Tattoos...the little-discussed part of Maritime social history


In the new issue of Common Place, an online journal of historic articles sponsored by the American Antiquarian Society, there’s a great review of a new book published through the Independent Seaport Museum, “Skin and Bones: Tattoos in the Life of the American Sailor.” The review opens with a quote that caught by ever-Chesapeake-interested-eye, an account written by a crewmember of the USS Monitor during a swim on the coast of Tidewater Virginia:

“…I wish you could see the bodys of some of these old sailors: they are regular Picture Books. [They] have India Ink pricked all over their body. One has a Snake coiled around his leg, some have splendid done pieces of Coats of Arms of states, American Flags, and most all have the Crusifiction of Christ on some part of their Body…”

It’s one of those perfect examples of how personal, intimate, and relatable history can be. How easily it can translate into our own world, and how little things have really changed over time. Change the vessel, and move it forward 150 years, and that same scene could be witnessed all over the Chesapeake. Probably with different tattoos, though.

Read the full review here: