What occupation would a "sayler" or "sailer" be in 1717 New England? [closed]

+5 votes

There is an Administration Bond for a probate, signed on 14 Jun 1717, by Thomas Mason, son of Thomas and Abigail Mason, apparently deceased closely enough in time to have a joint probate.  Thomas died intestate and this is the only document surviving in his online probate file: 

 Essex County, MA: Probate File Papers, 1638-1881, #17976 (on AmericanAncestors.org)

Thomas, the son, is described as a "sayler," in this document.  Since his sureties had land-bound occupations (a cooper and a yeoman), I'm hoping this means he made sails, not that he used them as what we would call a "sailor."  

The term I've seen in contemporary documents for someone who sailed on a boat/ship is "mariner."  Googling for a definition hasn't helped, since it turned up only a type of boat and the name, Sayler, plus the information that it can be an alternative spelling of "sailor" (which, given the vagaries of 17th/18th-century spelling, I'd already guessed).

Does anyone happen to know whether sail makers were once called "sailers"?  (Saddle makers are, even today, called "saddlers".....)


WikiTree profile: Thomas Mason
closed with the note: My question was answered, not as I wished, but as I needed. Thank you.
in The Tree House by Susan Anderson G2G6 Mach 7 (74.3k points)
closed by Susan Anderson
My two cents, having grown up in this area:

A sailor is a sailor-- a mariner. The y-spelling is typical for that era, and doesn't mean anything.

A specialized trade like a sailmaker or a boatbuilder would be called something more specific, like the "shipwright" example below. Fisherman generally stayed local. Whereas a sailor could in theory have worked internationally, as crew on a merchant ship, but more likely coastwise.

If he's not called something specific, to me that implies he was an crew/hand (employee) for somebody else-- not a captain or independent businessman. That can change over time though, so keep looking for your trove of records!

You might call the Essex Shipbuilding Museum (Essex, Mass) or the Peabody Essex Museum (Salem, Mass) and see if you can find a nice person on the phone who begs to differ-- or even better, knows the family. There are a lot of surviving records from the north shore of Massachusetts.

Good luck!
Thank you, Isaac.  I think what had me a bit perplexed was that I've seen "mariner" quite frequently as a job description, for both ships' officers and their crew, while this was the first time I'd run into "sailor."

1 Answer

+8 votes
Best answer
I'm fairly certain it means he was a mariner. The term has been in use since 1577. The occupations of his sureties would have little bearing. They are likely to be relatives (possibly through marriage) or family friends of long standing.
by Deb Durham G2G Astronaut (1.0m points)
selected by Susan Anderson
Thank you, Deb.

His father was a captain, master in the West Indies trade. I was hoping he'd settled into a nice little business, which would leave a trail of paper and legal proceedings.  Ah, well....
Try crew lists. Also if he ever took any qualifications there should be a paper trail. There should be a master’s certificate for the father and some record of which ships he captained. Check those out. You may find that the son sailed with him.
This suggests he was a fisherman but confusingly there is another Thomas Mason , mariner mentioned

" On 5 Nov. 1720/1 (sic), John Beckit jr of Salem, shipwright, and Susannah Becket his wife, one of the daughters of Thomas Mason, late of Salem, fisherman, and Abigail his wife, sold their share in the estate of Thomas and Abigail to Thomas Mason of Salem, mariner (Essex Co. Deeds 37:160"

There are a couple of other references that might help  (Not within my 'expertise' but suspect anything to do with the Salem 'witches' needs careful investigation ) http://www.frostandgilchrist.com/getperson.php?personID=I35310&tree=frostinaz01
Thank you both very much.

Lynda, where would I look to find a master's certificate and crew lists? I hadn't even realized those might be available online.  All is not lost!

Helen, Thomas and Abigail are the deceased couple whose son, Thomas, took out the bond.  My guess is that the Thomas Mason to whom they sold their share was either Susannah's half-brother, Thomas (who took out the Bond - and profound appreciation for finding this verification that he was indeed a sayler of the ocean blue) or her grandfather, Thomas Mason, yet another captain in the family, who still had a number of years to live in 1721. (There are far too many Thomases in this family! I believe I may nominate middle names as my favorite innovation.)

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