“Tavern” by the Saltpan: New England Seafarers and the Politics of Punch on La Tortuga Island, Venezuela, 1682–1781

  • Konrad A. Antczak


New England seafarers from small merchant ships visited the natural saltpans of the Venezuelan island of La Tortuga from the late seventeenth century up until 1781. The liminal space of the island set the stage for the creation of an improvised “tavern” where the communalism of shipboard life was suddenly changed to more markedly vertical relations. Drawing from archaeological excavations and original documentary sources it is argued that, while on land, captains no longer worked alongside their crews who now labored extracting salt. With leisure time available to them, punch drinking offered captains a means of discursive practice through the manipulation of fashionable material culture and an opportunity to negotiate their social position among peers. When given to the crew, punch served as a labor incentive and a way of obfuscating the sudden change in customary captain-crew relations while on the island.


Punch bowls Drinking Seafarers Caribbean salt exploitation 



I would like to thank Andrzej Antczak, Marlena Antczak, Frederick Smith, Marley Brown, Neil Norman, Mary Beaudry, Steven Pendery, Alasdair Brooks, Daniel Bailey, David Barker, Jonathan R. Walz, Robert Vander Poppen, S. Ashley Kistler, Patrick Johnson, and Andy Beaupré for revising and offering valuable comments on various drafts of this paper. My warmest thanks go to Oliver Antczak, Reinaldo Suhr, Leonard Fehr, Ali Kohler, Rafael Strubiher, and Carlos Rivero for their invaluable help and companionship in the field. My gratitude goes to José Miguel Pérez Gómez, Karel Bentata and Alberto Boscari for their logistical and financial support in various fieldwork campaigns. A special thanks to John Austin for sharing his knowledge on English ceramics and providing much insight in their analysis. I want to acknowledge the Instituto del Patrimonio Cultural for their authorization to carry out the fieldwork.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of AnthropologyThe College of William and MaryWilliamsburgUSA

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