Discussion in 'Early Colonial Wars, Musketeers & Pirates' started by Bob J, Dec 23, 2011.
Now THAT is what I call successful.
When the government has to ask her permission to sail its own navy... Yeah I think she was doing something right!
Quite a rise to power for a woman who started out as a prostitute...
There was also another track to piracy.
Living and working conditions on ships of those days were poor and very dangerous. The food was terrible and the pay for ordinary seamen was low. The authority of the captain and ships officers was absolute. If they were also unjust, cruel and abusive, the sailors had no recourse except to either suffer under it or mutiny.
If they chose mutiny, they could never return home. Whenever a ship made port, the authorities expected the captain would still be aboard and in command. If he was absent along with all the officers, it was obvious the crew had taken the ship and they would be arrested. Mutiny was looked upon as the same as piracy; the gallows awaited.
The life they lived as mutineers and pirates was pretty desperate. Unable to ever make port, the men had little choice but piracy to feed themselves, and maintain the ship and repair any damage resulting from long periods at sea. When they needed a new ship, they captured one.
Contrary to popular fiction, they rarely captured a rich prize — most merchant ships carried pretty mundane cargoes like tools, lumber, leather, scrap iron, bolts of cloth, and if the pirates were lucky; salt pork, corned beef, and rum!
My persona is that of a disaffected Bosun. After years of experiencing the mistreatment, poor living condtions, lack of pay, and the merciless and brutal rule of the "gentlemen officers" and eventually being told to participate in a press gang to replenish the ships compliment, I organized a few trusted souls and stole a small vessel from port under the cover of darkness and took to a life of freedom.
Pirates had articles of the ship which were signed by all, basic rules to which everyone agreed. Often these outlined the goals of the venture something along the order of
No man shall talk of breaking up their way of living till each has a share of l,000. Every man who shall become a cripple or lose a limb in the service shall have 800 pieces of eight from the common stock and for lesser hurts proportionately. Which also covers a rudimentary form of workers compensation.
There were also provisions that covered behavior on board such as setting hours for drinking and lights out and restricting gambling.
The lights and candles should be put out at nine at night, and if any of the crew desire to drink after that hour they shall sit upon the open deck without lights.
None shall game for money either with dice or cards.
There were provisions covering responsibility for your own weapons and dereliction of duty.
Each man shall keep his piece, cutlass and pistols at all times clean and ready for action.
He that shall desert the ship or his quarters in time of battle shall be punished by death or marooning.
And perhaps most importantly there was set out the provisions for democratic process. A Captain could be deposed by a simple vote, each action undertaken was put to a vote giving the crew a say in their own affairs and interests
Every man shall have an equal vote in affairs of moment. He shall have an equal title to the fresh provisions or strong liquors at any time seized, and shall use them at pleasure unless a scarcity may make it necessary for the common good that a retrenchment may be voted.
I have lifted these few examples from a few different sets of articles, but the tone and intent across all the examples is the same. Fair treatment, equal shares of profits and motivation, and a standard of living. Fairly progressive ideals for the time. When confronted by the societal constraints of the era, these men (and a few woman as well) made a path for themselves. It may not have been particularly legal, but I come away with the feeling that it was often as not about the principles as it was the plunder.
It’s one of those things that happen when you try to bridle a dragoon. The navies needed privateers and they were rewarded well.
The governments made peace and suddenly the men were out of work. There was no unemployment insurance then, and they had a useful skill after all.
It happened over and over. After the French and Indian war the Brits turned their back on their Indian allies.... costly mistake.
Even the Roman would recruit Germans to be their frontier army... hmm.
I do want to point out here that the navy was famous for brutal treatment, bad food ect. But even at the height of the Napoleonic wars 2/3 of the British navy were volunteers not pressed men. When in 1797 the great mutiny took place the sailors didn’t complain about food, officers, floggings, living conditions, any of the things we see as vile conditions today. They were upset about pay being too late and infrequent and low.
Jeff kaufmann and tenngun:
Everything you said is true. Still, the lives of pirates were pretty bleak. When the Whydah galley ran aground on Cape Cod in 1717, most of the crew including Captain Black Sam Bellamy were killed. The few survivors wandered about trying to avoid the inevitable questions. Within days all had been arrested and sent to Boston to stand trial. They were hanged.
I’m one of those folks that think some one else died under old Black Sams name. Dead or not you might hang for being a pirate but more then one became Sir, and ended up wealth ashore with a inn or a chandler shop. Far more just disappeared in the seas and shores flotsam.
Could be...after all, they did not have photography or fingerprints in those days.
Reminds me of the "Dread Pirate Roberts" tale in the Princess Bride movie. Pure fantasy, but an amusing idea.
At the end of the day I personally would much rather risk a short drop with a sudden stop for the opportunity at a life worth living. After all life is not guaranteed to anyone, especially in those times. Any number of things could and did kill men aboard ship, regardless of whether it was a pirate, merchantman, ship of the line, or fishing sloop. It was dangerous no matter what you were doing at sea. When you take into account how poorly most of the population lived and what they often faced just to feed themselves, the level of suffering and poverty, and the insane taxes and rules levied against the common folk, it really shouldn't be any surprise that there were a few brave souls willing to band together to take what they felt was due them. How well would any of us handle it if our employers refused to pay us, locked us into our place of employment to prevent our objection or pursuit of anything else, then started beating us at the slightest grumbling of dissatisfaction or dissent? I am guessing probably not well. The surprise to me is that mutiny and desertion wasn't more rampant regardless of the repercussions.
Jeff Kaufmann: All true.
Moving on to a slightly different aspect of the subject:
The tactics used by pirates relied heavily upon a sort of psychological warfare. Black Beard is a perfect example. He was apparently a large man; over 6 feet tall at a time when the average height was probably 5 feet 6 inches or so. He tied slow matches in his beard and hair and lit them up. One can imagine the spectacle — a big hairy guy howling and screaming with his head on fire, demanding the immediate surrender of the terrified crew of a merchant vessel.
Pirates preferred NOT to fight. Anything they could do to encourage the prize to surrender was in their interest, hence the effort to terrorize their victims into meek compliance with their demands. And — the merchant ship crews really had little incentive to defend their ship...they had no ownership in it or the cargo. Merchant vessels were often lightly armed if at all, and the seamen aboard had little or no training in combat skills. As long as they had a reasonable expectation of survival if they surrendered, resistance was unlikely.
Pirates often recruited men from the ships they captured, no doubt bragging about the lifestyle they at least claimed to enjoy.
Nice to see someone else with an interest in more than just the Disney version of piracy. I have spent a quite a bit of time researching and reading primary accounts of piracy and doing living history education on the subject.
Our crew has a pretty good spread of pirate "types" a couple of us are geared towards the historical representation of the type of person likely to be found "on the account". We also have a Jack Sparrow that has been doing it for 16 years, when we do education days at rendezvous and such it is helpful to have the recognizable figure to get kids attention. It is sometimes a challenge to explain the difference between history and Hollywood to a generation with increasingly shorter and shorter attention spans, but you do what you can.
One of my favorite things to explain to the classes is that pirates freed more slaves than Abraham Lincoln, we loved stealing slave ships. Fast, large Sails, large holds, easy to outfit, an on board compliment of willing accomplices... That said plenty of pirates were involved in the slave trade themselves, Blackbeard for example is known to have both freed and sold slaves, but most it seems were sympathetic to the plight of slaves and were inclined to either offer them positions amongst their own crew or to be dropped at the next friendly port to make whatever way they could.
Amongst the real artifacts that we display such as shipwreck salvaged pieces of eight, ballast stones (from both English and Spanish ships), cannonballs, a concreated knife recovered from the deck of a ship sunk in battle (don't recall which off hand), and numerous pirate beads and etc., we have two Manilla slave bracelets that were recovered from a slave ship. They are two of the heaviest (emotional weight) pieces you will ever have the opportunity to handle.
Not sure if I have much more of a point to this than to say that as with everything in history it is complicated and impossible to pigeonhole all pirates into a narrow category. There was a litany of motivations and intentions outside of the obvious monetary gains.
I will end this rambling post with one of my favorite speeches made by Capt. Black Sam Bellamy after capturing a sloop commanded by Capt. Beer. The crew of the Whydah had voted and decided to burn the sloop and Bellamy addressed Capt. Beer on the deck of the Whydah saying
"I am sorry they won't let you have your sloop again, for I scorn to do anyone a mischief, when it is not to my advantage; damn the sloop, we must sink her, and she might be of use to you... Though you are a sneaking puppy, and so are all those who will submit to be governed by laws which rich men have made for their own security; for the cowardly whelps have not the courage to defend what they get by knavery,... But damn ye altogether, damn them for a pack crafty rascals, and you, who serve them, for a parcel of hen-hearted numbskulls. They vilify us, the scoundrels do, when there is only this difference... They rob the poor under the cover of law, forsooth, and we plunder the rich under the protection of our own courage. Had you not better make then one of us, than to sneak after these villains for employment?"
Beer refused joining the pirates by saying that his conscience would not allow him to break the laws of God and man and Bellamy fired back with:
"you are a develish conscience rascal! I am a free prince, and I have as much authority to make war on the whole world as he who has a hundred sail of ships at sea and an army of 100,000 men in the field; and this MY conscience tells me! But there is no arguing with such sniveling puppies, who allow superiors to kick them about deck at pleasure. "
Many of the men brought to trial charged with piracy got off by claiming they were forced to serve on the vessels. It was for’c’s’l Jack that hung. The skilled men, ships carpenters,sailmakers, boswains, even cooks got off by claiming they were pressed aboard.
Kidd hung, but I think he was the only man of his crew that was.Ultimately few pirates took that short fall for the crimes.
Jeff Kaufmann: Very interesting. I did not know about Black Beard freeing slaves but I did know about Black Sam who, by the way, got his name because of his associations with freed African slaves. The Whydah galley was a nearly brand new slave ship that he captured and put to use as his flagship. He had a number of Africans in his crew, doubtless slaves he had freed when he captured the Whydah and other slavers.
I have been to Barry Clifford's pirate museum in Cape Cod. It is filled with many artifacts he has recovered from the wreck of the Whydah.
I think that Blackbeards actions were driven by whatever it was that suited him best in the moment. If it were more convenient for him to free slaves than going out of his way to sell them he would do so, however if the profit were worthwhile then he had no qualms with slave trading himself. The other thing to bear in mind is the voice of the crew. If they had captured a slaver and a richer prize happened upon the horizon, it may have been up to a vote to take what they could and leave the slaves to their fate. Tough to tell what motivated Blackbeard in the moment.
Someone like Sam Bellamy you can read about his exploits and get a pretty good idea of his character, Edward Teach (or Thatch as the case may be) is harder to pin down. I have often wondered how many deeds of others were ascribed to him. There are conflicting accounts from captains of the period that put him in separate places attacking three different ships. How much of his reputation was actually his versus an imposter using the fear his name and flag struck into others? Or simply being falsely attributed by some merchant captain who saw a black flag in his spy glass and fled claiming it to be Blackbeard without actually knowing... I get the feeling that on more than one occasion an imposter saw fit to use that power, and that the merchant captains feared him to the point of simply ascribing any pirate sighting or attack to the dread Blackbeard.
One theory on Blackbeard, as portrayed by National Geo, is that after the war he initially did not attack English ships for having served in the Royal Navy he felt himself more a 'freelance privateer' of sorts (but with no legality); it is said that it was not until they came across a ship captained by one who had killed a previous captain that Blackbeared had sailed under and felt great friendship with. At that time its claimed he went total rogue and took to attacking all that he came across.
With that said it should be pointed out the ruthlessness of being crew to even a 'legal' sailing ship; some ships would be Leagaly at sea during war but not getting word in time when it ended would be seen (or perhaps even 'accused') of taking a prize After peace was signed - when sailing back into port and expecting to be hearald as Heroes they instead found themselves arrested and tried as Pirates!
Some say a few ships were even tipped of just before reaching port and would turn tail and run, thus becoming 'unwilling' pirates out of fear of returning to the gallows.
There are a number of other pirates who made 'fame' in history but who's end we may never know, such as Captain Avery. Others I can't recall off hand as I sit her in the airport waiting for a flight.....
Oh, and the previous mention of Buccaneers has some shortcomings; but I dont have my notes handy to respond intelligently - my own 'pirate' persona is crafted upon the Buccaneers history and how some took to the sea, thus becoming 'pirate' and blurring the line between the two
There was no sea born radio, most ships were owned by the captain and his crew were well known to him. He could ship a legal cargo, but if the opportunity to make a little extra smuggling,the crew jumped at the chance. And if the chance to take a little plunder-came by then, well you don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.
As far as slaves were concerned freeing or selling them was just a matter of best option of the time. Racial prejudice had not yet been invented. People enslaved blacks because it was handy. A strong back could cut sugar cain or haul a line just as well. The arm that could swing a cain knife could swing a boarding axe.
Life was short for Jack Tar. A tankard of rum and a toothsome wench was the best he could expect from life.
Separate names with a comma.