Monday, July 26, 2010

History: Know Your Articles

We've talked before about democracy among pirates. Though I don't adhere to the one man/one vote and justice for all picture of pirates in general, there is no denying the ship's articles that have come down to us in writing from the Golden Age and beyond. Captain Charles Johnson in his book The General History of the Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pyrates, listed three such sets of articles from as many separate ships. They make interesting reading and give a tantalizing glimpse of how these rovers of the sea interacted with their officers and one another.

We'll revisit this from time to time because all of the articles in question are fairly detailed and there are others - the Laffite brothers', for instance - that are worth looking at too. All together they would make a prohibitively long post. But separately they're fun to dive into. So today, the articles of Captain John Phillips' Revenge dated circa 1723:

1) Every man shall obey civil Command; the Captain shall have one full share and a half of all Prizes; the Master, Carpenter, Bosun and Gunner shall have one share and quarter.
2) If any man shall offer to run away or keep any secret from the Company, he shall be marooned with one bottle of powder, one bottle of water, one small arm and shot.
3) If any man shall steal anything in the Company or game to the value of a Piece of Eight, he shall be marooned or shot.
4) If at any time we should meet another Marooner that man that shall sign the Articles without the Consent of our Company shall suffer such punishment as the Captain and Company shall see fit.
5) That man that shall strike another whilst these Articles are in force shall receive Moses's Law on the bare back.
6) That man that shall snap his arms or smoak Tobacco in the hold without a cap to his pipe or carry a candle lighted without a lanthorn shall suffer the same punishment as the former Article.
7) That man that shall not keep his arms clean, fit for an engagement, or neglect his Business shall be cut off from his Share and suffer such other punishment as the Captain and Company shall see fit.
8) If any man shall lose a Joint in Time of Engagement, he shall have 400 pieces of eight; if a Limb, 800.
9) If at any Time we meet with a prudent woman, that man that offers to meddle with her without her Consent shall suffer present Death.

These Articles address, perhaps rather severely to modern eyes, the issues most critical aboard a wooden ship about the business of freebooting. Civil behavior, adding to or subtracting from the strength of the company, keeping ready for battle and the abject fear of fire. Shares and compensation are spelled out, as in any contract, and even "prudent women" are looked after. Moses's Law, by the way, means a flogging of 39 lashes; literally "40 stripes lacking one".

Phillips was a small time pirate plying the sweet trade in the northern Atlantic for the most part. Of interest in this case, aside from the articles themselves, is that the men of Revenge swore by their articles on an axe as no Bible was handy. Also the fact that about a year after these articles were agreed to, the men mutinied off the Newfoundland coast. They bound and gagged Phillips and tossed him into the cold ocean.

Among free thinking and generally violent men, even the most carefully written articles were no guarantee of safety, by land or sea.


Timmy! said...

Ahoy, Pauline! Interesting articles. They all seem to make perfect sense to me and swearing on an axe also would seem to be pretty reasonable too (certainly more useful on a freebooter than a Bible at any rate).

It just goes to show though, you can have sensible laws and still have a lousy leader... Not to draw any parallels to current events, Pirate Queen.

Pauline said...

Ahoy, Timmy! I'm not up on what actually set of the mutiny, although I suspect it had - as was so often the case - to do with a lack of prizes and/or perceived cowardice on the part of Phillips. Either way, it's terrible death to die!