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  • Items from the NEHGS Manuscript Collection

    Mary F. Morgan

    Published Date : February 1984
    The article that follows is a description of a "Crossing the Line" ceremony in 1805, taken from the journal of a voyage from Boston to Lisbon, Madera and the East Indies on board the Ship Olive Branch kept by Joseph H. Pierce of Boston.

    March, 1805

    Tuesday, 26th. This day, the weather continues to be rainy and the atmosphere almost insufferably close and heavy the Wind fair but very light; by observation we were about up to the Equinoctial Line being in the latitude of 0.35 miles North. A message from the forward part of the Ship announced that "Neptune" would agreeably to an ancient custom pay the Ship a visit in the afternoon, accordingly at two CCPM a trumpet was heard over the lea bow enquiring for the Captain, who we were &; Capt. S. went upon deck…& immediately the hatches were secured, & the passengers as well as all the ships Company were fastened below the deck, excepting those of the crew who had before crossed the line, & were to assist Neptune in his exam -- after the usual questions had been put to them & he had answered them; the two passengers were c-- up and examined by Neptune, who was attended by his Barber in character; the passengers paid their fines which excused them from going thro' a part of the ceremony. Then one of the Ships boats was filled with salt water on the deck & the noviciates were brought from below, one at a time blind folded -- & seated across the boat on a temporary, moveable Seat: then Neptune examines particularly into their character, relates what he has heard & obliges them to make a full confession of all transgressions -- if he doubts as to the truth of what they advance -- the thumb screws were applied -- which were a couple of sticks placed one on each side the thumb -- & twisted close with a cord -- this cord is drawn closer & closer until the person under trial discovers to the satisfaction of Neptune all his intrigues & & -- -- then Neptune presents him with a long Trumpett, orders him to hail the line three times -- as "line Ahoi" -- & at the moment of the person's placing his mouth to the trumpet one of the "old ones" -- throws a pail of Salt Water down the bell part of the trumpet, which commonly fills his mouth & wets him all over, then the barber in order to Shave him -- with a "Rattler" or a thick Razor -- after which the Oath is administer'd by Neptune in the following manner -- each item of which is responded by the person under trial, with a promise to comply.

    Neptune's Oath

    1. You swear that you will never eat Brown Bread when you can get white.

    2. That you will never kiss the Maid when you can kiss the mistress, unless you like the maid best.

    3. That you will never throw anything Windward except Hot Water & Ashes.

    4. That should you ever become an officer, you will never treat your sailors worse than you would like to be treated yourself.

    5. That you will never suffer any person to pass the Equator on any vessell you nay be in, without serving them in the same manner you have now been served -- unless they have before crossed it.

    At the same moment the oath is finished the temporary seat is pulled from under him, & he falls backward into the water; (the boat being filled with salt water for the purpose) & on attempting to rise is thrown back again three times & then is allowed to rise & the bandage is taken off from his eyes, & he now becomes of the party & assists to serve others as he had been served: there were 21 souls on board our ship ten only of which bad crossed the line. after the whole have been initiated -- a general "ducking" match commences, & not even the Captain escapes, whether they have or have not crossed the line before. as I had been unwell several days before they had the complaisance to permit me to be a spectator to the whole scene, without wetting me or demanding any thing more than the customary fee -- which is one Gallon of rum if prompt pay -- but if not, then 2 Gallons.

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