Tuesday, November 29, 2011

History: The Continental Navy and Pirate Democracy

The first was named Alfred, in honor of the greatest Navy that ever existed; the second, Columbus, after the discoverer of this quarter of the globe; the third, Cortez, after the discoverer of the northern part of the continent; the fourth, Andrew Doria, in honor of the great Genoese admiral; and the fifth, Providence, the name of the town where she was purchased and the residence of Governor Hopkins and his brother Esek, whom we appointed the first captain.

This quote comes from John Adams in his role as a member of the Continental Congress. In it, he delineates the first five vessels of the Continental Navy. Upon those vessels, of course, discipline was not an option but Congress was keen to ensure that the potentially out of control discipline that reigned in the Royal Navy of the day did not trickle down to the newly established fleet of the United Colonies of North America. To that end, a written set of Rules and Regulations were approved and enacted on November 28, 1775.

There are 44 Articles in total dealing with everything from victualling to pay to “divine service”. Some specific points are worth noting on this 236th anniversary of their establishment, particularly those that obviously try to distinguish the new naval force from its ancient parent.

Article 1 is telling in and of itself; the first issue on hand is not day to day life aboard ship but duty, honor, and the importance of setting a good example:

The commanders of all ships and vessels belonging to the Thirteen United Colonies are strictly required to shew in themselves a good example of honor and virtue to their officers and men

A commander may be the law at sea but he is not above it. Like a modern head coach of an NFL team, whatever happens aboard his ship is ultimately his responsibility and/or fault. Leading by example is not just a good idea, it is a given.

“Divine service,” which in general meant reading from the Bible, is expected to be performed twice a day with a sermon preached on Sunday barring “bad weather or other extraordinary accidents prevent it.” Most ships of this time, even in the Royal Navy, did not carry a chaplain, however. Sailors imagined holy men aboard as bad luck. Although Article 2 does not say so, a reading of the Articles of War – which Article 7 states must be done once a month – was an acceptable substitute.

Other Articles ban cursing and drunkenness, with the commander given specific parameters as to punishments for same. Article 4 specifically gives the most severe punishment open to a captain without recourse to consultation with a superior officer – a Commodore – or tribunal of courts martial:

No Commander shall inflict any punishment upon a seaman beyond twelve lashes upon his bare back with a cat of nine-tails

This clearly speaks to the brutal practices of some Royal Navy captains who would order up to 500 lashes, sometimes for minor offenses.

Care is taken to see that men are paid in a timely manner and that their names are entered into ship’s books appropriately. “A convenient place” is to be set up for sick and injured men and the need for a surgeon and surgeon’s mates is also indicated. Fishing is not just encouraged but mandated when possible, so that the men and particularly the sick have fresh food. The purser is admonished to inspect stored provisions “… and if the bread proves damp to have it aired on the quarter-deck or poop…”

Unlike the Royal Navy, where sailors who died or were killed at sea might have their things sold at auction by their mates, Article 23 mandates that “… cloaths, bedding and other things of such persons…” should be returned to their families.

Article 26 specifically addresses a commander’s duty when faced with an enemy ship. This Article, wherein the captain is again expected to lead by example and “order all things in his ship in a proper posture for fight” was the one repeatedly thrown up in James Baron’s face over the Chesapeake/Leopard Affair, eventually leading to the duel that killed Stephen Decatur.

A commander is given permission to take a life in time of battle when a man deserts his “duty or station”. This occurred when David Porter’s Essex met HMS Phoebe in Valparaiso Harbor. Essex’s gunner deserted his post, saying he would not stay to be slaughtered “like a sheep”. Porter, enraged, gave his adoptive son, Midshipman David Farragut, a pistol and admonished him: “Do your duty, sir.” The gunner was not located before Essex struck to Phoebe. The only other Article that addresses immediate punishment by death addresses cases of murder.

Article 32 gives any crewman, from ship’s boy to First Lieutenant, the right of redress if he feels he has “cause for complaint”. This Article specifically states that if the petitioner does not receive a fair hearing from his direct superior, he may petition the captain.

While these Rules and Regulations for a new navy maintain the disciplines necessary for the running of a capable ship, the tone is very different from those of the Royal Navy. The new egalitarianism and the belief that every man should be heard seeped into the wood and brass of those first five ships and it carries on to this day. One might boldly say that a bit of pirate democracy stood on the decks of the Navy of the United Colonies of North America.

Header: The Continental Fleet at Sea by Newland Van Powell c 1974

Monday, November 28, 2011

Sea Monsters: The Walking Cephalopods

Last week, the First Mate sent me this brief but intriguing article from Yahoo! News. Entitled “Video: Octopus crawls out of water and walk on dry land,” and containing the eponymous video, it is probably no surprise that the piece itself is rather short. After all, a picture – or in this case a pretty amazing video – is worth a thousand words.

I am personally rather fond of octopi (yes, I did look it up; “octopi” is the correct plural). They are very interesting looking, intelligent, dexterous and painfully shy. The only animals they can tolerate being around for any length of time are the ones they like to eat. And that’s the gist of the article and the video. Evidently, a hungry octopus will happily drag himself over land to get to a tasty morsel.

That’s not all by half, though. A second article referenced in this one chronicles the experiences of researcher Alexa Warburton with a Pacific octopus named Athena. From the article:

Octopuses in captivity actually escape their watery enclosures with alarming frequency. While on the move, they have been discovered on carpets, along bookshelves, in a teapot, and inside the aquarium tanks of other fish – upon whom they have usually been dining.

Think about that for a minute. These things are like aquatic zombies. I’m thinking of pitching a new show to AMC: The Walking Octopi. Eerie.

Header: The octopus featured in the video, walking

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Seafaring Sunday: Money for Terror

November 28, 1795:  The United States paid its first tribute to the pirates of Algiers and Tunis.  This bribe amounted to $800,000 and a frigate and was supposed to insure that U.S. merchant ships were not raided by Barbary corsairs.  The U.S. soon learned that no amount of money would stop the pirates and the First and Second Barbary wars would finally put an end to their predations in the first quarter of the 19th century.

Header: William Bainbridge and the Dey of Algiers via US History Images

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Sailor Mouth Saturday: Time

Time is short, of the essence, and there is not a moment to lose. Or so it seems aboard ship. Stephen Maturin famously complained of this situation at sea in O’Brian’s books and in the movie Master and Commander. Jack Aubrey, for his part, could not comprehend what his doctor was whining about. To him, there truly was never a moment to be lost, and so it is with most sailors. There are other uses for time at sea, however, and even words that sound like it from foreign shores.

Time is, first and foremost, the way of keeping track of the day. All ships – from smuggler’s pirogue to pirate’s sloop to massive ship of the line – ran on bells, which mark her time. The bell was rung, or struck in common shipboard parlance, every half hour with the glass being turned at the same time. Thus eight bells signaled the end of a four hour watch.

The half-hour glass was the true time keeper and the margin for human error was great in keeping track of it, particularly under stress. To rectify any errors in time keeping, noon was read daily via a sextant. Thus solar time was set to rights each day. The call of noon was also the official beginning of the ship’s day when a new page in the log would be dated and begun. This ritual goes along with “taking time” when an assistant – usually a youth or Midshipman – would note the time via chronometer each time the officer observing with the sextant called “stop”. In this way, the astronomical observation is rectified as necessary for the most correct reading possible.

A chronometer and later the very accurate hand held watches, many famously originating from Switzerland, were known as timekeepers or time-pieces aboard ship. They were a source of concern for common sailors. Like the compass with its magnetic workings, time-pieces seemed somewhat magical and therefore must be given a wider berth.

Timenoguy is an ancient word for a stay that could prevent sheets or tacks from getting fouled in other rigging. These ropes were particularly used in the fore rigging.

A timoneer is a helmsman. The word came to English via the French timonier and could also indicate a pilot in some cases. Along the same lines is the word timonogy, which is described in The Sailor’s Word Book thusly:

This term properly belongs to steering, and is derived from timon, the tiller, and the twiddling-lines, which worked in olden times on a gauge in front of the poop, in ships of the line, by which the position of the helm was easily read even from the forecastle.

And with that, happy Saturday, Brethren. Keep your timeonguy and your twiddling-lines taut and, whenever possible, make time for yourself and those you love.

Header: Frigate Rose as HMS Surprise by Scott Kennedy

Friday, November 25, 2011

Booty: Pretty Pirate... Zombies?

Well, there’s no denying that Marilyn is pretty any way you slice it. Hope all of Triple P’s U.S. Brethren had a delightful Thanksgiving and that every one of the crew enjoys their Friday!

Header: Painting by writer and artist Arthur Suydam

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

History: Laffite in Jest

On November 24, 1813, a proclamation by the Governor of the State of Louisiana, William Charles Cole Claiborne, was posted in New Orleans and its surrounding communities. The content of the proclamation would have been familiar to most of the residents who read it, Creole and American alike. The reactions, however, would probably have drawn the lines between the French/Spanish opinion and the new Anglais outlook. The wording of Claiborne’s missive was as follows:

It has been official known to me that, on the 14th of last month a quantity of smuggled goods, seized by Walter Gilbert, an officer of the revenue of the United States, were forcibly taken from him in open day, at no great distance from the city of New Orleans, by a party of armed men under the orders of a certain John Lafitte, who fired upon and grievously wounded one of the assistants of the said Walter Gilbert; and although process has issued for the apprehension of him, the said John Lafitte, yet such is the countenance and protection afforded him, or the terror excited by the threats of himself and his associates, that the same remains unexecuted

I offer a reward of $500 U.S. to any person delivering the said John Lafitte to the sheriff of the Parish of Orleans… so that the said John Lafitte may be brought to justice.

That first, very long sentence that eventually turns into a paragraph fairly seethes with the Governor’s frustration at his own between-a-rock-and-a-hard-place situation with regard to the matter.

On the one had, Claiborne is confronted by angry Americans like New Orleans Naval Station Commodore Daniel Tod Patterson and Army Colonel George Ross who supported the position that U.S. laws regarding smuggling should reign supreme in Louisiana. In their view, men like the Laffites – and in particular those two brothers who ran their den of pirates in Barataria like a legal business – were nothing but criminals and should as soon be hanged and spoken to.

On the other hand, however, Claiborne has his own opinions and those of his family to deal with. Having been in New Orleans as territorial governor since 1803, the former Virginian and favorite of Thomas Jefferson has gone native, so to speak. He has married local Creole girls, not once but twice, and his current wife Susanna Bosche is cousin to one of Laffite’s own privateers, Renato Beluche. Claiborne knows that the Creole sees smuggling as necessary to open commerce, no more hurtful to his economy than Kentucky produce or French champagne, the latter of which he would not have without smuggling.

Clearly, the breaking point for Claiborne was the attack on revenue agent Walker Gilbert, whose name like Laffite’s is misspelled in the proclamation, and his men. At last, the Governor must appeal to his own people to help him reel in the desperado Laffite who has been wanted – at least on paper – for over a year.

But what of “the said John Lafitte”? What was his reaction to this challenge by a man that he had met personally, at least in passing?

While the details are sketchy, one fact is clear: the morning of November 25 saw another proclamation tacked up around the Crescent City. This one offered $1,000, this time in silver, for Governor Claiborne brought to Cat Island off Barataria Bay; no questions asked. What is rarely noted is that a small memorandum was affixed below the bold signature: Laffite. This clearly read that the King of Barataria posted his notice “as a bagatelle (French for trifle)” and he was “only jesting & desired that no one would do violence to his Excellency.”

As William C. Davis notes in The Pirates Laffite, word of this bravado got around pretty quickly. Letters were sent home about it by those visiting from the East and foreign locales. Within a week the reward offered by Laffite had doubled; by the time Lyle Saxon wrote Lafitte the Pirate in the 1930s, the cash value had climbed to $5,000.

The question that remains is whether or not Laffite, be it Pierre or Jean or both, was actually responsible for the bounty on the Governor. The two most reliable modern sources on the brothers differ in their opinions. Jack C. Ramsay, Jr., in Jean Laffite Prince of Pirates states “… it is unlikely it originated from [Laffite].” Davis, on the other hand, called the posting “Laffite’s own response” and says it points up “… the combination of bravado and impish humor in his personality.” In this case, Davis is specifically referring to Jean.

And that’s the way I like to imagine it going down. Jean Laffite, with a twinkle in his dark eye, offering a bounty on the Governor of Louisiana, but only as a jest; a little bagatelle.

Header: William C.C. Claiborne as Governor of the Territory of Orleans via Wikipedia

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

People: The Mad Carpenter

John Phillips, who for all intents and purposes was nothing more than a two-bit crook, is remembered in the annals of piracy because of two distinctions. First, Phillips’ Ship’s Articles have come down to us in tact and include a curious and otherwise unheard of passage regarding “prudent” women. Second, Phillips is given space in A General History of Pyrates by Charles Johnson (aka Daniel Defoe), one of the foremost sources of information pertaining to pirates of the Golden Age. Beyond that, Phillips seems to have been a man who started out with a relatively level head, but lost his equilibrium along the way turning into a murderous, vengeful individual who was mad at the whole wide world.

Probably born in Devonshire, England some time in the late 17th century, John Phillips took up the trade of carpentry. It was as a carpenter’s mate that Phillips was traveling from England to Newfoundland when his ship was overtaken and boarded by the pirate Thomas Anstis. As so often happened during that era, Anstis’ ship was without a carpenter and Phillips was pressed, very much against his will it seems, into joining the pirate crew.

Not long after this incident, Anstis had his ship at Tobago in early 1723. After finishing a careening, many of Anstis’ men – including Phillips – were still ashore when Royal Navy ships came into view. In a hurry to save his own skin, Anstis packed on all sail and left the men ashore to fend for themselves. Phillips and a few others escaped into the jungle but the British ships captured many of Anstis’ men. Anstis himself would later be killed by his own crew for his cowardly act; Phillips, however, made it back to England somehow.

According to Johnson, Phillips got word almost immediately that his mates from Anstis’ ship were to be tried for piracy. Fearing his name would come up in the proceedings, he quickly took up a post on another ship bound for Newfoundland. Unable to find work as a carpenter in the New World, he went to work gutting fish among the numerous fisheries on the coast. This job was brutally hard, paid very little and in the dark and cold of the Newfoundland winters, literally drove men and women mad.

Within four month, Phillips was fed up with the fisheries. He and four other like-minded mates stole a boat belonging to a man name Minot or Minors in August of 1723. Their intention was to go a-pirating and they made quick work of a few local fishing vessels, pressing some of the men aboard them into signing their hastily drawn up Ship’s Articles. Though his articles generally follow the pattern of the few others that have come down to us, Phillips included a passage in same that read:

If at any time you meet with a prudent Woman, any Man that offers to meddle with her, without her Consent, shall suffer present Death.

At least two modern writers have speculated that Phillips was witness to brutal incidences of rape while aboard Anstis’ vessel and had no stomach for such barbarism. This is a curious speculation given Phillips’ later dealings not only with prisoners but with his own crew. Of course murder is not rape but rape is torture; to my mind the theory remains only speculative.

At some point, Phillips took John Rose Archer, who claimed to have sailed with Blackbeard, aboard his ship and promoted him to quartermaster. The caused ill will among Phillips’ original four shipmates and that would bubble over in a short time.

Phillips headed south to Tobago where he and his crew suffered three months of near starvation without a single prize. Finally their luck changed; they captured a French merchant and took her over, renaming her Revenge. Other prizes followed, but trouble was brewing. Some of Phillips’ crew, many of them men forced to serve aboard Revenge, began trying to escape. Many were flogged for their trouble and at least one, carpenter Thomas Fern, was shot dead probably by Phillips himself.

By late 1723, Phillips had returned to the waters off Newfoundland where he gutted the local fishing boats almost as soon as they hit the water. One was notably spared because it belonged to the same man from whom Phillips had stolen his original vessel. “We have done him enough injury already,” he told his crew. After this kindness he turned around and tortured a captain who had foolishly tried to run from Revenge.

The success Phillips had in Newfoundland masked the goings-on aboard his own ship. His punishments of even minor infractions became more heinous and already resentful men turned mutinous. In April of 1724, the Revenges had had enough; they rose up and tossed Phillips overboard to drown in the icy water of Notre Dame Bay.

The lack of leadership, no matter how brutal, made quick work of the men aboard Revenge. Johnson says that the ship was overtaken by the Royal Navy and most of her small crew was hanged including quartermaster Archer.

For all his small success, Phillips life at sea did not seem to sit well with him. Unlike others pressed into pirate service who went on to enjoy their new life, freebooting was a short but arguably not very merry one for the mad carpenter.

Header: Engraving of John Phillips from Johnson’s A General History of Pyrates

Monday, November 21, 2011

Women at Sea: The Sinkable Margaret Fuller

If you ask me what office women should fill, I reply: any. …let them be sea captains if you will. I do not doubt that there are women well fitted for such an office.

That is my favorite quote from the writer whose byline was simply “Margaret”. Born Sarah Margaret Fuller in Cambridge, Massachusetts in May of 1810, she would go on to become a shining light in what is now known as the transcendentalist literary movement along with men like Ralph Waldo Emerson who was a close friend. Fuller is also credited with being one of the first women’s rights advocates and has been called an inspiration by later women in the women’s rights movement including Susan B. Anthony. On the flip side, she was vilified as a harpy by others; Nathaniel Hawthorne, it must be admitted perhaps one of America’s most misogynist authors, modeled his Hester Prynne on Fuller. In particular he noted that both women shared “… very peculiar thinking on the whole race of womanhood.” Fuller herself was more impressed with the idea of womanhood than with individual women. She would achieve quite a bit in her short life, but she opined that most women weren’t up to the pursuit of literary greatness.

It is not, however, Fuller’s life with which I am concerned. You can read more about that here or here. This post will focus on her odd and ultimately tragic death at sea on July 19, 1850.

Fuller had gone to Europe in 1846 as the first female foreign correspondent for the New York Tribune. In Britain, she met the then exiled leader of the Italian revolution, Giuseppe Mazzini. Enthralled, in her usual fashion, by the concept of the rebellion, she followed Mazzini when he returned to Italy. There she met the former Marquis Giovanni Angelo Ossoli and the two promptly set up house together in Florence. Though scholarly debate continues to this day as to whether or not Fuller was ever legally the Marquise Ossoli, many biographers tacked her lover’s name onto Fuller’s own (particularly Julia Ward Howe whose work on Fuller is available online). Regardless, the two had a son, Angelo Eugene Philip Ossoli known as Angelino, in September of 1848.

Fuller and Ossoli backed Mazzini’s second bid at rebellion in 1849 but when the Pope returned to Rome from temporary exile in 1850, the couple had to pack up and hastily depart for fear of being jailed and possibly executed. They booked passage aboard the U.S. cargo freighter Elizabeth, bound for New York.

Elizabeth set sail on May 17. She appears to have been overloaded; her hold was packed with heavy Carrara marble in bulk form. The trip was slow and the captain, Seth Hasty, died of a smallpox outbreak aboard ship. Little Angelino also contracted the disease but was recovered by the time Elizabeth sighted the U.S. on July 19.

For reasons unknown, Elizabeth veered off course about 100 yards off Fire Island, New York, cracked her hull on a bar and began to sink immediately. This occurred around three in the morning and pandemonium quickly reigned aboard her. The first mate, who survived the wreck, remembered hurrying Fuller, Ossoli and their son up on deck and to the rail before leaping into the dark water. They did not follow him and he would later state his belief that Fuller wanted them to be left behind to die. Whatever the case, all three of the family members went down with Elizabeth, drowning within sight of land.

The story goes that local people appeared almost immediately on the beach with carts and wheelbarrows. They made no attempt to help those struggling toward land but instead began scavenging for valuables from the wreck. Henry David Thoreau, another close literary friend of Fullers, would journey to Fire Island to look for Fuller’s body. His search was in vain; only Angelino’s body was recovered. He lies buried now at Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge under a monument to him and his parents.

The clues point to Fuller actually imagining herself dead at 40. She wrote home early in 1850 that she was “… absurdly fearful and various omens have combined to give me a dark feeling… It seems to me that my future upon earth will soon close… I have a vague expectation of some crisis – I know not what.” If dramatic death was what she hoped for, Fuller could not have engineered a more fitting ending to her “future upon earth”.

Poe said once “Humanity is divided into men, women and Margaret Fuller”. Considering his capacity for observing his fellow humans, we have to imagine that Edgar knew of what he spoke.

Header: Late 19th century engraving of Margaret Fuller

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Seafaring Sunday: End of the Ladies' Man

November 20, 1720: "Calico" Jack Rackham is hanged for piracy in Spanish Towne, Jamaica after a very brief trial.  His lover, Anne Bonny, famously told him "If you had fought like a man, you wouldn't be hangin' like a dog," as he was being taken to the gallows.

Header: Jack Rackham by Peter Copeland from his Pirates & Buccaneers Coloring Book

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Sailor Mouth Saturday: Home

Home is a place in the mind of a sailor that, if he was to be honest with himself, does not exist. At home, on land, safe from the ocean’s fickle whims, the sailor imagines himself at peace. There is no scut work – no work of any measurable kind if possible – an endless supply of drink and a woman to look after him. Two, if he can work it out. The British sailors of the Napoleonic era had a name for it: Fiddler’s Green. As Dean King informs us this was:

A sailor’s imagined paradise, free of the hardships of the sea and rich with wine, women, and song.

Perhaps this is why the word home has a sturdy place aboard ship.

The Sailor’s Word Book points out that home is:

The proper situation of an object, when it retains its full force of action, or when it is properly lodged for convenience. In the former sense it is applied to the sails; in the latter it usually refers to the stowage of the hold.

As to the sails, it is said that they are home when they are set to receive the wind most favorable. Sheet home is the order to extend the lower clues of a sail or sails to the yardarms. With the hold, her cargo is said to be home when it is in the most favorable spots for the ship’s best running.

The gunner will call home when he has determined by touch that the charge in his cannon is home and no air is escaping the touch-hole.

The anchor is said to come home when it loosens from the ground it is in and is dragged along by the ship moving under current or sail. This can also occur due to an inadequate length of cable. The wind blows home when it skirts land and water with equal velocity. It does not blow home when the wind hits high ground close to the water as in the case of a high-set island such a Gibraltar and this can play havoc with a sailing vessel.

A ship is said to be on home service when she is stationed in waters belonging to her own country. In Britain this was sometimes referred to as Channel service. Likewise a home trader is a merchant vessel not from a foreign country.

A ship is homeward bound on her way to back to her own nation or, more specifically, the harbor or shipyard where she was launched. A homeward-bounder, then, is one such ship underway.

Finally, for your entertainment and really almost completely off the subject, here is my favorite song about home. “Everybody really needs a home…”

Header: The Sailors Return by Toby Edward Rosenthal c 1880

Friday, November 18, 2011

Booty: Remembering the Fitz

On November 9th in 1975 the bulk freighter Edmund Fitzgerald, known affectionately to her crew as the Fitz, left the port of Superior, Wisconsin bound for Detroit. She sailed Lake Superior in company with the Arthur M. Anderson with little incident aside from high winds until the following day. That evening, the Fitz was stuck by especially dirty weather. Captain McSorley quickly radioed that his ship was taking on water and listing heavily. The pumps were working but the Fitz had lost her radar. One of McSorley’s finally radio transmissions said that his ship was in the middle of the worst storm he had ever seen. Shortly thereafter, Edmund Fitzgerald went down 17 miles off Whitefish Bay. All hands, 29 men total, went down with her. She is now at the bottom of Lake Superior under 530 feet of cold, unforgiving water. Rest easy, brothers and know that we remember you. For better or for worse you are not the first nor will you be the last to be claimed by the world’s seas.

Click here to appreciate the now famous memorial ballad "Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" by Gordon Lightfoot.

Header: The Fitz via surbrookdevermore.net

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Tools of the Trade: Punch, Flip and Old Grog

Recently, I was asked by a friend who is a professional editor and screenwriter to look at a piece he was working on. The screenplay was about buccaneers in the latter part of the 17th century and there were a few points my friend was unfamiliar with as far as seafaring, timeframes, dialogue and particularly the little details of historical accuracy. Of course I was eager to get my hands on the thing; the idea of a well researched, high spirited buccaneer movie (featuring real life filibuster Michele de Grammont, no less) excited me immeasurably. Sadly, reality put a damper on that enthusiasm pretty quickly.

There were a million little details that crushed my spirits thoroughly (the hero, just as an example, wore a tricorn hat and beaded braids a la Jack Sparrow) but one that stood out was the drinking that went on in the buccaneer port of Tortuga (sadly positioned off Puerto Rico, not Haiti where the buccaneer outpost actually was). Many was the time that the protagonists reached for a mug of grog; in fact de Grammont and our hero sealed a deal over pints and pints of the stuff.

In the 1680s, for better or for worse, grog was an unknown commodity. In fact grog was probably largely unknown in the New World well into the 18th century. Grog was initially a drink of the Royal Navy and was not officially adopted by them until 1740. The mix of water and rum was a replacement for beer, which had a habit of going off pretty quickly, particularly in warm climes like the West Indies and India. As an aside here, if you are familiar with India Pale Ale you know how the Royal Navy tried to fix that; the stronger, sturdier IPA was brewed specifically for ships headed east.

This is not to say that buccaneers were not familiar with rum, or that they would in fact not have added things – including water – to it. It simply would not have been called “grog”. What the gentlemen rovers called their drinks of choice, though, is one of the more curious tidbits about the early filibusters and those freebooters who came after. At least to me.

The type of rum that was most available to many of the Caribbean islands in the 17th century was affectionately known as “kill-devil”. This was a common man’s drink composed of rum that had not been properly aged to smooth over the bitter taste of fermented sugar cane. While wealthy land owners, Governors and visiting dignitaries in the first outposts of Britain would drink rum proper which was originally called rumbullion, the working poor and the slaves who made the rum drank a less refined form of same. It was probably an addiction for most and the death of many as well.

Another popular way to drink rum was in what was called a punch. Alcoholic punches were intensely popular in Europe in the 17th century so making one with the locally bottled alcohol was not much of a stretch. Rum punch usually contained water, some form of citrus juice – lime was the most popular – and molasses or sugar. Sometimes nutmeg was grated into the beverage. Henry Morgan and his captains were getting roaring drunk on rum punch when his flagship, Oxford, exploded underneath them killing every man directly across the table from Morgan but sparing the old dog and his mates on the other side.

Bombo or bumboo was also popular and was probably virtually the same thing as rum punch. A heated version of both drinks was called rumfustian. This contained rum, beer, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and a raw egg and was then heated with a rod such as a red-hot poke from the fire. A cousin to rumfustian, flip was a popular drink in the American colonies before and during the Revolutionary War. It was made with rum, beer and molasses or sugar heated just as its relative had been. In his history of all things regarding the title …And a Bottle of Rum, Wayne Curtis states:

If grog was an emblem of the triumph of order over disorder on the open seas, rum – especially in the form of a popular drink called “flip” – was a symbol of the new order displacing the old in the colonies.

And doubtless very popular with the privateers of the era; in fact John Paul Jones was known to enjoy his flip when in port.

All that said, it is important to remember that our freebooting ancestors were not terribly picky about their alcohol, at least in general. An onion bottle full of wine or porter would have done just as well as a bowl of bumboo and the big head the next morning would have been just the same.

And so, in less wordy form, my recommendations went out to my friend and his client. I will continue to wonder about that ambitious buccaneer screenplay and hope for its great success. Especially if the tricorns and grog are ditched all together.

Header: From Howard Pyle’s Book of Pirates

Update 11/22: Looking for more in depth information on rum for the pirate in all of us?  Check out Blue Lou Logan's well researched and delightful post at his freebooting blog.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

History: Viking Cruise

While clicking about on the computer Saturday afternoon I happened upon an intriguing article from the “Sunday Timeout” section of the Japan Times Online. While Sunday Timeout sounds like some group of talking heads discussing NFL football (something I would certainly watch, particularly if they dropped a nice word or two about the New Orleans Saints), this article is in fact about ornithologist Mike Brazil’s cruise around the British Isles and Iceland. Entitled “In the Wake of the Vikings”, Brazil’s piece is a lyrical look at his awakening to just how pervasive Viking culture became in the so called Dark Ages and is to this day.

Brazil, who writes regularly for Japan Times, was aboard Zegrahm Expeditions’ sailing cruise vessel Clipper Odyssey as an ornithology lecturer. He took three voyages aboard the ship over the course of a summer and learned about where, when and to some degree why the Vikings set up shop along the coastal areas of the Northern Atlantic from archaeologist and fellow lecturer Dr. Colleen Batey. The remote places they visited, and the insight gained, is only a small part of why Mr. Brazil’s fourteen page mini-travelogue is so engrossing.

As Brazil notes, the whys of Viking colonialism are still debated to this day. Was their raiding an aggressive reaction to the encroachment of Christianity into the far north? Was overpopulation causing hardships that spurred on an already eager-for-adventure generation? Did the death of Charlemagne and the resultant splintering of his Holy Roman Empire play a part? Different experts put different theories at the top of the list but, regardless of the cause, the Vikings went forth from their cold fjords, crossed the Baltic and left their mark all over Northern Europe, Russia, Iceland, Greenland and modern Atlantic coastal Canada.

Beginning at Plymouth, England, virtually from the steps where the Pilgrims set out for what would become the United States, Brazil travels to the Isles of Sciilly where a surprisingly temperate climate reigns thanks to the Gulf Stream. A 12th century church there, St. Nicholas Priory, appeared too late to be struck by Viking raiders but may have instead been built by the descendants of Viking settlers. The next stop is Skellig Michael where Brazil’s experience with the local birds produces some beautiful prose indeed. Here he finds the clochans of the 11th and 12th century, sugarloaf-shaped dry stone dwellings that were probably also built by Viking settlers. It is a certainty that, despite Skellig Michael’s isolation, its monastery was rich enough to attract Viking raiding parties in the 9th century.

The next stop on the cruise is even more remote: St. Kilda, Scotland. This island, inhabited for 2,000 years, was finally evacuated in the face of famine and disease in 1930. The Isle of Man is on the itinerary and this part of southern Ireland was once a thriving Viking settlement. Though the Vikings are often compared to the Barbary corsairs and the buccaneers of the 17th century, they might more properly be compared to any European nation during the Age of Exploration. Of course their raiding was legendary and certainly successful, but many times their goal was colonization rather than simple plundering. So it was on the Isle of Man, where much of the modern population has Scandinavian DNA and the red hair to prove it. Here too is the Tynwald, a parliament established by the Vikings in the 800s that is said to be the longest continuously running parliament in the world.

Brazil travels to Staffa; the island’s name is said to derive from the Norse word for the pillars that held up the roofs of Viking homes. Then it’s on to Iona in the Inner Hebrides. Here St. Columba established a monastery in 563 and some of the finest manuscripts of the Dark Ages ushered forth from it. The famous Book of Kells was illuminated here and then moved to the Irish mainland because of the ever present threat of Viking raids.

The Orkneys and the Neolithic settlement of Skara Brae are next. Here stone structures that were built before the Great Pyramid of Egypt stand to this day, doubtless used as navigational markers by intrepid Viking mariners.

The Faroe Islands come into view and it is here that another Norse parliament, the Tinganes, was set up in 850. Completing this pattern is the Althing in Iceland’s Thingvellier National Park. This parliament was established in 930 and exists to this day. Brazil tells us that the word thing in Old Norse, which informs Tinganes and Tynwald as well, meant assembly and thus parliament.

As Brazil poetically puts it, he saw “Iceland the way the first settlers must have viewed it – as a haven on the horizon.” Brazil’s piece, which I highly encourage you to read, reminds us of the unfortunately misremembered heritage we inherit from our Viking ancestors. Raiders they were, sure, with blood on their hands but above that they were pioneers, adventurers and, in some respects the first people to bring a social democracy to a new world. To leave you with one of Mike Brazil’s last thoughts:

[The voyage] fostered in me, too, a profound new respect for the journeys those past peoples made with none of the home comforts and high-tech gadgetry we availed ourselves of aboard the Clipper Odyssey.

Well spoken, indeed.

Header: Thingvellir National Park, Iceland via planetware.com

Monday, November 14, 2011

Ships: Six Frigates

The United States Navy was reestablished by order of Congress in 1794. Since the Continental Navy had been largely a privateer operation, and the ships that she did have had been sold after the Revolutionary War, the fledgling navy had no ships of her own. Secretary of War Henry Knox proposed that six heavy frigates be built. They should be both strong of hull and fast sailors, something not often seen at the time. And they needed to be ready as quickly as possible given naval threats not only from England and France but from Barbary corsairs as well.

Joshua Humphreys was given the task of designing the ships. Although he is generally credited with their building as well, in fact five other ship builders had a hand in overseeing their execution along with Humphreys. As Ian W. Toll notes in his excellent book on the birth of the U.S. Navy Six Frigates, Knox had the foresight to suggest to President Washington that the building of each ship be completed at different dockyards on the Atlantic Coast. This would not only insure quicker build times but also pump money into local economies which were lagging after the war. Washington agreed immediately and construction was approved in April of 1794.

USS Chesapeake was built at Gosport, Virginia by Josiah Fox. Launched in August of 1799, she would achieve notoriety in the Chesapeake/Leopard Affair. HMS Leopard fired upon Chesapeake in 1807, ostensibly because Commodore James Baron refused to comply with a search request. Baron, his guns unready for a fight, struck almost immediately and would be vilified for his action – or inaction – for the rest of his life. Chesapeake, of 36 guns, would go on to be captured by HMS Shannon during the War of 1812. When she was broken up in 1820, some of her timbers were used to build Chesapeake Mill in Wickham, England.

USS Congress was built at Portsmouth, New Hampshire by James Hackett. Also a 36, Congress was launched at the same time as Chesapeake. She served on the Mediterranean Squadron and in the West and East Indies. She became a receiving ship in 1824 and was broken up ten years later.

USS Constellation was built at Baltimore, Maryland by David Stodder. She carried 36 guns and was launched in September of 1797. She famously captured the French man-of-war L’Insurgent during the Quasi-War, making her the first American built ship to win such a victory. She would go on to duty in the West Indies and on the African Station hunting slavers until she was broken up in 1853. Some of her timbers were used to build a second Constellation; she is now in dry dock and functions as a museum.

USS Constitution was built at Boston, Massachusetts by George Claghorn. Old Ironsides, as she became known, was a true 44 launched in October of 1797. Her greatest victories were achieved during the War of 1812 when she captured the British ships Guerriere, Java, Cyane and Levant. She was marked for breaking in 1830 but, saved by popular outcry, she is now the oldest commissioned vessel afloat.

USS President was built at New York, New York by Forman Cheeseman and launched in April of 1800. Of 44 guns, she served on the Mediterranean Squadron and in the War of 1812 when she was captured by HMS Tenedos after suffering severe damage from running aground. Her captain, Stephen Decatur, struck to the British but it was soon revealed that the Battle of New Orleans had been won by General Jackson the same day. The war was over. Though the British paroled Decatur and his men, they kept President as prize. She was broken up in 1817.

USS United States was built at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania by Joshua Humphreys. Launched in May of 1797 she also carried 44 guns. She captured HMS Macedonian in the War of 1812 and was commissioned into the Confederate States Navy during the Civil War. She was scuttled in 1862 but raised again after the war. Her repair was never properly finished and she was broken up in 1865.

Header: Battle Between USS United States and HMS Macedonian by Thomas Birch

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Seafaring Sunday: Old Ironsides

November 13, 1830: Joining the effort to save USS Constitution, one of the U.S. Navy's first six frigates, from the wreakers, Oliver Wendell Holmes publishes his poem "Old Ironsides"

Aye, tear her tattered ensign down!
Long has it waved on high,
And many an eye has danced to see
That banner in the sky:
Beneath it rung the battle shout,
And burst the cannon's roar -
The meteor of the ocean air
Shall sweep the clouds no more!

Her deck, once red with heroes' blood,
Where knelt the vanquished foe,
When winds were hurrying o'er the flood,
And waves were white below,
No more shall feel the victor's tread
Or know the conquered knee -
Tha harpies of the shore shall pluck
The eagle of the sea!

Oh, better that her shattered hulk
Should sink beneath the wave;
Her thunders shook the mighty deep,
And ther should be her grave;
Nail to the mast her holy flag,
Set every threadbare sail,
And give her to the god of storms,
The lightning and the gale!

Header:USS Constitution in her glory from her official website

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Sailor Mouth Saturday: Launch

To launch something is, in the general vernacular, to push or throw it. When dealing with ships that push is generally into the water. The word itself has two specific ancestors according to how it is being used, or so Webster tells us. The Old French word lanchier, meaning to throw or to hurl is probably the origin of the launch a boat use, while the Portuguese word lancha, possibly from the Maylay lanca, means a type of boat.

At sea, a ship is said to be launched when she “descends into her native element.” Things can be launched as well but generally speaking aboard ship launch means to move more than to throw as in “launch the tar bucket aft”. A launch is a ramp that allows a ship or boat to be launched. Launching ways are the timber platforms placed on the incline under the bottom of a ship. Sometimes known as bilge-ways, these platforms keep the ship upright while she is ashore for repair.

A launch was and to some degree still is the largest boat in a man-of-war. The launch is usually longer and more flat in the bottom than a merchant’s long-boat or a fishing boat. This makes it more fit for rowing rather that sailing, thus its use in work away from the ship such as laying out line or cable or going ashore. A large man-of-war would have employed five or more boats including a launch, one or two cutters, a jolly-boat, the gig, usually reserved for transporting the captain, and a dinghy.

Launch ho! is an order that, perhaps surprisingly, has nothing to do with putting anything in the water. From The Sailor’s Word Book:

The order to let go the top-rope after the top-mast has been swayed up and fidded. It is literally “high enough.”

This is a precarious operation and one best done while at anchor when it is necessary to accomplish it at sea.

Header: Sunrise at Grand Manan by William Bradford

Friday, November 11, 2011

Booty: Thank You

Today is Veterans Day here in the U.S. of A. and Triple P would like to extend sincere admiration and gratitude to all who serve and have served. While popular jargon in my country currently runs to underpaid teachers and unemployable college grads, my heart remains with the men and women who risk their lives to maintain a state of liberty wherein such issues can be raised and debated. To my mind our service people, whether active, reserve or veteran, are the underpaid, underemployed and underappreciated.

Coincidently, perhaps, yesterday was the 236th anniversary of the establishment of the U.S. Marine Corps, a body of people whose service to their country cannot be overestimated. To that end, and as much for fun as to keep memory alive, here are a few little-known facts about that first wave of Marines culled from this excellent overview at Naval History Blog.

When the Continental Congress established the Marine Corps in 1775, there were already hundreds of Marines serving in a number of State Navies.

The first vessel launched by the Pennsylvania Navy was named Experiment.

Philadelphia was the premier recruiting city for the Continental Marines.

The famous rattlesnake flag emblazoned with the motto “Don’t Tread On Me” may have been the first flag flown from the mastheads of Continental Navy ships.

Green was the main color in Continental Marine uniforms, replacing the red of the Royal Marines. One exception was John Paul Jones’ European squadron; Jones continued to dress his Marines in red coats.

Speaking of JPJ, many of his Marines were recruited from Europe; most were French.

The general rule for the number of Marines a Continental ship would carry was one Marine for each ship’s cannon. This rule was, however, rarely followed.

Finally, Continental privateers – unlike any other country’s privateers at the time – also carried Marines. When the schooner Revenge was captured her people were incarcerated in Portsmouth Prison where it was discovered that one of the marines was a woman.

Fair winds and following seas to all the Brethren, and especially fine weather to those among you who give and have given so much for so many. Thank you.

Header: Don’t Tread On Me flag of the Continental U.S.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Sea Monsters: Get Kraken

In the recent superhero movie Thor the title character tells his human love interest “What you call science we call magic”, or something like that. The point is well taken; the boiling cauldrons and flickering candles of the witches’ cave translate easily to the bubbling beakers and Jacob’s ladders of the mad scientist’s tower. Sometimes, too, science is just as difficult to understand as any magic (or magick). Today’s subject is a good example.

Over at National Geographic online they offer this piece on a discovery of fossilized bones that, when you first look at the article, must be those of a prehistoric Kraken. The Kraken, according to modern interpretation, was one of the many monsters faced by the Ancient Greek hero Perseus in his quest to free himself and his mother from the tyranny of an evil king. In fact, though, that monster was more like a dragon. The word “Kraken” did not come into the English language until much later. The name came about when a Norwegian seaman of the 16th century spotted a giant squid and said it looked like an “uprooted tree” (Kraeken in Norwegian). Kraken, therefore, equals giant squid.

Any of you who have any familiarity with sea life are already scratching your heads. Squid, of course, have no proper bones so how in the heck could ancient squid leave behind fossilized remains? This is where it gets weird.

Mark McMenamin, who is a paleontologist at Mount Holyoke College, took his family on a jaunt to Nevada’s Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park near Las Vegas. While wandering the fossil site, McMenamin noticed “… the orderly arrangement of bones” which led him to the following theory:

… a giant squid or octopus hunted and preyed on the ichthyosaurs and then arranged their bones in double-line patterns to purposely resemble the pattern of sucker discs on the predator’s tentacles.

That is a quote from the article and yes, a paleontologist basically hypothesized that a squid would create its own self-portrait out of the bones of its food source. It’s science!

Actually, it’s not. It’s more of a “pulled out of mid-air” theory that nobody else seems to be buying, and with good cause. McMenamin presented his idea at a scientific conference and has sense had widespread media attention for same. Experts, however, feel that the theory has no basis in fact.

Paul Myers of the University of Minnesota Morris notes that conferences “… are where scientists go to talk with their peers and discuss preliminary data, so they naturally have fairly lax standards.” He also calls McMenamin’s theory “weirdly circumstantial”. Ryosuke Motani of the University of California, Davis, stops just short of saying the theory is bunk by calling it “very implausible” and then goes on to point out that the disc-shaped bones of ichthyosaur spines would fall naturally into a two-by-two pattern, similar to suckers on tentacles, after the animal’s flesh had disintegrated. No artful positioning would be necessary to achieve what we see in the fossil record today.

For anyone who spends time on the ocean, that is certainly a relief. There’s enough to worry about out there without constantly looking over your shoulder for the descendant’s of artistic Kraken.

Header: Ichthyosaur spine fossils via NatGeo

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Home Ports: Brooklyn Navy Yard

The old Navy Yard on Wallabout Bay has a unique and colorful history dating back to the original Dutch settlement of New Amsterdam. The story goes that Sarah Rapelje, perhaps the first European born in North America, came into the world here in a place the local Lenape natives called Rennegachonk. A few years later her relative, Walloon, bought a 300 acre parcel on the bay from the Lenape and called the area Waal Boght; Bay of Walloons. The name passed into English as Wallabout, and the area above it, even before then, became known as Brooklyn.

Ship building proper did not begin in the area until after the American Revolution. In 1781 John Jackson bought land from one of Rapelje’s descendants, Cornelius Remsen, and set up a shipyard on the marshy, narrow bay. Jackson’s first major commission came after the Irish rebellion in 1798, when the U.S. was again mounting a naval force to deal with the pirates of the Barbary Coast. USS Adams, a frigate of 28 guns, was built and launched that same year. She would remain in commission until her destruction during the War of 1812.

The government purchased the yard from the Jacksons in 1801 and the first Commandant, Jonathan Thorn, was appointed in 1806. Ship building was a major undertaking for the U.S. at the time as her navy was considerably short of vessels, particularly when compared to the might of sheer numbers mounted by the Royal Navy. The Navy Yard thrived although much of her work was piecemeal with parts sent to other ship builders for finishing ships. In fact, aside from the disappointment of the Fulton Steam Frigate that made only one short voyage in 1814, the yard did not turn out a fully constructed ship until 1820. USS Ohio was launched from the yard that year.

In 1830 Commodore Matthew C. Perry became attached to the Navy Yard; he would serve as Commandant from 1841 to 1843. The Commodore had a hand in encouraging both good health and education at the yard. He was instrumental in the building of the Naval Hospital in 1837 and he instituted the Naval Lyceum at the yard. This sort of evening extension college for sailors, officers and hands at the yard welcomed famous speakers of the day and turned out the Naval Magazine, first published in 1836. Frequent contributors included Perry and author James Fennimore Cooper.

Granite dry docks were added to the yard and by 1851 there were three such in service. The third was built using the first steam powered pile driver in the U.S. The yard was an active Union hub during the Civil War, turning out the ironclad USS Monitor. The Naval Laboratory at the yard also supplied the vast majority of medicines for the Union Navy.

The Naval Yard continued to thrive throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, turning out such famous ships as USS Maine (the “Remember the Maine!” of the Spanish-American War), USS Arizona, USS Missouri and the super carriers USS Saratoga and USS Constellation. It was not until 1966 that the yard officially closed. Her over 150 years of service made her one of the longest working Naval Yards in the country and the oldest continually running industrial operation in the State of New York.

The Brooklyn Naval Yard is now owned by New York City and operates as a thriving industrial park that hosts companies as varied as design firms, a medical lab and even a sugar manufacturer. But what of her long seafaring history; something like that should never be forgotten.

As noted in this article from the New York Times online, the City of New York agrees. On Friday – Veterans Day – the Brooklyn Navy Yard Center at Building 92 will open to the public. The museum has been billed, according to the article, “… as a bridge between the once heavily fortified naval hub and the surrounding neighborhoods that have seen generations pass without a glimpse behind the gates.” More than that, the museum will stand as a link between America’s seafaring past and future.

On display are such diverse items as the 22,500 pound anchor from the amphibious assault ship Austin, a model of USS Maine and a pipe recovered from the ill-fated USS Arizona, sunk during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941. There are also exhibits focusing on the bay and Brooklyn itself. A copy of Walloon Rapelje’s 1637 purchase agreement with the Lenape is on display. The women who worked at the yard during World War II, who won the right to a man’s hourly wage of $1.14 have their own niche, too. There are also artifacts from the brothels and ale houses that serviced the yard in the early to mid-19th century, many of them located on Vinegar Hill. Though Daniella Romano, the center’s curator, notes in the article that the “entertainment area” of the Hill was “… the Barbary Coast of New York… Brothels, gambling houses and brawling” I think she may mean the “Port Royal of New York.” Barbary, though full of fierce corsairs, was not noted for its booze, brothels or gambling.

For a long and productive history, the Brooklyn Navy Yard is well remembered. So too are the ships she produced, the people who produced them and, certainly most of all, those who served aboard them.

Header: Circa 1851 engraving of the Brooklyn Naval Yard and Wallabout Bay from the Brooklyn Navy Yard website

Monday, November 7, 2011

People: Whydah's Pilot

The pirate ship of Black Sam Bellamy, former slaver Whydah, has become the stuff of legend thanks to the hard work of Barry Clifford and his team of treasure hunters/archaeologists. More is known about life aboard an early 18th century freebooter because of the recovered artifacts from that ship alone than arguably from any other source. What we don’t know, to my mind unfortunately, is much about the individuals who lived and died aboard her.

One exception is a man who went a pirating under Black Sam and became pilot of the Whydah after she was taken by Bellamy. Though we know very little about John Julian, what we do know speaks to how remarkably different pirate society was from the society it grew up in – and rebelled against.

National Geographic online says that Julian was part African and part Mosquito Indian. Philip Gosse, who does not mention Julian by name, says that the pilot of Whydah was “half Carib”. Which is true is lost to history but I have my own theory about Julian’s background. The future pilot probably met Bellamy while he was working in the wrecking or wracking trade, pulling up treasure from sunken Spanish galleons off the coasts of Florida that Cuba. Many South and Central American natives were employed in this trade because of their remarkable diving abilities. Particularly sought after were Guayqueries from the Island of Margarita off Venezuela, where pearl diving had long been a job these enslaved natives were tasked with. While Julian could have been Mosquito or Carib, it may be that he was an escaped slave from Margarita and therefore potentially Guayqueries. Just a thought.

What ever his origins, Julian clearly had a talent for piloting as he was the go-to pilot on each of Bellamy’s successively larger flagships. By the time Bellamy was captaining Whydah, it is certain that Julian was particularly capable as a navigator. Bellamy, who according to Gosse had a bit of a socialist bent, made it a habit to free any slaves he encountered aboard a prize. NatGeo estimates that his Whydah crew was comprised of 30 to 50 African or partially African men. John Julian was not an exception aboard Whydah.

The short but merry life of pirating came to an abrupt end for Julian and his mates when Whydah wrecked off Wellfleet, Massachusetts in a gale. Julian and ship’s carpenter Davis were the only two men to make it to shore, although Gosse counts the survivors’ number as six. Davis would hang in Boston but what became of Julian remains unknown.

A tantalizing theory proposed by NatGeo is that John Julian was sold into bondage. They go so far as to speculate that he was in fact the “Julian the Indian” recorded as a slave to John Quincy of Massachusetts. As a curious aside, this is the John Quincy who was father to the staunch abolitionist Abigail Adams. She in turn passed her hatred for slavery on to her son, future U.S. President John Quincy (pronounced Quin-zee) Adams.

NatGeo goes on to say that Julian was an “unruly slave” and eventual sold by Quincy. Julian made several attempts to escape his new master and was killed by a slave catcher while the man was trying to bring him back from one of these.

Whether or not that was actually the case, Julian’s life aboard Whydah was probably one of the best times for him. Thankfully the memory of that life, however speculative, remains as a glimpse of the freedom a man could find during the Golden Age of Piracy.

Header: Bellamy taking the Whydah via fieldmuseum.org

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Seafaring Sunday: Rose Hill Packet

November 6, 1789: The first vessel built by Europeans in Australia was launched in Sydney Harbor.  Known as the Rose Hill Packet or "The Lump", she was crafted by convicts and worked under both oars and sails.  She would have had one mast and looked a little like a smaller version of the lugger above (via geograph.org.uk)

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Sailor Mouth Saturday: Marine

It probably goes without saying that the word marine comes from the Latin word for ocean so, technically, anything at sea is “marine”. As Admiral Smyth notes, marine can be defined as “belonging to the sea.”

A marine lagoon is any inlet or lake formed by the introduction of water from the sea and, again in the words of the good Admiral, “the deposits of fluviatile action.” Such inward waterways are favored by smugglers for their general off the beaten path status in comparison to both open shore and inland rivers.

A marine barometer is manufactured differently than those used by land. It generally has a contraction at a certain point in the tube that keeps the mercury from moving with the pitch and roll of the ship which would otherwise put the instrument in danger of giving a false reading. Marine engines are so called to distinguish them from those of a locomotive, which at one time they were essentially the same as. A marine railway, on a completely unrelated note, is a large slip employed to haul vessels up for repair. Marine glue was used in ship’s carpentry and made from a combination of mineral oil, gum and after the mid-18th century caoutchouc now more commonly known as natural rubber (to distinguish it from the modern, man-made varieties).

Marine insurance is perhaps one of the first forms of what we imagine when we use the word. The owner of a ship – usually a merchant vessel – would pay the insurer premium to cover any loss of vessel or cargo in the course of a voyage. The money would of course revert to the insurer if the ship arrived safe and intact at her destination but the insurer would be obliged to return the money should the opposite occur. While ancient civilizations, notably the Romans, had forms of this kind of insurance regulated by the state, the version we are familiar with did not arise until the 1680s with the establishment of Lloyd’s of London. Crewmen were not insured or insurable until the early 20th century when Germany instituted workers’ compensation.

Also falling under this heading would be Marines who make up that branch of the service which originated in England with the Royal variety. These were men trained for combat both on land and sea and placed on ships not only to fight the enemy but to keep the peace among the sailors. A Marine officer was stationed aboard larger ships and areas such as the Marine clothing room and storeroom were set aside specifically for his men. Marines also had a designated area to sling their hammocks and they formed their own mess.

Traditionally in the Royal Navy, Marines imagined sailors as undisciplined and possibly even criminal while the sailors in turn fancied Marines were stupid and good for very little besides polishing boots and firearms. Among each other sailors referred to the Marine Sergeant as “an empty bottle”, meaning an object with no good use to it. Marines in turn adopted the empty bottle slur and morphed it to mean someone who had “done his duty and was ready to do it again” referencing the bottle’s ability to be refilled.

When the United States adopted the military structure of Britain, she seems to have liberated herself of this type of infighting. The saying in the Royal Navy, “Tell that to the Marines” was a response to someone telling a fish story or other tale so outlandish that only a simpleton, or a Marine, would believe it. In the U.S. the same phrase became a response to one sailor telling another of something so difficult that it must be impossible.

“Not a soul could storm a fortress like that,” one might say in astonishment at a well-fortified enemy.

“Tell that to the Marines,” would be the reply meaning they would doubtless take the challenge and overcome it. Probably before lunch.

The only thing left rankling on this side of the pond is the U.S. Marines’ claim to being the “oldest branch of the service” in our country. While it is true that the U.S. Navy was temporarily (and as it turns out foolishly) disbanded in 1783, both services were brought into being in 1775. In fact, the Navy came first on October 13 with the Marines instated on November 10. As my father used to grumble whenever he saw a commercial for Marine recruitment: “No Navy, no Marines.”

But that’s all in the family, really. Anyone who risks their life on the ocean gets a virtual pass around here.  In the end, we are all sons (and daughters) of Neptune.

Header: The Bombardment of Algiers 1816 by George Chambers Sr.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Booty: More Myths Debunked

The good folks at Cracked have once again put curser to word processing program to write about Triple P’s favorite subject, pirates and privateers. This time the title is “6 Absurd Pirate Myths Everyone Believes Thanks to Movies” and once again they’ve hit the mark. The addition of “Absurd” in the title is a very nice touch.

The myths taken on include standbys frequently discussed here: pirates weren’t much for burying treasure and that chest o’ booty spilling over with pieces of eight and pearls was a rare prize indeed, for instance. The authors, Eric Yosomono and Drew Miller, also delve into some more recently debated issues such as pirates talking like “movie pirates” and, that Mythbusters favorite, pirates really didn’t wear those eye patches to cover empty eye sockets but in fact to be ready for dim light below decks in boarding situations. That one is probably bogus on both counts given that A) looking scary was a bonus if you were a pirate, B) pirates avoided hostile boarding whenever possible and C) pirates wearing eye patches isn’t much mentioned in the first hand literature (neither Exquemelin nor Johnson/Defoe speak to the practice at all). But hey, it’s a theory.

My personal favorite among the six listed is “Sailors Became Pirates to Live a Life of Crime”. As the Brethren are well aware, “a pirate’s life for me” spoke more to “I’m sick of authority” than “how much rape and pillage can I get in on a good day”. Sure, there’s a sociopath in every crowd but for the most part pirates and privateers had more of the entrepreneur than the savage horde spirit about them.

Well done once again, Cracked; you’ve hit the nail on the head with this one.

Finally, on a completely different and rather self-satisfied note, Triple P has been endorsed on the sidebar of one of my favorite author’s websites. Benerson Little, whose books are a staple of research around here, notes Triple P is a “good blog on pirates and privateers”. I’ll just call that a ringing endorsement from a former Navy SEAL who is also a talented researcher and author, elite swordsman and expert on pre-20th century firearms. And oh look, Mr. Little has a new book on the way debunking pirate myths. Serendipitous? I’ll let the Brethren decide.

Header: Fredric March as Jean Laffite in The Buccaneer (there are at least 25 odd myths in this movie alone)

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Women at Sea: Laffite's Last Love

Reading the off-handed remark about “Jean Pierre Lafitte” and the woman from the Savannah, Georgia “neighborhood” that he “married” while researching Monday’s post made me think. Where did the idea that either of the Laffite brothers married a woman from the southern part of the East Coast come from? With this question in my head, I went back to my copious notes and that bible of all things about the brothers The Pirates Laffite by William C. Davis to dig up the tantalizingly unfinished story of Pierre Laffite’s last love.

The now legendary stories of Jean Laffite’s success with the ladies are probably – like so many other things about the man – blown way out of proportion. Most legends, however, have a grain of truth at their beginning and this is probably the case when it comes to Laffite’s love life. Because the two brothers have virtually melded into one entity in the popular mind, most people don’t even know about Pierre Laffite. The entire timeline of the brother’s exploits is now simply ascribed to Jean, with Pierre fading to the point of becoming simply a “middle name”. Pierre’s love for the ladies seems to have been grafted onto Jean, whose personal life is something of a mystery, and then increased exponentially until we now have a picture of a dashing if insatiable satyr who also enjoyed long walks on the beach.

It is Pierre, however, that seems to fit that bill if it is toned down to a dull roar. He had at least three relationships that we know of. One he may have carried on in San Domingue/Haiti before the revolution, but that part is to this day speculation. Who the woman was is unclear as well, although Lyle Saxon states that her name was Adelaide Maseleri, but Pierre had a son most probably named Eugene in tow when he met the woman with whom he would have his longest relationship. Marie Louise Villard or Villars, a free quadroon from New Orleans, was Pierre’s partner for close to fifteen years. The two had seven children together the last of whom, Joseph, probably never even saw his father.

The third woman to cohabit with Pierre, for lack of a better turn of phrase, seems to have been named Lucia or Lucille Allen. All the sources agree that she was an American from the East Coast and she turns up in Pierre’s life around the time that he began making trips to Charleston, South Carolina in 1819. These forays, where he sometimes went by the almost comical alias of “Mr. Francisco”, were for the purchase of ships and the hiring of men. Galveston was falling apart and the brothers had their eyes on a new horizon.

When, at the end of 1820, Pierre had all he needed he prepared to see the last of Charleston. This is when Lucia may have joined him aboard the Nancy Eleanor which landed at Isla Mujeres in March of 1821. Here the Laffites planned to build a new Barataria/Galveston but the barren island provided little in the way of homey comforts. Aside, it seems, from Lucia.

She must have been a hearty sort as she would doubtless have been saddled with more than just keeping Pierre happy. One has to imagine that, in a camp full of men, the one woman would be looked to for laundry and cooking services as well as nursing and motherly comfort. Lucia seems to have been up to it; eye-witnesses from the time say that, even when ill herself, she took care of the sick and injured.

There was a fair amount of travel on the water as well. Davis tells us that Pierre and Lucia where staying at a farm on the island of Cancun. Pierre had recently sold a lot of prize goods in Camara and neither he nor Lucia was in the best of health. As it would later turn out, Lucia’s malaise was due not just to infection but to pregnancy. The Spanish authorities, having been tipped off to the pirate’s whereabouts, raided the farm on October 30, 1821. Pierre and Lucia were taken into custody but only briefly.

They managed to escape under cover of darkness, round up the scattered members of Pierre’s group and leave Cancun in a fishing boat. The little group of refugees debarked at Dzilam de Bravo on the 31st and staggered to a little village called Telyas. They were taken in by a local family but Pierre was very sick and possibly injured. Davis writes: “Then, on or about November 9, within sight and sound of thousands of pink flamingos feeding in the lagoon, Pierre Laffite breathed his last.” There can be no question that Lucia was at his side.

What became of Lucia and the child she was carrying is in fact unknown. The most likely outcome was opined by John Burton Thompson in a 1953 article for the Baton Rouge Morning Advocate: Lucia died giving birth to Pierre Laffite’s daughter at Dzilam de Bravo and was buried there. No one seems to even hazard a guess as to what became of the little female child.

What facts we can garner from this are probably of little use in the uphill battle to sort out reality from legend, particularly where les fr̬res Laffite are concerned. That does not degrade the poignancy of the story, however. Lucia Allen, probably of Charleston, South Carolina, literally gave everything she had for the love of a famous Рif now partially forgotten Рpirate.

Header: Beach at Dzilam de Bravo on the Yucatan Peninsula via ramsar.org

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Tools of the Trade: All God's Creatures

Superstition is allowed a very wide berth on any blue water ship. Some say it is one of the many necessary ingredients that bind a crew together in their common goals. Because animals were often all around ships as well as aboard them, superstitions about them have come down to us in droves. Some persist to this day. Here are just a few of the seagoing “dos and don’ts” from our shared nautical history:

Many types of sea birds bode good or ill just by their appearance. A swan seen floating on the sea is thought to signal good weather ahead. A kingfisher near a ship was a portend of calm. Seeing gulls on land meant incoming wind and rain. Petrels or gulls flying near a ship also indicated stormy weather and worse still if they landed and refused to be shooed off the vessel. Sighting a cormorant while underway was thought to be very bad luck; sighting a swallow, however, was very good luck.

Killing dolphins or porpoises was not much thought of before the 20th century; they were considered much like tuna and went straight to the galley. After World War I, however, killing either of these mammals was considered an ill omen. Since Roman times, a shark following a ship was said to be a sign that someone aboard would die.

Domestic animals also foretell weather and luck. Drowning the ship’s cat – whether accidently or on purpose – would surely provoke a hurricane or typhoon. The ship’s cat sneezing meant rain. If a cat ran ahead of a sailor on his way to his ship, his luck would be good. In the same circumstance, however, a cat crossing the sailor’s path signaled bad luck. The ship’s dog howling would catch the mariner’s eye. A storm was on its way and the wind would blow up from the direction toward which the dog’s muzzle was pointing as he howled.

The worst kind of bad luck was sure to follow the killing of a seagull or particularly an albatross. The Brethren may remember the completely non-O’Brian but – as seafaring superstitions go – eerily accurate scene in Master and Commander when Marine Sergeant Howard shoots Dr. Maturin instead of the albatross he was aiming at. Of course true seamen know that shooting at birds just above a crowded deck is patently forbidden but that is another type of ill luck indeed. As Coleridge wrote in The Rime of the Ancient Mariner: “And I had done a hellish thing, And it would work them woe; For all averred I had killed the bird, That made the breeze to blow. Ah wretch! said they; the bird to slay, That made the breeze to blow!”

Header: Some very unlucky seamen with an impressive albatross via noaa.gov