Alternative Name: Devil Jonah, Deva, Davy or Taffy
If you ask most people today who the figure of Davy Jones is, most are likely to comment on him being a character in Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean movie “Deadmen tell no Tales.” Or they might bring up the character from the SpongeBob SquarePants cartoon.
At some point, many hear about someone being sent to “Davy Jones’ Locker” as a euphemism for sending them to the bottom of the sea and death by drowning. Given this, many have an idea of Davy Jones as being some sort of demon or evil spirit who roams the seas, claiming all those unlucky to be lost at sea and drown.
We know that the mention of Davy Jones’ Locker became popular during the 1800s among sailors and would continue to be a part of the broader cultural knowledge of sea lore.
The earliest mention we have of Davy Jones is in Daniel Defoe’s 1726 book “The Four Years Voyages of Capt. George Roberts” where he mentions laying someone to rest in David Jones’ Locker. The next mention we have of Davy Jones and cementing him with a negative connotation is in the 1751 publication “The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle” by Tobias Smollett.
As to the historical figure of Davy Jones? That part is unclear and there have been a few theories put forward. There was a David Jones who was a pirate on the Indian Ocean during the 1630s, but scholars respond back that this David Jones wasn’t fearsome enough to be worthy of the notoriety. Another source suggests that Davy Jones could have been a Duffer Jones, a nearsighted sailor who frequently found himself falling overboard. There is also a British song written in 1594 called “Jone’s Ale is Newe.” The lyrics of the song tell of a pub owner who would throw drunk sailors into his ale locker and then dump them on any passing ship. The pub owner becomes a pirate after he goes bankrupt, stealing a ship and sailing across the Atlantic Ocean where he would capture other ships and their crew. Most captive crew members would be decapitated while others were locked down below before sinking the ship.
The Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue by Francis Grose, written in 1785 gives a definition of “David Jones. The devil, the spirit of the sea; called Necken (Nixie) or Draugr in the northern countries, such as Norway, Denmark, and Sweden.”
Crossing The Equator – There are nautical traditions held as an initiation ceremony for sailors crossing the Equatorial line for the first time. Those who had done it before are called shellbacks or the Sons of Neptune. The oldest shell back is called King Neptune and the next oldest is his assistant and called Davy Jones.
Saint David – Another suggestion is that Welsh sailors would call upon Saint David or Dewi for protection from danger. Incidentally, Jones is a common Welsh surname.
Daeva – This is an evil spirit that loves to cause harm and destruction in Persian mythology.
Duppy – This is a West Indian name for an evil or malevolent ghost.
God Or Devil?
There are suggestions that Davy Jones is either a dark god of the sea or the devil. They point towards the name Davy and Devil. Other names to call Davy Jones are Deva, Davy, or Taffy, the thief of the evil spirit.
A few apocryphal sources go so far as to suggest that Jones is a corruption of Jonah, as in the biblical prophet who was swallowed by a whale. Thus, Devil Jonah is a dark angel or devil of the sea. In this respect, a particularly evil or bad sailor would go to Davy Jone’s Locker, the bottom of the sea. Whereas those sailors who were good or holy would go to the Fiddler’s Green, a sailor’s paradise and heaven in British folklore.
This one will vary. In general, Davy Jones has been accepted as some sort of fiend, devil, or evil spirit that roams the seven seas claiming the souls of unlucky sailors to drown at sea and all ships lost at sea.
In Tobias Smollett’s book “The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle,” Davy Jones is described as having saucer eyes, three rows of teeth, horns, a tail, and blue smoke that come from his nose.
American author Washington Irving mentions Davy Jones in his 1824 book as arriving by storm, during the night.
It should come as no surprise that Davy Jones is also mentioned in Herman Melville’s novel “Moby Dick.” Robert Louis Stevenson’s 1883 novel “Treasure Island” sees frequent mention of Davy Jones and he is mentioned in J.M. Barrie’s novel “Peter Pan” where Captain Hook sings about sending someone down to Davy Jones by way of walking the plank. Just about any story taking place at sea seems to mention Davy Jones at some point.
“Hitting The High Seas”
An episode of the 1960s The Monkees t.v. series. In this episode, the band member Davy Jones plays the character of the same name, claiming to be the grandson of the original Davy Jones while his bandmates are all held hostage.
This cartoon series would feature Davy Jones in several episodes and would have an actual gym locker to hold souls. One episode shows one of the Monkee’s band members Davy Jones and gym socks would be kept in there.
Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean
I would say the current description of Davy Jones that many are familiar with and that strongly influences their mental image comes from his introduction in the second and third movies, Dead Man’s Chest and At World’s End. The character also appears again in a cameo at the end of Dead Men Tell No Tales.
The movie version of Davy Jones looks like a cross between a human and an octopus with numerous tentacles coming from his face like a beard and has a crab-like claw for his left arm and a long tentacle on his right hand to replace an index finger. And the leg of a crab for his right leg, much like a pegleg.
This version of Davy Jones connects him to the ghost ship, The Flying Dutchman. In life, he was a Scottish captain who falls in love with the sea goddess Calypso. The goddess entrusts Davy Jones with ferrying the souls of those who’ve died at sea to the next world. To aid him, Davy Jones is given the ship, The Flying Dutchman. They promised to meet again in ten years and when he kept his part and Calypso failed to appear, Davy Jones swore vengeance on her. It is in failing to perform his duties that Davy Jones and his crew began transforming into monstrous people merged with aquatic animals. Davy Jones also comes to command the Kraken.