The Tragic and Fascinating History of America's Child Warriors

Nineteenth century leather buckets, used for transporting gunpowder from ship magazines to the guns. International Military Antiques

39. Sometimes It Is Bad to be Big

Fighting ships are exceptionally confined places with crammed spaces. Even more so in the wooden ships of centuries past. Those tasked with rushing gunpowder from the Powder Room to the waiting guns had to climb up and down narrow stairs. They also had to run through tight and low corridors full of all kinds of projections for sailors to bump their heads into and knock themselves out.

Being big in such small confines was a liability. An average-sized adult would have a difficult time sprinting back and forth through such limited spaces. A child, by contrast, could do so far more easily. So children, known as powder monkeys, were tasked with rushing gunpowder from ship magazines to the cannons.

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