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Date Posted: 00:10:53 11/03/16 Thu
Author: Albert Parker
Subject: Re: "Post topping"
In reply to: carl brechler 's message, "Re: "Post topping"" on 00:14:21 11/01/16 Tue

>Hi,
>
>A couple of questions, were these British or colonial
>ships and, if colonial, which part of the colonies.
>What type of ships were they, i.e. were they (for lack
>of contemporary terms) intercontinental traders,
>fishing vessels, coastal traders, traders between the
>North American continent and the Caribbean, whalers,
>etc.?
>
>Are you sure that it is a nautical term or maybe a
>borrowed term to describe an activity that Captain
>Lewis was not familiar with?
>
The ships were French, two royal navy 46-gun two-deckers of 1,050 tons displacement (Argonaute, Parfait) and a privateer (the two-deckers on private account). The description of their activities was by the captain of a merchantman they had captured; he was a prisoner on board Parfait. The location had been a rendezvous for French fishermen since 1620. The forest at the shore had been cleared to create open fields for dryng cod, and there were floors over which canvas and wood-fram shelters could be erected for the summer, but there does not appear to have been any other infrastructure. The ships involved had been sent out from Brest with two real ships of the line (64's Mars and St. Michel) and a frigate (Renommée) to carry supplies to and break the blockade of Louisbourg, but they were too late, found that the British had a superior squadron there, and just cruised the Grand Bank in a fog. The 46's and privateer had been separated from the 64's in a storm.

Since the original post, I have speculated that maybe they were doing what is in the dictionaries (and I have seen referred to elsewhere) as "boot-topping": cleaning the hull a short distance below the waterline and coating it with something (tallow, a mixture) that was supposed to ward off barnacles and seaweed. This was done to the upper parts of what was normally below the waterline when a full cleaning was not possible because of lack of time or a careenage. Unless they had to look far and wide for firewood, it shouldn't have taken three weeks to wood and water, but boot-topping, which would require lightening the ships and shifting cargo to heel them over, might have added a couple weeks' work.

It's always possible that a newspaper editor misread bad handwriting, but "post" would be an odd misreading of "boot." The term was published in Benjamin Franklin's Pennsylvania Gazette, supposedly from a letter by the merchant captain to "a gentleman" of Philadelphia.

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