three-deckers More than simply a ship with three decks, the ship is fitted for carrying guns on three decks. The Indomitable is a seventy-four-gun two-decker ship; larger ships such as Nelson's first-rater H.M.S. Victory were three-deckers.
thew 1. A well-developed sinew or muscle. 2. Muscular power or strength.
tops, topmen The top is, appropriately, the top of the mast and the small platform there. The various tops are named for the mast on which they sit (foretop, maintop, etc.). Those who are stationed for duty in the tops are topmen.
touchstone A touchstone is a “smooth, fine-grained, black stone used to test the purity of gold or silver.” Melville employs the term figuratively for “any means of testing something or someone.” In his novel, Captain Vere serves as the test or standard against which one could measure man's essential nature.
transgressor of the Middle Ages During the Middle Ages, the Church took over many functions of government left unfulfilled by the unseated Roman emperors--collecting taxes, serving as hospitals, educating the wealthy of Europe. The largest landowner in all of Europe, the Church was at the same time independent from the state. As an independent entity, it claimed that civil law was subordinate to ecclesiastical law for anyone on Church property. Thus, a transgressor, or criminal, seeking refuge in a Church could not be apprehended by the civil authorities except by consent of the Church.
ursine Of, or characteristic of, bears or a bear.
U.S.S. Somers, the A brig-of-war in the U.S. Navy. In November of 1842 three men were arrested for plotting a mutiny aboard the Somers. Upon further investigation, a midshipman named Philip Spencer and other conspirators were tried by a summary court, found guilty, and hanged. Melville's cousin, Guert Gansevoort, served as Lieutenant aboard the brig then. The events aboard the Indomitable -- at least in as much as hatching the conspiracy -- seem closely to mirror those aboard the Somers.
usurp 1. To seize and hold (the power or rights of another, for example) by force and without legal authority. 2. To take over or occupy without right: usurp a neighbor's land.
Van Tromp, Maarten Tromp (1597-1653) was the Dutch naval officer sometimes referred to as the Father of Naval Tactics. He spent his long career fighting the British, French, and Spanish.
vestal princess In ancient Rome, the Vestal Virgins (or Princesses) were the six priestesses chosen to tend the sacred flame in the temple to Vesta; Goddess of Hearth and Home, she symbolized the eternity of Rome.