Tuesday, November 21, 2017

An apology to my readers. Due to flooding, I had to abandon my home for about 8 days, and then come back and make repairs. It’s all done now, thank goodness. I appreciate your patience.

Image result for devil seam ship 18th century

It is said that sailors did not like to speak the name of the Devil. Some people believe that naming a thing adds to its power (as in “he who will not be named.) For this reason, it is said, that sailors on general and pirates in particular, coined the name Davy Jones. Keeper of the infamous Davy Jones’ Locker.

The Locker, of course, it at the bottom of the sea – final resting place for drowned sailors. The seafaring men of the era had their own heaven – Fiddler’s Green – and their own hell as well. It’s consistent with their understanding of themselves as a breed apart. Sailors had an entirely different knowledge base than landsmen. They traveled far more – fragments of Chinese pottery in the 17th century ruins of Port Royal indicate that at least some of the pirates there had sailed to China. And they lived vastly different day-to-day lives.

But I, personally, don’t agree with those who think that sailors were too afraid of the Devil to mention his name. In fact, there was a part of the called “The Devil”

I’ll explain what it was to the best of my landsman’s ability. It’s pretty easy to understand what the deck of a ship is. It’s the part that you usually stand on. The upper deck, which is open to the weather, is called the weather deck. The side of the ship – the outside – is called the hull. The place where the two meet is called the Devil.

This is an important part of the ship. The attachment of the hull to the decks is literally what holds everything together. Decks on wooden ships always had seams – the boards making up the deck. The devil-seam is the longest of them all. Because of its curve, it is actually longer than the boat. And it is also a place where water can enter the ship.

This gives us several interesting sayings. “Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea” is one. This saying has probably survived because it makes sense to the rest of us. The Devil is a bad person. The deep blue sea is dangerous. So being stuck between the Devil and the deep blue sea is not a good place to be.

But when you think of it in nautical terms, it becomes even worse. Because the “devil” is the very outside edge of the boat. The only thing between “the devil and the sea” is air. Not something you want to be trying to stand on. Add the fact that few 18th century sailors knew how to swim, and you have described a horrible situation. The moment when Wile E. Coyote realizes he’s standing on nothing, and plunges to his doom.

The other famous quote about this nautical “devil” is one you probably don’t associate with boats at all. “The Devil to pay” certainly gets its meaning across. After all, the Devil requires his due. So when things are looking bad, and someone says, “There’ll be the Devil to pay.” It surely signifies that someone is in trouble.

Well, not quite. Remember the devil-seam? Well, things on wooden boats need to be sealed so they are watertight. This is called “paying” them. In the case of a join between two pieces of wood, the common method of “paying’ was to stuff something into any large holes or cracks. Usually this was pieces of frayed rope – it’s already long, thin and flexible, and natural-fiber rope breaks down under the sun, saltwater and strain of shipboard use.

The second step of “paying” was to pour hot tar (a petroleum product) or pitch (pine tree sap, harvested for the purpose) into the frayed rope, and smooth it all down. The pitch made it watertight, while the fibrous material made it hold together better.

Both pitch and tar had to be heated, a difficult and dangerous thing on a moving ship. Vessels of the time were highly flammable, being made from dry wood, soaked in pitch and tar. Any fire presented a hazard. In addition, there were no safety measures for handling the scalding, sticky, flammable material.

Tar bubbling up from the ground 
The pitch might be heated over a portable stove placed on the deck, in which case the pot might turn over due to the ship’s movement, spilling dangerously hot material over a deck mostly populated by men who were barefoot. Flying liquid could touch human’s skin, as well, for there was not much in the way of protective clothing, either, and it would stick to men’s skin, even as it burned them.

Carrying buckets of the stuff was little safer. The handles of pots would also be hot, and there were no safety-approved handguards. Rags were all that was available. If the material was heated on the galley stove and carried up to where it would be used, it would need to be carried up a ladder.

Burning pitch

The full phrase isn’t just “The devil to pay.” It’s “the devil to pay and no pitch hot.” Meaning that sailors would have to go through the dangerous job of heating the pitch, and then the smelly, difficult, and only slightly less dangerous job of spreading it over the longest seam of the ship.

So my assentation is that sailors were plenty brave enough to talk about the Devil. They just found that too much of their regular work seemed to be inspired by him. Thank goodness that today we have better protection when performing dangerous work.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Pirate Headgear

I’ve written about how to make pirate hats, but I’ve never written about the actual fashion of pirate hats. By my reckoning, the Golden Age of Piracy spanned the time between 1690 and 1720. Fashion in mens’ hats changed over this time, but some things stayed the same.

To begin with, the basic structure of the man’s hat had not changed much since the early 1600’s. The basis of men’s hats was a large piece of heavy felt, shaped to the top of the head, with a wide brim. Some of the hats were round in the crown, and some were flat topped.

A major fashion divergence (in England) took place during the age of the Puritans and the English Civil War. Put very simply, this was a conflict between religious conservatives (who strongly supported a “plain” lifestyle and dress code) and Royalists,  supporters of the English king, who espoused a more luxurious lifestyle.

Of course, the political clash was much more complex. But the two sides showed their loyalties by their dress, especially their hats. In fact, the conservative religious side became known as “roundheads” for their tendency to wear their hats with the brims flat and the round crowns unadorned. In contrast, the Cavaliers adorned their hats and lavishly, especially with plumes. They also turned up the brims of their hats in a fashionable manner.

By the late 1600’s, the style – for the stylish – was to turn up the brim of the hat in 3 sections, making the early form that we know as the “tricorn” – literally “three horned” from the three points made by the turned-up sides.

A very battered fabric tricorn

This is the form that we most strongly associate with pirates. But pirates did not in any way have a monopoly on these hats. In fact, throughout most of the Golden Age, pirates wore hats of this shape simply because, if a person set out to buy a “men’s hat” this is what they would be offered.

The style had first come into use during warfare between France and Spain during the 1650’s. The style then moved to France where it became “fashionable.”

The English tended to offer these hats plain- with no more than a contrasting colored trim around the edge of the brim. Italians tended more toward metallic trims around the brims, while the French added a fluffy feathered detail all around the edge of the brim.

Now, how did pirates use these hats?

In the first place sailors did not wear their hats in the same way as landsmen. Today, we see hats worn always with one of the tips pointing perfectly forward, directly over the wearer’s nose. But men did not always wear their hats this way. For example, soldiers who marched with a rifle or musket on their shoulders, put the flat side of the hat on that side. This made it less likely that they would knock the hat off with the musket. It also gave the front of the hat an odd, lopsided look, with the front point off center.

Sailors wore their hats with a flat side in front, and a point in the back. This looks strange to us, but it allowed the wearer to work in close quarters without knocking the hat off. The point coming over the owner’s neck may also have offered some protection from the sun.

However, hats were expensive, and many plain sailors wore a simple fabric cap with a narrow brim. Owning a real hat would have been a step up that pirates might aspire to.

Working pirates also probably wore some kind of bandana or fabric headband. This was for the pragmatic reason of keeping sweat out of the eyes. Pirates had more money to buy scarves with, and may also have cut down stolen clothing to make brightly colored head scarves. People of the time valued bright colors, because they were expensive as well as being pretty.

A captain and a common sailor

As well as hats, rich men also wore huge, elaborate wigs. There is some contention as to whether pirate captains wore these wigs or not. To people of the time, it would seem entirely natural that a person in authority. But pirate captains often came from working-class backgrounds. They may have valued the comfort of a wig-less existence, and profited from a more egalitarian look among their men.

It does seem, however, that lower-tier pirates wore the wigs during attacks. The startling look of tanned, hard-bitten men in elegant wigs must have been startling, even frightening to pirate victims. This may be a reason why pirates would have favored the most elaborate hats that they could lay hands on. Since they didn’t have to pay for them, they could afford the very best.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Pictures, Pirates and Bunny Ears

Why do I write this blog?

I began this blog over four years ago because I was researching the pirate books I was writing, and had discovered so many really cool facts about the Golden Age of Piracy that I wanted to share. As I have learned more, I’ve celebrated pirates in pop culture – always an interesting topic – and delved into several aspects of 18th century life.

This last is one of my longest-lasting topics. It has become one of my goals to help people to see what was going on in the heads of people who became pirates, even as I try to understand that myself. 

Because people are products of their time and place. No matter how much we strive to be individuals, or to rebel, our surroundings influence us in ways we may never realize, and can even steer us by giving us something to rebel against.

Even today, lingering echoes from hundreds of years ago influence our thoughts and feelings.

And that brings us to bunny ears.

You all know the pictures where one person puts their fingers behind another person’s head, so it looks like their friend is wearing a pair of rabbit ears. Everyone knows it’s kind of a naughty thing to do, but no one seems to know why.

People did something similar in the 17th and 18th century, although of course, it was done in paintings and engravings. Why? Because in the 18th century, it mean something quite specific. It meant that the guy’s wife was cheating on him.

The two fingers were not bunny ears. They were horns.

This is a really old painting

The phrase “putting horn on him” is supposed to come from Spain, specifically Andalusia, and even in modern times, men there use it to mean that their wives are fooling around. Supposedly, 

Andalusian men don’t like to be seen in public rubbing or scratching their foreheads, because folk might think that they are spontaneously growing horns.

So what do male horns have to do with female sex?

The phrase is so old, it’s hard to tell. My favorite explanation is that Andalusia is an area with many goats. Female goats, unlike female sheep, have horns, and goat’s horns have long symbolized the devil. In this instance, the horns also symbolize female power, specifically female sexual power, which has terrified men at least since the Dark Ages.

A woman with and "evil" hairdo, looking like horns
In this version of the story, the wife, who is acting the part of a man by fooling around, “puts” the feminine horns on her husband, signify that he must now take the female role of standing by while his spouse takes lovers.

This may seem very far-fetched, and almost Freudian. But one thing is certain. However the phrase came to be, people of the early 1700’s were very familiar with the phrase, the image, and its meaning.

In this section of Hogarth’s “Four Times of Day – Afternoon” we see an example of the phrase’s usage in art. The picture show a family visiting a tourist town. Like many families on holiday, things aren’t working out well. The wife, pregnant, is overdressed, hot and uncomfortable. The kids are crying. The husband, struggling to carry a toddler, looks exhausted. 

But if you look closely, you will see that a cow has been strategically placed behind him, so that its horns appear to be growing out of his head. Hogarth loved to put telling details and visual jokes in his paintings and prints, and this one shares the information that this man is caring for children who are not his own. 

It is, if you will, a very early example of “bunny ears” in a picture.

Not only did pictures show things like this, but people used it in real life. There is a story of a French nobleman whose wife began an affair with the King. Now, normally husbands liked it when their wives had a royal affair. Few aristocratic marriages were love-matches, so there was not necessarily any betrayal of affection involved. And Kings were known to reward accommodating husbands by giving them titles, land, and other desirable goodies.

A woman (as a giraffe) her husband (in the horns)
and the men who are "riding" her. 

But this particular nobleman was not happy that his wife was sleeping with another man. So he had a pair of stag’s horns attached to the top of his carriage, and rode through Paris, showing off the fact that his wife wasn’t faithful and he was unhappy about it.

Some people say that, by the early 1700’s the exact meaning that the wife was “putting horns on her husband” had loosened just a little. By this time, a man was able to point out that another man was wearing horns. And the fact of pointing it out brought in a possible additional meaning.

“Your wife is having an affair with ME.”

Today the sense of wickedness in putting up “bunny ears” still exists. But if you’re a pirate, remember that things were different 300 years ago. Be careful in those photos!

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Lady Pirate – Mary/Elizabeth Killigrew

The rocky coast of Cornwall (in England) has been home to smugglers and wreckers for as long as anyone can remember. It was also home to a strong female pirate – Mary (sometimes Elizabeth) Killigrew.

Lady Mary

Mary was the daughter of a Phillip Wolverton, Lord of Wolverton Hall, and a former Suffolk pirate. She was born some time before 1525, and was married to Henry Knyvett, who died in 1547.

Henry Knyvett

Mary's second husband was Sir Henry Killigrew, a pirate who was later made a Vice-Admiral by Queen Elizabeth I. These were the days when piracy was something of a national pastime in England. Because of its official Protestant religion, (among other things) England was at odds with Spain, and Spain was in the process of looting gold, silver and emeralds from the New World. There was money to be made in stealing from Spain.

Sir Henry was heir to Arwenack castle, a Cornish stronghold near what is now the town of Falmouth, and in a position to control the mouth of the river Fal – the third-largest natural port in the world.

Arwenack House

Sir Henry had been in trouble under Queen Mary, the last Catholic queen of England. He and his father were even imprisoned for their opposition, though their actual jailtime amounted to only 3 weeks. When Elizabeth I, a Protestant, came to the throne, the Killigrews were back in favor.

Not that any of them were angels. A national beauty in her day, with her long auburn hair, Lady Mary Killigrew became Cornwall’s own super villain (or hero, if you like); leading a double life as noble aristocrat by day and ruthless pirate by night! It is said that she often entertained nobles and ship captains in order to extract information about treasure. Both she and her husband used this information later in their robberies. Lady Mary was said to love the excitement. 

Under Elizabeth’s protection, Sir Henry became notorious for engaging in cattle theft, "evil usage in keeping of a castle" and for abuses of his power as a Justice of the peace. By the time he was appointed a Commissioner to inquire into piracy, he was heavily engaged in that activity himself, and traded with smugglers and pirates who frequented the waters around his home castle. He was the subject of an official investigation in 1565.

But pirates brought money into the royal coffers (good pirates of the period kicked back to the ruler they sailed under) but appearances must be maintained. Elizabeth I needed to placate her Spanish peers, even as she was accepting money from men like Francis Drake.

Elizabeth had her reputation, too.

 Mary was, by all accounts, an enthusiastic supporter of her husband’s less than legal activities. She re-designed Arwenak to better hold stolen goods, cut deals with smugglers, and occasionally sent her servants out to raid ships driven into the huge natural harbor by storm or other misfortune. It’s possible that all this took place with Queen Elizabeth’s approval, or at least while she turned a blind eye.

The final straw, however, came in 1570.

A ship came in to the Far-mouth harbor, sadly knocked about from a major storm, possible dismasted. Some sources call the ship a German merchant. Others say the ship was Spanish (which I believe is the more likely.) Mary was at home with only her servants – Sir Henry was out pirating.

Raid on a Spanish treasure ship

 Seeing the opportunity to make a huge profit, Mary sent a raiding party out in the dead of night to capture the ship. The more romantic pirate fans say she led the attack herself. This is unlikely, though she probably planned it. And who knows? There's no proof she didn't either. 

Her men did not do things halfway. They not only captured the ship’s cargo, but the ship itself. After unloading their plunder, they supposedly sailed the ship to Ireland to sell it. With all the cargo hidden in a castle, and the ship itself sold far away, it looked like the perfect crime.

But the ship’s owner went directly to the Queen. Faced with such obvious evidence of piracy (the robbing and stealing of the ship) something, at last, had to be done.

(This, by the way, is why I believe the ship was not German. Germany wasn’t even a country yet… Nobody cared if the Germans were angry. Rich, powerful Spain, however, was another matter.)

Queen Elizabeth had Lady Mary arrested and brought to trial. Some sources say she was sentenced to death and then pardoned by the Queen. Others say her family bribed the jurors and she was acquitted. (The family had been bribing government officials to cover up their nefarious activities for generations. Piracy is profitable enough to make that kind of thing possible.) Whether due to bribes or the efforts of Queen Elizabeth, Mary served only a short term in prison, though two of her servants were hanged.

Lady Mary

 It was about this time that Mary began to be known as Elizabeth. This has confused historians, and everyone else, and many sources speak of Mary and Elizabeth Killigrew as two separate female pirates. But these were times when changing one’s name was pretty much as simple as asking people to call you something else. Did Mary, bearing the name of Elizabeth’s former rival, change her name to Elizabeth to curry royal favor? We will likely never know, but it seems plausible.

Whatever transpired, Mary gave up pirating and spent the rest of her life storing her husband’s ill-gotten gains and fencing stolen goods, until she died several years later.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Tobacco - Part II - Pirates Stealing and Smoking

Though wild tobacco plants grew in both North and South America, but when the fad of smoking hit Europe, the colonists wanted tobacco farms, and were soon growing the plant in quantities never seen before. The new farming industry required new methods of preserving and transporting the crop. When Europeans first began to harvest tobacco, the plants were simply covered with hay and left in the field to cure or "sweat."

But the use of hay diminished the availability of animal fodder. In 1618, new regulations prohibited the use hay for preserving tobacco. As often happens, government regulations drove innovation. A better method of curing tobacco was developed. The wilted leaves were hung on lines or sticks. Though at first hung outside on fence rails, but the 1620s, tobacco barns for housing the crop were in use.

During this curing period, which lasted about four to six weeks, the color of the tobacco changed from a greenish yellow to a light tan. Mold was a danger during the curing time. The leaves must stay damp and pliable, but must not hold too much moisture.

When the tobacco was ready, and preferably during a period of damp weather, workers struck the tobacco and laid the leaves on the floor of the barn to sweat for a week or two.

Though drying and preserving techniques were constantly being improved, by the Golden Age of Piracy the preparation of tobacco for shipping was still simple. The tobacco leaves were twisted and rolled, then spun into rope, which was wound into balls weighing as much as a hundred pounds. These balls were protected in canvas or barrels. Many inventories of stolen goods or pirate plunder include a notation of one or two barrels of tobacco.  

Although the export of bulk tobacco was not outlawed until 1730, a large barrel called a "hogshead" soon became the favored container throughout the colonial period. Even though its capacity varied slightly, governed by the regulations of the day, the average weight of the tobacco stored in a hogshead barrel was about a thousand pounds.

Captain of merchant vessels did not load up a single-product cargo in a single port. Instead, they traveled from one plantation dock to the next, loading up with barrels of tobacco as they moved along the river. If they had trouble getting their cargos of tobacco into England, they might resort to employing smugglers, the cousins of pirates, to get their cargos into the country.

Back in the Caribbean, pirates smoked “like the devil” to quote a phrase used at the time. Excavation of known pirate camps reveal that as many as one third of recovered artifacts are clay pipes. Divers in the sunken city of Port Royal recover broken pipe stems by the hundreds. Why did pirates smoke so much?

Proof of a serious smoking habit

 For one thing, they had the time. Part of the lure of pirate life was leisure time – something that wasn’t available to most working-class folk. Large crews meant that the work-load on ship was light, leaving time to enjoy activities like smoking

On navy and merchant ships, smoking was strictly controlled and highly discouraged. Boats were flammable. Even on pirate ships, smoking below decks was likely prohibited.

Some pirate ships, however, provided their crews with a small smoking luxury – a means to light their pipes. In the days before matches, pipes and candles were most often lit from an existing fire. Households kept a supply of long wooden splinters at hand. These were lighted from an existing fire, then used as we would a match.

But open fires were not popular on ships. So the pirates got around this by using slow-burning cannon fuse. Ships would allow a length of this material to smolder in some convenient location, often near a tub of water. Anyone wishing to smoke only needed to wander over to ignite a pipe.

In town, taverns often supplied pipes. Tavern pipes were often used by many smokers, being cleaned and kept on pipe stands when not in use. The many pieces of broken pipe stem found at archaeological sites has led some people to believe that 18th century smokers broke the tips off their pipes in order to protect against the transfer of germs or sickness.

It’s a great story, but there is no supporting evidence. People in the 18th century didn’t know about germs. It’s more likely that pipe stems were broken as a method of cleaning, or simply because the pipe stems were long and delicate.

Today, of course, modern pirate re-enactors are more likely to smoke cigarettes. A tobacco product that was not invented until 150 years after piracy’s golden age. But never fear! Creative entrepreneurs have invented a device that hide a modern cigarette inside a false pipe. For your smoking pleasure. 

Vendor here

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Tobacco – Cash Crop of the New World

Whenever we see an accurate depiction of pirates, there is always tobacco near at hand. Whether it be a long clay pipe or a thin black cigar, pirates – like many European of the time – loved to smoke. And since tobacco was still a luxury item in the early 1700’s, it was a habit taken up both to enjoy amd to show off affluence. This made it especially popular with pirates, who had often moved from deep poverty to sudden wealth.

Smoking is an unusual way of ingesting a drug. At the time of the European invasion in the 1500s, smoking was found only in the Americas and in a few parts of Africa. Europeans were unfamiliar with this activity and were, at times, amazed when they encountered it. 

Tobacco grows wild in many parts of the Americas and archaeological evidence suggests that Natives in the Andes mountains of South American had begun to cultivate tobacco about 7,000 years ago. The practice of growing tobacco spread north into the tribal traditions of what is now the United States and Canada and out to the Caribbean Islands. When Christopher Columbus and his men struck land in the Caribbean, they became first Westerners to see people smoking tobacco. A 16th century Spanish historian vividly described how the first scouts sent by Columbus into the interior of Cuba found:

men with half-burned wood in their hands and certain herbs to take their smokes, which are some dry herbs put in a certain leaf, also dry, like those the boys make on the day of the Passover of the Holy Ghost; and having lighted one part of it, by the other they suck, absorb, or receive that smoke inside with the breath, by which they become benumbed and almost drunk, and so it is said they do not feel fatigue. These, muskets as we will call them, they call tabacos. I knew Spaniards on this island of EspaƱola who were accustomed to take it, and being reprimanded for it, by telling them it was a vice, they replied they were unable to cease using it. I do not know what relish or benefit they found in it.

The Europeans were immediately fascinated, and traded with the natives for this captivating new plant.  One of Columbus' lieutenants was so drawn to primitive cigar smoking that he smoked every single day on the long journey back home. Because the natives of the Caribbean smoked tobacco in cigar form, cigars and the Spanish have been linked ever since.

Cigar smoking became quite popular in Spain and Portugal. The French ambassador to Portugal, picked up the habit and brought cigars back in his home country. From there it spread to Italy and other European nations. While some rulers such as King Phillip II of Spain and King James I of England denounced smoking as being evil, the cigar grew in popularity as companies started growing tobacco for commercial consumption.

It is important to remember that tobacco can be used by in many different ways. It can be sniffed, chewed, eaten, smeared on the skin, drunk, used in eye drops and enemas, and smoked. Europeans began smoking because that was the usage they saw. Taken in small doses, tobacco has a mild effect on those who use it. However, taken in large doses it can produce hallucinations, trances, and even death.

For the natives of North America, tobacco was a spiritual herb. As long as 3,000 years ago, the people living around North America’s Great Lakes were smoking tobacco in pipes. For these people, every act of smoking a pipe contained some measure or ritual. When the pipe was first lit, it would be offered to the directions (four, six, or seven, depending on the culture.)

When asking the advice of an elder it was (and still is) customary to give the elder tobacco. When gathering wild plants for ceremonial use, one left a small offering of tobacco for the spirits of the plants. In preparing the fire for the sweat lodge, tobacco offerings are given to the fire.

The tribes of North America most commonly used tobacco by smoking it in a pipe. Indians used pipes made from many different materials in a variety of shapes. The one we now best is the Plains Indian “peace” pipe with its stone bowl and long wooden stem. But the Indian people in the eastern part of the United States frequently made pipes from clay. It was this clay pipe which the English copied when they first began to smoke tobacco. And the clay tobacco pipe was the standard for English and Dutch pirates.  

Tobacco was an early fad in European and cultivation of the plant was one of the driving forces for profit that helped to encourage immigration to the New World. Huge profits could be made in the weed. The cultivation of tobacco as a cash crop in America marked a shift from a subsistence economy to an agrarian economy. Tobacco’s value led to it being used as a currency in colonies. Tobacco was also backed by the gold standard which meant that there was an established conversion rate from tobacco to gold.

But this led to changes. In the beginning, plantations that grew tobacco used indentured servants to cultivate the crop. But this sort of farming requires large amounts of land and labor.  Early indentured servants were promised land grants in exchange for their years of service – but when their time was up, landowners did not want to part with such profitable land.

One answer was to find ways to deny indentured servants their due. Another was to search for a fresh source of labor that would be permanent and not require land as a reward. Tobacco in North America, like sugar in the Caribbean, drove unfair labor practices and the need for slaves.

Next week… Tobacco as cash. 

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Dropping Out of Piracy

This post is inspired by a question asked at one of my events. A gentleman wanted to know if there were any pirate stories with a happy ending for the pirates. At the time I answered him with the stories of Jennings and Hornigold, two captains who hated each other. Both took the pardon offered by the King. Jennings then took his ill-gotten gains, bought into society, purchased a plantation, and lived out his life in comfort.

Hornigold was not quite so fortunate. He had lived a more classically “piratical” life, and had little money when he was pardoned. Consequently, he went back to work as a ship’s captain and, interestingly enough, pirate hunter, and died in a storm some 18 months later.

So what happened to the pirates?

Moralists wanted us to believe that most, if not all, pirates died at the end of a rope. The “short drop with a sharp stop” that was the hangman’s noose may have ended a certain number of piratical careers, but not every pirate died at ropes’ end.

Of the nine pirates in Sam Bellamy’s fleet who survived the wreck of the Whydah and her (little) sister ship the Mary Anne, two were acquitted. Bellamy has conscripted them, and so they were determined to not be pirates of their own free will. Six were hanged. One, John Julian, a Mosquito Indian, was sold into slavery.

And these were the guys who got caught. Roughly 146 died in the wreck. Was is better, or different at all, to die in a storm as a pirate? My guess is, no. Pirates and honest sailors both died in storms at sea, so in that way, a pirate’s life was no different than any sailor’s. Except that it contained more rum and friendly women.

Some pirates simply disappeared. One of the most notorious of these was Anne Bonny, close *ahem* friend of Calico Jack Rackham. Anne was pregnant when she was arrested, and so was held in custody. When the child was born, she was supposed to be hanged. But we have no records of either of these events happening. Anne, the most notorious woman in the Western Hemisphere, simply vanished. Theories range from breakouts, to bribery to an unheeded, anonymous death. We’ll never know for sure.

But other pirates – the sort of rank-and-file deck hands and topmast jacks – often drifted in and out of the life.

Pirates were known to free slaves, and many a pirate crew was swollen with these recruits. Africans sometimes fell into slavery as prisoners of war, and they made a terrifying addition to the attack force of a pirate fleet.

But few of these men were skilled sailors, and at least some of them probably found their way out of piracy and into the colonies of escaped slaves called Maroons that dotted the Caribbean. These people would have lived out their lives as farmers, hunters and scouts, and left behind descendants who still live in the Caribbean today.

But if a man went ashore with his share of pirate plunder, and was a little better than his friends at budgeting his cash, he might have a problem. Waking up after a six-week drunk, he might find out that the pirate ship had sailed off without him! Pirate crews usually partied until the money ran out (it usually took a couple of months.) Then, penniless, they went back to sea to raise more funds.

But if one or two pirates made the money last a little longer, they might be without a pirate ship to join. Some men moved between crews this way, but if no pirate ship was available, the hung-over pirate might be in need of an honest job to provide food and shelter. So he would sign on to a merchant vessel, and be a regular sailor once again.

Did he become a pirate again? Some probably did, and some probably did not. Either way, these men of little reputation did not leave behind much to tell folks 300 years later what happened to them. These are the men who lived to tell pirate stories to “Captain Johnson” as he gathered material for his book, The Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pyates.

Finally, one of the smallest percentages, are the guys who took the money and ran. A pirate could make as much a two-year’s salary in as little as six weeks, without even doing anything so noteworthy that people in our age would find out about it. They made the most of their anonymity, and went home with a truck full of treasure.

A sailor returning home with a chest of gold.
In the lower right corner is his mother-in-law, so impressed that she likes him now!

 A small group, it is sure. This kind of planning and financial restraint is completely contrary to human nature. And yet, people do manage it.

I like to imagine this fellow coming home, with enough gold to buy a small business, or a herd of sheep, or some other investment that would make his life easier, and enrich the lives of his wife and children. Or perhaps he suddenly had enough cash to pay a debt, or to marry the girl of his dreams. But whatever else he bought with him, he had stories of his life as a pirate.