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"What is the black spot, captain?"

This is a blog about pirates. Real pirates from history, not the kind from Pirates of the Caribbean. You will never see the word "Arr!" on this blog, unless it's in a rant about how ridiculous the idea of a pirate accent is. I might also reference pirate books like Treasure Island, though I want t draw a clear line between what is true and what is mythical. I will try to post about a new pirate each day, and I will try to post equally about lady pirates and male pirates.
Mar 23 '14

Summer adventure news!!!

SO.  This summer I will be spending about a month in North Carolina, which was a piracy hotspot and Edward Teach (AKA Blackbeard)’s place of death.  So there is a lot of history there, and I will likely come back with some rad stories and pictures.  

Also, I have been severely neglecting this blog.  You must understand that I am in college, I have a job, I’m working on a research project, and I’m taking Latin lessons on the side.  However, I am committed to spreading the truth about pirates and dispelling everyone’s image of cartoonish amputees ruling the seas, so I will put some actual effort into posting more often.

Thank you and goodnight.

Sep 19 '13

Talk like a pirate day.

It has come to my attention that today is “international talk like a pirate day”. Because of this bogus holiday, I would like to clear something up for you guys.

There was no “pirate talk”.

There was no “pirate accent”.

"Pirate slang" began and ended with nautical terms.

When you really think about it, the idea that all pirates spoke a certain way is just kind of ridiculous. Pirate crews often had members from multiple countries who spoke a variety of languages, and the only common words that everyone knew were boat words like “rope” and “deck” and “holy shit it’s a kraken”. If you went up to an actual pirate and started going “ARGH MATEYS LET’S KEELHAUL SOME FILTHY LANDLUBBERS!” They would most likely respond with “what the fuck are you talking about weirdo?” If its any consolation, they did say “belay” because it was a nautical term.

So in celebration of talk like a pirate day, consider simply sprinkling some nautical terms over your everyday speech. That would be the most accurate.

Aug 7 '13

Francois l’Olonnais: Scary-ass cannibal pirate

You know that nerdy kid from middle school whom everyone picked on without really thinking about it?  Now, imagine that he or she became a vengeance-seeking pirate.  That’s kind of how I see Francois l’Olonnais.

L’Olonnais came to the Carribean as an indentured servant in the 1650s, and after his time as a servant was up he began wandering around the islands, eventually becoming a buccaneer.  A few years into his pirating career, he was shipwrecked in Mexico, and his entire crew was killed by Spanish soldiers.  The only way he managed to survive was by covering himself in the blood of the dead and hiding amongst their corpses.  Some slaves helped him escape to Tortuga, where he and his new crew held a town hostage, demanding a ransom from the town ruler who turned out to be Spanish.  They sent another shipfull of Spanish soldiers to attack him and his crew.  They beheaded the entire crew except one person, whom they sent back to deliver the message that l’Olonnais would never again give quarter to any Spaniard.

Fast-forward about seven years, and l’Olonnais and his crew sack the city of Maracaibo, earning them quite a reputation.  The lake leading into the city was heavily armed and thought to be impenetrable, but they entered on the opposite side, by land (fucking duh, why didn’t they guard that side?) and spent two months raping, pillaging, stealing, torturing, and eventually burning the town.  L’Olonnais was an expert torturer, unsing techniques such as flaying, burning, and woolding, which involved tying a rope around a person’s head until their eyeballs were forced out of their fucking head.  When they were through with Maracaibo, they moved south to Gibraltar, where they killed an estimated 500 soldiers and held the city for ransom.  The ransom was paid, but they went ahead and ransacked the city anyway.  They fucked the city up so badly that it almost ceased to exist by the time they were through with it.  

Okay, this is where shit gets real.

After they were finished with Gibraltar, they headed to Central America, where they were ambushed by a ton of Spanish soldiers.  L’Olonnais barely survived, but in the end he captured two soldiers, one of whom he… well, I’ll give you a quote from one of the people who saw it happen…

He drew his cutlass, and with it cut open the breast of one of those poor Spanish, and pulling out his heart with his sacrilegious hands, began to bite and gnaw it with his teeth, like a ravenous wolf, saying to the rest: I will serve you all alike, if you show me not another way.

He ate his heart.

HE ATE THE GUYS HEART!

HE ATE A STILL-BEATING HUMAN HEART!

He cut the guys chest open, pulled his heart out with his hands, and ate it!

A FUCKING HUMAN HEART.

Okay, I will calm down about the heart now, and get on with the story, but…. HE ATE A GUYS HEART!!!!!!

Anyway, right after this happened, their escape route ended up failing, and they were captured-ironically-by cannibalistic natives who did the following to l’Olonnais:

tore him in pieces alive, throwing his body limb by limb into the fire and his ashes into the air; to the intent no trace nor memory might remain of such an infamous, inhuman creature.

Then they ate him.  Right after he ate a heart, he was eaten by a tribe of cannibalistic natives.

What goes around comes around, I guess.

Jun 2 '13

Sam Bellamy: desperate wannabe

I hate Sam Bellamy.  He’s the worst pirate.  Here’s why.

So we’ve all heard of Blackbeard, right?  Well, back in his early years, he and his mentor Benjamin Hornigold had a little pirate ship called the Mary Anne.  Hornigold would refuse to attack English ships because England was his home country (reasonable).  His crew became irritated with him over this, and  Blackbeard and Hornigold left the crew.  The remaining members elected Sam Bellamy as their new leader.

I would just like to point out that they ditched two of the most notorious pirates ever in favor of a big fat baby.  Also, they didn’t like Hornigold because he wouldn’t attack certain ships whereas Bellamy is known as one of the least violent, most merciful and generous pirates ever.  So I can’t imagine he did a whole lot of attacking, either. 

Anyway.  His origin story (and the main reason why I think he should never have gone into pirating) goes a little something like this.  Sammypants was born in England, the youngest of six children.  When he grew up, he became a sailor and traveled to cape cod, where-wait for it-wait for it-he started a love affair with a girl.  It is widely believed that the reason he went into pirating was because the girl’s father didn’t want his daughter to marry a poor sailor, so he wanted to get rich for her.

DOES ANYONE ELSE FIND THAT RIDICULOUS?!?!?!  Pirates aren’t cheesy romance novel characters!  They’re essentially gnarly sea-hobos who mug people!  You don’t start pirating to impress a girl, you start pirating because you’re greedy, angsty, and/or irritated with the government.  This, to me, is the pirating equivalent of that episode of “Freaks and Geeks” where James Franco’s character decides to become a punk rocker to impress a girl.  It’s just all wrong.

Anyway, back to Sammy-flakes.  More ridiculousness:  Shortly after becoming captain of the Mary Anne, Sammyface captured his very first ship! Nice job, Sam! You’re a big pirate now!  But wait…. Oh, Sam, you don’t know how to pirate at all!  After he captured his first ship, the Sultana, he made it his flagship.  About a year later, he and his crew captured the Whydah Gally, a big-ass slave ship.  Did he kick ass and take the ship for himself, leaving everyone onboard flailing in the water? Of course not! He’s Sam Bellamy, the most unfit pirate ever!  After capturing the Whydah Gally, he GAVE the Sultana to the captain, as a sort of trade.  No, he can’t just take the damn ship, he had to fucking give the captain a new ship.  What pirate does that?

Yet another time, when he and his crew were finished raiding a ship, he wanted to let the captain keep his boat, but the rest of his crew decided to burn it.  He made a long apology speech to the captain of the other ship.  

I wish that all the other pirates of the Caribbean had teamed up and beat him up for being a huge lame-o, but no, he met his demise in a much less exciting way.  They all decided to take a little break and visit their loved ones on shore (Sam was on board the Whydah, headed for Cape Cod to see that girl, the Mary Anne was headed for Rhode Island so another member of the crew could visit his family).  A storm hit both ships, and most of those on board (including Sam) died.  Between the two ships, there were 9 survivors, and 6 of them were hanged, two were released, and one became John Quincy’s slave.

So that’s Sam Bellamy, the least-worthy pirate in history.  He just gave too many fucks about too many things.  Also, in the process of writing this post, I realized I need to write about Hornigold next time, a pirate who truly gave zero fucks-possibly negative fucks.  That should happen sometime in the future.

May 2 '13

Henry Morgan

So it turns out that when you’re in New York, you don’t have very much down time for reading, so I didn’t finish “Under the Black Flag”.  As soon as I get some more free time, I’ll pick it up again.  

Anyway, for my first post, I will post about Henry Morgan, primarily because my favorite Alestorm song is “Captain Morgan’s Revenge” (by the way, if you’re a pirate fan who doesn’t know Alestorm, oh god, look them up.  Pirate-themed metal band.  How could that not be wonderful?).  Sadly, it’s a very inaccurate song because Henry Morgan did not die due to mutiny, he actually retired before he could die due to piracy-related things (Well, it’s believed that he died due to liver complications as a result of his heavy drinking, which is pretty damn pirate-y.  But most pirates were either killed in battle or caught and executed).  Even so, here’s the link to the song, and I highly recommend looking up their other stuff:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wa3dkYLvw8k

My boyfriend has pointed out that Alestorm is more based on fictionalized pirates than actual pirates and that real pirates would likely listen to actual hardcore metal instead, but he can suck a fuck because Alestorm is still pretty great.

ANYWAY.  On to Henry Morgan


What a great mustache.

So there are a few pirates who aren’t necessarily the most terrible people on Earth.  And there are a lot of pirates who WERE terrible people, but in the end suffered awful, violent deaths, proving that karma exists.  Henry Morgan was neither of those.  He was a complete asshole and ended up dying as a rich man.  

Morgan was born to a poor family and decided to become a sailor in order to get rich, even though everyone knows that being a sailor during that time sucked major ass.  He started out on a ship in Barbados, blah blah blah, eventually he became a privateer, which was basically licensed pirating.  Privateers were private ships that were given permission by the government to attack ships from warring countries, so the only real difference between pirating and privateering was that privateering was not only legal, but privateers were rewarded for their actions-in fact, Henry Morgan was knighted by King Charles II.  

One of his most famous raids is the attack on Portobello in Panama.  He and a bunch of other pirates captured the city.  The whole city.  The city didn’t have a very large population, but it’s main purpose was a shipping point for Spain.  They shipped gold from Peru to Spain.  Pretty good place to raid.  So they decided to hold the city for ransom by threatening to burn the whole city to the ground unless the Governor paid them a whole  bunch of money.  The original ransom was 350,000 pesos, but the governor refused to give money to a privateer.  Luckily for Morgan, a false rumor was spread about an attack on Spain, causing the governor to relocate and leave a negotiator behind to decide on an appropriate sum, which turned out to be 100,000 pesos paid in gold and silver.  It was one of the most successful raids performed during the golden age of piracy-each member of Morgan’s team made more money in that single raid than they would have in a year at any regular, honest job.  When the story of this raid spread, it turned Morgan into something of a legend.  

After a year of inactivity, Morgan decided to return to the Spanish Main for more pirating.  He decided to raid the town of Maracaibo, but he and his crew hung around for too long, and three Spanish warships came to get them.  The three ships blocked the entrance to the lake where Morgan’s ship was located, effectively trapping them.  One of the three ships was sunk, one was captured by Morgan and his crew, and the last one was abandoned by its crew.  Then somehow, Morgan managed the commanders of Fort Maracaibo to turn their guns away from the lake, and they escaped in the middle of the night.  It was a very successful escape.  

About 2 years later, in 1671, Morgan decided to attack Panama City.  He got a crew of 1,000 men together and they captured San Lorenzo fort.  Then they decided to march into Panama city, and the Spanish defenders of Panama were so afraid of Morgan because of his reputation that they abandoned their posts.  Eventually, though, they came back, leading to a battle between the defenders and Morgan’s crew.  But guess what! They scattered a second time, because Morgan’s crew was more well-armed than the defenders.  Sadly for them, because of all the delays, a lot of the loot was shipped away before they could get to it.  So in the end, it was Morgan’s least successful raid.

Here’s the part that proves that karma does not exist.  Before Morgan’s last raid, England and Spain had signed a peace treaty (it is unclear whether or not Morgan knew this before he led the raid), and Spain was really quite angry with Morgan for attacking one of their colonies.  So what was the punishment?  The governor of Jamaica-the one who gave Morgan the authority to sail in the Caribbean- was removed from his position and sent to England.  Morgan was also sent to England, where he hung out with all of his biggest fans.  He was never punished, not even a little bit.  In fat, that’s when he was knighted.  Then he was Named Lieutenant Governor of Jamaica and sent back there, where he lived out the rest of his life getting drunk and telling stories about his time as a pirate.  He died of liver failure in 1688, at the age of 53.

So that’s sir Henry Morgan, the guy who spent his whole life fucking things up, and was rewarded handsomely for it.  

Apr 24 '13

An explanation

I’m going to New York until Monday, but I’m reading “under the black flag” so hopefully I’ll have things to post when I get back.

Apr 20 '13

Common Pirate Myths

Anyone who is already fairly familiar with pirates knows that the following misconceptions are false.  They also know that many of the universally accepted myths about pirates come from Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island.  Yet many people truly believe that the following myths are true, so before I start posting about real pirates from history, I’ll debunk some classic pirate myths.  

The Pirate Accent

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Pirates did not, in fact, say things like “Arr” or “Matey”.  The “yo-ho-ho” pirate song came from the novel Treasure Island.  The fact is, any universal pirate “slang” that all pirates used would be nautical terms like “avast” or “ahoy” (which is, in fact, a nutical term used to signal boats or ships, but it is also colloquially used as a greeting by pirates and non-pirates alike).  The idea that all pirates used the same accent is kind of ridiculous when you really think about it.  There were Caribbean pirates, English pirates, French pirates, Chinese pirates… pirates came from all over the place, and they all used their own accents.

The Jolly Roger

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First of all, all pirate captains had different flags.  There are a bunch of hand-dandy little charts out there on the internet that show you the most famous ones, but I’ll just include a little one:

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You may notice that a few of these have hourglasses included in them.  Hourglasses were a common symbol of death during the golden age of piracy.  

Most people believe that the Jolly Roger was meant to scare people when in reality you were in more trouble if you saw a pirate ship flying a red flag, because it meant the pirates were unwilling to give quarter (meaning they would show no mercy and take no prisoners. Basically it means everyone on the other ship is fucked).  

Pirates apparently lost their eyes a lot

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I personally find the truth about eye patches to be much more interesting tan the myth. Pirates didn’t wear eye patches to cover the gaping hole where their eye once was, they wore them before and during raids so that one eye would be adjusted to the dark.  Pirates usually fought both on deck and below the deck, and as you can imagine, it was dark below the deck.  Since it takes the human eye a while to adjust to the dark, pirates would just cover one eye and then switch the eye patch over to the other eye when they went below deck.  Pretty nifty.

Pirates buried treasure

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There has only been one recorded instance of a pirate actually burying their treasure (Captain William Kidd), and it was dug up later by his captors.  Usually pirates didn’t save their money for very long-the moment they hit shore they usually blew all of their money on booze and women.  

People became pirates because deep down, they wanted to live as outlaws

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Yes, there were a few people who became pirates by choice, but usually pirates started out as sailors and turned to piracy for one of two reasons: their ship was captured by pirates and they were given the choice to become pirates or die, or they ditched their job as a sailor because being a sailor sucked ass during that time.  In fact, the British navy had such a hard time recruiting sailors that they would actually kidnap people and force them to join the navy.  Most sailors were treated very poorly by their superiors, and the pay was almost nothing.  And then you have Sam Bellamy, my personal least favorite pirate, who became a pirate as a get-rich-quick scheme to impress the girl he liked.  Point is, not all pirates were sociopaths-most of them were more or less forced into pirating.

Walking the plank

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This one doesn’t make much sense if you really think about it.  If a pirate wanted to drown someone else on board, it’s much more likely that he would just push him overboard rather than go through the whole ordeal of making them walk the plank.  Or you can just slice them up with your cutlass.  Or shoot them with a musket.  Really, when you think of all the more efficient ways there are for pirates to kill people, you wonder how the idea of making someone walk the plank ever occurred to anyone.

The Black Spot

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The black spot is another one from Treasure Island.  The idea is that when a captain is about to be deposed (replaced) he is given a piece of paper with a black spot on it.  I’ve always kind of liked this idea for some reason, but the truth is that if a captain was going to be deposed, he would most likely just be killed in his sleep or marooned.  

So there you have it-a short list of decidedly untrue (yet widely accepted) myths about pirates. Now that that’s been cleared up, we can start learning about some real life pirates…. As soon as I get back from playing mini golf.

Apr 20 '13

Lady Pirates

This is the rant that initially inspired this blog.

This is NOT what female pirates looked like:

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This IS what female pirates looked like:

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There were, indeed, real female pirates, and they were badass.  Take for example…

Jeanne-Louise de Belleville, swore revenge on her husband’s killers

When she was 30 years old, Jeanne married Oliver III de Clisson.  The two were closer than most married couples were at that time.  In 1343, Oliver was wrongly accused of treason and beheaded on the orders of King Philip VI, his head was then put on display. Jeanne was furious, and sold her husbands property (including a castle and a manor house in Nantes) and used the money to buy three warships.  She had each of these ships painted black and the sails were dyed red.  She and her crew hunted down the ships of King Philip VI, always leaving one or two sailors alive so the message would get back to the king that she had destroyed yet another of his ships.  When King Philip VI died, she continued to hunt down french noblemen, personally beheading them with an axe and throwing their corpses overboard.  She retired from pirating after 13 years, re-married to Sir Walter Bentley, and eventually returned to France.

The Red Lady (actual identity unknown)

Not much is known about the Red Lady or her motives.  She would disguise herself as an entertainer in order to board pirate ships, then once on board she would remove her disgurise and kill all of those on board, then head out to sea with the stolen ship.

Jacquotte Delahaye, came back from the dead

Again, not much is known about her, but she was a 17th century Caribbean pirate who became a pirate after her father’s death.  In order to escape those who pursued her, she faked her own death and lived as a man for many years, before “coming back from the dead”, earning her the nickname “Back from the dead red” (she also had vibrant red hair).  Quote from her: ”I couldn’t love a man who commands me, any more than I could love a man who lets himself be commanded by me.”

Anne Bonny and Mary Read, faked pregnancies to avoid hanging

These two are fairly well-known female pirates.  Anne Bonny married a fellow named James Bonny, then had an affair with pirate captain Calico Jack, and ended up joining his crew.  While on board his ship, she met Mary Read, who was disguised as a man and calling herself Mark Read.  Earlier in her life, Mary (an illegitimate chid) had been raised as a boy in an attempt to inherit her paternal grandmother’s money. She later joined the British Army while disguised as a man, settled down for a while with a Flemish soldier, and began pirating after his death.  When Bonny first took a liking to Read, Calico Jack became jealous and threatened to cut “Mark“‘s throat, so he too was let in on the secret of Mary’s true gender.  He decided to break tradition by allowing both of these women to remain on board.  While it isn’t true that Mary and Anne were in a lesbian relationship, it is true that Mary later fell in love with a woman (also disguised as a man), and the two exchanged vows (without a priest present), so Mary referred to the woman as her “husband”.  She even killed another male pirate who posed a threat to her “husband”.  When Mary and Anne’s ship was captured by pirate hunter Jonathan Barnet (he surprised them during a rum party with another pirate crew).  As the ship was fired at, the men ran down into the hold, leaving Mary and Anne on the deck to fight the enemies by themselves.  Mary Read supposedly shot into the hold angrily when the men would not fight with them, killing one man and injuring another.  Eventually, the women were overpowered and the whole crew was arrested.  They were all sentenced to hanging, but Read and Bonny escaped the sentence by revealing that they were pregnant.  Sadly, Mary Read died in prison of a fever, but Anne Bonny seems to have disappeared.  There is no record of her release or her execution.  A few theories are that her father ransomed her, that she returned to her pre-piracy husband, or even that she resumed piracy under a new name.  Her final words to Calico Jack while in prison were that she was “sorry to see him there, but if he had fought like a man, he need not have been hanged like a dog.” (Side note: What evil soulless bastard would hang a dog?)

So, my point is, female pirates were every bit as menacing and bloodthirsty as male pirates, so it bothers me that they are over-sexualized and not taken seriously, and that they are not as well-known as male pirates (How bitchin would it be if the next pirates of the caribbean movie were about Mary Read and Anne Bonny?  Picture that for a second.  Picture Kiera Knightly telling Orlando Bloom that he didn’t fight like a man, and then escaping from prison.  It’s a pretty satisfying image, to me at least.)

Okay, rant over.  

Okay, rant not quite over, because I feel I should explain why I’m suddenly so concerned with female pirates getting credit.  I’m currently reading Treasure Island, so I’m going through a bit of a pirate phase, and I’ve been researching badass lady pirates, and I was really bothered to find that even though there are so many of them, we know virtually nothing about most of their lives.  Take, for example, the first recorded female pirate ever, Ch’iao K’uo Füü Jëën (who may or may not have been mythical).  You can’t find anything about her anywhere online!

Okay.  Rant actually over.