I have been at sea for most of my adult life, and I have heard sea stories told from the rocky shores of Scotland to the beaches of Australia. My favorites of these stories have got to be ones told of Davy Jones and his infamous locker. I have always known Davy Jones Locker as the bottom of the sea, and even referred to it a couple times in my first novel. But that’s not the only story told from bar stools and crows’ nests.
The most basic use of the term ‘Davy Jones’s Locker’ is the watery grave that swallows up the unfortunate sailors lost in shipwrecks and incidents at sea. The first known use of the term was recorded in Four Years Voyage of Captain George Roberts by Daniel Defoe in 1726 and refers to sailors being “sent to Davy Jones Locker.” Most stories since then simply refer to ‘him’ as the evil spirit of the sea. Some people have even referred the name ‘Jones’ to the biblical story of Jonah who was swallowed by the whale, and the name ‘Davy’ was a corruption of the West Indian word for ‘devil’. In the immensely popular movie series The Pirates of the Caribbean, Davy Jones is portrayed as the ghostly skipper of the Flying Dutchman, but this is nothing like the original stories and legends. This movie series is the only place where you will hear of these two stories coming together. Among the different stories, some depict him as the devil, while some say he is the evil god of the seas. In some tales, he is a murderer or captain of a ghost ship. So, where does the legend of Davy Jones really come from?
The Different Davy Jones stories
- Pub owner: In one of the stories, Davy Jones was the owner of a British pub and would get sailors intoxicated and lock them in his ale locker. He also locked their unconscious bodies in ships that were passing through the harbor. The story also tells us that his pub went bankrupt, which made him decide to become a pirate. He stole a ship from the harbor, and, supposedly, sailed the Atlantic Ocean, hijacking other ships and decapitating or keelhauling most of the crew from other ships. The surviving crew would be locked in the ship and the ship would be sunk. The story also tells of this pub owner selling his soul to the devil.
- Captain of the “Flying Dutchman”: In some stories, Davy Jones is the captain of the “Flying Dutchman.” The “Flying Dutchman” was supposedly a ghost ship that wandered the seas forever because it could not make port. The story goes that Jones hailed out to the sky on a trip from Holland to Batavia. Legend quotes him as saying, “God or Devil… I will sail around the Cape, even if it means sailing towards our last judgment.” Then the Devil took control of the ship, and, as a price, the ship had to sail the seas forever, with the dead crew working for eternity without saying a word ever again.
- ·The Jonah theory: In the Bible, Jonah became the “devil of the seas” when his crew found out that he was being punished by God for his disobedience. The crew cast him overboard. Some say that Davy Jones came from “Devil Jonah.” Sailors believed that any wicked sailor would “go to Davy Jones’ locker.”
- David Jones: There once was an actual pirate captain by the name of David Jones who sailed the seas around the 1630s. But, this pirate captain wasn’t that well-known and most historians do not think he could have gathered such worldwide fame.
- Satan: Some believe it is simply another name for Satan, made up by sailors.
- Books: Davy Jones is mentioned in a lot of books, but mostly only in passing phrases like, “going to Davy Jones” or “going to Davy Jones’ locker.” Almost every book about life on a pirate ship mentions this at least once. Moby Dick, for example, contains the phrase: “There was young Nat Swaine, once the bravest boat-header out of all Nantucket and the Vineyard; he joined the meeting, and never came to good. He got so frightened about his plaguey soul that he shrinked and sheered away from the whales, for fear of after-claps, in case he got stove and went to Davy Jones.”
Davy Jones and Calypso
From the Pirates of the Caribbean
In the days of myth and legend, the beautiful Calypso, daughter of Atlas, ruled the wine-dark seas, and all sailors everywhere both loved and feared her. But because she too had mortal blood, Calypso fell in love with a young sailor, named Davy Jones. And she rewarded that love by giving Davy Jones the sacred task of collecting all the poor souls who died at sea and ferrying them to the worlds beyond.
Now, because of that love, Davy Jones agreed to set foot on dry land once every ten years. And if this love was true to him, his task would be complete, and a new Captain of the Dutchman would be found.
But whenever Davy Jones came ashore, Calypso was nowhere to be found, for the seas are fickle and unpredictable, as was the powerful goddess who ruled that domain.
So, when the men of the sea – the Pirate Brethren – convened a great Conclave, Davy Jones plotted with them to tear the rule of the seas away from Calypso. With his help, the Brethren tricked the goddess and imprisoned her into the body of a mortal woman.
Soon Davy Jones’ grief and guilt at what he had done became so great, he ripped his own heart – a heart that had betrayed him – right out of his chest, and locked it away. He then returned to the seven seas; only now sailors everywhere would fear him to the death, for Davy Jones had turned fierce and cruel, with an insatiable taste for all things brutal.
But then an ambitious mortal, who himself wished to rule the seas, came into possession of the hidden beating heart of Davy Jones. And this mortal knew that he could use that heart to make Davy Jones do his bidding. Soon an ancient and horrible creature of the darkest deep – known as the Kraken – appeared upon those seas. And this terrible beast brought the master of the Flying Dutchman ever more souls onto his cursed ship, dead sailors forever impressed into servitude.
Now those Pirate Lords grew ever more fearful. But when they convened again, they only argued and fought among themselves, so afraid were they of Calypso’s anger at their treachery. But one of the brethren did not wait for agreement. Tricked by the goddess herself, he took all the tokens of their betrayal, the powerful items that had imprisoned Calypso…and he then undid the spell that bound her to mortal flesh. Now the goddess was free – and her wrath indeed became horrible to behold, and even worse to experience.
The enraged goddess Calypso gathered the waters of the ocean around herself in a giant whirlpool – a massive maelstrom – and a battle raged at the center of it. And it was in that very battle that Davy Jones’ heart was pierced and he died, finally free for all eternity. With his death, Davy Jones was welcomed back into the dark embrace of the seas; for Calypso in her own way still loved him. And his ship, the Flying Dutchman, received a new captain, and all was as it was meant to be.