Monday, October 19, 2009

The Pirates Own Book: "Good Devil, Take This Till I Come"

Its been a bit since we visited The Pirates' Own Book by Charles Ellms so I pulled it out yesterday and, in between exclamations of "Geaux Saints!" I read up on the short but busy life of Captain Lewis, pirate. Here it is in a nutshell.

Captain Lewis is not given a place or date of birth and in all honesty I cannot find any other references to the man. Ellms doesn't even give him a first name so its a little hard to know which Captain Lewis was "the pirate Lewis". Ellms is quite clear that the man was a Satanist though and, given the lack of ravishment of young ladies in this chapter, that's about as scintillating as he gets.

Lewis signed aboard the ship of a pirate named Banister as a boy. When Banister was hanged "at the yard-arm of a man-of-war" in Port Royal, Jamaica, Lewis followed in his footsteps. He appropriated a canoe and a couple of men and captured larger and larger ships until he had his own brigantine. He seems to have worked the Gulf of Mexico in his early career and taken mostly fishing vessels. When he does capture a merchant off Campeche, he chastises the Captain for not adequately looking after his employer's property. An unpleasant but humorous scene follows in which Ellms has Lewis caning the merchant Captain who runs around the deck attempting to surrender even more goods and cash to the pirate, which in turn only enrages Lewis all the more. Good times.

Lewis then sails to the Carolinas and begins taking merchants in earnest. He works the coast of North America from the Caribbean all the way up to Newfoundland. His largely French crew falls out with the Englishmen among them and Lewis maroons the would be English mutineers on one of his ship's boats with only a small amount of provisions. Ellms tells us that "These men, it is supposed, all perished in the sea".

Shortly after this incident, Lewis takes on a 24 gun merchant who somehow manages to capture Lewis' quartermaster. They keep the man in chains overnight and Lewis is prepared to do a deal whereby the quartermaster would be returned and Lewis would let the merchant go about its business. The news that his man was kept in chains sets him off, however, and Lewis boards the merchant killing any man who will not join his crew.

Generally, though, Lewis is rather gentlemanly to his victims, giving them his ship if he likes theirs and only taking on men who are willing to turn pirate. At some point, he sails for the coast of Guinea. When his ship is in pursuit of a fat merchant and her main and fore topmasts are torn away in a high wind, Lewis climbs to the maintop, cuts off a lock of hair and throws it into the wind saying "good devil, take this till I come". "And it was observed," Ellms says "that he came afterwards faster up with the chase than before the loss of his top-masts".

Off Guinea, Lewis' crew splits up and this time it is the French who cause the trouble. They get a ship and elect as their Captain one Le Barre but Lewis will have none of it. He gives chase and sinks Le Barre's ship, leaving only a handful of Frenchmen alive. While celebrating this victory, Lewis' men inform him that "...the French had a plot against him". His response is that "...he could not withstand his destiny..." and evidently the Devil told him he would die that night.

Sure enough, the Frenchmen board Lewis' ship in the night and kill him as he sleeps. His men take care of the intruders and then elect John Cornelius " Irishman..." as Captain. A delightful little poem follows and that's it for Captain Lewis, Satan's pirate.

If you've a desire to read The Pirates' Own Book yourself, it is still in circulation from the Marine Research Society of Salem, Massachusetts or the good folks at the Gutenberg project have the entire book - illustrations and all! - available on line here. Check it out. You won't be disappointed!


Timmy! said...

Ahoy, Pauline! "Satan's pirate"... Sounds like a good movie title. They could get Glenn Danzig for the lead role. In fact, I think that was the original title for Danzig 666 until he changed it at the last minute to "Satan's Child"...

Pauline said...

Ahoy Timmy! Satan's pirate just sounds mean. I imagine a whole lot of people considered every pirate "Satan's". But I just love 'em, ya know?