Sunday, September 30, 2012

Seafaring Sunday: A Milestone for the U.S. Navy

September 30, 1800: The United States agrees to a treaty with France, ending the almost entirely nautical "Quasi-War" that proved George Washington's assertion that a strong navy would enforce America's sovereignty.

Without a decisive naval force we can do nothing definitive, and with it, everything honorable and glorious ~ President Washington

Header: Army recruiting notice for the Quasi-War with France via Eon Images

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Sailor Mouth Saturday: Nelson's Blood

Today is a special occasion, a holiday in the truest sense of that word, for those of us who live and breathe  nautical history. On this day in 1758 Admiral Horatio 1st Viscount Nelson was born in Burnham Thorpe, Norfolk, England. Perhaps the greatest naval hero of modern times, it would take the U.S. another 50 plus years to produce his like in the person of Admiral David Farragut. And we've had some awesome naval heroes on this side of the pond, let me tell you.

But I digress. To honor The Great One, Triple P will stray a bit from the usual SMS format and give you a shanty instead. A shanty, that is, written to commemorate Nelson's life and tragic death. Known alternatively as "Nelson's Blood" or "The Golden Chariot", the song became popular among English speaking seaman not long after Nelson's death in 1805.

The phrasing, as with most sea songs, is repetitive and easy to sing. Various versions of the song exist (find my favorite, by The Corsairs, on their album "Songs from the Road" available for download here) but they all refer to Nelson's blood. Legend has it that the Admiral's body was packed in a barrel of rum for transport home aboard his flagship Victory. Men were said to sneak swigs from the barrel in order to gain a bit of Nelson's greatness. Thus rum took on the moniker: Nelson's Blood.

While the story may hold some truths, most of it is probably apocryphal Be that as it may, the shanty is a wonderful way to remember Admiral Nelson. It's also great to sing while hoisting a tankard of Nelson's blood.

A drop of Nelson's blood wouldn't do us any harm,
A drop of Nelson's blood wouldn't do us any harm,
A drop of Nelson's blood wouldn't do us any harm;
And we'll all hang down behind.

So we'll roll the Golden Chariot along,
We'll roll the Golden Chariot along,
We'll roll the Golden Chariot along;
And we'll all hang down behind.

The image is of men following Nelson's funeral wagon to the place of his burial, which many a Royal Navy sailor by land at the time did. Various other stanzas become more bawdy as they go, referring to things that "wouldn't do us any harm" such as a night in jail, a saucy wench and a fat old cook. The chorus of following the Golden Chariot continues throughout and most singers of the shanty end with the drop of Nelson's blood refrain.

So, a mug o' grog and a hearty Huzzah! for Admiral Nelson. Happy Saturday, Brethren. May fair winds follow you, and your Nelson's blood always be the best of quality.

Header: The Apotheosis of Nelson by Pierre-Nicola LeGrand c 1818 via Wikipedia

Friday, September 28, 2012

Booty: More Ships in Your Hair...

We've talked about women wearing ships in their hair before so it wasn't much of a surprise to come across the picture above over at the always eclectic Black and WTF. This hairstyle, which was put together for the New York World's Fair in 1939, certainly joins the long list of frigates-in-your-hair type styles. The ship, in point of fact, looks a little like one of Columbus' galleons.

This curious fashion began, of course, with Marie Antoinette who - at least up to this writing - remains the ultimate queen of excess. Not that others haven't challenged her for the position. Big hair is just one of the many things she flaunted while the masses went hungry. Why not put a ship in full sail on top? And so the style has popped up now and then, usually when economies are fairly stable.

Seeing this picture and its date rather reverses that trend. The U.S. was still a little unsteady post-Great Depression in 1939 and war was in the offing. The ship-on-your-head hairstyle seems more appropriate for the 1950s when designers like Dior and Balenciaga took their inspirations from the excesses of Marie Antoinette. Yards of fabric, jewels, expensive perfumes, snake skin and crocodile all won the hearts of those who could afford them, so why not ships-on-heads?

It's safe to say that, unless we eventually tumble into a The Hunger Games sort of world, you'll never see ladies on the street with ships in their hair. That is, not outside the Capital. But that doesn't mean there isn't time to consider a Hallowe'en costume topped with a ship. Everyone loves a nautical touch, after all.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Literature: You Can't Fool an Old Salt

The Brethren know probably better than most that there is no way to economize when writing about the sea. If I didn't know it before, I learned it working on this blog. One slip and a good old salt is ready to pounce. And rightly so; there should be no quarter given when writing is sloppy and facts go unchecked.

That is why I found this entry in Peter H. Spectre's A Mariner's Miscellany so amusing. Having recently read some pages from an all too earnest piece of "nautical fiction" (I use quotations because the novel is actually a romance and, in all honesty, a thinly veiled piece of fan fiction to boot), I recognized the comments of Lincoln Colcord as all too true. I can tell you too, I surely empathized with his father's spot on sarcasm:

The sailor is well aware that the stalls are filled with sea books written by landlubbers. Rarely, indeed does he find a work which bears the authentic stamp of seamanship.

How vividly I recall my father's scorn at an incident in one of the novels of a famous writer of nautical fiction. He was reading the book aloud one evening, on board the bark Harvard, going up the China Sea.

The tale had arrived at the point of love-making; the scene was set on the quarterdeck of a sixteen hundred ton sailing packet. The heroine reclined on a deck-chair against the lee rail; a gentle air from the spanker wafted down upon her, for they were sailing sunny seas. The hero whispered his message; and while she listened, turning her face away, she trailed her hand idly in the water.

"Ha!" Snorted my father when he reached this passage. "That fellow had better look out for himself - she has long arms."

~ from An Instrument of the Gods by Lincoln Colcord published in 1922

Header: The Lady and the Captain by John Ward Dunsmore c 1900 via Wikipedia

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Ships: La Belle Reborn

We have spoken on a number of occasions about La Belle, the now infamous ship once commanded to some degree by Rene-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de la Salle. Cavelier was trying to establish a French settlement in what is now Texas when La Belle, the last lifeline of Cavelier's settlers, sank in Matagorda Bay. Just one of Cavelier's many gaffes, the loss of La Belle would lead almost directly to the mutiny of the bedraggled French settlers and Cavelier's eventual gruesome death at their hands.

La Belle remained elusive to archaeologists until 1995, when she was found and painstakingly extracted from the muddy bottom of the Gulf of Mexico. According to this article over at Telegraph UK online, La Belle is ready to be reborn.

The hull and many artifacts - including the skeleton of one settler or sailor - were carefully removed from the Gulf. La Belle's hull was significantly in tact, and the archaeologists at Texas A & M University devised a way to preserve it in polyethylene glycol. As the Telegraph article notes, the cost of this chemical rose substantially with the cost of oil, so another preserving method needed to be found. The scientists finally hit on freeze-drying, and La Belle was packed away in "the biggest [freeze-drying] machine on the continent devoted to archaeology." (You can see a video of the process at this previous post).

Now that La Belle's hull is thoroughly and safely preserved, the plan is to rebuild the 54 foot, early frigate-type ship. She will then become the centerpiece of the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum in Austin.

As Jim Busheth of the Texas Historical Commission comments in the article:

When La Belle sank, that doomed La Salle's colony and opened up the door for Spain to come in and occupy Texas. People can see firsthand how history can turn on a dime.

The article does not give time frames as to the estimated completion of the project. For anyone interested in the seafaring history of Europe and the New World, however, La Belle reborn is certainly something to look forward to with eager anticipation.

Header: Painting of La Belle via Gulf Wrecks where you can see many of the artifacts from the ship

Monday, September 24, 2012

Tools of the Trade: Preparing for Battle

...Should time allow, preparation of a ship for action should follow the usual recommendations. Send topgallant masts and yards on deck, as well as all running rigging that can be spared, studding sail booms, topgallant rigging, wet the sails, get down fore and mizzen topsail yards, house the topmasts, lash them to the lower masts. Pass a hawser round outside the rigging ready for frapping in a wreck, grapnels on each quarter to prevent any gear fouling the stern, snake the stays and backstays, toggle the braces, yards braced sharp up, anchors lashed, boom boats ready for hoisting out, bowsprit and jibboom run in, spare wheel ropes rove, relieving tackles on, preventer stays on the masts, etc.

~ from A Midshipman's Manual c 1811, author unknown

Header: Pirates Watching a Ship Burn by Norman Mills Price via American Gallery

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Seafaring Sunday: Command of Will

September 23, 1779: Continental ship Bonhomme Richard, commanded by John Paul Jones, defeats HMS Serapis, Captain Richard Pearson while Continental Pallas also defeats HMS Countess of Scarborough off Flamborough Head, Yorkshire.

Header: John Paul Jones Monument in Washington D.C. via Wikipedia

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Sailor Mouth Saturday: Low/Lower

Today's word can distinguish many an item and action aboard ship. From weather to great guns, from stem to stern, there is no shortage of uses for low and lower.

Low and aloft indicates a ship with every sail out. She is the visual equivalent of the phrase: "There is not a moment to lose." I am always brought to mind of the great clippers, making all speed around the Horn to the gold fields of San Francisco.

Low sails, conversely, is a ship under courses and close reefed topsails. In this position she may be preparing for dirty weather. A low masted ship is one whose masts are short for the size of the hull.

Low latitudes are those 10 degrees north or south of the equator; high latitudes being the poles. Low tides can be described as low water, which is also a sailor's term for being in dire straights and/or without money.

Lower lifts are those which sustain the main, fore and crossjack yards. Lower breadth sweep refers to shipbuilder's draughts. It is, for the most part, an estimate of timber needed for the building of the widest part of the ship's hull.

Lower hold refers to the space in a merchantman where cargo is kept, often also referring to purpose built "in between" or 'tween decks. Lower hold beams are those that prop up these lowest decks.

Lower deckers are the heaviest cannon carried by a man-of-war, and are therefor generally positioned on the lower decks of these ships. Lowering is a term for a sudden bank of clouds or fog, as if the sky itself seems to lower onto the ship.

Lower handsomely! An order best described by Admiral Smyth himself:

To ease down gradually, expressed of some weighty body suspended from tackles or ropes which, being slackened, suffer the said body to descend slowly.

This order is opposed to lower cheerly, which indicates the need for expedition in the handling of the load.

And so we'll leave low and lower alone and go forth on our course. Fair winds and following seas to one and all, and a mug o' grog to warm you on yer way.

Header: Sunset on the Beach Arsene Chabanian via Old Paint

Friday, September 21, 2012

Booty: In the Footsteps of Rogues

This post is meta all around, but it also gives you a nice hint at an historical diversion should you find yourself in New Orleans this month or next.

New Orleans dot com is currently offering their Pirates, Passions and Patriots Walking Tour. The tour began on International Talk Like A Pirate Day and runs for a full month through October 21st. As described on the website, the tour allows you to "roam the streets of the French Quarter at night with a lively, local tour guide who will spin the tale of how Lafitte [sic] and his marauding band of misfits came to the city's rescue in the Battle of New Orleans."

Really, what better way to spend an evening in the Big Easy? Don't forget, Brethren, you can stop in at Pat O'Brien's and get a hurricane in a go cup so you're walkin' and drinkin' all at the same time. As they say on the NFL network, it's serious fun!

I'm sorry but I would love to be that lively, local tour guide. Although I probably wouldn't exactly follow the script. Being a descendant of a key member of that marauding band of misfits, I don't tend to cotton to the usual legendary stuff. The historical truth is so much more interesting.

So be sure to take the tour if you're in the Crescent City before 10/21. Tell 'em Pauline (or Captain Swallow to whom I am indebted for the info on the walking tour) sent ya.

And so ends Triple P's one thousandth post. This is a milestone I never imagined reaching when I started this blog in 2009. Now, all I can imagine is going forward. Happy Friday, Brethren!

Header: Yul Brynner (a relative of our very own Timmy!) rehearsing for his role as Jean Laffite in the movie "The Buccaneer" via LIFE photo archives

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Lady Pirates: The Vengeful Privateer

It was probably fine weather on the Bay of Bicay when, some time around 1400, a merchant ship from Coventry was making her way toward Bordeaux laden with goods for trade. Her cargo may have been largely wool, but just like the weather that, at this late date day, is pure speculation. At some point close to her destination, the little cog was overrun by a band of Spanish pirates. The freebooters, who sailed from the port of Santander, were the bane of the Cinque Ports league in England. They took the merchant vessel's entire cargo, which was later valued at 800 "lambs of gold", disabled the cog and left the crew to fend for themselves.

The merchant managed to limp back to Coventry, although the seamen aboard were the worse for wear upon return. It doubtless fell to the master to explain what had happened to the owner of the ship. Once the story was out there was no question in the mind of that owner as to was she had to do.

Margery Russell was the recently widowed wife of a prominent member of the Cinque Ports league. Upon John Russell's death, Margery became the owner of a small flotilla of merchant cogs and, together with her sons, she ran the family business just as efficiently as her departed husband had. The pirates of Santander were a known risk in Margery's line of business but, judging from the small amount of information we have about her trade, it was not one that the Russells had run into before. Margery, much like her later counterpart and fellow merchant Agnes Cowtie, was not about to stand by and put up with the ransacking of her ships. So she decided to turn the tables on her enemy, and go out freebooting herself.

Margery marched into court and asked for a letter of marque and reprisal from the King. Letters of marque appear to have been first introduced in England over a century earlier by Henry III, so it is not surprising to find an English ship owner requesting one, even in 1400. The surprise, of course, lies in the gender of that owner. It probably shouldn't, however. Modern views of history, at least in the West, are unfortunately filtered through a Victorian lens. Women often worked along side their husbands, and inherited the businesses when those husbands died, to one degree or another right up until the early 19th century. Margery Russell does not appear to have been the only one among her female contemporaries to hold legitimate letters of marque.

Sending her ships out in search of plunder rather than trade, Margery made a tidy profit taking and plundering Spanish ships from all known ports. Rumor has it that her men may have raided a French ship or two along the way, but who was counting after all? The Spanish government complained vehemently when more Cinque Ports merchants followed Margery into the privateering trade. One can only imagine that the English government, in this era before established navies, only shrugged its collective shoulders and then continued to hand out letters of marque.

It is doubtful that Margery Russell ever sailed out to capture her enemy's ships. What is not in doubt, however, is that she ruled over a small fleet of privateers just as surely as that Frenchman in America, Jean Laffite, would later do.

Header: The Moneylender and His Wife by Quentin Matsys c 15th c via Wikimedia

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

History: Stomp and Go

A glorious International Talk Like a Pirate day to all members of the Brethren, seafarers, freebooters, buccaneers, privateers and lubbers. This day, as the inimitable Captain Swallow pointed out this morning, is a day off for those of us who practice the way of the sea every day. That means it's up to the rest of you to hoist the sails and turn the capstan today. And to my mind, that means you'll need some chanties to help ye along.

Sea songs, often called chanties or shanties, probably originated with simple counting. Though it sounds crazy, it makes perfect sense. Those captured by the original boucaniers at sea wrote of these French corsairs pushing their windlasses or pulling on rigging with the continuous and melodic chant of "Un, Deux, TROIS". In this case, the emphasis is on the third syllable, and that is when the true exertion is expected from each man.

By the late 18th century, these chants may have been considerably influenced by African work songs and singing, rather than chanting, became the norm on the New World side of the Atlantic. In the Royal Navy, where singing was prohibited as it was considered a hindrance to the giving of orders, fiddles or fifes were played while men pushed and heaved. The sailors, always clever in circumventing orders, developed a way to continue rhythmic signalling without the use of voice. Known as a "stomp and go", the slap of bare feet on the ship's deck became a way of keeping time to the work at hand.

Here are a few links to help you not only talk like a pirate today, but sing like one. First, a very ancient work song that probably originated at sea some time in the late 15th or early 16th century. The song was used in the movie Robin Hood, with Russell Crowe, and is a simple repetition of a few rhyming lines. Though the movie probably makes this shanty older than it actually was, it still has a nice ring to it.

Next, songs from the movie The Phantom Ship. Made in the 1930s, the film features a number of late 19th century shanties that will probably be very familiar to the Brethren.

Finally, a fully realized "song" that was popular in both the Royal Navy and the American Navy by 1800. This version is one of my favorite pieces of music from the movie Master and Commander.

Enjoy, Brethren; and don't ye dare forget yer old ship mates on this ITLAPD!

Header: T-shirts for the Anchorage, Alaska Pirate Pub Crawl 2012; you can get one at the official Facebook page (I'm wearing mine right now)

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

People: Captain Jonnia and Lieutenant Bolivar

Today's individuals are mentioned not only by Philip Gosse in The Pirate's Who's Who but also by our old friend Charles Ellms in The Pirate's Own Book. It is probably safe to say that they were real individuals who sailed together in the vast Caribbean sea, but how much their brief life stories have been altered for the sake of entertainment is up for speculation.

Jonnia and Bolivar (or Bolidar according to Ellms) were in that last wave of piracy that sprang up out of the revolutions in Central and South America. When nations like Argentina, Chile and particularly Simon Bolivar's Grand Columbia discontinued their habit of doling out letters of marque against the Spanish, many a man turned from privateer to pirate. While that cannot be said to be the absolute case with our current subjects, their years of operation - 1821 in particular - hint at such goings on.

Gosse tells us that Jonnia, a Spaniard by birth, commanded a "fast schooner in 1821." He carried a crew of 40 men and for a small ship he appears to have been armed to the teeth. A curious aside in the short paragraph that Gosse allows for Jonnia notes that the schooner "had three Mexican negresses" aboard. Whether or not the ladies were wives or paramours of crewmen or were actually a-pirating themselves is not discussed. What a wonderful piece of historical fiction could be made of their possible adventures, however.

Jonnia's schooner took a Boston merchant, Exertion, on December 17, 1821. Gosse notes that the crew was "considerably drunk at the time" and plundered the merchant with reckless abandon:

The pirates took everything from their prisoners, even their clothes, but as a parting gift sent the captain a copy of the "Family Prayer Book" by the Rev. Mr. Brooks. The prisoners were marooned on a small mangrove quay, but they eventually escaped.

This torturous disposal of the prisoners - imagine being marooned naked on a sun baked, mosquito infested salt water quay - seems to have fallen to Lieutenant Bolivar, whom Gosse describes in particular and amusing detail as:

... a stout, well-built man of swarthy complexion and keen, ferocious eyes, huge black whiskers and beard, and a tremendously loud voice.

Jonnia and his crew took the booty they had carried away from Exertion to Principe, Cuba, doubtless to sell and/or trade. Their next cruise was not so felicitous, however, as Gosse ends the entry: "Jonnia and some of his crew were afterwards captured by an English ship and taken to Kingston, Jamaica, and there hanged." Whether or not the jovial Lieutenant Bolivar was in that batch, Gosse does not say.

Header: Pirates by Howard Pyle via Wikimedia

Monday, September 17, 2012

History: Exquemelin and the Buccaneers

I'm not really posting today because it's founding member of the Brethren Timmy!'s birthday. I'll be playing hooky with him. But that's no reason for the rest of the Brethren to miss out on a great piece on piratical history this Monday.

So click over to this post by Blue Lou Logan on Alexander Exquemelin and the old school buccaneers. Trust me, you won't be disappointed.

Header: A Buccaneer by Howard Pyle via Wikimedia

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Seafaring Sunday: A Hero Remembered

September 16, 1956: A statue of John Barry, Commodore in the U.S. Navy and privateer for the Continental Navy during the Revolutionary War, is erected at Crescent Quay in County Wexford, Ireland. The plaque on the statue reads:

Presented to the people of Ireland by the United States of America, 1956, in recognition of Commodore Barry's outstanding contribution to the naval annals of his country.

He was born in county Wexford and is buried at St. Mary's Church in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Header: Statue of Commodore Barry, Wexford, Ireland via Wikipedia

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Sailor Mouth Saturday: Speaking Like A Seaman

Another storm is headed our way, this one pushing up from the Pacific. The major hit will be taken by Japan and the Koreas, evidently, but if you look at a globe you can see how surprisingly close Alaska is to that area of the world. We're battening down the hatches once again, and hoping that this weather event is not as destructive as last week's was.

Given all this, I'm pulling an SMS out of the archives. Entitled "Speak Like A Seaman", this one was in honor of International Talk Like a Pirate Day, which will crashes onto our shores Wednesday, September 19th. Why not be prepared?

Avast: We've talked about this word before on a previous SMS but it always comes up when the wannabes come out in Johnny Depp drag. Avast does not mean hello, how are you, or how about a drink, wench. It means stop and a true pirate - like his or her naval or privateering counterparts - would not trouble himself with the long version. "Vast that!" would get the job done quite nicely.

Ahoy: The Pirate Guys themselves list the meaning of this word as "Hello!" in their book Well Blow Me Down. In fact ahoy derives from the Danish ho meaning stop. By the 19th century, however, it was not uncommon for English speaking sailors to greet an unknown vessel with a call of "Ahoy the ship," at sea. It was far better manners to call out the ship's name or, better still, the last name of the captain. By this time, too, vast was in almost universal use as the word for stop.

Belay: Honestly, how many words mean stop at sea? The answer is a barrel full. Belay technically means to tie off the end of a rope and make it fast, often to a belaying pin. But belay was frequently used in general parlance to mean knock it off. "Belay that yarn. You're story is getting old," or " Belay your grousing, mate."

Booty: One of my favorites simply for the difference between its imagined and its actual meanings. Pirates and privateers used the word to mean any part of a prize that could be immediately distributed out such as clothing, weapons, specie, gold dust, silver plate or jewels. Items that would need to be sold for cash were referred to as prize goods while the captured ship was itself the prize.

Crow's nest: Here's one you hear a lot from those wannabes. I once had one foul-breathed hunk of shark bait ask me if I'd "like to go up to the crows nest" with him. Get. A. Better. Line. And brush your teeth. Anyway, actual seamen aside from whalers eschewed the term "crow's nest" as they avoided speaking of the Devil. The platforms halfway up a pirate, privateer or navy ship's masts were known as tops. It was beneath these men to call their top a crow' nest. As an aside, the crow's nest originated as a high platform where live corvids were kept on Dark Age European fishing vessels. When the boat lost sight of land, a raven, crow or mockingbird would be let loose. Instinctively, the bird would fly toward shore and the boat could then follow it to safety.

Duffers: Not one you'll find in the Pirate Guys' books, which is a shame really because it's a nice, unisex insult. When a seaman spoke of a duffer or a duff he meant either a poor peddler, usually of used goods, a smuggler's harlot, or a coward.

Grog: Really, that's anything your drinking at a pirate party. Technically it's a naval ration of one part spirits to three parts water served out at dinner and supper. In the 18th century, when scurvy was once again discovered, some form of citric acid was added as well. The grog ration was officially instituted in the Royal Navy in 1740 by Admiral Vernon. As Admiral Smyth notes in The Sailor's Word Book: "The addition of sugar and lemon juice now makes grog an agreeable anti-scorbutic."

Lubber: An old, Northern English word meaning a clown or dolt. The word crept into the seaman's language and became synonymous with an unseamanlike sailor or landsman.

Mate: Your friend at sea, a member of your mess or simply a fellow crewman. The word may very well have derived from the French word for sailor matelot which was also used by the early boucaniers on Tortuga to indicate a best friend, a man with whom another shared a wife or possibly a homosexual partner.

On the account: A sailor turned pirate was said in the Golden Age to have "gone on the account." The term has to do with the old "no purchase, no pay" adage that if a prize was not caught a pirate made no money.

Scuttlebutt: A barrel with a square hole large enough for a dipper and filled with fresh water. This was left near the mainmast on most ships when water was not being rationed. Because men would gather to drink here they also exchanged gossip and the scuttlebutt. Thus the word became synonymous with rumors and suppositions passed from one person to another.

Stow: From the nautical word stowage which means placing ballast, cargo and even crew in just the right spots aboard ship to get the maximum performance in terms of sailing out of the vessel. It was an art form, really, and only men who knew their ship intimately could perform it well. The wannabes will use it for "stop" which is sad at best and frankly sacrilegious to my mind. My Dad would never have put up with that.

Weevil: This word for the Curculio comes down to us from the Anglo-Saxon word wefl. They start out as worm-like creatures that eat wood and bread. They then grow in to ravenous and fairly sizable beetles that were sometimes found swimming in soups thickened with ship's biscuit.

That should help you prepare for another inspiring and happy International Talk Like a Pirate Day. Sprinkle that language liberally in your speech, Brethren, and enjoy!

Header: Cup of Gold book cover by Mahlon Blaine via American Gallery

Friday, September 14, 2012

Booty: Most Terrifying Man Ever Elected President

There's no question that the title of this post pretty much sums up the United States' 7th President, Andrew Jackson (or "Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson" if you prefer). Sure, slaves, Trail of Tears, possible bigamy, just keep the arguments against him coming. You will hardly get a peep out of me on any of those. One thing you cannot take away from Andrew Jackson: balls. I guess that's two, really. He had big brass ones and he'll always be Triple P's favorite President.

Anyway, here's a great little piece from the good folks at on President Jackson.  Enjoy, and happy Friday. In case you're wondering, that is exactly what Rachel Jackson looked like, guys!

Header: Andrew Jackson by Clark Mills c 1853 via Wikimedia

Thursday, September 13, 2012

History: "O'er the Land of the Free..."

On a chill fall afternoon, September 13, 1814, a 35 year old lawyer boarded HMS Tonnant, a man-of-war anchored bellow the ramparts of Baltimore's Fort McHenry.

Francis Scott Key and his companion, Colonel John Skinner, were aboard Tonnant to retrieve prisoners of war from the British. A like exchange had been accomplished at the Fort earlier in the day and Key and Skinner, who was the U.S. Prisoner Exchange Agent for the area, had no reason to suspect that they wouldn't be home safe in their beds that same night.

The British, however, had other plans.

Greeted with all civility aboard Tonnant by an impressive array of Royal Navy officers, the Americans were probably a bit stymied when they were asked to dine with their hosts. These included Vice Admiral Alexander Cochrane, who was in command of the Jamaica station and, as an aside, the uncle of Triple P's favorite Royal Navy officer, Thomas Cochrane. Army Major General Robert Ross and Rear Admiral  George Cockburn rounded out the impressive line-up. Key and Skinner could hardly decline the invitation and sat down to a sumptuous feast in Tonnant's great cabin somewhere around 2:00 PM.

At approximately 4:00 PM, after the cloth had been drawn and the port brought out, Skinner asked to see the prisoners and afterward escort them ashore. Cochrane, the senior officer, doubtless was the one to deliver the unfortunate news that no American would be leaving Tonnant that night. Instead, Key and Skinner would wait out the British surprise attack on Fort McHenry below decks with the other prisoners.

There was no reason to protest; the British were armed while the American's were not. Key and Skinner joined their comrades near sunset. Shortly thereafter, the bombardment of Fort McHenry began.

The Americans watched through the night as the bombardment continued. One U.S. flag flew resolutely, illuminated by the British rockets as it rippled in the breeze off the ocean. When the sun peaked over the Atlantic, that flag was still there. And Key, who was released along with his fellows on September 14th, managed to pen an homage to the stalwart flag before leaving HMS Tonnant a free man.

Key's "Defence of Fort McHenry" was published in the Baltimore Patriot on September 20th to great acclaim. Though Key had intended the poem to become a song, it never quite caught on. The American victory at the Battle of New Orleans four months later meant that Key's rousing verse was shelved, perhaps never to be heard from again.

The poem was rediscovered, so to say, in the early 20th century. President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed it America's National Anthem in 1916 and, under its new guise as "The Star Spangled Banner", the anthem was approved by congress in a resolution signed by President Herbert Hoover in 1931.

Much disparaged today as a jingoistic battle cry, such muck raking over the U.S.'s National Anthem displays a complete ignorance of history that is unfortunately not uncommon in America. "The Star Spangled Banner," far from encouraging the madness of war, celebrates a young country defending herself against an invading super power. The now popular "America the Beautiful" cannot hold a candle to Key's anthem in power or resonance. As long as the U.S. has a flag to wave, may "The Star Spangled Banner" celebrate her.

Header: Fort McHenry today, looking toward the spot where HMS Tonnant would have been anchored via Wikipedia

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Ships: Yet More Mystery

Yesterday's post focused on a curious little ship that had been washed up on an Alabama beach. The ship, which actually has more the appearance of a ship's boat, was speculated about in the Yahoo! online article linked to.

Another supposition about the mystery boat has been put forward both by Yahoo! and by this article in The Portland Press Herald.

Evidently the wreck is well known to locals, particularly one Michael Bailey, as the schooner Rachel. Bailey, who is an historian for the Fort Morgan Society, first noticed the ship in 1979 after hurricane Frederick. From the article:

"I saw 20th century features and thought it could be from 1900s," he said. "I found an Army Corps of Engineers s shipwreck study that had a description of The Rachel and learned it was built in Mosspoint, Miss. at the De Angelo shipyard."

According to Bailey, Rachel was bound for Mobile from Cuba and she wrecked in 1923, during prohibition. He calls speculation that she might have been smuggling alcohol "not impossible" given the era and her course. If all these indications are indeed true, this would mean that the little ship that hurricane Isaac brought to light is more likely a rum runner than the Confederate ship Monticello.

The Portland Press piece also gives some hint as to why the ship has not been moved. Her location, which keeps her covered by water aside from after major storms, may be preserving her more thoroughly than any museum could. What it does not explain is why we are left with speculations over "20th century features" rather than actually dating the ship with the extensive tools available to modern archaeology.

Many thanks to eagle-eyed member of the Brethren Bob, who mentioned the second Yahoo! article in his comment yesterday.

Header: Schooner at Sunset by Charles Henry Gifford via American Gallery

Monday, September 10, 2012

Ships: A Mysterious Situation

The apparently burned-to-the-waterline hulk above is a strange artifact which hurricane Isaac brought to an Alabama beach. The mysteries surrounding this little piece of history are numerous, but one in particular seems to be the proverbial elephant in the room.

As noted in this article from Yahoo! online, the boat is thought to be the Monticello, a Confederate blockade runner that plied her trade in smuggled goods along the shores of Mobile Bay. Most probably, her demise came at the hands of Admiral David Farragut when he "damn the torpedoes!" -ed his way into the last stronghold of the Confederate Navy in 1864. The other likely end for her was being burned by her owners and abandoned in their effort to avoid prosecution by the Union invaders. A classic story that has seen many a ship or boat sacrificed to the needs of her crew.

On the other hand, as the article goes on to say, the ship may be another kind of more recent smuggler. That boat might be a rum runner from that disastrous era the U.S. now refers to as "prohibition." In this scenario the boat - nameless in this case - would have also been destroyed by those using her to smuggle hooch. Once again, to reduce their chances of being caught by the authorities.

These are the two most likely, and probably most colorful, possibilities for the origin of this relic. But, to my mind, they are not the most head-scratching. From the article:

This is actually the fourth time parts of the wreckage have become visible over the years, after it firs made an appearance following hurricane Camille in 1969. It reappeared in 2004 after hurricane Ivan and again in 2008 after hurricane Ike.

As a student of archaeology, I am hard pressed to imagine why this fascinating artifact of American history is left to quite literally rot and simply be speculated on by tourists and online journalists. Evidently, though, that is the only thing we can think of to do as far as this little time capsule is concerned. The article ends with a quote from the Meyer Vacation Rentals Facebook page:

This is the most visible it has been in recent years. Eventually the shifting sands will pull it back under the beach, where it will slumber until another storm is powerful enough to bring it back to the surface.


Header: Monticello (perhaps) via Yahoo! online via Meyer Vacation Rentals on Facebook

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Seafaring Sunday: Storm of the Century

September 8, 1900:The worst recorded weather disaster to date in U.S. history hit Galveston, Texas in the form of a hurricane. The storm surge measured 20 feet, winds raged at 120 miles per hour and 6,000 people were drown.

A storm with equal or perhaps even more power hit the same area - then known as Galvez Town - on or about September 12, 1818. Then the base of Triple P's favorite racketeer, Jean Laffite, Galvez Town was virtually wiped off the map. William C. Davis describes the situation this way in his book The Pirates Laffite:

On Galveston, the hurricane struck with little warning... In all only six houses survived, one of them Laffite's on the higher ground, and scores of panicked people fled to it. The waves continued to climb, destroying six of the vessels at anchor and virtually all of [the nearby colony of] French settlers' provisions. Before the waters started to recede the whole island was inundated except for perhaps an acre on which Laffite's house sat. Laffite either weathered the storm there or in his brig implanted in the sand.

Ever ready to cement his position of power, and perhaps turn a profit besides, Davis begins his next paragraph by frankly stating The Gentleman Laffite's next move:

When the hurricane passed Jean Laffite's control of food and defense made him the only power on the island.

Header: Ships on a Stormy Sea by Willem van de Velde the Younger c 1672 via Terminartors

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Sailor Mouth Saturday: Hove

According to our old friend Webster's, the word hove is either the alternative past tense and past participle of heave or an obscure word meaning to rise, to swell or to cause to rise or swell. Take your pick. At sea, though the term does have a bit of those definition's ring, hove is its own word all together.

When a ship is hove out she is ready for careening. In some cases this is referred to as careened or hove down. In this position, she is heeled on her side not necessarily for careening but for repairs as well. She may also land in a hove down position when wrecked, as in the above painting. A ship is hove up when she is brought into cradles on the docks and hove off when she is suspended completely above ground. She is hove keel out when she is virtually on her side at sea, with her keel above the water.

A ship is hove in stays when in the process of going about. Hove in sight means the ship's anchor is in view, but it can also mean that a sail has been spotted. Hove short indicates a taught anchor cable while hove well short refers to a ship drawn to her anchor be the action of men at her capstan.

Hove to, perhaps the most familiar sounding term of this batch, is synonymous with heaving to; i.e., the ship decelerating and coming to a halt at sea. Admiral Smyth makes a good point about this turn of phrase in The Sailor's Word Book:

It is curious to observe that seamen have retained an old word which has otherwise been long disused. It occurs in Grafton's Chronicle, where the mayor and aldermen of London, in 1256, understanding that Henry III was coming to Westminster from Windsor, went to Knightsbridge, "and hoved there to salute the king."

The term in this instance had nothing to do with seafaring. It simply described public figures waiting to see their King. Seamen, in some cases to this day, continue to use hove to or hoved to mean stopping.

Hovellers were boatmen or pilots, usually unlicensed, in the Cinque-Ports regions of England. Though they were, in theory, only ferrying people from ship to shore or piloting larger ships through dangerous shoals, much of their business was illegal. They engaged in the plundering of wrecked ships and in smuggling. In fact the act of smuggling was often referred to as hovering during the Tudor and Stuart eras.

With that, I'll hove to and wish all the Brethren a fair Saturday.

Header: The Wreckers by Charles Henry Gifford via American Gallery

Friday, September 7, 2012

Booty: Visualize Wind

After our incredible windstorm Tuesday night, it may have been pure serendipity that I stumbled upon this map of the United States. Run by Hint.FM, the map shows in real time the winds blowing over the contiguous U.S. It also shows wind velocity in miles per hour, and there is a gallery that allows you to view past wind directions. The patterns made by the winds are fascinating and, as any good sailor knows, most of them originate at sea.

Of course, Alaska and Hawai'i are noticeably absent. But we're used to being treated like that.

Happy Friday, Brethren. May you know only fair winds, today and always.

Header: Sailing by Charles Henry Gifford via American Gallery

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Lady Pirates: La Conquistadora

When Hernan Cortes came to the New World he honestly had only one thing in mind: wealth. Obviously there was the lip service about conquering new lands for Spain and converting heathen souls to the salvation of the Church. But any time you make your recruits pay to join you, there can be no question that right up front your talking about an investment you expect to pay off big. And for Cortes it certainly did.

Hidden among the men in armor on horseback that Cortes led to new shores were a handful of Spanish women. In her book Warrior Women, historian Robin Cross sets the ratio exactly at 550 men to 12 women. These women were, for the most part, wives and sisters of the soldiers; again according to Cross, 8 were white and 4 were black. Only a few names of and stories about these women who plundered the Aztec kingdom shoulder to shoulder with their men have come down to us. Arguably the most information we have is about one Maria de Estrada.

Maria's origins are as shadowy as any buccaneers. Most sources agree that she was born in Seville and that, by the time of the Cortes expedition in 1519, she was married to a soldier named Pedro Sanchez Farfan. Spanish historian Luisa Campuzano claims that Maria's brother was among Columbus' crew on his first voyage to the New World. It was this brother, according to Campuzano, that brought Maria with him when he chose to settle there. Their ship was wrecked off Cuba and Maria was, for a time, a castaway. Campuzano is the only historian that I can find who makes this claim, so whether or  not this was actually the case seems to remain a point for further research.

It does appear certain that Maria was tough and perfectly capable as a horsewoman and with a variety of weapons. When Cortes informed the women in his army that they would be laundresses and cooks, Maria at first went along with the program. As the army marched inland, however, and the hardships began to grow, she is said to have led a protest against such gender bias.

When the army set up camp at Tlaxcala in 1520, Cortes informed the ladies that they would not be accompanying their men on the march to the Aztec capital, Tenochtitlan. Infuriated, Maria and her cohort Beatriz Bermudez approached Cortes directly. According to Cross, they were even more direct in their demands:

Castillian wives, rather than abandon their husbands in danger, would die with them.

Cortes allowed the women to join the march but continued stubbornly in assigning them the worst of the domestic duties to keep them in line. Cortes' initial successes, thanks in large part to his Aztec translator and mistress, Malinalli Tenepal known as Dona Marina, began to crumble quickly, however, and things went down hill for everyone.

When the Aztec army attacked the Spanish forces inside the walls of Tenochtitlan, Maria and Beatriz dawned armor, shouldered shields and took up arms to join the fight. The battle would rage on and off for a week, with particularly bloody fighting on what would come to be known to the Spanish as the Noche Triste, or sad night. Maria was in the middle of the fray, holding back Aztec warriors as the Spanish wounded tried to exit the city via a floating bridge. Even the Aztecs were impressed with Maria's courage, dubbing her the "great lady" when the battle was over.

Having evidently gotten a taste for hand-to-hand combat, Maria could thereafter not be held back even by Cortes. She rode at the front of the cavalry at the decisive Battle of Otumba where hundreds of Aztecs lost their lives. The victory gave Maria a reputation for her superior ability with a lance. Her counterpart, Beatriz Bermudez, joined the fighting on horseback as well. According to Cross she also chided the less aggressive men, telling them in no uncertain terms that she would "kill every man who attempts" to desert.

At the Battle of Morelos in 1522, Maria volunteered to lead a charge against the remaining Aztec forces. Cortes agreed, and she descended into battle screaming "Santiago (St. James), destroy them!" Her blood lust terrified many of her foes, who threw themselves bodily into a ravine rather than face her lance.

Like her male counterparts, Maria's entire goal was wealth and her valor - at least in the eyes of her commanding officers - was worth the reward. Cortes granted her specifically the newly colonized towns of Telala and Hueyapan. It probably goes without saying that all of the native peoples who had once occupied these lands became slaves to the "great lady." Those who did not die outright of unfamiliar infections brought by the Spanish were condemned to a living death toiling either on the land or under it in Hueyapan's silver mines.

Maria's husband was also given similar holdings and it appears that the couple remained married until Pedro Farfan's death. This event occurred in 1530, according to historian Robert Himmerich y Valencia. He also notes in his The Encomenderos of New Spain that Maria remarried shortly thereafter, but that neither marriage produced children that lived to adulthood.

Maria de Estrada seems to have ended her days in New Spain, never returning to her homeland in Seville. How and where she died is not recorded by any of the writers who mention her. The last unfortunate bit of information about her notes only that her second husband fell into a dispute over her lands with not only her first husband's relatives, but his own as well.

The draw of yet more wealth outweighed all ties of love and family and Maria, for the most part, was unfortunately left to the margins of history. Another lady who fought and plundered alongside more famous men is far less well known than she probably should be.

Header: Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz, another New World lady from Spain, whom you can read about at F**k Yeah, History Crushes!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Literature: When

Almost unbelievably, we are battening down the hatches here at chez Pauline in anticipation of 100 mile per hour winds and hurricane-like conditions. So, in the interest of time, a flashback post today from August of 2011. Enjoy, and I'll be back when the storm has blown over:

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.

When western winds are blowing soft
Across the Island Sound;
When every sail that draw 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 the 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?

Stay safe out there Brethren. I will return.

Header: Lighthouse by Chrystal Chan via American Gallery

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Seafaring Sunday: A Ballad for a Highwayman and a Corsair

Today's post has no particular reason, although it has a lovely rhyme. The poem below is, allegedly, the epitaph of a notorious highwayman name Claude Duval (or DuVall). Monsieur terrorized the highways and byways of Restoration England and was the swoon-worthy object of many a ladies' story. Duval was executed January 21, 1670 and remains a legend to this day.

His epitaph reminds me of another Frenchman - a Bordeaulaise, and therefor a countryman of mine, rather than a Norman - in an Anglo country: Jean Laffite. Both Jean and his brother Pierre were vilified by the English speaking Americans, much like Duval was in England. Also much like their Franco counterpart, they were swoon-worthy objects of ladies' stories. Of course, they had the upper hand on Duval; they were, after all, corsairs.

Here lies DuVall; Reader if male thou art,
Look to thy purse; if female, to thy heart.
Much havoc has he made to both; for all
Men he made to stand, and women he made to fall.
The second Conqueror of the Norman race,
Knights to arms did yield, and ladies to his face.
Old Tyburn's Glory; England's illustrious Thief,
DuVall the ladies' joy; DuVall the ladies' grief.

Header: Lafitte [sic] the Pirate by Paul Ashbrook c 1960 (resist that if you can, ladies)

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Sailor Mouth Saturday: Dip

Dip, at sea, has little to do with ladles or half-wits. There is usually a dipper found hanging off the scuttlebutt for men to drink from and a dipping ladle is used to scoop boiling pitch from its cauldron. Beyond that it's all about seafaring context.

A dip was a very small taper, dolled out sparingly by the purser, and often used to light a slow match for the great guns. The needle of the compass is said to dip as it inclines toward the earth. To dip is to lower something; one might dip cargo or a bosun's chair, for instance. An object, such as a ship, is dipping when it is visible just above the horizon through refraction. Dipping is also the action of a sailor when he quits the deck and goes below suddenly.

The dip of the horizon is the difference between the apparent and actual horizon. This takes into account the fact that the observer is aboard ship and therefore above the level of the sea. The sun or moon is said to have dipped the minute its limb passes below the horizon.

Dips is another term for the lead line. A dipsy is a fishing float, generally attached to a line. Dip-netting is fishing via a hand-held net and is a popular form of fishing in cultures around the world. It is engaged in to a large degree at this time of year here in Alaska, generally during the salmon runs.

A dip-sector is a delicate reflecting instrument used for measuring the "true dip" of the horizon. Invented by Dr. Wollaston, the dip-sector is used in areas where refraction is common, such as the poles of the earth. Another delicate and ingenious instrument is the dipping needle, which I will allow Admiral Smyth to explain:

An instrument to ascertaining the amount of the magnet's inclination towards earth; it is so delicately suspended that, instead of vibrating horizontally, one end dips or yields to the vertical force. ... Even at sea in the heaviest gales of wind the dip could instantly, by magnetic deflectors, be ascertained to minutes.

An impressive feat indeed. This form of vastly improved dipping needle was the brainchild of R. W. Fox who introduced it in Britain in 1834.

And so we end our discussion of dips and dipping but, in honor of International Bacon Day, one last seafaring turn of phrase. To save one's bacon was to escape, usually by the skin of one's teeth. It's worth adding to your vocabulary, mates, even if just for the day. Or perhaps you'd like to hold on to it; International Talk Like A Pirate Day is just around the corner, after all.

Happy Saturday, Brethren; clear sailing - and safe bacon - to one and all.

Header: Moon Over Millbanks by J.M.W. Turner c 1797 via Old Paint