Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Home Ports: The Best Bay

Pensacola, Florida, is now a booming community with a split personality. Hard working port on the one hand, it is also the playground of the idle who have time for golfing, yachting, and spring breaks on the beach. It may even be the haunt of a phantom or two. The long history of Pensacola, not surprisingly, is more about the port than the playground. And both pirates and privateers figure prominently in that mix.


The area surrounding what is now known as Pensacola Bay was populated for thousands of years by Native American groups who subsisted largely off the water, building dug out canoes and fishing in the bay. By the time the first European explorers arrived, the dominant group called themselves the Panzacola and eventually gave their name to the area.

The first explorers to poke around Pensacola were all Spanish. Visits from Ponce de Leon in 1513 and Hernando de Soto about thirty years later established that the area had potential for colonization. It wasn’t until 1559 that Tristan de Luna brought a group of close to 1,500 settlers to the bay from Vera Cruz in Mexico. The pilgrims arrived in August and barely had time to set up a makeshift camp before a hurricane blew through on September 19. It is estimated that a good half of the potential colonists were killed. Some people immediately left for the Carolinas while others tried to make a go of it on the island they called Santa Elena. Lack of fresh water and simmering tropical heat took their toll. Fifty remaining colonists returned to Vera Cruz two years later to the utter dismay of Mexico’s Viceroy.

The French exploration of what would become Louisiana brought Spanish attention back to western Florida. On the hunt for La Salle’s French explorers in the Gulf of Mexico, Juan Enriquez Barroto and Antonio Romero visited Pensacola in 1686. On the expedition was Juan Jordan de Reina, an amateur naturalist and all-pro exaggerator, who described the area as a lush tropical paradise where fruit dripped from trees, game was plentiful and the bay was “… the best I have ever seen in my life.” De Reina’s assessment highly influenced the Mexican Viceroy, Don Silva y Mendoza, to fund another colonial undertaking to Pensacola.

By 1700, a new colony had been established under the governorship of Andres de Arriola. This time the bay was christened Bahia Santa Maria de Galve (after the Viceroy, who was also the Count of Galve) and the land around it began to be known as Panzacola. Much to everyone’s dismay, the soil turned out to be almost useless for growing food stuffs, the area wildlife was hostile, yellow fever and malaria hung over the place every summer and hurricanes continued to wreak havoc. The settlement persevered, however, mostly in response to the growing numbers of French colonists in Mobile, Baton Rouge and New Orleans.

The area slowly urbanized with the Spanish building forts on the mainland. Money became available and with it came smuggling. British and American colonial pirate ships began to appear in the bay, exchanging prize goods for hard Spanish gold or silver. Famous names like Edward Teach and Edward England were known on the waterfront, much to the dismay of Governor Arriola. Raiding by the British and the Creeks during Queen Anne’s War, which took up a little more than the first decade of the 18th century, broke the settlement’s infrastructure down and soon Pensacola was hanging on for dear life.

The French took the settlement from the Spanish some time in 1719, but they could not hold it capably and it returned to Spanish hands. During the French period, the incidents of pirate interaction with local smugglers increased. Only a lack of organization kept early 18th century Pensacola from mirroring the future operation of the Laffite brothers in Barataria.

The French and Indian War brought British rule in 1763 and the area began to prosper. Cotton planting was stepped up, more building took place and Britain hoped to make Pensacola a new Jamaica. Those hopes were dashed with the Revolutionary War. After losing the Battle of Pensacola in 1781, Britain returned the area to the Spanish.

Despite controlling all of Florida and the vast Louisiana territory, Spain’s colonial grip loosened as her troubles mounted in Europe.

Napoleon sold Louisiana to Jefferson; by 1812 much of what had been Spain was the U.S. Andrew Jackson harassed the Spanish with raids on Pensacola and the chaos created opportunities for a new breed of free booters: the privateers. Pierre Laffite probably began the slave trading that would serve him and his brother so well in Pensacola during the first decade of the 19th century. Louis Aury briefly used the bay as a base. Dominique Youx may have considered settling there later in life. According to William C. Davis, Renato Beluche stopped in to the bay just as Britain was amassing warships in preparation for their invasion of New Orleans in late 1814. Beluche may very well have written a letter to the Laffite brothers warning them of the coming storm.

By the 1820s, Florida was U.S. soil. Andrew Jackson briefly took up residence at Pensacola as the area’s first Territorial Governor. By the mid-20s, a Navy Yard was established. Pensacola was used as a supply port for David Porter’s pirate hunting Mosquito Fleet based on Thompson’s Island (now Key West). The worm had turned completely; the frontier town that once welcomed pirates became the urban center that supplied the machinery for their downfall. Hard work at the docks and on the plantations funded gracious living for the wealthy.

As an aside, another seafaring point of interest is the Pensacola Lighthouse. Originally built in 1826 it was first kept by Jeremiah and Micheala Ingraham. Jeremiah died under mysterious circumstances (rumor has it Micheala killed him) and his wife was appointed keeper, a job she did faithfully for fifteen years. When the lighthouse was rebuilt in 1859, a violent haunting began to manifest including objects flying across rooms and unexplained stains on floors. The lighthouse, which is still kept by the Coast Guard, is said to be inhabited by Micheala Ingraham who is angered and offended by the disturbance to her former home. The Coasties say it’s all bologna, but the tourists flock to the sunset tours nonetheless.

Doubtless Pensacola is haunted by more that just the lighthouse keeper’s wife considering all that has happened there. But the locals, and the tourists, probably don’t pay much more attention than the occasional ghost story will rouse. The best bay continues to work and play hard, just as it always has.

Header: Map of Pensacola Bay c 1763 via Wikimedia

Monday, August 29, 2011

History: When

Historically, sailors have felt free of a myriad of ills once they were clear of land. While the sea may hold its own dangers, nothing there was untenable. A sailor can deal with things at sea; by land he is often quite literally a fish out of water. Thomas Flemming Day understood that thoroughly and his poem, When, reflects that understanding. When I read it, which is frequently, I think not only of my own love for the sea but of the generations before me who shared that delight. And so, for your enjoyment of a Monday morning, I give you When:


When western winds are blowing soft, Across the Island Sound; When every sail that draws aloft, Is swollen true and round; When yellow shores along the lee, Slope upward to the sky; When opal bright the land and sea, In changeful contact lie; When idle yachts at anchor swim, Above a phantom shape; When spires of canvas dot the rim, Which curves from cape to cape; When seaweed strewn the ebbing tide pours eastward to the main; When clumsy coasters side by side, Tack in and out again – When such a day is mine to live, What has the world beyond to give?

Header: U.S. Frigate Congress by Christopher Blossom

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Seafaring Sunday: Founding Pere

August 29, 1619: Jean-Baptiste Colbert, considered the founding father of the French Navy, was born.

Header: Jean-Baptiste Colbert by Claude Lefebvre

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Sailor Mouth Saturday: All

Today's word is one that most of us use without thinking about it, particularly in reckless clich├ęs such as “all or nothing” and “it’s all about me”. At sea, all tends to have a similar, bigger than life tone of urgency and sometimes even foreboding.


First and foremost, all signifies everything; the total quantity. All hands indicates a ship’s company in its entirety. All weathers means any time of year or any sort of weather.

All is frequently used in calls and commands such as “all hands make sail!” The modern call for all hands on deck was phrased all hands ahoy until the first quarter of the 19th century and would have been accompanied by the call of the bosun’s whistle. All hands to quarters was the merchant ship equivalent of the warship’s order to beat to quarters.

All’s well is the call of the night watches. It was heard every half hour at the striking of the bell between the hours of 8:00 in the evening and 4:00 in the morning. The exception would be in cases where all was indeed not well and then a call to quarters or for all hands on deck would likely replace it. All ready is the standard answer from the tops when the sails are ready to be unfurled. All aback indicated a ship’s sails had been taken aback – pushed on from the fore rather than the aft – by the wind. As an aside this situation, which can be hazardous, is the source of our modern phrase taken aback meaning surprised, stunned or, in a more archaic form, found out.

A ship is all standing when she is fit to set sail. A seaman was all standing when he was fully clothed. Sometimes this phrase also indicated being fully armed. A ship is brought up all standing when she is stopped suddenly, as when striking an object, a reef or another ship. She is said to be paid off all standing when her crew receives payment and/or prize money in port without putting in for repairs or shore leave. In such cases, which were considered cruel by the foremast jacks, the ship would turn right around and put out to sea once again.

All to pieces was once sailor speak for excessively as in “Jack has been drinking all to pieces.” All ahoo is what Jack would be the next day: hung over. All ahoo could also mean that things were all mixed up, at sixes and sevens, confusing. Something was said to be good at all points when it was exceedingly practical. All over meant something or someone had a particular look about it; “She’s a pirate all over, sure.” All overish, on the other hand, meant one was feeling slightly out of sorts; not quite sick but not well either. Being all overish in the tropics was a sure sign to British seamen that they had better head to the sick berth straight away. Till all’s blue indicated something carried to its utmost and came from the experience of a vessel reaching blue water out of sight of land.

All a taunt-o is probably my favorite of the marine-isms using the word all. It meant a ship fully rigged and ready not just to sail but to look good doing so.

Happy Saturday, Brethren. I wish you a ship all a taunt-o as mine is sadly – but quite purposefully – all ahoo right now.

Header: Clipper Ship Blue Jacket on Choppy Seas by Montague Dawson

Friday, August 26, 2011

Booty: Terrifying Pirates

Last Friday, much to my surprise and delight, the good folks at Cracked.com produce an article entitled the “The 7 Most Terrifying Pirates from History”. The title in and of itself has a wry humor to it: “pirates from history” rather than “historical pirates” makes it sound rather like History offers these guys at her restaurant, probably under the seafood portion of the menu. But, rereading that sentence, that may just be my own warped sense of humor coming through.


The article includes such familiar-to-the-Brethren favorites as Bartholomew Roberts, Blackbeard and Benjamin Hornigold and hits the usual “high notes” as far as what each man achieved in the way of a blood soaked “short life but merry one.” Some curiosities do jump out to those who have a particular interest in piratical scholarship, however.

It is gratifying to see both Francois L’Olonnais and Jean “Lafitte” (misspelled; again) on the list. Even a casual Cracked reader will know that labeling not just one but two Frenchmen “terrifying” was probably a painful exercise for their writers. I personally would have ranked L’Olonnais much higher, if it were up to me. The crazy adds to the terrifying exponentially. I also salute Cracked for including William Dampier; he, much like Hornigold, rarely gets the press he deserves.

The surprising addition of Stephen Decatur jumped out at me immediately as well. Though undeniably terrifying to his enemies, the Hero of both Barbary Wars would surely have bristled at being called a “pirate” which, in all fairness, he was not.

Not surprisingly there is the usual sloppy failure to mention either Uruj or Pierre, the equally important brothers of Khair ad-Din Barbarossa and Jean Laffite.

But that’s all splitting hairs. The point is the funny, after all, and the post certainly brings that. Then too, their choice of a certain familiar site for at least some of their research gets them extra credit on this assignment.  Happy Friday, Brethren!

Header: Dead Men Tell No Tales by Howard Pyle

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Women at Sea: Quadroons of Old New Orleans

Many men would rather live in concubinage with a woman than marry. In that way they enjoy the advantage of being well cared for, along with the option of dismissing the woman if she proves unsatisfactory or unfaithful.


This quote from the journal of Frenchman Francois Perrin du Lac sums up his personal opinion of the New Orleans tradition known as placage: placement. Perrin du Lac travelled to Louisiana in the early 19th century (his journal was published in 1805) when the system was well established so it is a certainty that he had seen it in action. His opinion, though skewed if the truth be told, does sum up certain arrangements made by the famous pirates of Barataria Pierre Laffite and his brother, Jean.

As Liliane Crete notes in her excellent history Daily Life in Louisiana 1815-1830, New Orleans and the surrounding area had a problem common to frontier settlements from the day it was founded by the French: gender imbalance. Too many white men meant heightened competition for the available white female population which, in turn, could lead to social chaos. Since most people aren’t ready for anarchy, and usually the wealthy end up with their choice of what ever is scarce, men who were not the cream of the crop (those wealthy, landowning Creoles) cast about for other alternatives. This led to arrangements between white men and black or mulatto women. Since the marriage of a white person to anyone with even “a drop of African blood” was forbidden, the couples basically set up house and lived as if they were married.

By the time of the Louisiana Purchase, the players had changed and these arrangements had become a highly formalized institution. The young women in question – most were introduced no later than their 15th birthdays – were no longer black or mulatto but quadroon (having one black grandparent) or octoroon (having one black great-grandparent). Some were so far removed from their African ancestry that they had light hair and eyes, to say nothing of their ivory complexions. They were the accomplished of their social strata and considered themselves above marrying a man of even octoroon blood. Instead, they strove to catch the eye of the wealthiest Creole gentleman they could and then, more often than not, a contract was drawn up.

In most cases, the man in question – whether he was a young bachelor or an established gentleman with a Creole wife and family – agreed to provide for the young lady who was “placed” with him. He would buy her a respectable home, often along Rue Rampart but later the Faubourg Marigny became popular as well, set up her household and recognize her children. Depending on the gentleman’s means the household might include a carriage and horses, jewels, furniture and usually one or two slaves. The children of these liaisons, though always listed in the church register as “colored”, were given the gentleman’s last name. Many of them were also mentioned in his will, some to a very generous degree. Should trouble come to this paradise the contract, usually negotiated between the gentleman and the young lady’s mother who was once “placed” herself, stipulated that he would provide for his placage family in the form of a monetary endowment.

Though it has become somewhat fashionable among even credible researchers to call the young women involved in these arrangements slaves they were, to a person, free blacks. New Orleans was a place where, as William C. Davis has noted, color lines blurred more than anywhere else in the young United States. The city and the surrounding bayous had a high population of “free people of color” from the Spanish period on. It would be ridiculous to discount the fact that some slave owners used their chattel for sexual gratification but it is just as ridiculous to imagine that they would sign contractual agreements with someone who, according to their world view, was no less a piece of property than a horse. The quadroons and octoroons were free women, and many of them owned slaves themselves. In fact some made a lucrative living later in life renting out their slaves for day jobs around the city.

The ladies were invariably remarked upon by travelers from abroad as lovely, modest and accomplished. One woman from Britain compared them to the Brahmin ladies of India. Many times they appear in literature with interesting and exotic names like Toucoutou, Zabette, Semiramee or Ti Poulette. They appeared all over town, at the Opera, where special boxes were set aside for quadroons, and at dances. It was at these dances, generally known as Black and White or later Blue Ribbon balls, that Creole gentlemen mingled with the ladies available for placage. According to Davis, it was at one of Monsieur Coquet’s soirees that Pierre Laffite met his long time quadroon companion, Marie Louise Villard or Vallars.

Louise, or Louison as she was known affectionately, was about ten years younger than Pierre and rumored to be quite lovely despite a few pock marks on her cheeks. Though no contract between Pierre and Louise’s mother Marguarite is extant, Louise was living with one of NOLA’s favorite pirates by 1806. They would spend close to twenty years together and produce a brood of at least seven children. Louise, it seems, was intrepid enough to accompany Pierre on business trips to Pensacola where she lived with him for two or three years. Pierre’s two documented New Orleans homes on Rue Dumaine and Rue St. Philip were both purchased in Louise’s name.

In the same household lived Louise’s younger sister Catherine or Catiche as she was known. She had a much less stable relationship with Pierre’s younger brother that, at the very least, produced Jean Laffite’s only documented child. Jean-Pierre Laffite was born in November of 1815 according to baptismal records at St. Louis Cathedral. He died at sixteen in the virulent yellow fever epidemic of 1832.

Both women were quite literally abandoned by the Laffite brothers when Pierre and Jean set out from Galveston for Isla Mujeres in 1820. Louise and Catherine eventually married quadroon men and lived the rest of their lives in New Orleans.

The system of placage continued into the 1820s and ’30s but slowly faded away as waves of Easterners moved to New Orleans. By the 1840s the very idea of such standardized adultery would have been abhorrent to the Victorian sensibility and it was in this era that some quadroon and octoroon families, robbed of the benefits of their former station in society, began “passing” as white. Though this sometimes worked, it could also have disastrous results as was the case with one of Pierre and Louise’s unfortunate descendants. But that is another story for another time.

Header: Octoroons in late 18th century New Orleans, print via slaveimages.org

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

History: First People

When I was studying archaeology as an undergraduate, back when wooly mammoths were a not uncommon sight in Orange County, California, the focus of the discipline was – for lack of a better term – connecting the dots. Finding the missing pieces to the puzzles of human history was what we were taught to strive for in both research and field work. These days, with the mammoths extinct, it seems that archaeology is now a discipline of “firsties”. He/she who finds the first of anything wins.


It is not surprising, then, to find this brief article over at Archaeo News online about another intriguing first. Patrick V. Kirch of UC Berkeley’s Archaeology Research Facility now says that Austronesian seafarers may have arrived in the Marianas Islands as early as 2,000 BCE or 4,000 years ago. The Marianas, which are near the Philippines and include the U.S. territory of Guam, were previously thought to have been colonized no earlier than 500 CE.

Although the article does not actually say what prompted Kirch to make his announcement, I gather that discovery of Lapita pottery of a very early date may be the key. The Lapita pottery makers spread out in three distinct waves from South East Asia, bringing with them a skill for delicate and functional pottery. Examples of this beautiful art have been found not only in the Marianas but in the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Tonga, Samoa and especially Fiji where large numbers of intact vessels have been discovered. These various sites of Lapita finds have been dated, according to the article, to no earlier than 900 BCE.

Besides being skilled potters, the characteristic that most distinguishes the peoples of all these islands is their superior seamanship. They travelled long, arduous distances in beautifully constructed canoes colonizing as they went much like the Vikings would some 3,000 years later. The final wave of Austronesian migration brought people to the Polynesian archipelagoes with the Hawai’in islands possibly serving as last stop for these virtually unprecedented voyages.

While I am not intimately familiar with the culture of the Marianas’ people, who are known as the Chamorros, two things about them and their beautiful islands strike me as interesting. First is the fact that the islands were called by the Spanish Islas de los Ladrones which, though frequently translated as the Islands of Thieves, is more properly interpreted as the Islands of Pirates in the context of 17th century Spanish. The second is specific to the Chamorro people themselves. They claim descent from a legendary race of giants known as the Taotaomo’na who, it is whispered, still haunt the ancient places waiting for offerings of seafood and liquor. These spirits are known as the “First People” and, given their history and their appetites, they sound very much like freebooters to me.

Header: Lapita pottery shard from the Solomon Islands via Wikipedia

Monday, August 22, 2011

Tools of the Trade: Pipe To

One of the most ubiquitous symbols of seafaring life is the sound of the bosun’s whistle. Anyone who has ever watched a movie about ships or shipping set from medieval times to World War II and beyond has heard its high pitched call. What this handy instrument actually is, and the fact that it does sound off more than those well known three notes, is not so familiar to most.


The pipe or whistle, either term is correct, is akin to a piccolo and is carried by a ship’s bosun (boatswain) as a symbol of authority. Generally the pipe dangles from a chain worn around the neck, but it can be carried in various different ways as well. The pipe is descendant from the now archaic Admiral’s whistle. This was a small instrument made of gold and worn around that officer’s neck as a symbol of rank. By the 18th century, bosun’s pipes were made of silver, nickel or brass and so they are to this day.

The four parts of the pipe are the gun (reed), the buoy (bowl), the keel (flange) and the shackle (ring) which attaches the pipe to its chain.

The bosun uses his whistle in his capacity as the transmitter of orders from the officer in charge to the foc’sle men. Various different trills and tweets are used to get the men’s attention and/or to signal the order proper. A by no means all-inclusive list of a few routine orders would be:

Call to attention; Call to meals; Heave or pull on rope, oars, etc; Colors up or down; Belay action; Pipe a guest over the side; Pipe down.

Recognizing the bosun’s call via his pipe was one of the many things that differentiated a true seaman from a lubber. Doubtless it was something newbies learned quickly to avoid the ramifications of not responding in the appropriate manner. No one likes a dressing down or – worse still – a flogging, after all.

Header: Modern bosun’s pipe via The Brass Compass

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Seafaring Sunday: Mrs. Foley's Horror

Sam Parker was sitting on the ship’s side fishing, when his line became entangled with some floating object and attempting to extricate it by a sudden jerk, he lost his balance and fell overboard… My screams brought every soul up in an instant, but although I pointed out the exact spot where the boy fell, he was not to be seen at all. The boat was lowered, and the men rowed round and round the vessel… It was not until more than an hour had elapsed that the body rose to the surface from under the stern of the vessel where it had been held fast for a time by the line which the boy had coiled around his waist. ~ Fanny Foley aboard clipper bark Wildfire in the Pacific Ocean, August, 1849


Header: Clipper Bark Wildfire, artist unknown

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Sailor Mouth Saturday: Lob

When I first started reading O’Brian’s Aubrey/Maturin novels I was struck, as I imagine many people are, by the sometimes overwhelming number of unfamiliar terms used. I was relatively good with ship’s workings such as rigging and sails, but the below decks speak, so to say, could be puzzling at best. Of course I finally picked up a copy of Dean King’s A Sea of Words and it was smooth sailing from there (pun intended).


One of the much used monikers in the books is loblolly boy, which Dr. Maturin bandies about as if he were using the word assistant. As most of the Brethren know, he is but where, I began to wonder recently, did the term come from originally. And so today’s post.

Lob proper, as a word unto itself, comes from the Middle English word which was spelled and pronounced the same way. According to Webster’s the word meant heavy, hanging or thick. In that context it can be used to mean a big, slow, clumsy person as well as the more familiar toss or throw that we know from “lob the ball” which itself springs from the word being used to mean “to drop something heavy”. In earlier forms of English, lob could also substitute for lump.

The implication of a large, clumsy person is why some scholars believe that lob is the origin of the word lubber. That etymology stands in question to this day, but it is worth consideration. This may also be the origin of the name for the surgeon’s generally uneducated assistant. The loblolly boy is not to be confused with the surgeon’s mate or mates, who are more like surgeons in training. Loblolly boys were more like servants who fetched and emptied and were often tasked with holding men down during surgeries. Thus, such a man (they were rarely boys proper) needed to be on the large side ergo a lob. The other explanation – this one given by King – was that the title came from the sick-berth gruel known as loblolly which was fed to the very ill.

Lob turns up in other seafaring words as well. Of course most everyone is familiar with those tasty bugs of the sea known as lobsters and the craft that go after them, lobster-boats. Lobster was not much eaten aboard ship but lobscouse certainly was. This is very common shipboard stew made from whatever was available in the way of salted meat, vegetables and spices. Ship’s biscuit was added to thicken it. The name and the stew are descendant from the earlier lap’s course fed to foc’sle men in the medieval era.

Aboard vessels shipping a great cabin, lobby is another term for the little cabinet outside the captain, commodore or admiral’s quarters also known as the coach.

Finally dear Brethren, should you find yourself casting about for a term worse than lubber, look no further. Lob-cock, according to The Sailor’s Word Book, is a term of absolute and utter contempt. It also sounds very insulting when spoken in anger. Just be careful who you throw that one at. A true sailor won’t take it lightly.

Header: Stephen (Paul Bettany) and his seafaring cello from M & C

Friday, August 19, 2011

Booty: Hip Action

My dear friend and long time supporter of Triple P Laurel sent me a news story via NPR that included an interesting new use for the now famous “Captain Morgan Stance” that the rum brand has hitched their wagon to for close to a decade. Shunned by the NFL but embraced by those who care to “join the Captain”, it seems that the science of medicine has found a new way to use the one-leg-up-whether-there’s-something-under-that-foot-or-not pose: reducing dislocated hips.


As the article notes, the dislocation of such a large ball-and-socket joint is excruciating. Fortunately, it is also rather unusual in active, healthy individuals. Athletes who play contact sports like hockey, rugby and football are about the only ones who might run the risk of such injuries. Aside from that, the most common cause is violent accidents such as vehicle collisions. The problem, as anyone who has ever dislocated a shoulder knows, is that the limb is left hanging with no means of support while the nerves around the joint scream in agony. Now imagine trying to bear weight on the limb and you can see how bad a dislocated hip really is. The other problem is that a large joint requires some serious manhandling to get it back into place. As the article notes, the most common attack is for a physician to straddle the patient on a bed or gurney, hold the uninjured leg down and force the ball back into its socket with the injured leg at a 90 degree angle. It’s dangerous for the doctor and pure torture for the patient.

A recent study in the Annals of Emergency Medicine showed that it is possible to have a patient assume a Morganesque stance, with their uninjured leg’s foot on the floor and their injured leg’s foot resting on a bench or step-stool, for reduction of the dislocation. This approach may be less traumatic to the patient and is almost certainly safer for the doctor. The unfortunate caveat of the study is that there is no proof, as yet, that this approach is in any way better for the patient than the doctor-up-on-the-gurney maneuver.

Dr. Hendey of UC San Francisco, Fresno notes in the article that he and his staff have been using this new technique for a year or two. It wasn’t until he saw a commercial for Captain Morgan’s Rum that he realized the similarity. “… it just struck me that that’s the position we do,” he said.

So there you have it, Brethren; rum saves the day once again. I’ve a sneaking hunch that it probably saved more than one true pirate with a dislocated joint back in the Golden Age as well. Happy Friday to one and all, and many thanks to Laurel as always.

Header: Captain Morgan by Don Maitz

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Ships: The Rebirth of San Salvador

In late June of 1542, Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo led a small flotilla of ships on a voyage to explore the California coastline. He had been sent on this mission by the famous conquistador Hernan Cortes and he would be the first European to explore the Pacific coast of what would become the United States.


Cabrillo, according to his biographer Henry Kelsey, was apprenticed to a shipbuilder in his youth and he may have had a hand in building the flagship which he commanded in 1542. The ship, San Salvador, was an Armada-style galleon of approximately 200 tons. She was a perfect example of her type, swift of sail and clean of line. She would lead Cabrillo’s flotilla from the Gulf of California north as far as Monterey Bay before being driven back south by winter storms in late November. Along the way, Cabrillo would give now unfamiliar names to many familiar places: Santa Catalina Island he named San Salvador, for instance. None of the names stuck, it seems, for two reasons. First, Cabrillo was not much for charting or even writing things down. Second, he would die of a gangrenous leg on the island he named San Salvador two days after New Years, 1543.

Despite his tragic death and unfortunately careless record keeping, Cabrillo is well remembered with monuments, schools and streets up and down the California coast. San Diego in particular has a fondness for the captain so it is fitting that the San Diego Maritime Museum is resurrecting his flagship.

Construction on a replica of San Salvador began in San Diego back in June. The construction site is open to the public (with admission to the Museum) and people are encouraged to watch as craftsman use authentic 16th century techniques to rebuild Cabrillo’s ship. For a brief overview of the project, watch this beautiful video on YouTube.

Should your late summer plans take you to the very maritime city of San Diego, don’t miss the opportunity to see a Spanish galleon under construction. Please leave me a comment, too, if you stopped in for a visit. I’m sure we’d all like to know about the experience. Many thanks to No Quarter Given and The Old Salt Blog for the heads up on this one.

Header: San Salvador off Point Loma via Northwest Art Mall

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

People: Not One of Your Common Surgeons

The life story of naturalist, linguist, anthropologist, author, physician and buccaneer Lionel Wafer reads like a novel. The novel would involve a man similar to O’Brian’s Stephen Maturin put on paper by an author like Dumas or Sabotini. Dr. Wafer lived life to the very fullest, and left a rich history to boot.


Born in Scotland some time in the 1660s, Wafer (or Weaver as it is occasionally spelled) had an ear for languages from an early age. As a child he spoke not only English but Scottish and Irish Gaelic. In 1677 he signed aboard the merchant Great Ann as surgeon’s mate, and it may have been at sea that he learned to doctor.

Great Ann was bound for the Far East which meant that young Lionel experienced places like Java, China and India. He also doubtless learned how to treat a myriad of tropical diseases and common seafaring injuries. When Great Ann returned to England some time in 1679, Wafer could rightly call himself a surgeon.

That same year, Wafer seems to have shipped aboard an unknown vessel bound for the Caribbean as either surgeon’s mate or surgeon proper. According to Philip Gosse in The Pirate’s Who’s Who, Wafer deserted at Port Royal where he hung out his shingle as physician to the local buccaneers. Although Wafer does not mention desertion in his best seller, A New Voyage and Description of the Isthmus of America published in 1699, he does portray himself set up as a doctor in Jamaica when he meets buccaneer captains Lynch and Cook. These two convince Wafer to join them in the ill fated South Sea adventure commanded by captains Sharp and Sawkins. Wafer, eager for Spanish gold, signs on as surgeon.

This debacle, documented by both Basil Ringrose and William Dampier, led to ill feelings among the large group of buccaneers who headed for Panama City. Wafer fell in with the most stringently anti-Sharp faction, a group of men that ended up deserting their ships and setting out to walk through the Darien back to the Atlantic. It must be said that Wafer was probably a very competent physician as most of his fellows survived the miserable trek. The old Panamanian proverb that the Darien jungle can kill you in a thousand different ways certainly held true for this headstrong band, however.

Dr. Wafer came very close to being one of those casualties himself when a fellow mutineer was trying to dry out black powder with extremely bad results. As Wafer describes it:

I was sitting on the ground near one of our men, who was drying of gunpowder in a silver plate; but not managing it as he should, it blew up and scorched my knee to that degree that the bone was left bare, the flesh being torn away, and my thigh burnt for a great way above it.

Wafer managed to bandage himself up with what he had in his knapsack but he had trouble keeping up with his mates, who were eager to move on. As he put it, “… I made hard shift to jog on.” The man who did not manage as he should with the powder died of his far more serious wounds.

Most likely because of his injury, Dr. Wafer fell behind his band. He was taken in by a local native group headed by Chief Lacentra who at first seemed bent on killing him. The Chief’s first wife was ill when Wafer arrived at the village and Wafer managed to lift her fever by expertly bleeding her. Lacentra was so grateful that he spared the doctor’s life. For some months the Chief would not allow Wafer out of his sight, which greatly dismayed the doctor as he wished desperately to press on to the Atlantic and return to Jamaica. Wafer made the best of his virtual captivity, however. He learned the language and customs of his host’s people and documented the local flora and fauna in journals that would later form the basis for his book. Wafer’s expertise would draw him into Scotland’s ill-fated attempt to colonize the Darien late in his life.

After almost eight years in the South Sea and Panama, Wafer made it back to Jamaica through the good graces of privateer William Dampier. By 1688, Wafer had accepted the King’s General Pardon of Pyrates, and begun practicing in Philadelphia. We next hear of him in 1691, when he is back in England. His book was published in 1695 and it is around the time that he was approached by a group of Scottish Lords for information on the Darien and the Isthmus of Panama. It does not appear that Wafer returned to the New World, but maps based on his experiences were used by the Scottish colonists who eventually sailed for what they would call New Caledonia some time in 1698.

Much like his contemporary and fellow physician Alexander Exquemelin, Lionel Wafer became a respected author in his old age. He retired from medicine and moved to a comfortable home in London where, again according to Gosse, he died in 1705.

Header: Copperplate depicting Chief Lacentra and his people from Lionel Wafer’s A New Voyage c 1699

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Sea Monsters: Repelling the Repellant

Back in November of last year I did a post on sea lampreys. As you can tell simply by glancing at the picture above, these are some truly unsettling – if not down right nauseating – fish. Sometimes called “vampire fish”, they feed by attaching their multiple rings of sharp teeth to the body of any meaty animal and literally sucking the flesh and blood from its bones. Usually the victim is a fish and the sea lamprey simple stays attached until its prey dies. Then it moves on to the next victim.


The real problem with these ugly critters is that they belong in the ocean but will infest inland waterways and devastate the indigenous fish populations therein. This has been the case particularly in the Great Lakes regions of the U.S. and Canada where they migrated up the Welland Canal in the early 20th century. Here they have almost wiped out the lake trout population and thereby closed a number of fisheries on both sides of the border.

Though efforts to sterilize the lampreys, as seen on Dirty Jobs on the Discovery Channel, has had a modicum of success, new research may hold the key to running these monsters out of Lakes Erie, Huron and Michigan all together. And all it takes is the doubtless stomach churning scent of dead, decaying lampreys.

According to an article in USA Today’s print version, scientists at the Great Lakes Fishery Commission took a page from local fishermen’s books. The fishermen would slice up lampreys that were accidently caught in their nets and throw them back in the water. When they returned to their fishing site days later, they were not troubled by lampreys for weeks after the slaughter. A little testing proved that sea lampreys will literally flee from the smell of their dead relatives.

The researches are currently trying to isolate the specific chemical that causes this “alarm response” in the lampreys. Though the work is, as one scientist is quoted in the article as saying, “…[not] easy … especially if ventilation isn’t good…” it could lead to the return of edible fish like the lake trout. To quote Mike Siefkes, the researcher in question, again, “… hopefully, it’s the smell of success.”

If you happen to subscribe to usatoday.com, you can visit their site and see video of the repellant being tested. If you do, leave a comment and let us know how that looks. The picture at the header (via Wikipedia) is enough for me, thank you very much.

And on a final “fishy” note, a hearty thank you from me goes out to all who voted for “The Horror: A Tale of Dismemberment” at the 49 Writing Center’s site. My bloody yarn won their Ode to a Dead Salmon Bad Writing Contest. That’s what I get for using “spongiform encephalopathy” in a sentence.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Seafaring Sunday: Before the Legend

August 14, 1787: Lieutenant William Bligh of the Royal Navy is appointed commander of HMS Bounty.

On a completely different note, voting for 49 Writing Center's Ode to a Dead Salmon Contest closes tomorrow at 7:00 PM.  Click over and vote for my entry, The Horror: A Tale of Dismemberment, won't you please?

Header: Admiral Willaim Bligh by Alexander Huey c 1814

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Sailor Mouth Saturday: Jewel

We've been painting here at chez Pauline, so this post is necessarily late (your pardon) and by the same necessity, short. It will be, I promise, no less interesting for all that.


While jewels are a favorite find of any pirate or privateer, the vast majority of these gentlemen (or ladies) of fortune never squirreled them away in holes in the ground. Or any other place for that matter. While people still search swamp and bayou for Blackbeard’s or Laffite’s treasures, the only freebooter who actually buried loot was William Kidd. And his was promptly dug up by the then Governor of New York one week later.

Loose, cut jewels were not uncommon cargo aboard ships of various types but they were generally carried in small boxes or pouches, not the overflowing caskets one sees in movies and on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland. Very often these jewels were the private possessions of someone aboard, be they captain, crewman or passenger. Sometimes they were grouped in sets of even numbers and put in settings much like buttons that could be easily popped off by a jeweler. Such groups were generally known as a brace until the early 20th century. Sometimes they were referred to as studs. If you have ever seen the giddily delectable 1970s movie of Dumas’ The Three Musketeers with Oliver Reed as the best Athos ever, you will remember the diamond studs sent to the Duke of Buckingham by the Queen of France. Hilarity and action ensued.

Aboard ship, jewel blocks were not only handy but tended to be an indicator of intent. On a ship of brig size or larger, these blocks were attacked to eye bolts on the yards that would hold studding sails. The blocks and bolts were used to haul these particular sails as far out onto their yards as possible. Since studding sails rely on fairly slender yards, men cannot go out on them to facilitate this process. When jewel blocks were removed, it was a sign that the ship planned to spend time in port. When they were set, she was getting ready to put to sea.

A jewel, in the past, was the word for the place where a wooden bridge touches land. It was also the pivot of a watch wheel.

Most interesting to those of us with piratical leanings, a Norman law in England known as Jocalia referred to the loop hole which exempted gold, silver and jewels – if they were already worked – from smuggling laws. In other words, if a smuggler had a piece of plate or a cut gem among his goods, they were by law his and could not be confiscated. The Jocalia may have been adopted to favor Norman raiding of Anglo-Saxon treasure, but it stuck around until well into the 18th century. It was doubtless a boon to pirates and smugglers alike.

Happy Saturday, Brethren. I’m off to check on my trim and do a little touch up. Oh, and hoist a mug of grog while I’m at it.

Header: Clipper Ship Golden State, artist unknown, with studding sails set

Friday, August 12, 2011

Booty: Lighthouses in Peril

My friend CTHawkman, one of those mysterious guys who may actually be a superhero (follow him here on Twitter), sent me this article from the online version of NBC’s Today Show. The print version reads rather like a transcript from the show but that does not dilute the interest of the subject: U.S. lighthouses being rescued by U.S. citizens.


The Coast Guard, who is generally tasked with the upkeep and running of lighthouses on all U.S. coasts and waterways has run out of resources to do just that. Due to the almost universal use of GPS by all but the smallest craft, the need for lighthouses has dwindled. This has put many of these beautiful structures out of work, and they are essentially rotting away along with a huge piece of America’s maritime history.

When municipalities, states and charitable organizations failed to step in and help out, the Coast Guard took a very American approach to the problem. They began putting the lighthouses up for auction to U.S. citizens, with the caveat that the structures be restored to working order, historical detail in tact. Not surprisingly to my mind – although NBC’s Bob Dotson seems almost shocked – average Americans have stepped up to the task. The article focuses on two families who have decided to take the plunge and rearrange their lives to restore and preserve two east coast lighthouses.

I won’t rehash the details here as you all can read them at your leisure. One quote from the article did strike me particularly, though. Pete Jurewicz's father, who is helping his son’s family restore Thimble Shoals lighthouse in Chesapeake Bay, brought the big picture of preservation into perspective when he said:

I was a lifelong Navy man. When the sailors aboard ship saw the Thimble Shoals beacon it meant: “Next stop, family!”

And that is exactly what these lighthouses have meant to the men and women who braved the ocean for centuries. From pirates to patriots, from whalers to privateers and for immigrants hoping to find the American dream, our lighthouses meant home. If that isn’t worth preserving, maybe nothing really is.

If you’re curious, The American Lighthouse Foundation has a plethora of information about their subject. They also occasionally post information on lighthouses up for auction. Should any of the Brethren decide to bid, let me know; I’d love to keep track of your accomplishment here at Triple P. Oh, and if you're looking for an enjoyable read of a Friday afternoon, click over to Hawkman’s Blog; you might not always agree with him but he will make you think.

Header: Thimble Shoals lighthouse

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Tools of the Trade: Stranger's Fever

The yellow jack was indeed a killer: it was difficult to fix upon any satisfactory figure, though he had heard well-authenticated accounts of a mortality amounting to eighty in a hundred. ~ from The Commodore by Patrick O’Brian.


This is just a bit of the musings that go through Doctor Stephen Maturin’s mind upon realizing that he has contracted yellow fever off the coast of West Africa. The disease, which we now know is transmitted like malaria by mosquitoes, was the scourge of tropical areas all over the world. To this day there are pockets of swampy land that still harbor the deadly aedes mosquito and travelers to certain parts of the globe are advised to be vaccinated before leaving home.

In the Great Age of Sail, it was people from out of town, so to say, that tended to contract yellow fever. Locals often suffered a milder form of the disease, which did not reach the so called “toxic state”, in childhood thus building up a relative immunity. This meant that sailors from Northern shores would find themselves sick after spending time in places like the Gulf of Mexico, the West Indies, the Indian Ocean or, as O’Brian notes, the African coast. Maturin’s figures are generally accurate; mortality among sufferers was about 80% over all.

Symptoms follow a fairly recognizable path, with the patient experiencing a fever as high as 103 degrees and all the accompanying miseries: head and body aches, chills and a loss of appetite. The toxic phase was experienced when internal organs began to shut down. Stomach bleeding led to the tell-tale “black vomit” along with bleeding from the nose, mouth and sometimes even the eyes. The skin and eyes took on a yellow hue as the liver and kidneys ceased to function. General lividity of the skin ensued and the patient suffered temperatures sometimes as high as 105 or 106. In these cases, death was a virtual certainty.

In the 17th and most of the 18th century, the disease was treated like any other fever. A sufferer was put to bed, or in the case of a sick berth aboard ship strapped in a hammock, and given clean bedclothes whenever possible. Bathing with a cloth dipped in cool water and vinegar was often recommended with the head and hair being included in the ritual. Sometimes the patient was wrapped in woolen blankets and put near a fire to help “sweat out” the fever. Quiet and calm around the sick person were always recommended. Unfortunately, so was bleeding.

In the late 18th century, the rise of the medical profession pushed aside the homey, comforting remedies of mothers and wives and began aggressive treatment of yellow fever. One of the most famous proponents of hitting the fever hard was Dr. Benjamin Rush, signer of the Declaration of Independence. Rush was a physician in Philadelphia when the famous epidemic of the summer of 1793 hit the city. While other doctors were prescribing barley water and Peruvian bark, along with the cooling baths mentioned above, Rush was vigorously removing liters of blood. He also prescribed purges to induce vomiting and diarrhea as soon as the fever came on.

Though Rush’s proactive treatment may have appealed to the idea of “doing something” that the sick and their loved ones frequently harbor, it was in fact a virtual death sentence to his patients. The aggressive bleeding combined with regular purging took out the much needed fluids that would have helped the patient fight the disease. While Rush blamed any patient’s death on his not being called in soon enough, other physicians in Philadelphia grumbled that Rush was as fatal as the disease.

Well into the 19th century, people from cooler climates blamed yellow fever on the hot, humid “miasmas” common to more southern latitudes. The yellow jack, as it was frequently called in the American South and the Caribbean, became known as the Stranger’s Fever in Britain and the northern U.S. While the British never seem to have developed a specific prejudice in this regard, people in the United States definitely did. By the 1820s the Stranger’s Fever was considered to be just another example of how filthy and backward the Southern U.S. really was. Forgetting the horrors suffered in Philadelphia, the northern states imagined themselves capable of keeping their cities clean and avoiding pestilential disease.

Meanwhile, men at sea continued to experience yellow fever well into the 20th century. Even after the discovery and partial eradication of aedes mosquitoes which occurred in large part thanks to efforts begun during the building of the Panama Canal, some areas of the world continued to experience infection. Modern scientists worry about two possible scenarios that could bring the killer back with a vengeance: global warming and biological warfare. Perhaps it’s best that none of us forget about warm bedding and barley waters quite yet. Better still: get vaccinated.

Header: Fur Traders Descending the Missouri by G.C. Bingham c 1845

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

History: Revisionist With a Capital R

I will say before I even begin that depending on the “news media” for your news has become a dicey proposition, and so depending on it for your history is even more so. But a recent article from ABC News online seems to take your gullibility cake, chew it up and spit it back into your mouth mother bird style. Historically speaking, anyway.


Back in March I spoke a little bit about a group of six cannon that were being lifted from the Chagres River on the Atlantic coast of Panama. News media insisted that the cannon were unequivocally those of the famed buccaneer Henry Morgan. Though the authenticity of such statements has yet to be proven, it looks like the big guns – if you’ll pardon the pun – have moved in for the kill. Now we are being told that “Pirate Henry Morgan’s Long-Lost Ship…” has been “… Unearthed.”

As ABC News notes, the wooden hull of a ship and “… several wooden chests” have been found in the Chagres through the combined efforts of two prestigious American universities and volunteers from NPS. The find is in the Laja reef area which is a notorious coral and rock bed poised to tear out the bottom of just about any ship that enters there. This is where Morgan lost more than one ship in 1671 on his way to raid Panama City. All that said, there is as yet no evidence that the find in question is Morgan’s Satisfaction, as the article asserts.

Further down, at paragraph seven, we find that the expedition has received a “… substantial amount” of monetary backing from none other than our old friends the folks at Captain Morgan’s Rum. Tom Herbst, their brand manager, is quoted as saying:

When the opportunity arose for us to help make this discovery mission possible, it was a natural fit for us to get involved. The artifacts uncovered during this mission will help bring Henry Morgan and his adventures to life in a way never thought possible.

While, as a student of both anthropology and archaeology, I am all in favor of corporate funding for any responsible project, you have to question this one. Is the integrity of the actual find being skewed to fulfill the wishes of its sponsor? Will this ship be deemed Satisfaction regardless of evidence to the contrary, should such come to light? Did Captain Morgan’s Rum just buy their brand an artifact?

The article, though short, also whimsically (some might say maliciously) distorts the history of Morgan himself. According to the article:

Morgan was hired by the British government to protect its colonies in the Americas. He traversed the seas, taking down anything that might harm British interests.

That sounds more like the description of a superhero than a man who was hauled back to England and taken to task by his king for attacking Panama City. Not to mention all that torture and rape and what not. Lucky he may have been, but Morgan was neither protector of the realm nor, for that matter, much of a sailor.

As promised back in March, Triple P will keep an eye on this one and report as the story develops. All I can say at this point is that I hope the ship is what the researchers and their sponsor imagine it is. Given the tone of the ABC News article, any alternative may never be made clear to the public. Not only would that be a horrible blow to seafaring history, it would also constitute an unconscionable shame.

Header: Rio Chagres from Castillo San Lorenzo by Gaspar Serrano

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

People: Brave Benbow

Every kid who has read Robert Lewis Stevenson’s Treasure Island remembers the inn where Jim Hawkins and his mother lived: the Admiral Benbow. In fact, the first chapter of the book is entitled “The Old Sea Dog at the Admiral Benbow”. This is no simple imagining on the part of Stevenson; many public houses were named after the famous British naval hero and pirate hunter, Admiral John Benbow.


John Benbow was born into country aristocracy some time in the mid-1600s. The National Museum of the Royal Navy states his date of birth as March 10, 1653 but there are other sources that say he was born in 1650. Either way, his family was very much attached to Charles I, which did not go well for them during the Cromwellian protectorate. One of Benbow’s uncles, Thomas, was executed either by the king himself or by Cromwell.

His family having fallen on hard times, Benbow decided to seek his fortune at sea in his early 20s. Though this makes him a late bloomer as seamen go, Benbow seems to have brought enthusiasm and audacity to his new profession and his successes mounted quickly. By 1678 he was master’s mate aboard HMS Rupert when she was sent to battle Barbary pirates on the Mediterranean coast of Africa. In 1679 he was promoted to master and sailing aboard HMS Nonsuch off Tangiers.

Nonsuch was quite successful in the taking of rich Barbary prizes, but when a dispute over how prize shares should be paid out arose with another ship, Benbow seems to have gotten a case of loose lips. He was court martialled for speaking ill of the officers of HMS Adventure and, of his own accord, left the service.

Around this time, Benbow married a woman named Martha (which was also his mother’s name). They would set up homekeeping in Stepney and eventually have seven children, five boys (three of whom died in childhood) and two girls.

Despite domestic bliss, Benbow by now had the sea bug and he turned to merchant service. He sailed a frigate, which he evidently owned and named eponymously, from Spain to Italy on regular runs. He continued to fight pirates, this time to protect his own ship and cargo. Dickens wrote in 1844 of seeing a silver cup made from a “Moorish skull-cap” which was inscribed:

First adventure of Captain John Benbow, and gift to Richard Ridley, 1687

Whether or not this was our John Benbow is somewhat in dispute as one of Benbow’s sons was also named John and followed his father into the service. The date, if accurate, would seem to point to the original Admiral Benbow.

For what ever reason, Benbow was welcomed back into the Royal Navy in 1688 with the rank of lieutenant. He was present at the Battle of Beachy Head, where his valor was noted against the French. He did a brief stint at Deptford Dockyard as master attendant but was again called to pirate hunting in 1693. This time, though, his talents would be used against the privateers of northern France.

Benbow’s particular foil was the Hero of Dunkirk, Jean Bart, who regularly slipped Benbow’s blockades of both his home port and Saint-Malo. Though Benbow led a bombardment of the latter city as captain of HMS Norwich, Bart’s flotilla of privateers managed to continue to harass English merchants in the Channel and elsewhere. Despite this, Benbow’s own taking of French prizes was noted by the Admiralty and he was promoted to Rear Admiral in 1695.

After a failed attempt to bombard the city of Dunkirk, Benbow was given new orders. He was sent to England’s American colonies in 1697 where he escorted merchants in the Caribbean and up and down the coast from Virginia to Newfoundland, protecting them from French buccaneers. This task kept the now Admiral occupied until 1700, when he returned to England and briefly commanded a fleet of ships in the Downs.

Benbow was in Jamaica by 1701 and poised to fight his most illustrious and well-remembered battle. In August of 1702, Vice-Admiral Benbow in command of HMS Breda and leading a squadron of heavily armed men-of-war, met the famous French Admiral Jean du Casse commanding a squadron of his own. The engagement began August 19 off Santa Marta and continued, either as a fire fight or a chase, for five days. In the course of the battle, Benbow was brutally injured; struck by chain shot that shattered the lower portion of one of his legs.

Though Benbow was insistent on keeping up the chase, he having finally put du Casse on the run, his captains intervened. They went so far as to draw up and mutually sign a paper stating that the action could not be won, and should be called off. Infuriated, Benbow bowed to their wishes and took his ships back to Port Royal. The incident caused uproar, and all of Benbow’s captains were called to a courts martial.

Meanwhile, Benbow received a letter from his old foe du Casse. According to the Age of Nelson online it read:

Sir, I had little hopes on Monday last but to have supped in your cabin; but it pleased God to order it otherwise. I am thankful for it. As for those cowardly captains who deserted you, hang them up, for by God they deserve it. Yours, Du Casse

In fact, none of the captains were hanged. After Queen Anne herself reviewed the findings of their trials, she approved dismissal for three of them and – in a curious twist not often seen in any navy – the death by shooting of captains Kirby and Wade. The sentence was carried out aboard HMS Bristol in April of 1703.

John Benbow, who was already being called brave for his heroism at the Action of August 1702, died of complications from his leg wounds on November 4, 1702. He was laid to rest in St. Andrew’s Church, Kingston.

Benbow’s career at sea was quite literally all over the board, much like that of Sir Francis Drake. This type of sailor for all seasons was on the wane when John Benbow died in Jamaica. His commitment to his calling though, and his bravery, can never be disputed. And, thanks at least in part to Stevenson, Admiral Benbow’s name will never be forgotten.

Header: John Benbow by Sir Godfrey Kneller c 1701

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Seafaring Sunday: Coast Guard Beginnings

August 7, 1790: President George Washington authorizes the building of 10 revenue cutters.  This fleet of ships will become the forerunner of the U.S. Coast Guard.

Header: George Washington by Gilbert Stuart c 1797

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Sailor Mouth Saturday: Kedge

A kedge, as the Brethren are well aware, is a small anchor. Anything said of that most useful of ship’s accoutrements can also be said of a kedge. But, just as he is in the deep blue sea, so the Devil is in the details. Let’s shine a light on those, shall we?


In general usage, a kedge is thrown over the side to keep a ship clear of her bower anchor while she is in port. This is of particular concern when the tide is coming in or going out. A kedge anchor is also the go-to tool when the need arises to warp a ship out from one place to another, usually in port but also when the wind is unfavorable or nonexistent. The anchor, attached to a hawser, is rowed out to a point in the general direction one wants the ship to move. The kedge is then dropped and the ship is dragged toward it by means of the capstan, a windless or by men running along the length of the deck with hawser in hand. This last is probably the action that gave the kedge its name as kedg in Old English meant to move or run briskly and was the name of an Anglo-Saxon dance. Used as a verb, to kedge or kedging is this act of warping a ship out via a kedge.

A kedge rope, it probably goes without saying, is any such attached to or used with a kedge. Thus we also have a kedge cable or a kedge hawser.

Kedge anchors were particularly handy on small ships as they could usually be broken down for storage. In the 18th and early 19th century, this was done by means of an iron stock which unscrewed from the top and bottom. Later kedge anchors had joints that allowed them to be folded at various points.

Most interesting of all, at least to me, is the nautical term kedger. A person is said to be a kedger when he is both mean and nosey. As The Sailor’s Word Book puts it, such a man is “…in everybody’s mess but in no one’s watch.” This may be the origin of our modern word codger, a disagreeably grumpy person.

Happy Saturday, Brethren; may the wind and weather be with you all.

Header: Ships Entering Portsmouth, artist unknown, c 1798

Friday, August 5, 2011

Booty: The Captain Strikes Again

This post is actually full of completely unrelated items that I feel like sharing with the Brethren. Because you are the coolest people I know. And besides, it’s my ship.


That out of the way, I was recently rewatching my new favorite episode of “Deadliest Warrior” on Spike TV (narrowly edging out the glorious Sun Tzu vs. Vlad the Impaler). This is the one where my favorite Saint, the delightfully spunky Jeanne d’Arc (Joan of Arc to you Anglais), kicks Norman butt on William the Conqueror (aka “the Bastard”). How does that feel, Viking boy? Anyway, click here to see the panel discussing the battle in detail as it appears that the full episode is not yet available online.

While I enjoyed the splendor that is a seventeen year old peasant girl wreaking havoc on a seasoned veteran of Medieval warfare, a commercial break interrupted my reverie. But hark, what is this? Why, it’s our old friend Captain Morgan.

There he is, waking up in his hammock with a lady friend – who isn’t so easily roused – at his side. Up on deck he climbs to find his ship threatened by a Spanish galleon. But the sly Captain has a plan. Out the handy plank he walks, as if he were the captive and not the leader of this rabble, and then a silent pause. The Captain effortlessly manages a perfectly executed forward double right into the briny deep and the Spanish give him a nice round of applause. He is welcomed aboard the galleon and pirate and Spaniard share a tot of Captain Morgan’s rum. Good times! Finally the “new” slogan: “To Life, Love and Loot!”

Here is the (almost) full commercial on YouTube. Though I could go on, I’ll just say that I have no earthly desire to ever see the real Henry Morgan in anything close to that state of undress, thank you very much. You can’t ever beat pirate-centric fun, though.

And, on a completely unrelated note, if anyone has any curiosity about what Pauline might write other than seafaring tales and piratical stories, I’m happy to share. Find my entry to 49 Writing Center’s “Ode to a Dead Salmon Bad Writing Contest” entitled The Horror: A Tale of Dismemberment at their website. If you like it, consider stopping by again when voting for the contest opens.

Happy Friday, Brethren. Whether you’re inspired by St. Jeanne, Captain Morgan, Edgar A. Poe or just anyone, get out there and kick some butt!

Header: Joan of Arc Win sticker via Get Glue Stickers

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Lady Pirates: Raiders and Colonists

Anthropologists, historians and pirate geeks have known for a long time that the Vikings, as that collective group of seafaring Scandinavian tribes were known, were some of the best free booters ever to take a prize.


More akin to buccaneers than privateers, Vikings are best known for plundering on land. If there is a similarity between the Vikings and the privateers of the early 19th century, it is their fondness for preserving the vessels they raided in order to add to their profit. Just as a privateer would take a captured ship back to his home port, the Vikings were keen to colonizing the lands they plundered. Iceland, Greenland, France, Scotland, Ireland and perhaps even places as far afield as Russia and North America were all sites of Viking colonies.

This indisputable fact makes the tone of a recent article from USA Today a little puzzling. According to it, a number of Viking burial sites have been located recently in Eastern England (where, exactly, the article does not say). After what one imagines was selective study of the burials, experts from the University of Western Australia have released their findings in the Journal of Early Medieval Europe (which will henceforth be referred to in this post, following the JAMA tradition, as the JEME). Somewhere in the study, Shane McLeod of UWA is quoted as saying:

There is some archaeological evidence for early Norse female settlement…

I have to repeat one single word: some? The evidence, quite frankly, is all over the world. The study even mentions the famous “Danelaw”, a Scandinavian fiefdom in Eastern England that was only brought to heel when William the Conqueror began massacring the indigenous island peoples. Why would anyone imagine that the Vikings wouldn’t bring their women to their new colonies?

The theory that the Vikings began their sea raiding because of overpopulation and, as a result, reduced resources in the Norse land is a fairly well accepted one, so it stands to reason that women would accompany their men to greener shores. This migration is very much mirrored in the migrations of European settlers to North and South America, Africa and Australia in the early and pre-modern eras. The very idea that Viking women being in a Viking settlement is some kind of surprise seems a little disingenuous.

The silver lining, if you will, in the JEME study is one of rethinking previous assumptions. The 14 bodies looked at in the study were found to be approximately half male and half female through osteological testing (6-F, 7-M, 1-unknown). It was also found that as many women as men were laid to rest with swords; one woman was also buried with a shield.

McLeod points out that this should make scholars step back and rethink previously excavated gravesites where any skeleton found with weapons was assumed to be male. If nothing else, this is a good lesson for all anthropologists and archaeologists. I would go further to say that just because a skeleton is found with “women’s things” it should not automatically be assumed to be that of a female. Our follies as modern researchers can be many, and foisting our gender biases on historical cultures is just one of them.

If you’ve got a moment, do click over and read the brief article. If you’re ready to feel you blood boil – just a little – read the comments as well. And thank a Viking next time you meet one – man or woman. Those sea raiders were colonists too, and they surely had a hand in shaping the world we live in.

Header: Gudrid and her son Snorri; statue in Laugabrekka National Park, Iceland. Read more about these Viking colonists at gorida.com

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Pirates Own Book: Bloody Gow

Charles Ellms devotes a scant four pages in The Pirate’s Own Book to the notorious Captain Gow, and one of those is taken up by the illustration above. His focus in documenting Gow seems to be, not the man himself who is a shadowy figure in the annals of piracy, but cataloguing the prizes he took in his brief career. The second focus is the miserable torture Gow was subjected to upon his capture, and his final avoidance of the worst sort of punishment England was handing out at the time. Of course, this is not surprising for Ellms.


Most historians agree that Gow, whose Christian name is usually given as John, was of Scottish origin. While he probably began his career at sea as a boy, Ellms picks up his story when he is leading a mutiny aboard the merchant George in July of 1724. The mutineers called their captain on deck at night with the distress of a man overboard. When the captain hurried to the rail, they tried to toss him into the sea. The captain fought valiantly, clinging to the forechains even after being wounded, but Gow dispatched him with an axe. Gow was named captain, and the mutinous crew turned to piracy.

It is worth noting that Ellms has Gow telling his men just at this moment that he will brook no treachery or disobedience:

… let every such man depend upon it that he shall certainly go the same way as those that are just gone before.

Gow immediately sets to work taking prizes and Ellms dutifully lists the cargoes therein as if he were a purser completing a manifest. By the next page it is May of 1725 and Gow has the George in port in the Orkney Islands. Here, he and his men are “… apprehended by a gentleman of that country…” and taken to London to stand trial at the Admiralty Court. When brought into court Gow “… obstinately refused to plead, for which the Court ordered his thumbs tied together with whipcord.” This torture, a relative of the thumbscrews, is endured repeatedly by Gow who continues to refuse to plead.

According to English law at the time, a lack of a plea meant that a trial could not commence. It did not, however, mean that the court could not order you put to death or – at the very least – tortured until you made a plea. Gow was sentenced to return to prison and be “… pressed to death.”

This misery, known in Medieval times as “severe and hard punishment” was almost routine and is describe by Geoffrey Abbott in Rack, Rope and Red-Hot Pincers:
The prisoner… [shall be] put in a mean room, stopped from the light and shall there be laid on the bare ground… without garment about him except something about his middle… Then there shall be laid upon his body as much iron or stone as he can bear, and more.

Usually a board was laid over the prisoner before the weights began to be piled on. People survived this hideous ordeal for days on end, slowly crushed to death.

Gow, taken into the “mean room” and shown the instruments of torture decided immediately to drop his obstinacy and plead not guilty. By this time the trials of his mates had been completed and it was short work for the court to convict Gow along with the rest.

Gow was hanged in June of 1725. He was another pirate whose noose broke and who had to ascend the gibbet twice before his execution was complete. Curiously, this is something that Ellms leaves out of his telling, choosing instead to ramble about two other pirates named Weaver and Smith who did not appear in the piece previously. Just one more quirk to appreciate about The Pirate’s Own Book.


Header: Gow killing the Captain from The Pirate’s Own Book

Monday, August 1, 2011

Women at Sea: Birthing on Wave

Women aboard ships, regardless of the nature of a vessel’s business, were much more common in times past than popular culture would like us to believe. Though many women did dress as men either to join with a husband or lover at sea or simply to go to sea on their own, just as many showed up in skirts and petticoats. Anne Bonny famously walked onto her lover Jack Rackham’s ship in a bright cotton gown complete with corset and panniers.


On navy ships, warrant men in particular – gunners, carpenters, etc. – tended to bring their wives to sea well into the 19th century. This practice ceased only when the influence of Queen Victoria, with her staunch belief that a woman’s place was in the kitchen, reached its zenith.

Many of the cruises of naval ships were years long undertakings and, then as now, where there are men and women procreation cannot be far behind. Accounts of births at sea are numerous in ships logs and men’s memoirs from as early as the 11th century. Alvin the Bard writes of a woman named Avrid giving birth to a healthy baby boy aboard one of William the Conqueror’s ships sailing for England. This is his only mention of Avrid, however; why she was aboard ship is never explained.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, the birth of children was regularly documented, particularly on men-of-war which had large crews and plenty of room. Henry Wadsworth, a midshipman aboard USS Chesapeake, was with her in 1803 during the First Barbary War. The frigate left Algiers in February of that year and, according to Wadsworth’s memoirs, the captain of the foc’sle’s wife gave birth on the 22nd. The baby, a strapping boy, was born in the bosun’s storeroom which would have been relatively warm and dry. Another of Chesapeake’s mids, Melancthon Woolsey, organized a christening party and the baby was named Melancthon Woolsey Low in his honor. Chesapeake, it seems, was full of women and a bit of “Real Housewives” drama accompanied the celebration. Wadsworth tells us that the wives of the carpenter, bosun and Marine corporal were not invited to the christening. Snubbed, they huddled in the corporal’s quarters and got roaring drunk.

The Boston Gazette of October, 1811 has a brief piece about a baby girl born at sea who was left at a foundling hospital with money raised by the crew. Her mother died in childbirth and the baby was cared for by various members of her ship’s people for five months until the reached shore. The little girl’s name was given as Sally Trunnion.

The Royal Navy, much like her U.S. daughter, carried women to sea often. Records of births are just as numerous there as in America. One young man, John Nicol, was aboard HMS Goliath at the Battle of the Nile in 1798 where Nelson achieved a decided victory. David Cordingly, in Women Sailors and Sailors’ Women, notes that Nicol was on a gun crew and after the battle he wrote:

I was much indebted to the gunner’s wife, who gave her husband and me a drink of wine every now and then which lessened out fatigue much. There were some of the women wounded and one woman belonging to Leith died of her wounds, and was buried on a small island in the bay. One woman bore a son in the heat of the action…

On another occasion, again noted by Cordingly, a ship’s surgeon approached his captain with the news that one of the ship’s women had been in labor for twelve hours. The surgeon requested that a broadside be fired so that “… nature would be assisted by the shock.” The broadside was duly fired, and the lady was doubtless much relieved to give birth to a son.

When a committee in Parliament decided to award medals to Royal Navy men who had participated in the Battle of the Glorious First of June, it was Queen Victoria herself that stepped in to clarify the issue. Regardless of their service, no woman’s name would appear on the medal roll. One young sailor was literally listed as “Baby” on the roll, he having been born a few days before the battle. His mother however, and all her sisters who were there as well, are nowhere to be found.

Header: The Glorious First of June by Philippe Jacques de Loutherbourg c 1795