A Widows' Man is a fictitious seaman kept on the books of British ships in the Georgian era for accounting purposes. The wages of these men were paid to the widows of seamen who were killed, as such widows were often left destitute by the death of their husband.
The number of widows' men on a ship was proportional to the ship's size. A 1st rate might have as many as eighteen, while a 6th rate might have only three. The ratio was reduced by Admiralty order on Oct 25, 1790.