Pirate Terms Gone Awry

Researching pirates from the “Golden Age of Piracy”, about 1680 to 1730, is a difficult business. While there are scores of books and movies to draw from, you find that they themselves mostly draw from Cap’t Charles Johnson’s book, A General History…of…Pirates. The link on his title takes you to our Further Reading page, which features the full title of the book.

My most recent novel, Marigold’s End, A Phineas Caswell Adventure, puts the young protagonist in the midst of the worst of the worst. The novel I’m working on now requires even more research – sadly, most of it comes out from Cap’t Johnson!

What makes Johnson’s book so compelling is that it is the only one. Period. It was written in 1724, and it describes all of the nasty fellows of the day.  Beyond his book, there is simply no other organized documentation. There are the records kept by the colonial governors, by the courts, and by the shipping companies. But those generally detail specific events, and don’t tell the story. And they’re not literary in the least, making it very difficult for we 21st century pirate hunters.

I had planned to write this post about how the word “long” got into Long John Silver’s name. But, in my research, I hit a rather blank wall. I’ll tell you what I know:

Pirates did not wear earrings as fashion. They wore earrings, like every other sailor of the day, to denote their survival of a shipwreck.

Pirates did not wear fake eyepatches to be able to see better in the dark.

Pirates didn’t wear hooks or wooden legs because they wanted to.

And, pirates did not get the word “long” added to their name because they consumed human flesh.

If you look it up on many of the blogs out there devoted to pirate stories and legends,  you’ll see that the term “long pig” is cannibal reference to human flesh. Imagine your ship has been becalmed, without a breath of wind, for a month straight. All your food supplies are gone. No fish are biting. No bird can reach you because you’re in the middle of the Atlantic under a hot, broiling sun.

Maybe the topman Simpson has a fall, breaking his neck. You and your shipmates are literally starving to death – you’ve even eaten your leather belts. And then here’s Simpson.

Come on, lad. It ain’t like you’re doin’ him no harm – he’s already in heaven. What point is there in starvin’? God knows when you’ll eat again… just close your eyes, boyo. It tastes just like pork.

So, like the rest of the survivors, you choose to stay alive and eat the long pig. When finally a breeze comes and you finally sail out of the doldrums, you vow you’ll never tell anyone about it.

But then start the rumors, once you’re ship’s in port and paid off. You know about John Silver, don’t ye? They say he’s Long John Silver, if ye catch my meaning…

It’s a compelling story, but it’s just not correct. The phrase “long pig” was first used in print in 1847 – well over a hundred years after the likes of Long John Silver and Blackbeard.

The term appears to be a translation of a Polynesian word for human flesh. While it can be used in reference to a crew – they ate long pig – it doesn’t belong in the lexicon of the Golden Age of Piracy.

I went to Chapman’s The Sailor Lexicon, by Admiral W. H. Smyth. It’s a lexicon. It has 15,000 slang and professional sailor terms. There’s no mention of long pig in it.

So, my friend, be careful what you confer to our piratical brethren. They were rough, nasty folk, and they were the scourge of the seas, and they very probably were forced into cannibalism upon rare occasions.

And, while the Long in Long John Silver, a fictional creation of Robert Louis Stevenson in 1881, may have been meant to include Silver in that group, it was most likely applied because it was a popular and fanciful term in Stevenson’s day, not Silver’s.

 

The Smithsonian Weighs in on Queen Anne’s Image

Just so you know, I think this computer-generated ship image from the Smithsonian Institute is a little suspect. There, I said it.

She appears to be based on the Hispaniola from the 1950 film Treasure Island. Correct for her size, this ship has three masts, and a well found shape. That squares with Queen Anne’s Revenge, but this ship, from a video called “How Blackbeard Tricked Out His Ship,” on the resources page at si.edu, seems a tad too undefined to accurately represent the Queen.

As we’ll recall from previous posts, Queen Anne’s Revenge was built in England in 1710 as Concord, a 200-ton merchant ship. She was taken by the French and renamed La Concorde de Nantes. She worked the slave trade between the French Caribbean plantations and Guinea.

Benjamin Hornigold, a privateer turned pirate, had used his small fleet of piraguas (sailing canoes) to attack and overwhelm the small sloop, Happy Return.  With that sloop and his canoes he attacked and overwhelmed a heavily-armed merchantman named Ranger. Once he was in command of that powerful ship, he let go of the piraguas, and put his second-in-command, a fellow named Edward Thatch, in charge of the Happy Return.  With Happy Return and Ranger, Hornigold took the 26-gun Concorde de Nantes, and gave her as a reward to Thatch.

Thatch decided to part company with Hornigold, and began his solo career as the pirate Blackbeard. The first thing he did was change the ship’s name to Queen Anne’s Revenge, and then mounted as many guns in her as she could carry.

That’s where the Smithsonian’s interesting model comes in – the orange guns are those they feel would have been added to her. It’s sort of funny that Blackbeard would have added so many guns to what was already a well-found ship. The British of that period wanted as many guns as they could cram aboard, hoping  to find a competitive edge of French and Spanish warships of similar tonnage. In fact, the guns invariable ended up on the foredeck and quarterdeck, adding enormous weight far above the waterline, making the ships harder to sail and somewhat crank. The lesson: hardware can never stand in for good seamanship.

So, here at PhineasCaswell.com, you know we’re on a quest to find an accurate image of this ship. Here’s the question: is this Queen Anne’s Revenge?

I think we’re voting no on this one. For size, yes, for accommodation of the guns, probably. But, is this what Queen Anne’s Revenge actually looked like? I think not.

Let me know what you think – and certainly let me know if you have an image of the QAR you’d like to share.

For more about Blackbeard from the Smithsonian Institute, visit here.

A Step Closer to Queen Anne’s Revenge

One of the things I love most about writing is the marvelous places you visit – some in person, some in your head, and some on the Internet.

As you may have surmised, I’ve been piecing together Blackbeard’s story. Some parts are very hard to fit together – his ship, Queen Anne’s Revenge (QAR) being among the hardest.

She went hard aground off of Beaufort, North Carolina, in November of 1718, and all traces of her were lost. We know she was a British ship first, and was taken by the French and used as a slaver named Concorde. Blackbeard took her and renamed her Queen Anne’s Revenge. Her skeletal remains have been found, and many artifacts have been taken from her. But, no one knows what she looked like.

Archaeologists at the Smithsonian, however, believe she resembled the ship in the image, Le Mercure, of 1730. She’s only twenty or so years newer than QAR,  which is very close in terms of ship design from that era. Technological leaps were still relatively slow in coming.

We have to remember that, at this time, purpose-built warships seldom fell into the hands of pirates. They instead modified merchant ships to their purpose. Le Mercure appears to be pierced for 20 guns – Blackbeard would have up-gunned her to 40, which appears plausible if he used the quarter- and fore-decks.

Although she’s not Queen Anne’s Revenge, she’s in the ballpark.

A Letter of Marque

In the Golden Age of Piracy, the last thing you wanted to be called was a pirate. Pirates were dirty scoundrels, the scourge of the seas, and when caught, were most often hanged for their crimes. Blackbeard’s head, after he lost it in his fight against Lieutenant Maynard, hung from the bowsprit of Maynard’s ship, Ranger, as a grim reminder to all other pirates of their certain fate, was they caught.

So, you can see why it was unhealthy to refer to one’s self as a pirate.  A person on the other end of a pointing finger that hurled the word as an accusation could very well find himself hanged.

But, to be called a privateer, well, that was a different story.  A privateer was authorized by his government to attack and capture ships of a specific other government – for example, England sent out hundreds of privateers to attack ships bearing a Spanish flag. The Spanish equally dispatched them to attack English, French, and Dutch ships, among others.

For governments, privateers were an easy way to build an ad-hoc navy. In fact, ships taken by privateers were often brought into a home port and purchased by the government. Everyone associated with the privateering ship, from her owners down to the cabin boys on board, got paid, and the ship went into the navy.

To be a privateer, however, you had to have a commission from the king, or a local governor. To get it, you had to be a person of fair standing (obvious scoundrels need not apply), and you had to have a ship, fitted out at your own expense, and a crew that could fight.

This commission was in the form of a “letter of marque,” and you guarded it with your life.  The letter, signed by the king or a regional governor, stated that your actions were on behalf of the crown.  It gave you legal permission to attack other ships. Most important, should your ship get taken in an action, and you were captured, the letter of marque guaranteed that you would be tried as a prisoner of war, and not as a pirate.

There were many moments when an English schooner was waylaid on the high seas by an English warship. The naval first lieutenant, with half a dozen marines, stands, arms crossed angrily in the schooner’s sally port, swaying over the heavy waves, with a firm look of accusation on his face.

“Oh, no, sir,” says the schooner’s captain, nervously. “We don’t be no pirates, sir. We got ourselves a commission. Here, here comes Saunders with it now, sir.”

The lieutenant takes the proffered document from Saunders’ dirty, trembling hands and reads it carefully, noting the exchequer’s seal on the bottom. He glances about the schooner’s deck, noticing scars in the woodwork from another ship’s guns, the polished cutlasses in the rack around the main mast, the poorly stacked crates and casks waiting to be taken to the hold.  He glances at the letter one more time, then hands it back.

“We have a report that you attacked the Elizabeth, a pink under the English flag out of Dover,” he says frostily.

“Oh, no, sir,” the captain replies sheepishly. “As ye can see, why, we don’t have no commission to be attacking English ships, does we?” He chuckles with a slight wheeze, knowing that the commission is his get-out-of-jail-free card. 

The privateer’s commission was a powerful, but limiting tool. Privateers were forbidden to attack ships of their own country. But it happened nevertheless, and the line between privateer and pirate was often hard to see.

In truth, many of the most famous pirates, including Blackbeard, began their sea roving careers as privateers. Sir Henry Morgan drifted in and out of piracy, but always retained his commission as his defense. Despite his attacking English ships, he was actually knighted by the king himself for his service to the crown.

So, when the day was done, and the pirate caught, he might well save his neck if he could just provide that one document, the letter of marque.

 

Captain Avery, Part III: Living Like Kings

If you read Parts I and II of the Captain Avery saga, you’ll recall that Henry Avery hijacked the good ship Duke in 1695 and took her to go a’pirating. In due course he came upon Captains Tew and Dew, who, with their pirate sloops, agreed to sail with him. The three ships came across and took a ship belonging to the “Grand Mogul of India,” packed with pilgrims on their way to Mecca, and stuffed with incredible riches meant as offerings.

Captain Avery convinced Tew and Dew that the treasure would be safer aboard the Duke, and they readily agreed. One cannot imagine their disappointment when, on the following morning, they found their two ships alone on a wide, wide sea – Avery had sailed away in the darkness with all their treasure. Everyone else’s stories are covered in Parts I and II.

This is the story of Tew and Dew.

With no treasure, and with great disappointment, the two captains and their men agreed that maybe they should put ashore on the north coast of Madagascar for awhile. It was widely known that Madagascar was friendly to sea rovers.

They dropped anchors in a cove that was rarely visited by Europeans. The natives, in fact, were both fascinated and terrified of the white men and their guns. The pirates found soon found that this gave them a huge degree of power.

It didn’t take long for the pirates to subjugate the people of Madagascar, treating them like slaves and lackeys, forcing them to do their bidding. Different tribes within the native population allied themselves with the pirates in order to make war on other tribes – an alliance the pirates were only too happy to make.

The pirates found they could live like kings, declaring huge parts of the jungle as their own domains. They spread out, built palaces, and settled down to be great plantation owners.

One day another pirate ship dropped anchor in the cove. She was the Delicia, skippered by the renowned Captain Woodes Rogers. He tried to barter with these island kings, who had now been on the island for 18 years. But he found them treacherous, trying to sew unrest in his own crew and to take his ship from him. He sailed away, thankful to leave these wayward kings on their own.

Here’s the twist to the story:  the crews of Tew and Dew had trudged ashore with the clothes on their back and little more. By the time they were visited by Woodes Rogers, their clothes were threadbare, in most cases non-existent. Their shoes had long worn away. Their hair and beards hung in great, wild tangles. They peered at him with dirty. emaciated faces.

By European standards, these self-appointed kings of Madagascar had turned savage, and had lost all semblance of civilization. They were kings, but kings of nothing.

So ends our tale of Captain Avery. The Duke‘s crew broke up and enjoyed their tiny part of the Grand Mogul’s treasure. Avery died penniless on a dusty road. And Tew and Dew became the kings of nothing.

And so ends the story as told by Captain Charles Johnson, in his A General History of the Robberies & Murders of the Most Notorious Pirates, printed in 1724. Is it true? That’s up the good captain. As for you and me, well, do you think there’s a certain poetic justice, in that so very little came out of so horrific a crime? Thanks for sailing along with us!

Captain Avery, Part II: Henry’s Diamonds

If you read Part I, you’ll know that the legendary pirate Captain Henry Avery, in company with the pirate captains Tew and Dew, in the year 1695, attacked and took a royal ship belonging to the Grand Mogul of India – a ship filled with diamonds, gold, and an overwhelming number of other treasures. Captain Avery swindled all of the treasure away from Captains Dew and Tew, and sailed off to North America, where his crew broke up to become wealthy landsmen. What they never knew was that Captain Avery had swindled them, too, as he had secretly filled his pockets with diamonds from the Grand Mogul’s ship.

Captain Avery must have been pretty pleased with himself. He held a huge fortune quite literally in his pockets. Wherever he wanted to go in the world, whatever he wanted to do, he could now choose with abandon. Except.

Except that while many members of his crew had accepted a pardon for their piracy offered by King William III, Henry was afraid to do so: he was aware that his taking of the Grand Mogul’s ship had caused a major international incident, and that, instead of a pardon, a local governor would more likely offer him a noose.

Except that the diamonds in his pocket were beautiful, and exceedingly rare. So rare, that he dare not sell them in the Americas for fear of being discovered as a sea rover and hanged.

So, sadly, Henry took ship to Scotland, and then to Ireland, where he felt certain he could sell them and make his fortune. To his utter dismay, outrage against piracy was just as strong in Ireland as it was in the new world.

He crossed over into England, finding an acquaintance in Bristol who knew some rich fellows that were well versed in managing the kind of financial problems Henry faced. He stayed in the small town of Bideford and changed his name. The acquaintance brought the financiers to Bideford, and the meeting went well.

The financiers gave Henry a tidy sum of money as a deposit, and took the diamonds back to Bristol to sell them. This all seemed well and right with Henry, who finally was on his way to his fortune.

Except that he heard nothing more from the financiers. No money came, no letters, no words. The tidy sum, while tidy, was not enough for him to last very long. As the months went by, he began to worry.

Taking his courage in hand, he traveled to Bristol, and confronted the financiers in their offices. They gave him a much smaller sum of money. When he demanded his diamonds back, they refused.

“Begone, ruffian,” they probably said, “or we shall turn you in for the pirate that you are.”

The tiny sum of money wasn’t enough, and didn’t last very long, and Henry was very probably fearful for his life. He decided to go back to Ireland, where he was quite unknown.

But he had no money, and no skills to get any. The famous Captain Avery took to begging. “Help a sailor down on his luck…”

Except that his pride caught up with him. He resolved to get those diamonds back, let the ashes fall where they will.

He took a job as a common sailor on a ship bound for Plymouth, England. Once there he jumped ship and walked through the countryside, determined to get what was his.

Except, on a bright and sunny afternoon, walking a common dirt road in the English countryside not too far from Bristol, Henry stumbled and fell face first in the dirt. A cloud of dust lifted around him, flickering in the sunshine. The birds in the trees fell silent for a moment, but then went back to their squawking and chattering. Henry Avery was no more.

Captain Henry Avery, murderer, rapist, liar, cheat, swindler, and, above all, a diabolical pirate, died face down in the dirt, trying to get what he deserved.

So ends Part II of the Captain Avery trilogy. Sad, yes, but don’t you find it poetically correct?

There is one more part to this amazing tale: the adventures of Tew and Dew and their crews.

This abbreviated story is from A General History of the Robberies & Murders of the Most Notorious Pirates, first written in 1724 by Captain Charles Johnson. You can find more information on the Further Reading page.

Blackbeard’s Trio of Mysteries

If you Google the name Blackbeard, everything you read will start with something like “Blackbeard was the most famous pirate…” Yadda, yadda, yadda.

Here are just some of the cool things about Blackbeard:

Mystery #1

Captain Charles Johnson, who wrote about pirates in 1724, referred to Blackbeard as the bloodthirstiest of pirates. He once sat at a table with his “friends” Israel Hands and another fellow. As they chatted, Israel noticed that Blackbeard slowly lowered two pistols under the table, and he heard the click as Blackbeard cocked them. Fearing the worst, Israel leapt to his feet – but too late. A pistol ball smashed his knee. The second shot completely missed the other fellow.

“Why on Earth did ye do that?” Israel bellowed.

“If your crew don’t fear ye, they won’t respect ye,” came the laconic reply.

And yet, and yet, many historians write that Blackbeard was way more fearsome than bloodthirsty. An educated man, he doesn’t seem to have done half the nasty things history says he did.

This requires research!

Mystery #2

Although little pieces of a book were found inside one of the cannons recovered from the wreck of Blackbeard’s prized ship, Queen Anne’s Revenge, they appear to have been torn out of a popular book of the day about an ocean voyage to Peru.

And yet, and yet, at the end of Captain Johnson’s book, he says that Blackbeard kept a journal, and that, when asked where on his South Carolina plantation Blackbeard buried all his treasure, the pirate’s response was “that’s between me and the devil.”

So? Is there a journal? Does the journal tell us where the treasure is buried?

This, too, requires research!

Mystery #3

This isn’t so much of a mystery for you, but it certainly is for me. As a modeler of fine and beautiful sailing craft, I would love to put my hands on plans of Queen Anne’s Revenge.

And yet, and yet, such plans don’t seem to exist. What? Marine archaeologists have found her, in the shallows off of Beaufort, North Carolina, and have brought thousands of her pieces ashore. But no plans have been drawn – not even a deck plan!

She began life as a 26-gun British ship, was taken by the French during the War of Spanish Succession, and then was taken by Blackbeard. Blackbeard, typically, up-gunned her to 40. It’s no surprise she ran aground.

Oh, here’s a bonus mystery for you: by the time he ran her aground, Blackbeard had about 300 pirates in his company – that’s a lot of guys!

Stede Bonnet, a co-captain, felt that Blackbeard ran Queen Anne’s Revenge aground on purpose, so as to break up that huge number of pirates. According to Captain Johnson, he actually stranded 17 men on a desert island, with no food, no water, no nothin’. If Stede Bonnet hadn’t rescued them, himself having been ditched by Blackbeard, they’d have been goners for sure.

So? Why no plans of Queen Anne’s Revenge? And, did Blackbeard run her aground on purpose?

 

It’s all mysteries, my friend. All crying out for research. Are you up to the challenge?

A Man, A Plan, A Canal, a…

No, this post has nothing to do with the Panama Canal – I just couldn’t resist using the anagram… it’s supposed to read both directions the same, but doesn’t work. Rats.

So, a Deck Plan of the Kathryn B, from Marigold’s End. Was you a shipwright, back in the day, this might be where you start your design. You might sit thee down with your client, he what wants the ship to be built, and draft, with pencil and ruler, a plan similar to that which you’ll find on the A Map page. Similar, but no color, of course, and a wee bit more sophisticated.

The Kathryn B was built as a merchant ship, so she’s a little beamy, being roughly four times longer than her width. What does beamy mean? Ships were (and still are) measured in two dimensions: length and width, which was (and still is) called her beam. So, if she’s stubby, like the Kathryn B, she has a little more width, or beam, compared to her length, than other ships. For example, warships of her day were approximately five times their width. She’s beamy, which means she’s not the fastest sailer, and she probably tends to roll in rough seas. But, that beaminess means she’s got tons of room below the main deck for cargo, and that’s what she was built to carry.

Caribbean pirates might be wary of the ten guns – six pounders, I believe them to be. That means each gun would fire a six-pound ball. It doesn’t seem like much, but when it hits the side of your ship at four hundred miles an hour, it can do a lot of damage! Each of these guns is about eight feet long, and weighs about as much as Toyota Camry. By the end of the 1700’s, big warships commonly carried guns that fired a 32-pound ball. That, my friend, is a lot of iron!

This map shows you most of the whereabouts of stuff aboard the ship. In thinking about it now, you’ll need to find the ‘tween decks yourself, along with the stairs that lead to the hold, and Phineas’ cot.  Hey, what’s the value of an adventure except to discover new stuff!

Enjoy the plan, and let me know if there be changes you’d like to see!

Phineas@phineascaswell.com

A Dangling Fortune

Why did pirates wear earrings?

Well, there are a quite a few theories, but also some hard facts.

This’d be a fact: was you a sailor up until around the year 1800, you would get yourself an earring to signify to them what saw you that you had survived a shipwreck. A sailor with two earrings, one in each ear, why, that fellow had survived two shipwrecks. Three earrings, three shipwrecks, and so on.

I read a theory that pirates also wore earrings as a way to show their wealth. The danglies alongside their head would tell you at a glance whether this is a successful brigand, or simply a wannabe.

While there is a little merit to this theory – who doesn’t want to advertise their success? – it runs into a bit of a problem when you think who pirates were.

And by, who pirates were, I mean who pirates ARE, because there are a great many seafaring pirates out there today. Those guys with Uzis and motorboats that attack oil tankers and freighters in the waters off Indonesia – thugs with machine guns and grenades – are every bit as much a pirate as Long John Silver and Captain Jack Sparrow.

If one of these modern day pirates were caught, say, by the Somalian Navy, they’d be hanged on the spot, and the world would cheer to be rid of the nasty fellow. As a consequence, modern day pirates keep a low profile, for fear of getting caught.

The pirates of the Caribbean were no different. Vicious, rapacious murderers, they had nothing in their minds beyond what was in it for them.  Although they had some degree of brotherhood between themselves, they were viewed as a plague, and their hangings were accompanied by cheers from those that witnessed it.

So, would a pirate walk about, surrounded by thieves and cutthroats, wearing a fortune dangling from his ears?  One has to wonder…

Another theory says that a pirate wore his fortune on his ears that he might get a decent burial. I be dead, says I, but use me earrings to afford me a grave, would ye?

As above, surrounded by thieves and cutthroats, one simply must wonder.

– Hey, mate,Bob just died. And he’s got a fortune in diamonds hanging from his ear.

-Don’t take them earrings, Jake. Bob wants us to use them to pay for his funeral.

-Bob’s dead, mate – he don’t need no funeral. Shove him over the side – but gimme them earrings, first.

Why did pirates wear earrings? Well, was they a sailor, it showed how many shipwrecks they survived. And, some chaps just liked the look of ’em. That’d be the true of it!

 

Now’s the Time to Read Marigold’s End

 

Today. Right now. This minute. Don’t delay!

Go here: Smashwords.com and download your free copy while you can still get it for free. This, my friend, is a limited time offer!

Here’s the synopsis:

Struggling to deal with the loss first of his father and then of best friend, priggish, arrogant twelve-year-old Phineas Caswell finds himself aboard a ship on the very sea that took them both away.

Phineas’ one goal in life is to become a “landed” gentleman, and to marry the exquisite Susannah Kilburn – lofty goals for a penniless twelve year old Bostonian in the year 1706. To his horror, he is taken to sea by his well-intentioned but rather daffy Uncle Neville. Phineas finds he must learn to make his way among the frightening, gruff sailors aboard the ship, must hold his own against desperate pirates, and look beyond the past to find the meanings of courage, friendship, and home.

Patrick Caswell, Phineas’ sea-captain father, has disappeared into the Caribbean, rumored to have turned pirate. The Spanish treasure ship Tres Hermanas has been taken by buccaneers. In her hold she carried a cargo that will change the map of Europe. Queen Anne of England has dispatched secret agents to recover the treasure. But what has become of the treasure? What happened to Patrick Caswell? Who are these agents? Only Red Suarez holds the key. But he’s the vicious, self-appointed pirate king of Port Royal. Leave it to Phineas to bumble his way into a stunning adventure filled with naval battles, chases, and an amazing, all encompassing hurricane.

The sailor’s life has much to teach Phineas. Although he is a reluctant student, Phineas, Taylor the cabin boy, and the French princess Louise find themselves face-to-face with cruel buccaneers, and must learn the most difficult lesson of all in adventure as vast as the sea itself.

So, don’t delay. Download your copy today! Marigold’s End, by John D Reinhart.