Actually, this post has nothing to do with black cats, unless you are afraid of them. If you are, you probably know that your fear is prompted by superstition, and sailors in general have always been considered among the most superstitious group of people.
In addition to not walking under ladders, you know that it’s just bad luck to bring a woman onto a ship, right? Or that you should never change the name of a ship?
According to Kevin Duffus, in the The Last Days of Blackbeard, pirates had a particular fear of hanging. Of course, who wouldn’t? Although dropping from a gallows may not sound too bad, the strangling and neck snapping just can’t be much fun.
But most pirates, hanging had a much more sinister meaning. In their superstitious minds it was far better to be killed in battle, on land or at sea. In either case, your body was buried, either in a grave (marked or unmarked, single or mass, that didn’t matter), or dumped over the side at sea. Your corporeal self was interred, and your soul could ascend to heaven.
But, when pirates were hanged, their remains were tarred over and left to rot as a warning to other would-be pirates. As their bodies were not interred, their souls were left to wander the earth, listless and lost, for eternity.
For a man like Black Beard it was far better to die with at least twenty pistol balls in his body and more than a dozen sword wounds, than to soil himself swinging from a gibbet in front of a jeering crowd. Sadly for him, Lieutenant Robert Maynard, the Royal Navy officer responsible for his demise, decapitated the bearded giant and hung his head from the bowsprit of a ship for all to sea. Poor Black Beard must still roam the wilds of North Carolina if that particular superstition be true!
It brings a new light to the particular horror of cannibalism for sailors. Bad enough that the survivors in the boat eat the corpse of their fallen shipmate, they actually divvy him up, preventing his soul from getting to heaven. That’s a rum go for any seafaring soul.
I’m sorry if this post is a little gross – I do have a secret mission. I’m working on a plot to prove that pirates were not good people, and were very seldom sympathetic characters. Thieves, robbers, thugs, murderers. And those are kind names. You had to be pretty smart to command a pirate ship. But the kind of smart that these men honored was deviousness and cunning – things that should never be embraced by a civilized people.
So, was you thinking of turning pirate, mate, be aware that you dunna have my blessing. And be ye wary of the noose!