To commemorate the 300th anniversary of the Maritime Pilotage Service in Dragør, Gunvor Petersen* published a path-breaking work based on hitherto unpublished archive material. Dragør Lodseri 1684-1984 recounts the story of the development of one of Denmark’s first royally appointed pilotage services in the Sound. We learn of its ups and downs in war and peace, its relations to the naval authorities, to the town of Dragør, and to other pilotage services, and we learn of the individual pilots who distinguished themselves for good or ill. Petersen also lists in numerical order the 253 pilots who were employed, along with details of their years of service.
In incorporating the list of pilots into the maritime history database being developed at the Local Archive in Dragør, I was given the task, as a public history volunteer, of checking each name against the archive’s internal database containing parish and other records from the 1600s onwards. With only a few hours a week at the most at my disposal, this took me many years, giving me much time for reflection.
A summer visit to Denmark’s Maritime Pilot Museum, based in the old pilot station from 1823, enabled me to see the more practical side of the work of pilots. One of the displays mentioned that the term lods (Danish for maritime pilot) was first documented in King Frederik II’s Sea Law of 1561 which inspired me to research pilotage in Dragør in the 1560s. With its proximity to the dangerously shallow waters of the Drogden Channel in the Sound, fishermen from the hamlet presumably earned a little extra guiding the heavily laden or armed ships through the channel.
Among others, the pilots’ financial records afford us a glimpse of the commercial ships from distant shores, foreign warships and royalty that these men piloted safely through the Sound. After the abolition of the Sound Dues in 1857, the only records of ships passing through the Sound were those contained in the archives of the Dragør pilots and those of their colleagues in Elsinore and Copenhagen.
While making the list, I became aware of the recurring names of women – the mothers, sisters, wives and daughters of pilots. Especially in the 18th and 19th centuries, many of the pilots were closely related. In a few cases, it was possible to find several generations who worked as pilots. In the winter of 1740/41, the pilots petitioned the king to permit their wives to weave products for the Danish Navy. However, due to long-term complaints from the Copenhagen Weavers’ Guild about unfair competition from especially Dragør weavers who wove to order for clients in Copenhagen, on the 10th April 1741 the king ordained that the pilots’ wives were permitted to sell their woven goods, but as in the case of the sailors’ wives from Dragør, only on condition that these were not woven to order.** Census records generally show the pilots’ wives as weavers either before marriage or after they became widows. The question is if these women stopped weaving commercially once they married, or the census collector did not deem it necessary to record this.
The generations of pilots’ families brought to mind Ricouer’s observation in Time and Narrative, that the succession of generations was a bridge that historians used between historical time – the lived life of people, and cosmic time.*** Historians such as Theodore Momsen, Ronald Symes and Lewis Namier worked with the concept of generations using what today we would call prosopography as a method. According to its Wikipedia entry, it is a method that attempts to understand relationships and patterns based on data collected from large groups of human beings, a methodology that is greatly assisted by digital applications today. Katharine Keats Rohan, one of modern prosopography’s pioneers observes that, in prosopography, one gathers together details of individuals to study them as members of a group.****
Once upon a time, a Local Archive such as ours was frequently visited by people searching their roots. Today, with parish and other records digitalized and accessible online, such visitors are few and far between. Yet, genealogy can provide us with the basis for new research on the development of professional groups like the maritime pilots of Dragør mentioned above.
Notes: *Published in 1984, it also contains 2 small articles, one on the Pilotage Service in 1984 by the chairman of the pilots, Jens Lydom Christensen and one by the then archivist Svend Jans on Dragør pilots in marine paintings. **Birthe Hjorth, Dragør i 1700-tallet- et maritimt bysamfund (2005), pp.131-135. ***Paul Ricoeur, Time and Narrative, vol. 3, pp. 209-226. **** Katharine Keats-Rohan, Biography, identity, names, in K. K-R (ed.) Prosopography Approaches and Applications (2007), p.141.