, but without refrigeration such items would not be in the diet for long. As originally provided, the legislated “menu,” which was valued at twenty-eight cents per ration per day, was as follows:

  • Every day: 1 lb. hard bread, and 1/2 pt. “spirits” or 1 quart beer.
  • Sunday: 1 1/2 lbs. salt beef, and 1/2 pt. rice.
  • Monday: 1 lb. salt pork, 1/2 pt. peas or beans, and 1/4 lb. cheese.
  • Tuesday: 1 1/2 lbs. salt beef and 1 lb. potatoes or turnips.
  • Wednesday: 1/2 pt. rice, 1/4 lb. cheese, and 2 oz. butter or molasses or 6 oz. of oil.
  • Thursday: 1 lb. salt pork and 1/2 pt. peas or beans.
  • Friday: 1 lb. salt fish, 1 lb. potatoes or turnips, and 2 oz. of butter or molasses or 6 oz. of oil.
  • Saturday: 1 lb. salt pork, 1/2 pt. peas or beans, and 1/4 lb. cheese.

As unsavory as this diet may seem to you today, in terms of those times, it probably was much better than most of the men would have been able to provide for themselves ashore, and at more than three thousand calories a day furnished the nourishment needed to sustain men engaged in very hard labor.

Disclaimer: Mark Twain (1835-1910-To be continued) is unlicensed. His river pilot's license went delinquent in 1862. Caution advised. Daily Paul