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.
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.
Marks on the keel indicating where frames
should be placed.
Photos: courtesy of the Texas Historical Commission.