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Scurvy Treatment Page Menu:    1      2      3

Scurvy Treatment During the Golden Age of Piracy

"...after being about four months in our passage from the Downs, after eating a hearty breakfast of salt beef, I found myself taken with a pain under my left breast, where I had formerly received a dangerous blow. From this time the sea scurvy increased upon me, as it had done upon many others, a good while before me; and I observed, they they soon took to their hammocks below, and became black in their armpits and hams [back of their thigh], their limbs being stiff and swelled, with read specks, and soon died; I therefore kept exercising in my duty, and went aloft as long as possible, and till forbidden by the officers, who found it troublesome to get me down with safety, as I frequently lost the use of my hands and feet, for a time, in the same manner as I had done when I received the above mentioned blow.
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I thus struggled with the disease, 'till it increased so that my armpits and hams grew black, but did not swell, and I pined away to a weak, helpless condition; with my teeth all loose, and my upper and lower gums swelled and clotted together like a jelly, and they bled to that degree, that I was obliged to lie with my mouth hanging over the side of my hammock, to let the blood run out, and keep it from clotting so as to choak me..." (William Hutchinson, A Treatise on Practical Seamanship, p. 278)

One of the greatest dangers to sailors during the Golden Age of Piracy was scurvy. As Stephen R. Bown notes in his book Scurvy: How a Surgeon, a Mariner, and a Gentleman Solved the Greatest Medieval Mystery of the Age of Sail: "Historians have conservatively estimated that more than two million sailors perished from scurvy during the age of sail.” (p. 3) He also says, "Shipowners and governments counted on a 50 percent death rate for sailors from scurvy on any major voyage.” (p. 34)

Understanding Scurvy

Put simply, Scurvy occurs when there is a lack of ascorbic acid (or Vitamin C) in the human body. Our metabolism requires ascorbic acid to produce collagen, a protein that binds cells together.

Scurvy was probably not a threat to most pirates, however, as they tended to remain close to land

Period works are becoming ever easier to get as time goes on. We are all waiting for the University of Michigan, John Woodall
John Woodall, the surgions mate author
which is digitizing their massive collection, to finally reach the surgions mate. (They do have a copy. I checked. They wouldn't let me see it, though.) While I am not willing to give away PDFs of resources I have procured, I am very willing to lead you right to the doorway of getting your own copy,

Be forewarned that period books can have all sorts of odd spelling, punctuation, run-on sentences, paragraphs that run for pages, things that look like an 'f' for an 's', 'vv' for 'w', 'i's for 'j's 'u's for 'v's and vice-versa and so on. In fact, I wrote a whole web page about the bizarre format of period documents called A Guide for Writing in Fyne 17th/18th c. Style. It will give you a humorous understanding of what it can take to read some period documents. Note that as you read along and get used to each particular author's writing peccidillos, their book will begin to make more sense and you will find yourself understanding the text better. (This is except for John Woodall's book, which I struggled mightily with from beginning to end. His is the one I based that writing guide upon. On two facing pages he actually spelled the word 'blood' three different ways. I am not kidding.)

Two Easy Ways to Obtain 17th/18th Century References