Friday, April 30, 2010

Booty: Cafe Brulot

The painting above is now housed in New Orlean's Cabildo on Jackson Square. Done from life, allegedly, it shows us (from left to right) Renato Beluche in shadow, Jean Laffite singing and raising a cup, Pierre Laffite standing and looking dapper, and Dominique Youx pipe in hand. The painting is known by various names and one that seems to cling is "The Laffite Brothers In Dominique's Bar".

In fact, Dominique Youx was no brother to the Laffites at all. William C. Davis in The Pirates Laffite dismisses the story as a "canard" and given the level of research he applied to his book it would be difficult to argue with him. Youx probably did run a coffee shop in the Faubourg Marigny before his death in 1830 but where it was or what it might have been called is - like so many other things - lost to history. All argument along these lines seems to fall, for the most part, on deaf ears. And then it escalates from there. For instance, as I read recently, not only was Youx a Laffite but he invented and sold that spicy coffee delight that has come down to us as Cafe Brulot.

This article at Suite 101 happily wraps up every myth possible about the Laffite brothers into the birth of a coffee drink. It even includes as fact the outlandish story Pierre Laffite fed to the Spanish government about his family being Spanish. It hooked Spain into paying he and his brother as spies. It was Jean who added the bit about their grandmother being a Jewish victim of the Inquisition. To remind the brothers associates of their undying hatred for the Spanish. For whom they were spying. The truth is, in fact, far more intersting (and full of intrigue) than the story. But who needs the truth when a good Laffite lie persists?

Well, much as the Cafe Brulot story titillates, it too is a tall tale. Although there were probably recipes for spiced Creole coffee in existence as early as Dominique Youx's day, the official claim for introducing the modern version comes from:
One of the quintessential New Orleanian dining spots, Antoine's (pictured above in the NY Times online). According to his 1988 book The 100 Greatest New Orleans Creole Recipes, Roy F. Guste, Jr. is a direct descendant of the man who first fired up the brandy and coffee:

Cafe Brulot was created by my great-grandfather, Jules Alciatore for his patrons at Antoine's. He designed special cups and even the decorative suspended copper bowl in which to blend and flame the mixture.

Of course, it would be a yet more colorful piece of NOLA history if Captain Dominique himself had invented this popular, post-meal cup. He was rumored to have made excellent coffee so it might follow after all. But, as I've said so many times before, I'm about history as it was not as I wish it could be.

So why do I bring it up at all? Well, today marks a little milestone for Triple P. April is my first month with a post on every single day. Here then, by way of celebration, is Monsieur Alciatore's recipe for Cafe Brulot a la Diabolique:

6 ounces of brandy
Peel of 1 lemon
2 sticks of cinnamon
8 whole cloves
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
4 cups strong, hot, black coffee

In a fireproof bowl, over an open flame or stove, combine the brandy, lemon peel, cinnamon sticks, cloves and sugar. As the mixture heats, ignite carefully with a match. Use a ladle to stir the liquid for about two minutes. Pour hot coffee into the flaming liquid and ladle into demitasse cups or serve a half cup in regular coffee cups. Serves 6.

It is very dramatic to watch the making of Cafe Brulot table side. I find, though, that flaming anything at home is hazardous at best, although it is a good way to get to know local firemen (single ladies, take note). I also find that simply warming the brandy mixture over the stove and then adding the coffee is all you really need for a tasty pick-me-up.

Enjoy, Brethren. And thank you for a very successful April!

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Women At Sea: Madame La Jolie Commandante

Contemporary portrait of Rose de Freycinet (source)

I am always excited to get to Triple P each day. When I sit down in front of the blinking cursor (which can be such an enemy in other situations) I'm ready with research in hand, pictures lined up and an idea in my head. But some posts are more fun and indeed more dear than others. Today's is just such a one. To honor not only the lady in question but all those women who have gone to sea (including the able female seamen who will now be serving aboard U.S. submarines) I give you the fascinating story of Rose de Freycinet and her voyages aboard L'Uranie and La Physicienne.

What we know of Rose Marie Pinon's early life is nominal. She was born into a family of bourgeois at a time when being bourgeois in France was all the rage - 1794. Pretty and charming, she was well educated in particular for a French girl. As the Revolution and Consulate gave way to the Empire, Rose caught the eye of an aristocratic sea captain sixteen years her senior. She married Louise-Claude de Saulces de Freycinet in 1814.

When the Empire fell and things looked bleak for French honor and pride, Louis was picked to lead a voyage of discovery. He would circumnavigate the globe on a three year cruise with the very best French navigators, naturalists and artists to document native cultures, local bays and ports and with luck claim some land for France. The ship chosen was L'Uranie, a weatherly French corvette of twenty guns and 300 tons. There was nothing, it seemed, at all remarkable about the voyage. That is until a conjugal ruse was revealed to crew and officers once the ship was well out to sea.

Rose had been smuggled aboard by her husband. Dressed as a boy and under cover of darkness, she slipped into the great cabin posing as a servant. The de Freycinets were determined to be together and, despite Rose's natural reticence over the prospect of so long a time at sea aboard a ship full of men, their determination paid off. Thus began an adventure that Rose documented in a stream of journal-like letters to both her mother and her best friend.

The men of L'Uranie acted, not surprisingly, like Frenchmen. They were thrilled to have Madame aboard. Rose writes that the conversations at her husband's table were crisp, witty and completely without course or vulgar language. The crew tried to keep up with their officers, allowing Rose the lee side of the ship for her morning strolls on deck. But sailors will be sailors and eventually their cursing got the better of Rose. She gave up taking the air and contented herself in her husband's cabin with "... my guitar, my sewing and letters."

Though she had come aboard in men's clothes, and wore them for a while, she was never comfortable cross-dressing. She confided her relief in dawning her gowns again to her mother, saying that she was only "...glad of a man's cloak" when L'Uranie was threatened by a Barbary corsair. "The thought of a seraglio evoked such unpleasant images in my mind and I hoped to escape that fate by virtue of male disguise." The corsair thought better of challenging a 20 gun ship, and gave up the chase.

Back in Europe, the French - generally morally opposed to the thought of women at sea - found the entire story charming. The new Bourbon King mentioned the situation was amusing and the papers congratulated Captain and Madame on "... this example of conjugal devotion". Interestingly, it was the British who clucked their tongues. The Lieutenant Governor of Gibraltar was down right rude to Madame when L'Uranie put in to his port. The Royal Navy, with it's long history of women at sea as both companions and hard working sailors, showed a most unpleasant and ingenuous side of itself to Rose. Perhaps it was because she was French.
L'Uranie continued into the South Pacific and made several stops in Australia. The watercolor above, by J. Alphonse Pellion, shows just such a one at Shark Bay. Rose can be glimpsed to the right of the stately white tent, tending a kettle over a fire. The painters aboard ship, Pellion and Arago, made two sets of each of their works. One was for the Captain's official report and did not include Madame, while a second true-to-life work featured Rose. Thankfully, both examples of many have survived.

The journey continued westward. At Mauritius and Reunion, Rose met with welcome and potential disaster. The island of Mauritius was then held by the British and Rose was introduced to Captain and Mrs. Purvis. Both were charmed by the Frenchwoman and encouraged her to spend time with them while her husband's crew did their surveys. This was particularly delightful for Rose as Mrs. Purvis had a new baby. Rose - who may very well have nailed her courage to the sticking place to follow her husband in the hope of achieving motherhood - documents her adoration for children time and again.

At Reunion, Rose tried to avoid the French Governor, whose name was the more commonly spelled Lafitte. She feared that he had orders to remove her from her husband's ship and keep her on Reunion. To her relief, Governor Lafitte had no such intentions. Instead, her only concern was "... to ward off the compliments of someone who was full of admiration for my courage." Rose, it is no surprise, managed with aplomb and gentility.

Her letters give us a sly and very French perspective on the many places, cultures and people that she encountered. She notes in an almost blithe aside that a young woman in Australia was very pretty with a "... ravishing ankle, or so Louis noticed." She mentions women on Mariana who, when surprised while bathing by some of the L'Uranies, covered not their fronts but their backs. Rose reports that "... the gentlemen were not tempted to take issue with them on this matter!" There are a hundred such delightful turns of phrase in Madame's prose. Reading her letters, even in translation, makes me long for a time when people were capable of regular understatement and eloquence.

Tragedy awaited L'Uranie and her crew, however. On February 14, 1820, she struck an enormous rock off the Falkland Islands. It took some time for realization to set in as the ship continued on under sail; the hull was ripped open and water poured in. The crew manned the pumps and everything that could be brought up and salvaged from below was. The ordeal was horrifying for Rose, who was slow to action and then spent much of her time exhorting the laboring crew to entreat and trust in the holy Virgin. Probably fed up, Arago snapped back: "In the holy pump, Madame!" It is to Rose's credit that she included even this in her letters.

L'Uranie made it to shore but the sandy beach was deserted and Rose and the seamen were stranded for some weeks in deplorable conditions. There was ice on the ground each morning and no blankets had been salvaged. Rose slept in a sarong and her slippers could not keep her feet warm. The crew was finally picked up by a merchant whose Captain, Galvin, virtually blackmailed de Freycinet for passage to Rio de Janeiro. Things looked bleak as Rose and her husband were stuffed into a dark, cramped cabin. But rescue came in the form of the Scottish brig Jane who came into company near Montevideo. Jane's Captain, James Weddell the future Antarctic explorer, managed to convince Galvin to sell his tub to de Freycinet.

Galvin and his crew were put in at Montevideo. His ship was spruced up by de Freycinet's craftsmen and, christened La Physicienne (the Lady Doctor), she took Rose and her comrades not just to Rio but back to France. They made the port of Le Havre on November 13, 1820. Rose was welcomed home and, in her glory, the most sought after guest for balls and dinners in French society.

Unfortunately, this was about as good as life got for Rose and her Captain. They were never blessed with the children Rose so desired and, though Louis published his manuscript on the voyage to some acclaim, they retired to a rather quiet existence. In 1832, Louis contracted cholera. Rose nursed him tirelessly and he survived, however she fell ill just as he recovered. Rose de Feycinet, the intrepid woman that Governor Lafitte had named Madame La Jolie Commendante, died at the age of 38.

Rose's letters, in journal form, were not published in France until 1928. A sad commentary, I believe. An English translation by Professor Marc Serge Reiviere of James Cook University, Australia, was published in 1996. Entitled A Woman of Courage, the book is available and well worth the read. Courageous she surely was, but I'd bet that Rose would have preferred that more eloquent moniker: The Pretty Commander.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Sea Monsters: Sticking Like Glue

Technology advances. That is one of those factual statements that will continue to be true until some horrifying apocalypse takes our ability to create technology away. I am not a great believer in horrifying apocalypses (apocalii?) so I simply imagine technology continuing down it's meandering path with each generation of human beings effecting their environment in ways we can't even imagine. Brains are pretty cool things.

So when I read this article from the New York Times I immediately thought of my seafaring ancestors. What would they have thought about making a "glue" that could mend human bones, organs, and skin out of one of the all time banes of their existence:
Freaking barnacles. A careening of a ship's hull was necessary at least once and sometimes two or three times a year (depending on the warmth of the water your ship frequented) to get the nasty, hellish things off. The process was arduous, requiring a secure port and plenty of men to haul the ship up at least partially on shore, crank her on her side and set to the extremely gruesome business of extracting the barnacles. Anyone who has seen the "Buoy Cleaner" episode of Dirty Jobs, where Mike Rowe joins the Coast Guard in San Francisco Bay to scrape buoys, knows where I'm coming from. As Mike called them, dislodged barnacles are like "an omelet form hell". And you were using power tools on metal, Mike. Imagine hand scraping a wooden hull. Horrifying.

But now, here are researchers at more than one University in the U.S. formulating an effective epoxy to use inside the human body. That warm, saline environment that fits inside our skins is so like the ocean we once climbed out of that it only makes sense to look back to the creatures of the sea for more than inspiration. But barnacles? Must we?

Admittedly, the article focuses most closely on Dr. Russell J. Stewart's work with sandcastle worms (shown at the header) and what he is doing is amazing. It is noted, however, that initial research done by Dr. J. Herbert Waite at U.C. Santa Barbara concentrated on mussels and barnacles. Remind me to stay out of Dr. Waite's mad science lab.

I won't go into the details of the chemistry involved but the article is fascinating if for no other reason than it gives us a glimpse into the potential medicine of the future. And the interesting capacities of those little, clinging beasties that still drive seamen crazy.

All that said, I believe I will stick with old fashioned stitches. I'll have the anesthesia first, though, Doc. Trust me, things will go a lot more smoothly that way.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

History: The Captain At Nombre De Dios

Drake wounded at Nombre de Dios from The Childrens Heroes books by Mrs. Elton via Heritage History


Our familiar friend, the Sea Dog Francis Drake, was not the most humble of historical figures. But that should surprise no one. How many humble testosterone fueled warriors have any of us ever met? None. So it is again not surprising that when Drake penned the story of his dark-of-night raid on the Spanish treasure town of Nombre de Dios (on the Caribbean side of modern day Panama), he was self-congratulatory even in the face of death.

The prose has a very Shakespearean lilt to it and, if I'm honest, I had to read more than one paragraph over twice just to make sure I was getting the jist. The story is typically heroic, and Drake piles on by naming himself "the Captain" and constantly referring to himself in the third person, as if another party were actually writing things down.

The story opens with Drake in command of Pascha, of 70 tons, and his brother John commanding Swan, of 25 tons, keeping company as they leave Plymouth on May 24, 1572 (Whitsunday Eve). The object of the expedition is to return to ports already visited by Drake along the Main, and plunder as they go.

The first thing that struck me was the speed with which Pascha and Swan crossed the Atlantic. Our modern perception of seafaring at the time tends to cling to the idea that it was slow and arduous a la the Mayflower crossing. Indeed, that was not always the case and Drake, being a seasoned adventurer, chooses spring to set out rather than fall. Of course there was some luck involved as well and the two ships site the Canaries by June 3rd and are at the island of Guadeloupe in the Leewards by June 28th. If your counting that is exactly five weeks to cross the Atlantic and make the Caribbean. Impressive indeed.

Drake is clear that his men worked virtually non-stop to achieve such speed and it is only upon reaching the island of Dominica on June 29th that he drops anchor and allows some down time. By July 1st they are back out and eleven days later they have made their goal, a sheltered harbor known to them as Port Pheasant. Drake has been here previously, and cleared brush to make paths leading inland. He doesn't recognize the place at first though because his handy work has been reclaimed by the burgeoning tropical forest.

Once at anchor, the men unload the as yet unassembled pinnaces they have carried in their ships' holds. They will spend a fair amount of time in port putting these together in preparation for the hit on Nombre de Dios which is described as "...to the westwards." First though, in an interesting vignette whose smoking gun is never sufficiently explained, they spot a signal fire in the jungle. They are concerned that this may be a sign of a group of runaway slaves, who Drake refers to as "Cimaroons" but instead they find a metal plaque attached to a nearby tree reading:

Captain Drake: if you fortune to come to this port, make haste away: For the Spaniards which you had with you here the last year have bewrayed this place, and taken away all that you left here. I depart from thence this present 7 of July, 1572. Your very loving friend, John Garret

The spelling is from the original. It is never mentioned where Garret may have gotten off to and we never hear more of him. The lead plaque, which itself seems unlikely, comes off as a chance for Drake to thumb his nose at danger. Betrayed by Spaniards indeed; onward men! But anything is possible, especially historically speaking, and I am somewhat compelled to take the story at face value.

So it is onward that Drake and his party go. They come upon some of those Cimaroons and, though Drake does not mention whether or not the men are taken captive or comply willingly, the former slaves give intelligence about the entrances and arms at Nombre de Dios. Drake is joined by Captain Rance, whose bark appears in the Port Pheasant on July 13th. Agreeing to join Drake, Rance and his men help to finish the building of the pinnaces and on July 20th the party departs for Nombre de Dios.

By July 28th Drake has made Rio Francisco, which will lead them into the town, and he is extremely concerned with keeping their approach a secret. They decide to attack at night, but are first pleasantly surprised by a merchant at anchor in the bay who is carrying a shipment of wine. The story is not clear as to whether Drake takes the ship immediately, but he will take it with him when he leaves.

Using the merchant as a screen, Drake's pinnaces hit the shore undetected around three in the morning. Unfortunately the townspeople are skittish about the Cimaroon problem and they have loaded cannon waiting for an attack. Drake gets to the cannon before they can be fired but it seems almost too little too late; the church bell begins to clang, sounding the alarm.

At this point "... the soldiers, and such that were joined with them, presented us with a jolly hot volley of shot". Drake and his raiders engage in order to achieve their final destination: the Governor's house and King's Treasure House where the Spanish treasures are kept. Drake puts his brother and a man named John Oxnam in charge of getting into the Treasure House and the fighting continues. According to the narrative, it is not the surprising number of muskets that Drake has dragged along with him but good old fashioned bow and arrow that break down the Spanish guard. The story is surprising and exciting all in one as Drake's skilled archers pick off the town's soldiers.

Drake's group arrives at the Governor's house and force their way in. They are literally astonished to find, illuminated by a dramatic single candle at the top of a staircase, "... a huge heap of silver in that nether room." The potential haul is enormous, consisting of bars of silver stacked twelve feet high. Drake's brother is unable to breech the Treasure House, so Drake steps out to call he and his men over to assist with the silver.

Things start to fall apart at this point with tragic results, at least for Drake. Word that his pinnaces are in danger of capture leads Drake to order his brother and Oxnam back to the river to guard the boats. Meanwhile, he manages to keep his men from falling on the silver bars. When John Drake and Oxnam return, stating the pinnaces are safe, Drake steps into the Market Place to head back to the Treasure House. And then:

...his strength and sight and speech failed him and he began to faint for want of blood which, as then we perceived, had in great quantity issued upon the sand out of a wound received in his leg in the first encounter whereby, though he felt some pain, yet (for that he perceived divers of the company, having already gotten many good things, to be very ready to take all occasions of winding themselves out of that conceited danger) would he not have it known to any, till this his fainting against his will bewrayed it...

The sentence goes on to describe the hideous loss of blood being suffered by the Captain. Seriously, sentences were long back in the day. At this point, the company turns all their care and concern to Drake. They "...bare him aboard his pinnace and so abandoned a most rich spoil for the present, only to preserve their Captain's life..." Basic logic tells them that they might achieve the treasure without Drake, but they would never make it home should he expire. Humble to a fault this guy.

Thinking quickly, the men take the merchant and her wine "... for the more comfort of our company." The townspeople manage to get a cannon aimed and fired at the departing pirates, but it is a hollow gesture. Drake's company make landfall again at the Isle of Victuals (now, I believe, the San Blas Islands) "... where we stayed the two next days to cure our wounded men and to refresh ourselves in the goodly gardens."

It's a harrowing and heroic tale, with more plunder actually achieved than one would imagine from reading it through. Of course Drake recovers from his wound and goes on to greatness on the Main and at home. But it is little wonder that he wrote about his adventure at Nombre de Dios, when the Captain came so close to death.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Tools Of The Trade: Purchase And Pay

MSNBC offered this article last week regarding the confusion over a recent declaration by President Obama that may (or may not) make paying modern pirates ransoms for ships and people illegal. Feel free to peruse the article at your leisure. I'm not going to discuss it in detail because a wise man once advised that talking about politics gets one in trouble. No doubt, Mr. Burleson is right. That said, ransoms have a long history in piracy and privateering and they were certainly one of the main money makers for many a freebooter all over the world.

Phoenicians, those infamous Sea Peoples, drove the Egyptians nuts by ransoming villages in the Nile Delta. Failure to pay meant Pharaoh lost the village to plunder, fire and murder. Julius Caesar was famously captured by Cilician pirates as a young man. He was held on the island of Pharmacusa for about six weeks in 78 BCE until his family ponied up and the pirates released him. Caesar vowed revenge and got it in a big way. As First Consul he saw to it that the Roman Navy choked the life out of Cilician trade and piracy for good.

Barbary pirates made an institution of ransoming slaves. Wealthy Christians were always taken as hostages and their families forced to pay if they did not want their loved ones to live in chains or die in the galleys. Poorer folk were quite literally enslaved unless a Christian relief group, such as the one written about by Father Pierre Dan, intervened. In his 1637 book Histoire de Barbarie et de ses Corsaires, Father Dan told, in rather purple prose, of rescuing near martyred Christians from fates worse than death.

The Christians weren't any kinder to their Muslim captives, however. If a prisoner managed to stay out of the Maltese galleys, his family could pay a ransom to those pirates for Jesus, the Knights of Malta, for his release. If not, he would be sold as a less-than-human slave. Either way, the pirates got their cash.

The Chinese pirate Confederations that sprang up in the late 15th century and continued to rule the South Pacific for hundreds of years kept careful records of ransoms. They sent extortion notes, some of which are still in existence, to ship owners and families of captives demanding ransom. Once the fee - considered by Chinese merchants a cost of doing business - was paid, the pirates would issue protection documents for the ship or individual. With this in hand, they would never be ransomed by that Confederation again.

The Sea Dogs of Elizabeth I's era were big on ransoms. Hawkins tried to ransom Cartagena and, though he failed, his nephew Drake succeeded rather stunningly. The buccaneers of Tortuga, Petit Goave and Jamaica became rather systematic about ransoms as well. Francois L'Olonnais received a ransom for the city of Maracaibo, as did Henry Morgan only a few months later. Morgan also ransomed Portobello and Panama. Part of the breakdown of the Spanish empire in the New World was directly linked to expensive ransoms for cities and towns along the Main.

Edward "Blackbeard" Teach held the city of Charleston, North Carolina for ransom and was paid in gold dust and a kit of medicines. This was an unusual and notable situation in the Golden Age of piracy. Most of the famous pirates of the era were looking to plunder, not ransom.

The privateers of Barataria were not above requesting ransoms, particularly for ships but sometimes for wealthier captives as well. The complaints of a Spanish merchant held by Vincente Gambi at Barataria around 1811 have come down to us in tact. The Spaniard in question writes that he and his fellows were kept four weeks in "the most cruel situation" before payment was received and they were sent on their way in a felluca. Not all the men on Grande Terre were gentlemen rovers.

And so it continues to the present day. Pay the ransom, put it down as a loss in your books and you'll get your ship and her people back. Or that is the way it seems.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Seafaring Sunday: "...Over Wind And Wave"

Washington Irving 1783-1859, portrait by John Wesley Jarvis 1809

What a glorious monument of human invention that has thus triumphed over wind and wave; has brought the ends of the world into communication, has established an interchange of blessings, pouring into the sterile regions of the north all the luxuries of the south, has diffused the light of knowledge and the charities of cultivated life and thus bound together those scattered portions of the human race, between which nature seemed to have thrown an insurmountable barrier.

Washington Irving, the man who gave us The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, waxes poetic about the sea and seafaring in one surprisingly long sentence written around the time the above portrait was painted. Irving was a life long friend of one of Triple P's favorite sailors, David Porter, whom Irving christened "Sindbad".

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Sailor Mouth Saturday: Start

Square rigged ship via BBC online


When modern English speakers refer to starting the washer, getting started and "Gentlemen, start your engines!", many are quite unaware that the word and it's modern usage came from the language of sailors. Well it does, and here is how that goes.

Navigators were using the term "start point" to mean the beginning of a vessel's journey as early as Republican Rome. This Latin terminology worked it's way into European sailing language and was co-opted by most of Europe's navies and merchant services by the Renaissance. It would seem that this is the usage from which the modern word derives. But there were other turns of phrase for this handy word which may have contributed, too.

To start a liquid was to pour it out, or pump it out in the case of water in the hold. Start pumps meant more than just get to pumping. Starting a barrel, anchor, lumber or other heavy object, on the other hand, meant to move it. This is distinct from weighing anchor, meaning to pull it out of the water. Starting dry provisions, biscuit, peas and the like, meant turning them out of the bag or box they came to the ship in and into the receptacle used for storage during a cruise (usually a barrel).

A ship may also start her water or cannon, or both, tossing barrels and guns over the side in an effort to lighten her load and escape an enemy giving chase.

The ship starting a butt-end meant a plank had come loose at one of it's ends, springing up due to the wear and tear put on it by the movement of the ship and her company. That'll need to be nailed down, mate. To give a bit of slack to a cable or sail is to start either, usually done during turning or tacking the ship. Thus the call of "Start tacks and sheets!"

People could also be started. A bosun or master would frequently carry a short rope with a knot at one end for "starting" wasters and lay-abouts. Hitting them hard once or twice would get their attention, and then get them back to work. Lazy lubbers.

And that's a good start for a Saturday, I'll say. Go out and start something, Brethren, even if it's just a cool mug o' grog. Tomorrow is Seafaring Sunday featuring that American genius and lover of all things sea worthy, Washington Irving.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Booty: Pretty Pirate Pictures

Triple P has had the assistance of the good folks over at Sitemeter for a month now and it's been kind of eye opening for me to see who stops by, and why. I've had hits from every continent on the globe - except Antarctica. (Com'on, researches; don't you want to know about Sea Peoples, Baratarians and Lady Pirates?) And that's nothing if not cool. In another time I would have been sitting in a corner getting writer's cramp and permanent ink stains with no one having the slightest idea what the hell I was up to. Except the orderlies at the institution and my doctor, of course. Bless him for the sweet, sweet laudanum. But I digress.

The vast majority of hits come from image searches, though, and it's starting to sink in that many folks come by to look at the pictures. Please don't imagine that I am in any way discounting that. I appreciate every last eyeball that peruses my humble blog. And the pictures are there for a reason: to be enjoyed.

So booty today is a simple tribute to the pleasures of eye candy:
Someone, I apologize for not remembering who, sent me this 1930's lass dressed most decoratively as a pirate. If it was one of you who stops by now and then, please leave me a comment so I can give you credit. Also, if anyone knows anything about the picture or the lady in, please also leave a comment so I can credit the artist and the model too.

Of course our pirate gal's gams are the focus here, but what I like most about the picture is her eyes. She beckons without even looking at you. Just the way, I think, we like to imagine a real lady pirate might have in old Port Royal.
Merci beaucoup to all who make a landing at Triple P today and always. Happy Friday and many more to come! See you tomorrow for Sailor Mouth Saturday.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

People: Bahamanian Governor

Woodes Rogers (right in profile to conceal his facial wound) in New Providence with his daughter Sarah (seated) and his son William Whetstone painted by William Hogarth, 1729

As we saw yesterday, Woodes Rogers had a life full of adventure. At the age of around 33, however, he was penniless, separated from his family and probably imagining a trip to debtor's prison. The sea had always been a source of income for Rogers and, as is typical of men born to the waves, he went back to it.

Little is known of how Rogers financed his next project but by 1714 he was captaining a slaver working the trade between Madagascar and British colonies along the Indian Ocean. Doubtless it was dirty work and one source attempts almost apologetically to infer the Rogers was actually pirate hunting and trying to establish an outpost on Madagascar for the British East India Company. Unfortunately the source (The Republic of Pirates by Colin Woodard) isn't clear on where this information came from.

Woodes was back in London by 1715 to find that Queen Anne was dead and King George I was on the throne. George was determined to put down the rampant piracy originating in his colony of New Providence (modern day Nassau) and he had issued an unequivocal order regarding the situation. He would send a permanent governor to New Providence to reform the "nest of infamous rascals" either via Royal pardon or execution. It seems that Woodes had some friends close to the King, or something like that, because he managed to be chosen as Governor of New Providence in 1717.

Rogers formed a company to fund this undertaking (the Crown conveniently offered only nominal backing) and investors threw money in hoping for the kind of profits that had come out Jamaica and Barbados with their sugar cane and rum. When Woodes set sail in April of 1718 he was in command of seven ships laden with soldiers, colonists, supplies including weapons and livestock. The passage took only three months, and Rogers fleet - now reduced to six ships as one was required to turn back due to leakage - cruised into New Providence harbor in July.

Captain Vincent Pearce had preceded Rogers flotilla by five months so the pirates still on New Providence (many, like our old friend Edward Teach, had already left) knew about the King's pardon. Those who stayed, with the exception of Charles Vane who tried to blow up the British with a fire ship which ultimately fizzled, planned to take the pardon and then go back to pirating once Rogers agreed to a cut of their plunder. To Rogers' doubtless surprise, he was greeted (once Vane had escaped) with huzzahs and haloos at New Providence Towne.

Woodes Rogers knew that the pirates' smiles were as black as their hearts and he had no intention of believing their oaths of fealty to King George. As he settled in, the pirates - to their own surprise - found that their new Governor had no intention of taking their bribes, either. What Rogers did next, though, should have astonished them even more. The Governor offered each man, regardless of his rank at sea, a chance to become a landowner. If a man would clear land and build a shelter, he would receive 120 square feet of said land free and clear, no strings attached. Fancy deeds had already been drawn up. The possibility of owning real estate, something none of these men could ever have done in Europe, was only a few axe swings and a lean-to away.

Rogers' intent was not to make pirates landed gentry but to give them a stake in the island. It was a critical issue. Rogers had received word that Vane was planning to put together a flotilla, breech the harbor and take back New Providence. The island's crumbling fortifications needed rebuilding, and only men who had an interest would do such work. When pirate leaders like Benjamin Hornigold and Henry Jennings stepped up and took the offer, many regular man jacks followed suit.

Shrewd and well-spoken, Rogers then dropped the bomb that the Spanish, the hated enemy of so many of the "former" pirates, were planing to attack New Providence. Work on the fortifications began immediately and in earnest. Meanwhile, he approached Hornigold and Jennings to speak privately about the situation with Charles Vane. The two Captains did a deal with their Governor: they would receive letters of marque, making them legal British privateers, and in return they would coincidentally hunt pirates on their cruises.

Neither of the new pirate hunters managed to catch up with Vane (he was later hanged in Jamaica) but they did catch others who had turned back to a life of freebooting. In December, Rogers hanged eight men brought in by Hornigold. These were pirates known to the locals, who heard one of the men say "We've a good governor, but harsh" before he met his end. The general feeling that going back to piracy might be an option seemed to fade. Men went back to work on the fortifications - and on their land - instead.

Spain did make an attempt on New Providence in 1720, but they turned away voluntarily due to problems with France on the Gulf coast. Rogers, however, was now having financial problems. His backers were no longer sending money as his island was not producing the sugar cane they had expected. He sailed to Charleston to plead his case there but only managed to fall ill and then lose a duel. Frantic for money, Rogers returned to England and arrived in June or July of 1721. He was promptly arrested and confined in debtor's prison.

Rogers, probably due to the efforts of his children and his fame as the hero of those South Sea adventures, was finally forgiven his debts and released from prison in 1722. He spent the next three years petitioning the King for redress. Though this was never afforded him, he was granted a pension in 1726 and reappointed Governor of New Providence in 1728.

Woodes Rogers, now in his 48th year or beyond, was no longer the man of action that had once swayed pirates and built fortresses. He tried to squeeze a profit from New Providence by way of farming and seafaring but his attempts at taxation and tariffs were blocked by the island's Assembly, which had been formed in his absence. His health began to fail, perhaps as much out of disappointment as simple illness. He again visited Charleston for a while, trying to find a cure for what ailed him, but nothing seemed to help. Rogers returned to New Providence and retired from public life. He died in July of 1732.

The motto of British New Providence and the Bahamas was "Piracy expelled Commerce restored", very much in honor of the man who did just that. Merchant, privateer, adventurer and Governor, Woodes Rogers was a force to be reckoned with. And certainly a man never to be discounted, no matter how low he might seem to be.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

People: Pacific Privateer

Statue of Woodes Rogers outside the Hilton Hotel, Nassau, the Bahamas

Today's merchant turned privateer turned Governor is a man whose sweeping story will take me two posts - at least. Woodes Rogers won and lost fortunes, circumnavigated the globe, found and forfeited love and hanged pirates en mass all in the span of 53 years. He is an impressive and controversial figure and it's well worth the time spent studying his all-encompassing life. Aside from Drake, Morgan and Nelson, I cannot think of an English seafarer who did or saw more.

Rogers was born the eldest son of merchant seaman Woods Rogers in Poole, England some time around 1680. The elder Rogers was a sea Captain who owned several ships that worked the Newfoundland fishing trade. This meant that Dad was gone a lot, sometimes for nine or ten months at a time. The family was small and young Woodes was probably sent to a local school for boys to keep him busy. It appears that there was never any doubt as to what trade Woodes would take up as he grew to manhood.

Around the age of 10, Woodes moved with his family to the port city of Bristol which his father's fleet called home. Within eight years he was aboard one of those vessels learning the family trade. Though Woodes does not appear to have been a cunning seaman, he was certainly capable. The hardships of the Newfoundland fishing trade probably made or broke a man, and Woodes seems to have come away in one piece. By 1704, he could command a vessel.

In January of 1705, Woodes made what appeared to be a rather brilliant move in marrying Sarah Whetstone. Sarah, younger then her groom and said to be "exceedingly fair", was the daughter of the well-heeled Admiral Sir William Whetstone. The Admiral set the young couple up in a comfortable home in Bristol and presented Rogers with a new ship for his merchant fleet, the modestly christened Whetstone Galley. When Woodes' father was lost at sea the following year, things appeared to be perfectly in place for the family business to take off with 26 year old Woodes Rogers at the helm.

For a while things did go rather well. The business flourished. Sarah bore three healthy children - a son and two daughters. Rogers managed to attain four letters of marque against the Spanish and French and Whetstone Galley, who carried one of these commissions, ventured into the lucrative slave trade. Unfortunately, the bottom of Rogers' first attempt at privateering fell out early. All four of his privateers were captured and libelled by the French, leaving the Rogers family nearly penniless. With a wife and three young children, the prospects looked grim for Rogers.

Just as things seemed most bleak, an old friend of Woodes' father appeared with an alluring proposition for the new head of the Rogers' operation. William Dampier was a navigator and naturalist who had just returned from a disastrous foray into the South Pacific. He cruised with the hapless Captain Stradling whose ill-kept ship Cinque Ports had been a cause for mutiny. The ship finally sank due to lack of maintenance.. Rogers paid close attention when Dampier proposed that Rogers lead a privateering expedition.

Thanks to the good will of the merchants of Bristol and Admiral Whetstone, Rogers was able to fit out two formidable frigates. Duke, the larger of the two, would be captained by Rogers himself with Dampier as sailing master and navigator and Rogers' younger brother as Lieutenant. The second ship, Duchess, was initially helmed by Simon Hatley. Commissions in hand, Rogers kissed Sarah and the kids and said farewell to Bristol August 1st, 1708.

Rogers ran up the Irish coast for supplies and lost some of his men there. He recruited others in Ireland but most were not British (many, in fact, were displaced Dutchmen who could easily be called pirates) and they grumbled at being told they could attack no shipping other than French or Spanish. The mood aboard both ships as they made for the Caribbean was probably rather gray.

The expedition put in at Tenerife to stock up on warm blankets and rum for the cold trip around Tierra del Fuego and then headed south. Rogers' ships went so far south that - unbeknownst to them - they were closer to as yet undiscovered Antarctica than to South America for several days. Rogers himself wrote that for all he knew, his ships were "...the furthest that anyone has yet been to the southward."

At last the turn north was made and, as Duke and Duchess passed the coasts of what would one day be Chile and then Peru, Rogers eased his ships toward Juan Fernandez Island to replenish their water. His look-out spotted a fire on the island. Duke effected the famous rescue of marooned sailor Alexander Selkirk (read more about the incident here) in February, 1709. Interestingly, Selkirk had been one of the Cinque Ports mutineers.

Rogers continued up the coast toward the Spanish colony of Quito, taking Spanish ships along the way. Pulling into Guayaquil in modern Ecuador, Rogers blockaded the little port and took the town hostage. When the Governor would not negotiate with the raiders, Rogers' sailors famously frisked the local matrons (to the ladies' unending dismay) for hidden treasures and took gold from the church, including the altars. Eventually Rogers was paid a ransom but it was not what his crew had hoped for. Talk of mutiny began.

All that ended when Rogers spotted a Manila treasure galley some miles off the southern coast of Mexico. The galley, Nuestra Senora de la Incarnacion, and her tender Begona put up a considerable fight. Rogers took a musket ball to the face and his brother was killed, but the galley was eventually taken. The haul was considerable, probably well over a million dollars in modern cash, and Rogers' ships along with two prizes sailed west through the Indian Ocean toward home. The ships made the Thames in October, 1711.

The circumnavigation of the world and the impressive amount of Spanish plunder made Rogers a hero to most of his countrymen. The only doubting party was formidable indeed, however. The British East India Company accused Rogers of violating their compacts by dealing with the Dutch in ports like Batavia. A lawsuit was brought and it was found that Duke and Duchess had indeed exchanged goods with the Dutch East India Company. Rogers was found libel and his fortune went to pay the suit, legal fees and his family's mounting debt.

At first, Rogers managed to stay afloat by writing a best-seller about his adventures entitled A Cruising Voyage Round the World. Unfortunately, by 1712 Rogers had another judgement against him. This time over a hundred members of his crew had sued for their share of his expedition's profits. With no money left and his father-in-law now in the grave, Rogers sold his and Sarah's home to pay the judgement against him. Sarah gave birth to another son, but the boy was never healthy and died within a year. The strain was too much for Sarah and Woodes, whose marriage was probably already a tenuous partnership at best. They separated permanently early in 1713.

Woodes Rogers was as far down as a man could be. Or so it must have seemed. Come back tomorrow, Brethren, and find out just how wrong such an assumption can be.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

History: Minoan Shipwreck

The January/February addition of Archaeology magazine, in print and online, featured a fascinating article about the excavation of the first Minoan shipwreck ever found.

The Minoan culture existed on the Greek island of Crete from approximately 2,700 to 1,450 BCE. Named for their first ruler, Minos, the Minoans flourished as sea traders, sometime sea raiders, and fishermen. Minos (there were probably several kings with that name and in fact there is some debate that it may be a title like "Pharaoh" and not a proper name) was known as the "master of the seas" according to the article. It also notes that he rid the waters around his kingdom of pirates which is ironic given his people's propensity for freebooting. But all we had until now was contemporary artwork (like the mural above depicting Minoan ships off the island of Thera) to give us an idea of what these mighty sea peoples transports must have looked like.

Enter archaeologist Elpida Hadjidaki, a local gal from the Cretan port town of Chania. Elpida is also an experienced diver and in 2003 she received a grant from the Institute of Aegean Prehistory to begin an intensive reconnaissance for ancient ships off her native island.

As so often happens in these situations, her team turned up nothing. At least not what they were looking for. Frustrated and running out of time, Elpida decided to go on a hunch. She headed to a site that had previously been investigated by the famed Jacques Cousteau and started poking around. As luck (which is an archaeologist's best friend) would have it, some likely signs were found just days before Elpida's expedition was set to shut down.

One of Elpida's team was sent on an exploratory dive and within half an hour he returned to the surface with the news that he had found a whole bunch of these: Hundreds of ceramic vessels known as amphora, used generally for holding wine or oil, were packed together in a pattern that would indicate they once rested in the hold of a ship. The team had hit their mark at last and first mapping of the site and then excavation began, expanding as the volume of the find became apparent.

The ship, undoubtedly a merchant vessel, was no longer in existence. Only its contents remained. All the same, Elpida and her team were able to determine that the vessel was between 32 and 50 feet long by the way the amphora were situated. The article notes that the jars were found uniformly upside down. This led the team to believe that the ship capsized. That possibility would also explain the inability to find any of the wooden hull (ship's wood will frequently remain safe from rot when in very cold water or buried in sand).

According to speculations now being made by other experts in Minoan civilization, the ship is probably a fair representation of the merchant vessels of the day. Unlike war and raiding ships, it seems to have lacked oars and would have been powered by wind probably with a single, square-rigged sail. These smaller ships would have been used for short ventures to and from other islands. I would add that they were probably quite vulnerable to pirates, such as the Phoenicians, as well.

The excavation is ongoing, and fascinating. So far upwards of 200 amphora have been brought up with approximately 80 virtually in tact. If you'd like to read the entire article find it here. It's worth your while to click over not only for the details but for the stunning underwater pictures.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Home Ports: The Key To The West Indies

History is full of stories about people and places who, unlike the proverbial leopard, have changed their spots without blinking. Today's privateering hub, Cartagena, Columbia, is just such a one.

Known as The Heroic City, The Key to the West Indies and The Fort of the Kingdom, Cartagena was first claimed by Spanish explorer Pedro de Heredia in 1533. Set on a sheltered bay facing the Caribbean and surrounded by fertile land, the place was ideal for both seafaring and settling. In fact, various Caribbean natives had called it home for over 6,000 years. Heredia named his new outpost after the port city in Spain, allegedly because so many of the mariners on his ships hailed from there.

Almost immediately, Cartagena became a hub for transportation of Spanish wealth to and from the New World. Ores from the mines of Grand Granada and Peru made their way to Cartagena and from there went on to Havana and then Spain. By the 1700s, an enormous stipend or subsidy known as the Situado was being paid to Cartagena by Madrid for fortifications in particular. This amounted to millions of modern dollars in any given year. Where there is an abundance of gold and silver, and a handy port to sail into, there are sea raiders. Again almost immediately, Cartagena became a target for the enemies of Spain.

John Hawkins unsuccessfully attempted a sacking of the city in 1568. Twenty years later his nephew, Francis Drake, captured the city and sailed away with 110,000 in Spanish reales. French buccaneers Jean-Francois Roberval and Martin Cote had similar if less lucrative success. Both Francois L'Olonnais and Henry Morgan thought about raiding Cartagena, but chose Maricaibo instead.

By the late 1600s the now burgeoning city of close to 15,000 people was well fortified with thick walls (as shown in the picture above) and heavy guns. She saw her golden age under Spain in the 1700s when she became the capitol of the province of Grand Granada, the seat of the Spanish Inquisition and a center of Spanish art and culture.

As a curious aside, one of the last foreign raids on Cartagena occurred in 1741 and was lead by a British Colonial admiral, Edward Vernon. Along with Vernon was a young army officer named Lawrence Washington. If the names sound familiar here's why: Larry was George's older half-brother. Yes, that George Washington. And, despite the failure of the attempted conquest, he was so impressed by Admiral Edward that he named the Washington homestead in Virginia Mount Vernon.

But the hey day of Cartagena as a Spanish hub was brought to an abrupt end with the appearance of the Great Liberator:
Simon Bolivar in Plaza de Bolivar, Cartagena
As Simon Bolivar took the reigns of South American revolution from Miranda, Cartagena revolted and kicked Spanish troops, government and the Inquisition out. She was one of the first cities in Grand Granada to proclaim herself an independent state at war with Spain. To that end President and Governor Manuel Rodrigues Torices began handing out letters of marque to the privateers of the Gulf. Let the good times roll.

A couple of Captains who got in line for such commissions are no strangers here at Triple P. One was Dominique Youx and the other was my own Uncle Renato Beluche. Both sailed with Bolivarian commissions from 1810 on, but it was Beluche who became enamoured with not only the cause of South American freedom but Bolivar himself. Later in life Beluche would move from his native New Orleans to Venezuela and rise to the rank of Commodore in Bolivar's navy. During the days of the Laffites' Baratarian operations, however, he supplied the brothers with Cartagenan commissions.

The party ended when Spain came calling in October of 1815. A deplorable 106 day siege that starved out the inhabitants of the city followed. People were reduced to eating horse hides and even hooves. It was the so often maligned privateers led by Louis Aury and again including Youx and Beluche who came to the rescue, ferrying survivors to safety in Haiti under the guns of Spain.

With Spain's grip on South America severely challenged by Bolivar, Cartagena was ignored. She became a haven for run away and liberated African and Native slaves and she fell into disrepair. In 1821 Spain at last surrendered to Bolivar and the work of reconstructing not only cities like Cartagena but half the continent began.

Cartagena again became a welcoming port for privateers as Bolivar continued to issue commissions until the mid-1820s. It was from this port that Jean Laffite sailed as a legitimate privateer for Grand Columbia in the brig General Santander in 1823. He died aboard her and was buried at sea the same year.

Declared a place of significance to the heritage of the world by UNESCO in 1984, Cartagena is indeed impressive. So much history in one place is hard to argue with. It holds a blue pin on my travel map. One day, Cartagena, we will meet in person.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Seafaring Sunday: Impressment And Embargo

On this day in 1806 the U.S. Congress, on the urging of President Thomas Jefferson, ratified a ban on the importation of British goods. The embargo was in retaliation for an increase in Royal Navy impressments of U.S. seamen.

The following year, HMS Leopard hailed and boarded USS Chesapeake (shown above), briefly taking U.S. Commodore James Barron prisoner and again impressing a number of Chesapeake's sailors. This incident is considered a precursor to the War of 1812.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Sailor Mouth Saturday: Monkey

Monkey is a favorite word aboard sailing ships and, looking at the reefers pictured above, it's probably no surprise. When Charles Darwin aboard the Beagle called the seaman "simians" he wasn't referring to their ancient ancestors.

But monkey means other things, too. A heavy piece of pig iron attached to a pulley and then dropped from a great height to pound wooden blocks into decking - an original kind of pile driver - was known as a monkey. A wooden tankard for holding grog, also known as a kid, was a monkey. In Elizabethan England, a monkey was a kind of water taxi and there is still a half-decked Thames wherry known as a monkey-boat.

A monkey-block is used in merchant sailing vessels on the topsail-yards for running buntlines through. A monkey-jacket is a coat-like version of a fearnot cloak, for keeping warm on night watches. Monkey-spars are shortened masts with reduced yards in a ship used for training boys on rigging. A monkey-tail is a quoin for aiming a carronade. A monkey-pump is and old time sailors' word for a reed used as a drinking straw.

Monkey was also used euphemistically. A boy or man who worked the man ropes and rat lines was a monkey. Remember Errol Flynn shouting "Climb you monkeys! Climb!" in the movie Captain Blood. A man's monkey could be up, too, meaning he is angry. "Leave Jack alone, mate. His monkey's up." Finally, a man might simply have a monkey as a pet. They were far more common, particularly aboard pirates, than parrots ever thought of being.

A good Saturday to ya, Brethren. Mind your monkeys out there. Tomorrow is Seafaring Sunday.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Booty: The Louisiana Buccaneer

My friend Pam Keyes is pretty cool and, to go along with her incredible skills as a researcher and historian, she collects really cool things. Yes. I envy her. Not only does she have an authentic flintlock from the days Laffite and the Baratarians (found in the Bay, no less) but she is in possession of one of the vests Yul Brynner wore in his role as Jean Laffite in the 1958 version of The Buccaneer.

The movie is only available today on VHS, and used at that, for ridiculous prices. It's a shame and a conundrum at the same time. Turner owns the rights, as I understand, and has colorized the original black and white. You see it now and again on TCM, usually late at night. For those of you unfamiliar, here is the description from IMDB:

During the War of 1812 against Britain: General Andrew Jackson has only 1,200 men left to defend New Orleans when he learns that a British fleet will arrive with 60 ships and 16,000 men to take the city. In this situation an island near the city becomes strategically important to both parties, but it's inhabited by the last big buccaneer: Jean Lafitte. Although Lafitte never attacks American ships, the governor hates him for selling merchandise without taxes - and is loved by the citizens for the same reason. When the big fight gets nearer, Lafitte is drawn between the fronts. His heart belongs to America, but his people urge him to join the party that's more likely to win.

It's an almost creepy oversimplification of the actual events but you get the picture. What makes the film so much fun is not the history - which is faulty at best - but the casting. Yul is Lafitte [sic], of course but then there's Charlton Heston as Andrew Jackson, which is just as brilliant. Add to that E.G. Marshal as Governor William C.C. Claiborne, Charles Boyer as Dominique Youx and a couple of ladies to swoon at Laffite's... well... feet and you've got something worth watching. There is even an actor named Sir Lancelot involved. No kidding.

Plus how can you beat this:
You can't, so don't try. Thanks, Pam. Let's keep our fingers crossed for a DVD release sooner than later.

Happy Friday, Brethren. And if you will indulge me, I would like to add on a completely unrelated and personal note:
Rest in Peace Peter Steele - 1962 - 2010 - You will not be forgotten.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

People: On The New Orleans Station

Our sailor today was instrumental in forming young America's history, operating on both sides of the law as he did. We spoke about "marline-spikers" yesterday and Daniel Tod (or Todd) Patterson, who died a Captain in the U.S. Navy, was certainly one of them. He was also a member of the notorious "associates" in New Orleans who funded and supplied Spanish insurgencies from Texas to Venezuela illegally and for profit. And then there's the taking down of not one but two Laffite smuggling operations. You'd think a guy who did so much in a 53 year life would have at least been able to get a shave before he had his picture painted. Maybe his wife was out of town.

Patterson was born March 6, 1786 in Long Island, New York. His father, John Patterson, was the younger brother of a Canadian Governor who, for reasons unknown, took off for what would become the U.S. around 1750. John came along and married a wealthy New York socialite named Catherine Livingston. Her family had gotten rich in the merchant trade and her grandfather, Robert Livingston, had been a partner of William Kidd. This Livingston connection figured prominently in Daniel's career in New Orleans.

Patterson, like so many others, went to sea at an early age. He may have joined the U.S. Navy around the year 1799. He was made acting Midshipman that year aboard USS Delaware during the Quasi-War with France. By 1803 he was aboard USS Philadelphia with the official title of mid. Philadelphia, one of the first six frigates of the U.S. Navy, was captured off Tripoli in October of 1803 and her people imprisoned. Along with Patterson, Lieutenant David Porter - who took the mids under his wing and continued their classes in captivity - was among those taken by the Barbary pirates. It appears that Porter and Patterson formed a friendship, and this connection served Patterson's career well.

Released from Tripoli in 1805, even the Naval Historical Center doesn't seem quite sure what Midshipman Patterson got up to at this point. It notes that he was transferred to the New Orleans Naval Station, but the station was not official until 1809 when Porter arrived as Commodore. One can imagine Patterson in New Orleans as early as 1806, however. It is the place he met George Ann Pollock, daughter of the director of the local branch of the Bank of the U.S. They were married in 1807.

By 1809 the Naval Station at NOLA was up and running and Patterson had been promoted to Lieutenant. Much like his commanding officer, Porter, Patterson was a motivated individual. As William C. Davis points out so astutely in his book The Pirates Laffite, Patterson had:

...two driving motivations - a hunger for prize money and an antipathy toward freebooters no doubt encouraged when he spent time as the prisoner of Tripolitan pirates.

Unlike Porter, Patterson appears to have been an average seaman. He would spend over two decades by land at the New Orleans station with only a brief foray into sailing and gunnery at the Battle of New Orleans. Though he would later do more time at sea, administration seemed to suit his temperament far better than quarterdeck command.

1809 was also the year the Jean and Pierre Laffite solidified their hold on the Baratarian smuggling operation south of New Orleans. We've talked about this before so I won't go into detail but it is easy to imagine the beginning of a dance between a prize hungry, pirate hating officer and a pair of racketeering geniuses. This one would last for more than 10 years.

As early as 1811, Patterson was in charge of gunboats cruising the bayous for smuggling pirogues and the goods they carried. By November of that year he had his mother's nephew, Edward Livingston, representing him in lucrative libels of piratical ships. Livingston, it should be noted, was also the Laffites' go to attorney. He represented other privateers as well, including Renato Beluche, Dominique Youx and Vicente Gambi against the Navy and the customs' office. Ah, New Orleans. Where everyone has a finger in the pie.

With the onset of the War of 1812, David Porter left the Commodore's post to once again return to sea. For two years the hapless John Shaw took his place and the Laffite's operation in Barataria grew by leaps and bounds. Shaw finally gave up and left his post lamenting the uncontrollable smuggling situation in New Orleans. Patterson was promoted to Commodore on December 13, 1813, and he brought Porter's perspective and focus back to the Naval Station.

From the time of his promotion Patterson pestered Louisiana Governor William C.C. Claiborne to raid the "rat's den" in Barataria and close down the Laffites' operation. The burgeoning threat of attack by the British during the War of 1812 seemed to make the move imperative since the Spanish were threatening to side with England against the U.S. if something wasn't done about the pirates. When the British approached Jean Laffite at Barataria about helping their invasion efforts, he refused and informed Claiborne. The Governor believed his story.

Unfortunately, Laffite was the boy who cried wolf. He had lied so many times that this truth he was now telling seemed implausible. Claiborne was outnumbered. Even Andrew Jackson was telling him to end the Laffites' piracy. In September of 1814, Patterson and an Army contingent lead by Colonel George Ross were sent to Barataria to sink, burn or take as prize. The Laffites were tipped off and left Grande Terre before Patterson arrived, but many familiar Baratarians - Dominique Youx in particular - were captured and imprisoned.

The story of the Battle of New Orleans is a topic for another time, but Patterson played a pivotal roll. Once he had enough sailors and arms (provided by the "hellish banditti" from Barataria who were released from censure in order to serve their country), he wreaked havoc on the British from his flagship Louisiana. At anchor in the Mississippi just north of Chalmette plain, she bombarded the enemy along with the guns on Rodriguez Canal. Patterson was awarded the title of Captain for his service in battle.

The post war prosperity in New Orleans saw the rise of the filibustering group known as "the associates". Through connections, not the least of which were the Laffite brothers and Renato Beluche, a group of wealthy merchants and businessmen began to buy arms and supplies for Central and South American insurgencies against Spain. Some of the insurgents had cash, and the whole thing was really a get rich quick scheme painted with the broad brush of supporting just revolutions. Attorneys John Grymes and Edward Livingston figured prominently in the group. So did Daniel Tod Patterson.

Patterson used his influence and even U.S. Navy ships to transport the much needed arms (some of which were probably pilfered on the down low from naval stockpiles in the city) to places like Texas and Mexico. It was a dangerous game, and the Commodore almost got caught more than once. Thankfully general anti-Spanish sentiment in New Orleans particularly and in the U.S. as a whole saved Patterson from court martial and disgrace.

The filibustering never quite panned out as hoped, and the associates eventually gave up. The Laffites, running a lucrative operation in Galveston and playing the other side of the street by spying for Spain at the same time, were again a thorn in the U.S.'s side. By 1820, Patterson had orders to shut them down once more. This time the Laffites left willingly, sailing off toward the last of their exploits. But not before Pierre Laffite approached Patterson through George Pollock in an attempt to sell Spanish intelligence to the U.S. Navy. History is unclear on whether or not the navy was buying.

Patterson continued as Commodore in NOLA until 1824. He did a brief stint as Captain of USS Constitution from 1824 to 1827 and took a seat on the U.S. Naval Commission in 1828. He and his family settled down comfortably in Washington D.C. By then Patterson was the father of three children: two boys, Carlile Pollock and Thomas Harmon, would join the Navy and daughter George Ann would marry future Civil War naval hero David Dixon Porter, son of Patterson's friend David Porter.

Patterson returned to sea for four years as Commodore of the Mediterranean Squadron and then was back in D.C. as Commandant of the Washington Navy Yard by 1837. It was here that Patterson died on August 25, 1839, survived by his wife and children. He is buried in Congressional Cemetery. The U.S. has named three ships to date USS Patterson in his honor.

Though it is easy to judge Patterson's actions so many years after the fact, he is not at all unusual when one looks at the big, historical picture. Navy men who relied only on their government pay were destined to be poor indeed, and almost all Captains from Drake to the illustrious Porters of the Civil War relied on prize money to feed their families. Whatever Daniel Tod Patterson was, he is remembered as an American hero. And that's pretty impressive all around.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Tools Of The Trade: Work That's Never Done

My mother's mother, half French, half Irish and all of both, used to repeat the time worn phrase "Man may work from sun to sun but a woman's work is never done" until my mother would ask her to knock it off. Which was weird because my mother started repeating it with regularity at some point. I'm waiting for that gene to kick in with a certain amount of dread.

But I've a suspicion that it won't only because I have so much of the sailor in me. Woman's work may indeed never be done. So too, a sailor's work is forever and constant. Today's tool is something of a nautical symbol of the unending need to keep things "ship shape".

The marline-spike, an example of which is shown above, is the kind of multipurpose tool that makes sailors happy. You can do a lot with that sharp sturdy piece of metal, from stick a fish to finish off an enemy. It's intended purpose, though, is the chore of marling which is more familiarly called splicing by land. The needle end is used to pull rope apart in tact so that the three separate strands can be spliced and/or knotted in innumerable ways for countless tasks.

A rope thus loosened and spliced to another may be used for lead lines or fishing lines. There is also a splice used specifically for rope that will run through a hole block or block and tackle because of its added strength. All types of "long splice" as these are called are exceedingly necessary aboard a sailing ship. And the work keeps crewmen busy in calms, at anchor or when the ship is favored with good wind and weather.

Another such tool, different but serving a similar purpose, is known as a fid. This is a piece of wood in the same cone-like shape tapering to a point. Fids come in a range of sizes and are frequently used for large cable. They are sometimes improperly referred to as marline-spikes as well and the confusion can be imagined when one looks at this picture of a modern fid: Prior to the late 19th century, fids were exclusively made of wood and varied in size. The marline-spike was a metal tool that was rarely longer than ten inches. It was much easier to keep track of which was which before the American Civil War.

The marline-spike itself was so ubiquitous to sailing that, during the late 18th century and particularly by the Napoleonic Wars, it had become a symbol of the common sailor in the Royal Navy. Sons of wealthy and genteel families who joined the Navy and rose through the ranks quickly due to influence were said to have "never touched a marline-spike". It was the hard working "foremast" leaders who tended to get in and do the skut work with the lads. Those guys knew how to splice a line, and were popular commanders for it. Royal Navy officers would also refer to U.S. Navy officers as "marline-spikers", meaning they were nothing but glorified jacks. And what is the matter with that?

But even Captain Thomas Lord Cochrane, 1oth Earl of Dondonald, knew how to dress for success and identify himself as a true Royal Navy man. You may remember the autobiographical vignette in which he is invited to a masque put on by French aristocrats in Malta in January of 1801. Cochrane dresses as a foremast jack, saying that "...not even the marinspike or the lump of grease in the hat [were] omitted". Read about how thrilled the exhiled Monsieurs were with his costume over here.

Much like an anchor or ship's wheel, the marline-spike was the quintessential symbol of men who worked hard at sea. Even when hard work was just about everyone's daily reality, these guys were never really done.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Ships: ...And Brotherly Love

Congressional Ship Philadelphia was one of the first warships constructed by the newly self-proclaimed United States as she headed into the Revolutionary War. She is particularly remembered in our era not because of any great victories but because she is still available for all to see.

In 1775 to 1776 the U.S. tried an unfortunate and ill thought out invasion of Canada. The British were having none of that, of course, and the U.S. looked for ways to cut their losses and make sure that as little land as possible ended up in British hands as the enemy fought their way south in retaliation. The best approach for the U.S. was to rely on fort Ticonderoga, which blocked British access to the Hudson valley, and to apply naval pressure in the waterways of Canada and New England.

Benedict Arnold, when still a General for the U.S., therefor instituted a flurry of shipbuilding at Skenesborough, New York in the summer of 1776. The final outcome of his work was a flotilla of schooners, one sloop, a couple of small galleys and eight gun carrying river barges. Known as gundalow or gundelo, one of these was given the name Philadelphia.

She was heavily constructed in order to accommodate guns. She had a single mast shipping two square-rigged sails. She was a little over 53 feet in length and 15 feet 6 inches at her beam. Philadelphia had an unusually deep draft for her overall size at close to 4 feet. She carried one 12 pound gun, two 9 pounders and eight light swivels that were essentially only a little more powerful than a common rifle. Her compliment was 45 men. She is shown in the foreground of the painting above by Ernest Haas.

Once his flotilla was complete the General took his show on the road with disastrous results. He had manned his ships as quickly as he had built them and this meant that most were crewed by landsmen rather than knowledgeable sailors. He began his cruising in September, sticking to Lake Champlain and only moving south in October when intelligence indicated that the enemy was heading south as well. On October 11, 1776, a small fleet of British ships engaged Arnold's flotilla off Valcour Island.

As the six hour firefight wore down, Arnold's flagship, the schooner of 12 guns Royal Savage, ran aground and was boarded and then burned. Two of the galleys also ran aground and were captured. Philadelphia, leaking badly due to enemy fire, was hit by a 24 pound ball and sunk. The British caught up with the remaining flotilla on October 13 off Crown Point. The rest of the ships were sunk or burned.

Bad news for the Americans but bad news for the British as well. With winter coming on the little fleet was battered and low on ammunition and provisions. They had to return to Canada without advancing into U.S. territory.
And Philadelphia? She remained off Valcour Island, her hull and guns well preserved by the fresh, ice cold water that cradled her. In 1934 she was discovered with her mast still in tact and standing in approximately 60 feet of water. She was raised August 1, 1935. Now on display at the Smithsonian, Philadelphia is the oldest warship exhibited in North America.

An unfortunate foray into seafaring by Arnold led, eventually, to a wonderful piece of history preserved in tact for all to see. In the end, posterity benefits. Thanks, Benedict.