Tuesday, October 12, 2010

History: Sign Or No Sail

We've talked about ship’s articles aboard pirates before. These egalitarian pieces of paper are so fascinating that, to my mind anyway, they prove more than a few myths about pirates of any age at least partially untrue. The paramount bit of misinformation is that pirates were uneducated dullards, knuckle dragging thugs and basic brute beasts. While collectively they were not necessarily ready to dine with royalty, many could read and write and all could certainly understand and agree to what they were signing up for.

Today then, another set of ship’s articles from the Golden Age of piracy. Once again, these are quoted from Charles Johnson’s seminal General History of Pyrates. These articles come from the ship Delivery and were agreed to and signed by Captain George Lowther and his crew around 1720. They are similar to, but also noticeably different from, the articles we examined in July from John Phillips’ ship Revenge.

I The Captain is to have two full Shares, the Master to have one share and a half; the Doctor, Mate, Gunner and Bosun one Share and a quarter.

II He that shall be found guilty of taking up any unlawful Weapon on board the Privateer, or any Prize, by us taken, so as to strike or abuse one another, in any regard, shall suffer what Punishment the Captain and the Majority of the Company shall think fit.

III He that shall be found Guilty of Cowardice, in the Time of Engagement, shall suffer what Punishment the Captain and Majority shall think fit.

IV If any Gold, Jewels, Silver &c. be found on board of any Prize or Prizes, to the value of a Piece of Eight, and the finder do not deliver it to the Quarter-Master in the space of 24 hours, shall he suffer what Punishment the Captain and Majority shall think fit.

V He that is found Guilty of Gaming or Defrauding another to the Value of a Shilling, shall he suffer what Punishment the Captain and Majority shall think fit.

VII He that sees a Sail first, shall have the best Pistol or Small-Arm on board her.

VIII Good Quarters to be given when called for.

Lowther’s articles come across as addressing the violent nature of a pirate crew more thoroughly – and interestingly exclusively – than John Phillips’ articles. There is specific mention of quarter for enemies and prizes and shares are delineated but the vast majority of points address punishment for transgressions among the crew. Nothing is mentioned about the treatment of prisoners (other than the implied issue of “quarter”) and the articles do not address recruitment or women at any point. Johnson tells us simply that Lowther required his men to sign or they would not be allowed to sail.

Delivery came to no good end despite her carefully written, if unusually truncated, articles. While careening their ship in 1723, Lowther and his men were surprised by agents of the British South Sea Company. Being in the vulnerable position of having their ship aground and their guns unavailable, most of the men readily surrendered. Though Lowther and a handful of the crew managed to escape into the dense jungle of the small island they were on, the situation was essentially hopeless. With their food and fresh water left at the ship and the prospect of hanging should they be caught looming large, Lowther and his mates committed suicide.

Header: Buccaneers by Howard Pyle


Timmy! said...

Ahoy, Pauline! Those are brief, but pretty much to the point.

I'm kind of disappointed in Lowther and his mates for killing themselves. It seems like they could have either tried to survive by scavanging what they could from thier ship after the British left or gone out fighting. I'm just saying, Pirate Queen.

Pauline said...

Ahoy, Timmy! I tend to agree. Best piratical deaths in my opinion: 1) Blackbeard aboard Queen Anne's Revenge; 2) Jean Laffite aboard General Santandar; 3) Bartholomew Roberts aboard Royal Fortune. Go out fighting; get buried at sea.