Code marks
Since many carpenters were illiterate but could read individual letters and Roman numerals, simple codes were occasionally carved into timbers to facilitate construction. The Belle had more than its share of such labels. Each of the floor timbers was marked, indicating its position forward (avant) or aft (derrière) of the "master frame," a heavy set of cross timbers lying amidships. Each set of timbers advancing up the sides of the ship was also numbered with its position and whether it was on the port (bâbord) or starboard (tribord) side. Lastly, the keel was marked to indicate where builders should position each frame set. The number of marks on the Belle's timbers represents a considerable investment of time given both the rapid pace of construction and the fact that these marks would lie hidden from view. We can probably attribute such an investment to nothing more than dogged professionalism on the part of the ship's master carpenter, Honoré Mallet.

Port 1 aft These marks indicate that this timber was the first frame (indicated by the Roman numeral "I") on the port side (shown by the "B," for bâbord, the French word for port) that is aft (revealed by the reversed "B") of the master frame.


Keel marks Marks on the keel indicating where frames should be placed.

Photos: courtesy of the Texas Historical Commission.