Monday, December 28, 2009

People: Pass The Aloe

In my wayward travels through the many pirate places in the World, I have only encountered the tale of Captain Red Legs Greaves twice. That's a significantly small number given the exciting life the Captain lived. No one is even able to give me his real first name. All of which leads me to believe that Captain Red Legs may be a piratical myth like Charlotte de Berry, buried treasure and the walking of planks. Whether fact or fiction, the story of Red Legs Greaves is as full of swashed buckles as any Errol Flynn movie and I submit it to you, Brethren, for your own consideration.

Greaves was born to Scottish parents en route to a life of slavery in Barbados. It seems that Mum and Da backed the wrong side during the English Civil War and were promptly indentured to a planter in the West Indies. Life on the plantation was decidedly miserable and, when still a teenager, Greaves ran off and stowed away aboard a ship.

As luck would have it, the ship's business was piracy and her Captain - a man named Hawkins who is also mysteriously lacking a first name - was as cruel as any pirate this side of Francois L'Ollonais. Hawkins forced the young man to sign on at gunpoint and Greaves' adventures as a pirate began. The year was approximately 1670.

Greaves chaffed under the leadership of Hawkins. The young man objected to the Captain's brutal treatment of prisoners and crewmen alike. Eventually the two faced off. Greaves killed Hawkins and was promptly elected the new Captain.

As a leader, Greaves seems to have been one of those big thinkers who didn't trouble himself with small prizes. He planned a daring night raid on one of the pearl diving centers on the island of Margarita off the Venezuelan coast. Managing the capture of a Spanish galleon, he turned her long guns on the fortress overlooking the harbor and the Spanish surrendered. Greaves and his crew sailed away with a fortune in Venezuelan pearls and silver. So much, in fact, that Greaves decided to retire.

The Scottish pirate set his sights on becoming a planter himself. He bought a plantation on the island of Nevis and prepared to settle down. Unfortunately he was recognized by one of the locals as a wanted freebooter. Taken into custody, he was jailed at Jamestown, the island's capital, with no more promising future ahead of him then hanging.

Luck always seemed to be with our red-legged hero, however, and a huge earthquake followed by a tsunami hit Jamestown just as Greaves' trial was about to begin. Unlike most of the island's population, Greaves survived. He was picked up, half-dead and clinging to debris, by a whaling ship. Recovered from his ordeal, Greaves joined the ship's crew. Some time later, the ship with Greaves as crewman, captured a pirate vessel that attacked them.

Greaves evidently revealed himself at this point, and was given a pardon for his part in rounding up the pirates. At last, Greaves retired as a planter and died happy and elderly on land.

The story is pretty hard to swallow at just about every turn. All the same, I hope that at least some of it is true. Oh, and finally there's the bit about Greaves' nickname. It seems he liked to wear short breeches - as so many seaman did - and his pale, Scottish skin was almost permanently burned red by the West Indian sun. Pass the aloe, indeed.


Timmy! said...

Ahoy, Pauline! That one is pretty hard to believe. It does sound somewhat like an Errol Flynn movie... Captain Blood, anyone?

Pauline said...

Ahoy, Timmy! I thought that too. So much so, in fact, that I almost posted a picture from the movie. Burying treasure won out this time, though.