Friday, October 25, 2013

A Special Request

We all need a little help, from the Universe, from our Saints and Spirits, or from our fellow creatures here on Earth - and sometimes from all three. So when a highly thought of member of the Brethren is in that kind of  need, I know that one and all will jump to.

That's why I'm here to ask your help on behalf of that Triple P favorite and long time supporter, Captain John Swallow. The Captain and his Quartermaster have come upon troublesome times thanks to unethical people over whom our fellow sailors have no control. The ship's at stake, and it's up to us to save her.

Please take a moment to click over to this link and read about the entire situation. Then, as the goodhearted pirates you all are, please give what you can. Your gift need not be monitary either; remember, the wayward Universe hears the prayers of privateers and pirates alike.

My thanks go out to you all. Your goodness is your reward... But then none of us would ever sail in company with a wretch who didn't know that already, would we?

Header: Three Ships via Naval Architecture

Friday, September 13, 2013

Women at Sea: Lilac Chen Part II

Last we spoke of Lilac Chen, the unfortunate girl from China circa 1893, she was on her way to San Francisco without anyone asking her whether sailing across wave to an entirely alien world was something she might care to do. A slave, Lilac had no choice in the matter. And so, we pick up her story as told by her from the standpoint of her own salvation by a missionary in San Francisco named Miss Cameron:

Oh, God has just been wonderful. Just think, I was in such close waters for damnation myself! This woman, who brought me to San Francisco,, was called Mrs. Lee, and she kept the biggest dive in San Francisco Chinatown. Oh, she had a lot of girls, slave girls, you know. And every night, seven o'clock, all these girls were dressed in silk and satin, and sat in front of a big window, and the men would look in and choose their girls who they'd want for the night. Of course, I  didn't know anything, never heard about such things, you know. And whenever police or white people came, they always hid me under the bed and pushed a trunk in front of me and then after the police had left they let me come out again. And I saw these girls all dressed in silk and satin, and they were waiting for their business, see. But I didn't know anything.

When this woman needed money, she had to sell me to another party. Everywhere I had been they were very kind to me, except this last place she sent me. Oh, this woman was so awful! They say she was a domestic servant before and was cruelly treated. She used to make me carry a big fat baby on my back and make me to wash his diapers. And you know, to wash you have to stoop over, and then he pulls you back, and cry and cry. Oh, I got desperate, I didn't care what happened to me, I just pinched his cheek, his seat you know, just gave it to him. The of course I got it back. She, his mother, went and burned a red hot iron tong and burnt me on the arm. Then someone reported me to the home. But they described me much bigger than I was so when they came they didn't recognize me. And then the woman who had reported to the mission said, "Why didn't you take her? She's the girl." They said, "She looked so small," and then they came back again. But even then, they weren't sure that I was the one, so they undressed me and examined my body and found where the woman had beaten me black and blue all over. And then they took me to the home. Oh, it was in the pouring rain! I was scared to death. You know, change from change, and all strangers, and I didn't know where I was going. Away from my own people and in the pouring rain. And they took me, a fat policeman carried me all the way from Jackson Street, where I was staying, to Sacramento Street to the mission, Cameron House. So I got my freedom there. *

Lilac became an integral part of Miss Cameron's work, helping the American missionary and rescue worker to find girls even less fortunate than herself and rescue then from where they were "... sold to work in the dives, or as domestic servants, and bring them to Cameron House so they could be free... When we went on a raid we always took several of our own girls with us to help. Generally I would follow Miss Cameron as interpreter and she and I would go into the house through a door or a window... Poor Miss Cameron, she never knew about these dives, you know. Scottish people, especially the refined, never discussed these things... So nobody told her, she was so innocent. These slave girls used to have terrific sores, and she had to dress the sores, you know. She never wore gloves, you see, and really, it's just the providence of God kept her from these diseases."

Lilac's admiration for Miss Cameron shines through like the innocence Lilac managed somehow to keep through all her harrowing, horrific experiences. Perhaps the saddest and most poignant fact that comes from the story of Lilac Chen is that children like her exist, and are being abused, neglected and exploited, even as I type these words. Slavery and its horrible consequences are not issues for historical research, they are very real matters of global economics that should be addressed far more explicitly than our current climate of "look the other way and we'll all feel good" journalism allows.

Thank goodness there are still people who will march into dives and rescue those who go unnamed, unknown and under-served.

* All quotes from the book Victorian Women Edited by E. O. Hallerstein, L. P. Hume and K. M. Offen, Stanford University Press c 1981

Header: Chinese Slave Prostitute via National Women's History Museum online

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Women at Sea: Lilac Chen Part I

When women came from the far east, or Asia if you prefer, to North America, they were not always well treated and welcomed. Particularly children - both girls and boys - were used as sexual slaves and made into what they may not have been in their home state or wished to be for themselves.

The story of Lilac Chen, whose beautiful name does not resemble her unfortunate life, is an extreme example. Swept from her home and over the sea, she may never have amounted to much. But Lilac, a fighter, a survivor, made more of herself than most of us do. Thanks to the wonderful editors of Victorian Women, c 1981, we know a bit about this amazing child who fought so hard to become an amazing woman:

I was six when I came to this country in 1893. My worthless father gambled every cent away, and so, left us poor. I think my mother's family was well-to-do, because our grandmother used to dress in silk and satin and always brought us lots of things. And the day my father took me, he fibbed and said he was taking me to see my grandmother, that I was very fond of, you know, and I got on the ferry boat with him, and Mother was crying, and I couldn't understand why she would cry if I go to see Grandma  She gave me a new toothbrush and a new washing in a blue bag when I left her\. When I saw her cry I said, "\Don't cry, Mother, I'm just going to see Grandma and be right back." And that worthless father, my own father, imagine, had every inclination to sell me, and he sold me on the ferry boat. Locked me in the cabin while he was negotiating my sale. And I kicked and screamed and screamed and they wouldn't open the door till after some time, you see, I suppose he had made his bargain and had left the steamer; Then they opened the door and let me out and I went up and down, up and down, here and there, couldn't find him. And he had left me, you see, with a strange woman. That woman, it was suppertime, took me to Ningpo, China, to eat, and I refused to eat, I wanted to go home, and then she took me to Shanghai and left me with another woman. That woman never asked me to work and was very kind to me, and I was there, I don't know for how long. Then a woman from San Francisco came, and picked me up and brought me over.  

And the horror has only begun for poor Lilac Chen. But that is all for tonight; isn't it?

Header:Ladies of Vancouver via China.org

Saturday, August 3, 2013

History: A Tantalizing Find

Ahoy Brethren! I hope this post finds you all in booty, wenches and grog... Or at least grog. I've missed you all and think of you often, honestly.

Today I'm sharing a recent find of shipwrecks in the Gulf of Mexico, that haven for Laffite, Beluche, Aury, Gambi, Youx and a hundred other early 19th century pirates/privateers who served the revolutionary states of Central and South America to various degrees of faithfulness.

This article from ABC online talks about a "thrilling" find of not one but three shipwrecks from around the Laffite era - circa 1810 to 1825. The ships are small, two masted, and carrying no more that eight guns. From the minimal information in the article, which as it notes raises more questions than answers, it appears that the ships may have wrecked in weather such as a gale or hurricane.

For me, a distant relative of Renato Beluche and an old archaeologist at heart and by training, this really gets the imagination running. Could one of these ships be the lost L'Intrepide, captained by Beluche before the War of 1812 and lost in a hurricane off the Louisiana coast some time in 1810 or '11? Beluche and his surviving crew were stranded for some weeks on Little Cat Island, which is now under water, and only rescued when another Laffite associate happened to sail close enough to the island to see their driftwood fires. The size and armament of the ships certainly raises the possibility.

A little knowledge is a dangerous thing, however. It may be too much to hope for, and perhaps just my wild, seafaring imagination taking me places that the same archaeologist in me knows I should not rightly go.

And yet, oh how exciting are all those possibilities...

Header: The Night Watch via Naval Architecture

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Sunday Sea Stories

It is Sunday once again and, here in the U.S., Mother's Day. So happy, happy to all the mothers among the Brethren. Here's a few offerings for your reading and viewing pleasure.

First off, you can once again walk the streets of the town of Epecuen, Argentina. The place has "come up for air" after being underwater since 1985. See amazing photos here.

Over at the Berkshire Eagle, there's word that famed sailor and author Herman Melville's homestead is getting a makeover.

Meanwhile, it looks like the STARZ network is jumping on the series bandwagon with a new one about a subject near and dear to my heart: the Golden Age of Piracy. Watch the trailer for "Black Sails" here. (Thanks to my friend Ken over at "A Woodrunner's Diary" for the head's up on this.)

Do you like Vikings? Of course you do. So you'll love that the British Museum has revamped a building to display the largest Viking ship ever discovered.

Still hungry for more? Might I suggest my dear friends Undine and Blue Lou's new ventures on the web: Strange Company and The Journal of Blue Lou now at Wordpress, respectively. You won't be able to stay away.

Header: A cog or caravel rendered in gold, mother-of-pearl and semiprecious stones as a brooch made in the 16th c via my friend Erick on Twitter.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Sailor Mouth Saturday: Iron

And, I'm back. Miss me? Just time enough today for a look at the word iron at sea and on the dock. And we're not just talking about the famous ironclads CSS Virginia (ex-Merrimack) and USS Monitor here.

So let us start, then, with ironclad vessels. Also spoken of as ironcased, coated or plated, these were the ships, emerging in the 19th century, entirely encased in iron plates. The trick of making such vessels seaworthy was one that led to the practice of putting plate on only specific parts that were more open to missiles until the dawn of the 20th century iron age ship.

By the 19th century, most ships had some iron parts. Iron work was the general name for these and any pieces of iron used in the construction of ships or equipment for ships. Iron bound blocks were those fitted with iron strops. The "iron horse" was the latter-day iron railing of the head attached most usually to the fore- or boom-sheet. A ship was said to be iron-sick when her iron work was coming loose from the timbers and her sheathing nails are rusted. A sorry condition that no right-thinking sailor would allow.

A coast may be spoken of as iron-bound when it is made up of rocks that are predominately perpendicular to the sea as they rise up from it. These are dangerous shores indeed, and should be avoided at all costs.

A ship may be said to be in irons when, as Admiral Smyth explains in The Sailor's Word Book:

... by mismanagement, she is permitted to come up in the wind and lose her way; so that, having no steerage, she must either be boxed off on the former track, or fall off on the other; for she will not cast one way or the other, without bracing in the yards.

Irons are the tools used by caulkers, of which my grandfather was proudly one, to hammer oakum into the wooden seams of a vessel. These are sometimes known as boom irons, probably for their loud racket while in use. Grandpa went deaf caulking. Irons were also, of course, the bilboes that would be fitted around a miscreant sailor's ankles to keep him both in place and in discomfort. Sailors, with their sarcastic wit, might euphemistically refer to same as "iron garters."

And a ship might be lovingly spoken of as having "iron-sides" when she seemed immune to the blasts of enemy cannon. Here in the U.S., we still know one of our first frigates, USS Constitution, as "Old Ironsides."

Thus ends another addition of SMS. Fair winds and following sees, Brethren, until next we meet...

Header: Hudson River Under the Moonlight by M. F. Hendrik de Haas via American Gallery

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Sunday Sea Stories

Since my time is limited right now, but my curiosity continues at a pace, I'll try to update the Brethren on stories from history and around the web on Sunday afternoon. Nothing fancy of course, but hopefully a good read or two to start off your week.

First up, the awesome paintings above are from this article over at the UK Telegraph entitled "Historical Figures for the 21st Century." Of course there's Nelson as above, a little heavier due to his modern fate as a desk jockey but with a splendid prosthetic arm. Whatever would Emma say? Also in the mix are Henry VIII looking vaguely like Gerard Butler, his daughter good Queen Bess and a surprisingly hipster Will Shakespeare. Who knew?

Next, this little winner from NBC News. A women's group thought they were hiring an pirate expert to speak on the Golden Age. Instead they got a victim of modern piracy with a harrowing tale of survival. But, being a good sport, he did stay to judge the pirate costume contest after his lecture.

While not particularly related to seafaring per ce, this article from the NYT's continuing series on the Civil War should be of interest to anyone with a fascination for history in general and women's history in particular. Entitled "Rape and Justice in the Civil War", the author discusses the Leiber Laws and their application to Southern women attacked by Union troops; both free and slave.

On a modern note, USS Anchorage arrived on Tuesday in hers and my home city, Anchorage, Alaska, for her commissioning today.

Also of interest: On May 3, 1810, George Gordon Lord Byron along with his friend and marine lieutenant Ekenhead of HMS Salsette swam across the Dardanelles Strait.

Today, May 5, in 1828 the American Seaman's Friend Society of New York City was established. Their mission: to supply books via "floating libraries" to U.S. Navy and Merchant ships at sea. Also on this day in 1861 the U.S. Naval Academy moved from Annapolis, Maryland to Newport, Rhode Island for the duration of the Civil War.

And so I will leave you with a quote: The real difference between civilized and savage man consists in the knowledge of knots and rope work. ~ A. Hyatt Verrill

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Meta: A Picture Worth a Thousand Words

It has been rather a troublesome week here at chez Pauline and, along with that, I am preparing for a licensing exam on Tuesday so just a brief post today. I wanted to share this gorgeous frigate whose picture I found over at the always engrossing Naval Architecture. The first picture today is equally as lovely and daydream inducing. Fair winds to all!

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Seafaring Sunday: Doctor van Riebeeck

April 21, 1619: Jan van Riebeeck is born in the Netherlands. Van Riebeeck will follow his father into the physician's trade. He became a naval surgeon and was instrumental in the founding of what is now Cape Town in South Africa. The stop, complete with van Riebeeck's brainchild the Fort of Goede Hoop (Good Hope), would give sick and injured seamen a resting point on the long, arduous cruises undertaken by the Dutch and later the British East India Companies.

Header: Contemporary portrait of van Riebeeck by an anonymous artist via Wikimedia

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Sailor Mouth Saturday: Steer

Most of us are familiar with today's word. We steer our cars, our bicycles, our skateboards, our lives; and steer at sea has similar meaning. Not surprisingly perhaps, it has different ones as well.

Steering, according to the oft-quoted Admiral Smyth, comes from the Anglo-Saxon word steoran. To quote the Admiral once again:

The perfection of steering consists in a vigilant attention to the motion of the ship's head, so as to check every deviation from the line of her course in the first instant of its commencement, and in applying as little of the power of the helm as possible, for the action of the rudder checks a ship's speed.

Thus a skilled helmsman is capable of keeping a ship at her optimal speed while staying on her optimal course. A helmsman might also be called a steersman for this very reason. As an aside, the word for helmsman in French is timonier, from the French word for helm: timon. Thus in the Cinque Ports era and somewhat beyond, the word timoneer might be used for the steersman.

To steer large is to allow her to go free or to steer her loosely. To steer her small is the opposite; as the Admiral puts it "to steer well and within small compass, not dragging the tiller over from side to side." To steer her course is to go with a fair wind, allowing it to move the ship along on her charted course. Steerage way indicates the ship has enough room to use her helm effectively for steering.

An old, and the Admiral notes incorrect, term for studding sails is steering-sails.

Steerage, that fateful term so familiar to many an American whose ancestors came over in it, originally meant the act of steering. Steerage, when one spoke of the decks of a fighting ship, often referred to where the mechanisms of the helm worked their way to the tiller. Thus, the deck below the quarter and immediately before the bulkhead of the great cabin was steerage. Sometimes, the Admiral's cabin on the middle deck of a three-decker was known by this name. When passenger ships came into vogue in the late 19th century, steerage acquired its less-than-savory reputation as the lowest deck before the bilge where the least of the passengers were crammed together like the rats among them. It is only one such as Jame Cameron, in his high fantasy film Titanic, who would have the temerity to portray this steerage as the most delightful and carefree deck aboard a liner.

And finally, on a similar note, there is the word steeving, which applies to the painting above. In this now mostly archaic form of rigging, the bowsprit's angle was some 70 or 80 degrees above the horizon. This made it a proper mast upon which a sail could be rigged as shown.

And with that, I wish you a happy Saturday once again and all steerage way upon your cruises, Brethren.

Header: HMS Surprise by Randal Wilson via NAVART

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

History: Aboard The Terrible

April 15: Light Aires and Fair Weather: at 7 PM saw 2 Sails Bearing NbE: to the SoWard at 5 AM Saw a Sail on the Lee Quarter Ware and gave Chace Sett all Sailes & Chace bore away and Set all Sailes She could Perceived her to be a Brigg At 9 saw a French Man of War to Windward She hoisted her Colours We hoisted ours we in full Chace at 12 hoisted our colors and fired a Shot at the Chace at 12 she hoisted American Colors fired several shots at her at noon she fired two stern Chaces at us, continued the Chace

April 16: Still in Chace Fired several shots at her 1 Chace struck her colours and Shortened Sail, we began to take in our Sailes brought to as did the Chace Hoisted out a Boate and sent an Officer on Board She proved to be an American Privateer Brigg called the Rising States, Capt Thompson Commander Carr, 12 six pounders eight of which she had hove overboard chased and 61 men She had taken three English vessels

~ copied verbatim, including spelling and punctuation, from the log of Captain Richard Bickerton, HMS Terrible of 74 guns, in the English Channel, 1777

Header: Towing a Privateer by A. Roux c 1806 via Naval Architecture

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Seafaring Sunday: Royal Navy Uniform

April 13, 1748: The first official uniform was prescribed for officers in the Royal Navy of Britain. The standard included a white waistcoat, breeches and stockings, a blue coat with cuffs and gold buttons, and a black, tricorn hat with gold lace and cockade.

For a more in depth discussion of this milestone, see this excellent post at Not By Appointment, where the above example of the original captain's undress uniform came from.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Sailor Mouth Saturday: Break

While the word break generally makes lubbers think - when they think of the sea at all - of those rocks upon which the ocean waves so noisily crash, it has and had many more meanings to men and women who belong to the sea.

Breakers are indeed those reefs, rocks and so on that stop the mighty ocean waves, particularly at shallower points along the shore. Admiral Smyth describes this situation most poetically in The Sailor's Word Book:

... those billows which break violently over reefs, rocks, or shallows, lying immediately at, or under, the surface of the sea. They are distinguished both by their appearance and sound, as they cover that part of the sea with a perpetual foam, and produce loud roaring, very different from what the waves usually have over a deeper bottom. Also, a name given to those rocks which occasion the waves to break over them.

One imagines that, in a heavy sea, the rocks pictured above might become breakers. "Breakers ahead!" This call warns the helm of broken water in a ship's direct course.

A break water may be a natural bar or a man-made jetty or mole that protects a harbor or bay from the more violent roiling of the open ocean, thus keeping the ships there safe from being beaten up by waves and wind.

Breakers is also a term for the small barrels used to store water or other liquids, rum for instance. A crew might break such things out; breaking out meaning to pull up stores or cargo from stowage. Thus breakage was the empty spaces where nothing was stowed in a ship's hold. In ocean marine insurance, however, it is the part of the cargo that arrives damaged. Break bulk means to open and unload the hold of said cargo and can allude to the "disposal" of ill-gotten, perhaps piratical gains.

A sudden end to a deck's planking was called the break-beams. A break was the rise of a deck; the break of the poop was where that half-deck aft ended at its fore-point.

At sea, breaking ground means the beginning of the weighing process; breaking the anchor from the ground beneath the water. A ship may break sheer when she is forced toward her anchor rode, or sheer, by the wind.

A gale is said to break when it slows down and gives way to better weather. But the breaking of a gale can mean the mournful howling of the wind through shrouds and rigging. Those sailors familiar with the East Indies would speak of the "break-up of the monsoon", when winds would rage so violently as to literally break a ship caught off guard apart. A ship may break off her course when the wind is such that the direction intended cannot be maintained. Break off is also an order for a sailor or sailors to move swiftly from one chore to another.

A man is said to break liberty when he does not return to his mess after shore leave. To break a man is to "deprive him of his commission, warrant, or rating by court-martial." To break up a ship is to dismantle her when her parts are worth more to the service than she is. All of these instances may be a very sad time indeed.

And that is all for today, Brethren. Fair winds, following seas and full tankards to y'all!

Header: A Maine Windjammer from Isa Bella's Pics via Naval Architecture

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Seafaring Sunday: "A Desperate Fight"

Captain Barry was given command of Lexington, of 14 guns, on 7 December 1775. The Lexington sailed 31 March 1776. On 7 April 1776, off the Capes of Virginia, he fell in with the Edward, tender to the British man-of-war Liverpool, and after a desperate fight of one hour and twenty minutes captured her and brought her into Philadelphia. Barry continued in command of Lexington until 18 October 1776, and captured several private armed vessels during that time.

~ from Naval History and Heritage Command's biography of Commodore John Barry

Header: Commodore John Barry USN by Gilbert Stuart via Wikipedia

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Sailor Mouth Saturday: Lee

The word lee is commonly heard in discussing the sea and sea terms. "Have I brought you by the lee," is one of those euphemisms that just about everyone but the dog uses around chez Pauline. But what does it really mean? Let us look closer, shall we?

According to Admiral W.H. Smyth writing in The Sailor's Word Book, the English word lee comes from the Scandinavian loe or laa which roughly translates as the sea. With that in mind, we know that the word always had two feet firmly planted in the water and probably came from our intrepid Viking ancestors. To English speakers, lee has long meant the side of a vessel opposite the side upon which the wind is blowing. Thus leeward versus windward and leewardly meaning a ship unable to keep up with the wind versus weatherly, a ship that is capable in almost any weather.

Larger ships may have a lee anchor; any anchor catted to the leeward side. All ships riding at anchor may refer to their lee anchor if indeed the kedge is to the vessel's lee.

The lee beams are those on her lee side, positioned at right angles to the keel. The lee boards are wooden frames that are attached to the sides of small, flat-bottomed vessels like wings to keep them from drifting to leeward. The lee side of a ship is considered to be the portion of her that lies, as the Admiral describes it, "between the mast and the side farthest from the wind, the other half being the weather-side."

The lee side of the quarterdeck, which is often relatively shielded from the wind, is said to be the prerogative of the captain. It is here aboard the dear Surprise that Patrick O'Brian's Jack Aubrey took his exercise daily on the advise of his physician and particular friend, Stephen Maturin. On men-of-war, the lee side of the quarterdeck was sometimes known colloquially as "the midshipman's parade" since they were often being instructed there by the ship's captain or lieutenants.

A lee tide runs in the same direction of the wind and must be taken into account in navigation as it can push a ship to leeward. Thus the lee gauge refers to being farther from the wind than another vessel, either friend or foe. A ship may take a lee lurch and roll to leeward when struck by a unusual wave on her weather side. The dangerous lee shore is directly on a ship's leeward side with the wind battering her into it.

When a ship is on a lee hitch the helmsman has allowed her to drift to the lee. Being under the lee-gunnel is slang for a ship being troublesomely over taxed by wind, weather, or enemy fire. "Take care of the lee hatch!" This is an order to the helmsman not to get off on a lee hitch.

And then there's that bit about being brought by the lee. A ship is said to be under the lee when she is in water near a weather shore where the wind is coming off the land and the sailing is easier than it might be further out. In the uncomfortable situation known as to lay by the lee or to be brought by or come up on the lee, a ship is run out, brought by the lee quarter and looses the wind in her sails. Thus, when one is brought by the lee, they are speechless, dumbfounded; something a loquacious person like your humble hostess finds very vexing indeed.

Happy Saturday, Brethren. I do apologize for the long absence and hope to have that corrected within the next month. Until than - and in between as well - may your ship be weatherly, and never troubled by being brought by the lee.

Header: The lovely Mouzho on a sunset sail via the wonderful Naval Architecture on tumblr

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Meta: Yet More

No kidding, right? Hoppy Easter to all y'all and I do hope to be back sooner than later. Love you... seriously...

Header: "Ahoy me Bunnies" via my friend Jeff Coyle via FB

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Meta: A New Adventure on the Horizon

I apologize for skipping my favorite post of the week, Sailor Mouth Saturday, today but I am short on time. I will be embarking on a new adventure starting Monday in the form of a full time, away from home job. I'm thrilled to be so fortunate; the company is an excellent one and they are offering the all-important medical benefits that my family very much needs right now. I cannot gush enough about how lucky I am.

Unfortunately, though, this will impact my ability to spend as much time on Triple P as I have in the past. While I will certainly continue this labor of love, there will be some "down time", at least for a little while. Meanwhile, though, please enjoy the archives. I will return to some form of regular posts, perhaps two or three a week, sooner rather than later. Thank you all for your support, Brethren. And now, let us pack on all sail and put her bow toward that promising horizon...

Header: Captain Kermit Sparrow, apparently, via my good mates at Under the Black Flag on FB

Friday, March 22, 2013

Booty: Remembering the Decatur vs. Barron Duel

March 22, 1820: After years of bad blood between the two, U.S. Navy captains Stephen Decatur and James Barron meet to settle their honor with a duel. While the hows and whys of the actual duel continue to be disputed by historians, the facts are clear. After Decatur shot first, wounding Barron in the hip, Barron shot Decatur in the lower abdomen. With his bowel punctured, Decatur would linger two days at his Lafayette Square home in Washington D.C. crying out in abject pain.

For more on the details of this unfortunate moment in American naval history, see this post on James Barron.

Header: Miniature of Stephen Decatur and the plaque now attached to the home where he died via The Decatur Minute

Thursday, March 21, 2013

History: The Home Remedy

While sawing off bones and applying blisters may have been more dramatic, the surgeon at sea was usually more occupied with the dispensing of pills and syrups to keep his mates going. Often, perhaps more often than we might suppose, these little remedies came from home rather than the wards of a training hospital. The truth is, most naval surgeons had no formal training and most pirate surgeons were simply kidnapped away from various navies.

The cures were generally for such recognizable maladies as colds, sore throats, indigestion, nausea and "the itch" (more on that in a minute.) Some of these are documented, to one degree or another, in the large seafaring memoirs of doctors like Alexander Exquemelin but most are more readily found in writings more close to shore. Mrs. Child in her The Family Nurse of 1837, for instance, gives us some insight into the time-tested cures that were certainly in use for centuries when she wrote them down.

Just as a few examples, colds could be treated by soaking the feet in warm water, binding them up with a warm onion each and then putting the patient to bed with a half pint of strong penny royal or calamint tea. Mrs. Child assures the reader that this is "almost sure to cure a cold."

Likewise, a small lump of saltpeter held in the mouth until it dissolves will help alleviate a sore throat. Wrapping the neck in warm flannels will hurry the process along. Given that saltpeter can be poisonous, one imagines that dosing would need to be carefully monitored.

A tablespoonful of "the brine in which rennet is preserved is extremely salutary in cases of indigestion and an acid stomach." This ancestor of Alka-Seltzer, Mrs. Child says, "is less disagreeable" if taken with a little water, "but it is better to take it clear."

"Common ashes," as from a fire, stirred into twice as much boiling water is given a teaspoon at a time "at intervals" to help control nausea and vomiting. Mrs. Child notes that "some prefer to stir it in cider" and given that cider was most often an alcoholic beverage at the time the results must have varied to say the least.

"The odor of burning feathers, horn or leather, is good for hysteric fainting fits," and "O'Meara, surgeon to Napoleon, declares that a teaspoon of salt, moistened and put upon the tongue of a patient during an epileptic fit, affords immediate relief."

Finally, both Mrs. Child and Exquemelin, in his The Buccaneers of America, agree on the cure for what they refer to as "the itch." This, of course, would have been the infestation of various crawling, biting parasites that have the habit of crawling around on the human body. Particularly in warmer climates the problem could become incapacitating fairly quickly. The recommended remedy is as follows:

... to stand half an hour, or more, in a tight barrel, cover to the throat with old blankets or carpets; two or three lighted brimstone matches should be placed inside the barrel, by means of a small hole near the bottom, and every crevice stopped, that no smoke may escape. It is well to take moderate doses of sulphur, night and morning, for some days after.

Exquemelin notes that this cure was risky at best at sea and generally reserved for times ashore, such as when careening or plundering.

Header: The Astrolabe and Zelee Aground in the Torres Strait by Louis le Breton c 1810s via Wikimedia

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Tools of the Trade: Navigation Essentials

If there is doubt as to advisability of including some item of equipment, the safer decision is to include it. It is better to have unused equipment than to risk danger of becoming lost because of lack of needed equipment. ~ from the American Practical Navigator by Nathaniel Bowditch

What to bring, then? A ship can be a small thing with little room for human bodies much less spare equipment. Of course, as the advice above notes, it is better to have a thing sitting around than to not have that same thing when your life depends on it. According to Peter H. Spectre, Bowditch recommended this bare minimum in the early 19th century:

A watch with a second hand for timing courses
Gimbaled lamp to light your charts
Barometer for forecasting weather
Parallel rulers for making courses
Dividers for stepping off distances
Pencils, paper, etc.

All of these things would most often have been found at the so called "navigation station" aboard ship. Generally, but not always, this would have been located in the captain's cabin. Today, much of the busy work has been eliminated by GPS and computers. All the same, better have the above just in case. Technology is a wonderful thing... until it ceases to function, that is.

Header: View of Ships Near Venice by Oliver D. Grover via American Gallery

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Seafaring Sunday: Sea Language

The sea language is not soon learned, much less understood, being only proper to him that has served his apprenticeship: because that, a boisterous sea and stormy weather will make a man not bred on it so sick, that it bereaves him of legs and stomach and courage, so much as to fight with his meat. And in such weather, when he hears a seaman cry starboard, or larboard, or to bid alooff, or flat a sheet, or haul home a cluing, he thinks he hears a barbarous speech, which he conceives not the meaning of.

~ from the Naval Tracts of Sir William Monson. Monson, who was from a landed family in Lincolnshire, ran away to sea in 1585 at the age of 16. He saw service in a privateer as one of Queen Elizabeth's sea dogs and was a lieutenant in the Charles when she joined the English fleet against the Spanish Armada. Monson retired in the 1630s with the rank of Vice-Admiral and settled in to write his now famous tracts. He died in 1643.

Header: English ships and the Spanish Armada by an unknown artist of the British School via Wikipedia

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Sailor Mouth Saturday: Fresh

Tomorrow is Saint Patrick's Day: the day we're all Irish. Aside from corned beef, beer and all things green I always harken back to - and I'm really dating myself here - these very old Irish Spring soap commercials. Making a "strong" man "fresh" was what Irish Spring was about and thus, today's SMS word.

Fresh at sea generally refers to one of three things: water, wind or rigging. Let's look at them in that order, shall we?

Fresh water if, of course, that that is not salt. A ship freshens her water by taking on more casks of same for drinking and cooking but rarely if ever for washing. Other fresh water, particularly that from rain or snow, was used for that purpose. If none of that was to hand one might have the good luck to use the freshening from a local river. The so called fresh shot was the fresh water that came down stream from a large river and emptied into a body of salt water. As Admiral Smyth notes in The Sailor's Word Book, in such cases - particularly after a large dump of rain or with snow melt inland - "... fresh water is often to be found on the surface a good way from the mouth of the river." There is, in similar cases, the freshes which refer to the large deposits of silt and other materials swept into the oceans and gulfs by the world's mightiest rivers. With the Nile, Congo, Ganges, Mississippi and others, the discolorations in the salt waters can be seen from outer space.

In relation to rivers, a sailor with blue water experience may refer to one who works rivers and lakes pejoratively as a "fresh water jack." This was essential an insult and meant that the individual was just this side of a lubber. Samuel Clemens, as an example, might be called a fresh water jack by the likes of Richard Henry Dana, Jr. or Joseph Conrad. Sorry, Mark Twain...

Fresh water seas are those that are so large, they essentially behave like the ocean. Probably the best example of these is the Great Lakes at the U.S. and Canada boarder. Superior, Michigan, Huron Erie and Ontario are all example of lakes that are just as vast - and potentially deadly - as any gulf we know.

A fresh breeze is a brisk and often sudden wind but can also refer to the way a ship is handled in known channels of wind, such as the trades or gulf stream. A fresh gale is just a more powerful form of a fresh breeze. When a ship begins to feel the push of a fresh breeze, she is said to freshen her way. Fresh way is also said of a man who picks up his stride or sets out at a run. Fresh way is slightly different, and refers to a ships increased speed through the water; she gathers fresh way, for instance, after completing a successful tack when her sails once again catch the wind.

One can freshen rigging by adjusting ropes or cable, thus relieving pressure points and potential failure on or of same. To freshen the hawse, for instance, means to relieve the part of the cable that has been repeatedly exposed to friction from the hawse hole. This is necessary in times when a ship sits at anchor for some days. The term freshen the nip follows this rule and essential refers to the same duty. It also has been used to essentially mean "the sun is over the yardarm" for those officers who are ready for a glass.

The ballast is freshened when it is raked and/or moved to better purpose. Fresh grub are new stores taken aboard. A fresh spell means new men to taking on a repetitious task such as turning the capstan. And finally, your mate might be fresh meaning not that he is a bit too friendly but that he is just this side of drunk. As the Admiral puts it delicately, "excited by drink."

So cheers mates and a Happy St. Pat's. Perhaps a Guinness rather than a grog is in order. Slainte!

Header: Merchant's Quay at Newry; photo from the National Library of Ireland via Naval Architecture

Friday, March 15, 2013

Booty: The Gentleman Sailor (and How to Be One)

The above poster, which I found over at the always surprising Mid-Century on tumblr, gives some concise and easy to follow rules for gentlemanly courtesy to ladies (click to enlarge and appreciate the captions - and the somewhat surprisingly short skirts.) Produced by the U.S. Navy during the World War II era, the gestures probably seem quaint to most of us now. They shouldn't. We lose something of our humanity when we cease to treat others with respect (and the ladies with their heads screwed on straight always respond to a bit of chivalry, mates). Happy Friday!

Thursday, March 14, 2013

People: The General and the Pirate

Tomorrow marks the 246th anniversary of the birth of the seventh President of the U.S.A.: Andrew Jackson. While, in our comically PC world, Jackson is now a "controversial" figure, I would happily stand by him on the floor of Congress or in battle. Much like my other favorite American leader, Theodore Roosevelt, Jackson "got shit done." It's really difficult to be PC and keep a country together.

Of course another Triple P favorite - Jean Laffite - figured into the life of then Major General Jackson when he offered his services to fight the British on Chalmette plane. Unfortunately, how and where these two fascinating characters met is lost to history. But there are still some erroneous suppositions in that regard that cling to the situation like toilet paper to a stiletto heel: if you look at them to closely, they're just embarrassing.

Take as an example the following quote from master historian H.E. Brands' biography Andrew Jackson: His Life and Times. The book is extremely well written and researched and, aside from the fatal flaw we're about to discuss, it is surely my favorite of the many modern biographies of Jackson. So it is doubly disappointing that Brands, like Winston Groom in Patriotic Fire, relies on the as yet unauthenticated "Journal of Jean Lafitte" for his discussions of the Baratarian leader.

Here is one such example, from page 271 of the first printing. The quotes are from the Journal and include a extremely self-satisfied tone on Laffite's part as well as a very specific reference to Dominique Youx being Laffite's brother:

(Laffite had a rather fanciful recollection of the events leading to Jackson's decision to accept the services of him and his men. "I could not waste any more time waiting for a chance that would put me face to face with General Jackson," he wrote many years later. "With a few officers of my staff, I came across the General at the northeast corner of Saint Philippe and Royal Streets. I explained to him that my conduct had been marked with a loyalty and a patriotism unequaled during the thirty-eight years that had passed since the declaration of American independence. I challenged the General to a duel, in reply to the unfounded and punishable insults directed upon us. In spite of the respect I had for his uniform, I must say that the general's intelligence seemed much inferior to mine. He refused to accept my challenge. I threatened to slap his face, but my eldest brother, Dominique Youx, intervened as a conciliator. Later the General received us in his office at 106 Royal Street." At this point in Laffite's story, Jackson saw the light and brought him on board.)

All the little missteps in that paragraph aside, it is truly disheartening to see a businessman as intelligent and capable as Laffite reduced to the role of megalomaniacal chihuahua yipping at the heels of a great mastiff. In fact, Jackson and Laffite were equals in their own way but Laffite had a good deal more to lose if the discussion had gone south, including potentially his freedom. Hollow words and face slapping of superiors were rarely the tack of the Laffite brothers... or Dominique Youx for that matter.

Happy Birthday, Andrew Jackson. You'll always be my favorite President just as the Laffites will always top my list of pirate. For what ever that's worth: Huzzah!

Header: Major General Andrew Jackson by Samuel L. Waldo via American Gallery

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

History: Inquisition of the Galleys

Galley slavery has been a high seas reality since ancient times. Everyone from war captives to convicts and heretics have been used by both navies and pirates as labor to move ships along the water. The lives and futures of these unfortunate men were usually bleak. Though galley sentences might be limited, few survived their ordeal and those who did were either denied release or so broken by their experience that they were left few options for the future.

In Europe, France and Spain were particularly attached to condemning criminals to galley service. Under Philip II of Spain (reigned 1554 to 1598), the policy was taken to the New World under the so called "Inquisition of the Galleys." Major Arthur Griffiths describes Philip's policy in his book In Spanish Prisons:

Philip wished to extend the sway of the Inquisition and planned a naval tribunal to take cognisance of heresy afloat. He created the Inquisition of the Galleys, or, as it was afterwards styled, of the Army and the Navy. In every sea port a commissary general visited the shipping to search for prohibited books and make sure of the orthodoxy of crews and passengers.

Those unfortunate enough to be deemed "unorthodox" would be brought before a local tribunal. Conviction was often a foregone conclusion and the captive would be forced into the "celebration" of an auto de fe; literally "act of faith."

Griffiths goes on to quote the memoir of a Seville goldsmith named Carcel who was swept up by the Inquisition, or so he claimed. In describing his own auto de fe, Carcel speaks of his own punishment:

My offense, I found, was having spoken bitterly of the Inquisition, and having called a crucifix a mere bit of cut ivory. I was therefore declared excommunicated, my goods confiscated by the king, I was banished Spain and condemned to the Havana galleys for five years...

It appears that Carcel survived his ordeal having been able to write his remembrances down. Most of those condemned as Carcel were not so lucky given the miserable conditions and potential violence from war and piratical attack that they faced on a daily basis.

Griffiths finally notes that the Inquisition of the Galleys fell out of favor after Philip II's death. Considered an impediment to "business on the High Seas" it "fell into disuse" and was, by the mid-17th century, given no more than lip service in the New World.

Header: Convicts on a galley's benches; exhibit from the Barcelona Maritime Museum via Wikipedia

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Seafaring Sunday: Unhappy Nuptials

March 10, 1787: Horatio Nelson marries Frances Nisbet at Montpelier Estate on the Island of Nevis. Prince William Henry gave the bride away. Nelson wrote to his friend William Locker shortly after that he was "morally certain [Fanny] will continue to make me a happy man for the rest of my days." In matters of the heart, however, Nelson proved a poor prognosticator.

Header: Fanny Nelson by an anonymous artist of the British School c 1800 via Wikipedia

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Sailor Mouth Saturday: Lap

Today's word swings widely at sea. From superstitions about weather to naval uniforms to the building of iron vessels, lap plays a little part in them all.

In shipbuilding, lap over revers to the carlings of masts which Admiral Smyth explains clearly in The Sailors Word Book:

Pieces of timber about five inches square, lying fore and aft, along from one beam to another. On and athwart these the ledges rest, whereon the planks of the deck and other portions of carpentry are made fast.

Thus, the mast carlings are said to lap over or upon the deck because they are necessarily deep. Laps proper are the ends of a carling that support an unusual heft. Admiral Smyth gives the example of the capstan step.

Lap jointing refers to the overlapping plates of iron on a vessel. This form of shipbuilding is similar to the old wooden fashion known as clincher or clinker building.

We've all read of the wave "lapping" at the shore or some other solid surface but at sea, lapping often refers to thin ice. Indicating the way the ice slowly builds as the temperature descends, these layers of overlapping ice can be an extreme danger to ships and men, trapping or even crushing vessels in their stealthy grasp.

The word lapel (lapelle) was once as important to naval uniforms as the more modern epaulette. The golden fringed epaulette came into use in European navies during the late 18th and early 19th century. Prior to that, a white lapelle was used in uniform making to indicate the rank of lieutenant. Admiral Smyth quotes what he calls "the brackish poet, in the craven midshipman's lament":

If I had in my country staid,
I then had learnt some useful trade,
And scorned the white lapelle.

In northern seas women who claimed a certain talent for weather-witchery were sometimes dubbed Lapland Witches. Apparently the women of this Finish tribe were more than capable of bringing fair weather - but at a price. One was considered an ignorant gob among his mates if he bought weather for coin.

Famously, the dish known as lap's course is said to be one of the oldest savory dishes served to any working ship's foc's'l men. It developed into the more familiar lobscouse, a stew of salted meat, potatoes, onions, spices and ship's biscuit for thickening that warmed the heart and stuck to the ribs of many a hungry seamen throughout history.

And so, an end to lap. I chose this word today because it is my youngest daughter's fourteenth birthday today. Like any mother who loves her children, I now see a beautiful young lady but remember a very little redhead who used to like to sit on my lap and listen to me sing...

Happy Saturday, Brethren; fair winds, following sails and full tankards to you all!

Header: Beach Scene by Gustav Courbet c 1874 via Old Paint

Friday, March 8, 2013

Booty: Eternal Beauty is a Ship

Today I want to share with the Brethren one of my new favorite haunts on the Interwebs where I can get a daily fix of beautiful ships, boats and oceanic majesty even if I can't quite get down to the sea. Naval Architecture on tumblr offers up a nice dose of gorgeousness on a consistent basis. As an example, the beautiful picture above of U.S. Coast Guard barque Eagle at dock. Words don't compare.

Click over and see all there is to take in; you won't be disappointed.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

History: Instructions for Privateers

On May 2nd of 1780 the Continental Congress of the fledgling U.S.A. did something that hadn't been done by what they would have termed a "civilized nation" for close to 400 years: they issued instructions to the captains and commanders of private armed vessels carrying Continental letters of marque. This essential act of congress would be referred to in evaluating the conduct of U.S. privateers until the Civil War with only one small amendment in 1781.

The document, which you can view in high resolution at the Library of Congress website, is thoughtful and specific. There is very little "wiggle room", so to say, as there would be in a straight letter of mark - for instance this one issued during the War of 1812. The instructions include guidelines for the taking of enemy ships (only Britain is mentioned here), the treatment of persons aboard those ships, the libeling of ship and cargo and other issues of conduct.

Of particular interest here is the treatment of passengers aboard captured ships. From Article VI:

If you, or any of your officers or crew, shall, in cold blood, kill or maim, or by torture or otherwise, cruelly, inhumanly, and contrary to common usage and the practice of civilized nations in war, treat any person or persons surprized in the ship or vessel you shall take, the offender shall be severely punished.

That's a key factor that should, in theory, separate a privateer from a pirate. Aside from the proper legal libel of any captured vessel and it's cargo, the mistreatment of so called prisoners marked the rogue vs. the gentleman sailor.

The amendment of 1781 changed the following piece of Article I which excepted the capture of:

...ships or vessels, along with their cargoes, belonging to any inhabitant or inhabitants of Bermuda...

At the time the U.S. held, albeit very shakily, the capital of Bermuda, New Providence, and probably had aspirations of including the islands as a future state. Also excepted:

... such other ships or vessels bringing persons with intent to settle and reside withing the United States...

New people were a welcome commodity for the new nation. Despite this, the commanders are instructed to search these vessels and, should the man in command prove hesitant or false in his description of his ship's intent, seizure is implied to be permissible.

All in all the document, which is handsomely preserved, is a commendable attempt at keeping U.S. privateers from slipping into the habits of piracy. Over all, it seems to have had the intended effect.

Header: USS Revenge via Wikipedia ~ she is flying the famous "Don't Tread on Me" flag favored by U.S. privateers during the Revolution

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Tools of the Trade: Stanger's Fever

In a rush this morning (not a Benjamin Rush, thankfully...) so here's one from the archives circa August 2011:

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 get 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 loss of appetite. The toxic phase was experienced when internal organs began to shut down. Stomach bleeding let 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 as high as 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 into 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 process. 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 was always thought best. 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 for 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 and fall of 1793 hit the city. While other doctors were prescribing barley water and Peruvian bark (quinine), 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 something akin to a death sentence to his patients. The aggressive bleeding combined with regular purging took out the much needed fluids that would have helped the patient battle the disease. While Rush blamed any patient's death on his not being called 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 South 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 into the 20th century. Even after the discovery and partial eradication of the aedes mosquito which occurred in large part thanks to efforts begun during the building of the Panama Canal, some areas of the world continue 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: Nuns nursing yellow fever patients in Philadelphia, 1793 via Dipity's timeline of the epidemic

Monday, March 4, 2013

Lady Pirates: "She was of a Fierce Temper"

The life of Anne Bonny, famous lady pirate who disappeared into a misty past after living through a sensational trial and giving birth in jail, has been hashed and rehashed. But it never hurts to hear from a contemporary source, no matter how familiar the story. Here, then is Captain Johnson aka Daniel Defoe's short but engaging description of Mistress Bonny from his A General History of the Pyrates:

She was of a fierce and courageous Temper, wherefore, when she lay under Condemnation, several Stories were reported of her much to her Disadvantage, as that she had kill'd an English Servant-Maid once in her Passion with a Case-Knife, while she look'd after her Father's House; but upon further Enquiry, I found this Story to be groundless: It was certain she was so robust, that once, when a young Fellow would have him with her, against her Will, she beat him so, that he lay ill of it a considerable Time.

While she lived with her Father, she was look'd upon as one that would be a good Fortune, wherefore it was thought her Father excepted a good Match for her; but she spoil'd all, for without his Consent, she marries a young Fellow, who belong'd to the Sea, and was not worth a Groat; which provoked her Father to such a Degree, that her turn'd her out of Doors, upon which the young Fellow, who married her, finding himself disappointed in his Expectation, shipped himself and Wife, for the Island of Providence, expecting Employment there.

Here she became acquainted with Rackam the Pyrate, who making Courtship to her, soon found Means of withdrawing her Affections from her Husband, so that she consented to elope from him, and go to Sea with Rackam in Men's Cloaths: She was as good as her Word, and after she had been at Sea some Time, she proved with Child, and beginning to grow big, Rackam landed her on the Island of Cuba; and recommending her there to some Friends of his, they took Care of her, till she was brought to Bed: When she was up and well again, he sent for her to bear him Company.

The King's Proclamation being out, for pardoning of Pyrates, he took the Benefit of it, and surrender'd; afterwards being sent upon the privateer Account, he return'd to his old Trade, as has been already hinted in the Story of Mary Read. In all the Expeditions, Anne Bonny bore him Company, and when any Business was to be done in their Way, no Body was more forward or courageous than she, and particularly when they were taken; she and Mary Read, with one more, were all the Persons that durst keep the Deck, as has been before hinted.

Her Father was known to a great many Gentlemen Planters of Jamaica, who dealt with him, and among whom he had a good Reputation; and some of them, who had been in Carolina, remember'd to have seen her in his House; wherefore they were inclined to shew her Favour, but the Action of leaving her Husband was an ugly Circumstance against her. The Day that Rackam was executed, by special Favour, he was admitted to see her; but all the Comfort she gave him, was, that she was sorry to see him there, but if he had fought like a Man, he need not have been hang'd like a Dog.

She was continued in Prison, to the Time of her lying in, and afterwards reprieved from Time to Time; but what is become of her since, we cannot tell; only this we know, that she was not executed.

Header: Pirates Abroad by Don Maitz

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Seafaring Sunday: What's in a Name

March 3, 1819: An Act of the U.S. Congress legislates the naming of navy ships:

Ships of the first class for states, of the second class for rivers, and of the third class for cities and towns.

This form of naming began before the legislation, at least to some degree, as can be noted by the name of the great frigate pictured above.

Header: USS Chesapeake c 1812 by F. Muller c 1900 via Wikipedia

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Sailor Mouth Saturday: Clothes

The clothes make the man, or so we're told, but at sea words that would indicate things used for covering the body human to a lubber mean something very different. Here's a handy list from Peter H. Spectre's The Mariner's Book of Days 2013:

Apron ~ a strengthening timber behind the stempost.
Belly band ~ a band of canvas across a sail to prevent it from "bellying" - or stretching - from the force of the wind.
Bibbs ~ mast brackets that support the trestle-trees; also called hounds.
Bonnet ~ a piece of sailcloth attached to the foot of a sail to temporarily increase sail area.
Boot-top ~ band of paint defining the waterline of a hull.
Breeching ~ a backstay.
Buckler ~ a shaped piece of wood for caulking the hawseholes.
Cap ~ a fitting at the head of a mast or the end of a spar.
Cape ~ a pormontory.
Clasp ~ a hook that clasps a ring, or a stay, or a rope.
Collar knot ~ a knot used to fit shrouds to a mast.
Dress ~ to bedeck a ship with flags, pennants and bunting.
Earings ~ small pieces of line attached to cringles in a sail to be used when reefing [I can always tell this one from the ear adornment by the spelling; it is also part of that sailor's jargon meaning "from head to toe"; "from clew to earing."]
Girdle ~ a piece of rope passed around anything; also, a plank fastened over the wales of a wooden vessel.
Hood ~ a covering over gear, scuttle, or companion; also, the last plank of a complete strake in wooden shipbuilding.
Jacket ~ the outer layer of a double-planked hull.
Jumper ~ a rope used to prevent unwanted movement of a mast, spar or boom.
Mast coat ~ a gasket used to waterproof the opening where a mast penetrates the deck.
Quilting ~ a jacket of canvas, leather or rope to protect a bottle from breaking.
Skirts ~ the main body of a sail.
Slip ~ to let something go on purpose - i.e., to slip the anchor; also a launching way; also a space for mooring a vessel.
Strap ~ an iron bar for working a capstan; also, a metal band around a block.
Suit ~ a set of sails.

Finally, clothes may make the man but it seems this aphorism is proven doubly so in the case of Captain Oliver Hazard Perry, the Hero of Lake Erie from the War of 1812 whose famous flag hangs just to my right as I write. Thanks to my dear mate Captain Swallow, it is a constant reminder to go forward, be brave and never mind maneuvers: always go at them!

Header: Captain Oliver Hazard Perry by Edward L. Mooney c 1839 via Wikipedia

Friday, March 1, 2013

Booty: From Far off Shores

Over at the wonderful blog of the USS Constitution Museum, last Wednesday's post told of the wartime letters of a sailors wife at home namely Abigail Chew. Abigail was married to Constitution's purser, Thomas J. Chew, who saw action in the Atlantic and Mediterranean during the War of 1812. What the post offers of their letters shows two people who are very much endeared to one another and who have that wonderful style of writing that is both personal and fluent, and that is almost completely lost in our current milieu: "C U L8R" etc. *sigh*

What caught my eye, aside from that, was the lovely set of jewelry shown above and currently on display at the museum. Known once upon a time - in Abigail's day for instance - as a parure, such sets usually included a necklace, earrings, a pair of bracelets and either a brooch or a diadem. It may be that the set above had all those things at one time or that it came to Abigail just as it is shown. The cameo jewelry is made of coral, a very popular choice in the first two decades of the 19th century on both sides of the Atlantic. Also of note are the screw-backed earrings. By this time, particularly in conservative areas of the U.S. such as New England, piercing of the ears was on the decline. Screw-backed earrings would continue in favor through the Victorian era and even make a short comeback in the 1940s and '50s. I remember my mother having more than one pair.

This lovely set was acquired by Thomas somewhere in the Mediterranean, and may very well have ended up in his hands as proper booty. Foreign sailors were a popular target for the selling of stolen goods by local thieves and pirates in many ports around the world. It's almost certain that Thomas purchased this beautiful gift for his wife, but how the seller came to have it is open to quite a bit of speculation.

Click over to Log Lines and enjoy their fascinating posts that make the history and the people of USS Constitution live on. I'll wager you'll enjoy the site as much as I do. Happy Friday!

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Tools of the Trade: The Art of Swimming

We've spoken before about our sailing ancestor's love/hate relationship with swimming. Many who ventured out to sea, particularly in the 16th and 17th centuries, believed that it was simply better to drown quickly in the event of an unthinkable foundering or shipwreck. Knowing how to swim, the logic went, would only prolong the agony in the event that one's ship went down in the blue ocean, with no land in sight.

As their contact with Africa and the Americas increased, Europeans began to witness populations along these shores and particularly in the West Indies that all knew how to swim. Not knowing how to get around in the water was considered shameful among the locals and laughable in the case of the invaders. A new mindset was born and, though many career sailors, particularly in the Royal Navy, clung to the idea of avoiding the skill, knowing how to swim became somewhat of a rage.

Mechisedec Thevenot's L'Art de Nager, an illustrated book published in 1696, was on the cutting edge of this new wave. The book's entire title reads:

The Art of Swimming. Illustrated by proper figures. With advice for bathing. By Monsieur Thevenot. Done out of French. To which is prefixed a prefatory discourse concerning artificial swimming, or keeping oneself above water by several portable engines, in case of danger.

Quite the mouthful there. At any rate, as this wonderful post over at BibliOdyssey makes clear, the illustrations may be the best part of the book. But there is a good deal in the text that lends itself as well:

To mention some few advantages of Swimming. In case of Shipwreck, if one is not very far from Shore, the Art of Swimming may set one safe there, and to save from being drowned. In case of being pursu'd by an Enemy, and meeting a River in ones way, you have the advantage of escaping two sorts of Death, by gaining the Shore on the other side, and so escaping from your Enemy, and from being drowned in the attempt of doing it.

This quote, from the introduction, speaks specifically to the era in which Monsieur Thevenot wrote. So, too, does the caption from the illustration above entitled "To Tread Water":

By this way you remain upright in the water without making any motion with the hands, only you move the water round with your Legs from you, the Soals of your Feet being perpendicular to the bottom; you may make use of this if you are cast into the water bound hand and foot.

Considering that tossing captives, bound hand and foot, into the sea was a favorite piratical torture, this kind of advice could potentially be invaluable.

Click over to BibliOdyssey, which is a wonderful spot on the web for those of us obsessed with both books and history by the way, and see more of Monsieur T's fabulous tome. You won't regret it.

Header: To Tread Water from L'Art de Nager via BibliOdyssey

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

History: The Darien Scheme

In the 1690s, the independent Kingdom of Scotland was deep in financial trouble. A series of civil wars and hard feelings from and against England, as well as year after year of sorry harvests, saw the landed gentry in tight straights and the poor in very hard conditions indeed. Something had to be done, of course; if Scotland grew too weak, both physically and financially, England would pounce of what she imagined was already hers.

Fortunately, the age of exploration - and get-rich-quick schemes - in the East and West Indies was in full swing. The Lords of Scotland were ready to dive in with both feet, and make a monetary killing in the process, and they were primed for what Education Scotland online calls the "economic guru" to fan the flames of greed. One William Paterson stepped in to do just that.

Paterson, a founder of the Bank of England, was also a preacher of the new word: anyone could get rich in the Americas. All it took, he insisted, was the right amount of cash and the right men to do the job. The Lords, hungry for the kind of wealth that was flowing in to countries like Spain and England, bought into Paterson's idea immediately. Scotland would establish a colony at Darien, what is now the Isthmus of Panama and - more specifically - the treacherous area known as the Darien Gap. The colony would be called New Caledonia and, for a small fee, the Scottish nobility could get in on the deal.

Paterson set to work inventing the Company of Scotland to raise "public capital." Initially, funds funneled in from all over Europe, including Holland, Germany and England. Colonists lined up to sign the charter singing the much familiar refrain: better to build in the New World than starve in the Old. A group of unsavory muscle men, former mercenaries for the most part led by a despicable character named Thomas Drummond, were also assembled, and five ships were commissioned for the voyage.

All appeared to be going well until William III, that king of England sometimes called "of Orange," got wind of the affair, probably from the aristocrats who invested in England's East India Company. He decreed that Scotland and her Company had no authority to raise money outside of Great Britain; Paterson had no choice but to return the much needed income from Germany and Holland. Much needed, it turned out, because Paterson - who was for all intents and purposes a penniless con man - had been siphoning coin into his own pockets. When the discrepancies were discovered, he was kicked out of the Company, but his disastrous plan went forward nonetheless.

There is an old saying among the indigenous people of Panama that the Darien can kill you in a thousand different ways. To this day it is ill-advised to make a trek through the area, as one particular episode of NatGeo's "Locked Up Abroad" proved without a doubt. The unfortunates who sailed for their New Caledonia, 1,200 in all, in July of 1698 were about to find that out the hard way. The journey itself, which began with a meandering sail around the north of Scotland to avoid English warships, was a nightmare. People and animals were sick most of the time, with many failing to survive the trip. Arriving at what the colonists called Golden Island in the Bay of Darien on November 2nd must have been something like seeing paradise.

But paradise it wasn't.

The colonists immediately set to building what they hoped would be a prosperous settlement, Fort St. Andrew, on the main peninsula of the Isthmus. Unfortunately, lack of nourishment - most of the stores had spoiled on the crossing due to the infiltration of pests and bilge water - a shortage of fresh water and disease made the work slow. Drummond, the brutal thug who became de-facto leader of the group, pushed the colonists to exhaustion. Their letters home were reviewed; everything had to appear to be going according to Paterson's original plan. No whining allowed. And then summer came and literal clouds of mosquitoes brought the horror of yellow fever to the yet unfinished Fort St. Andrew.

Worse than all this was the lack of agriculture and trade. The swampy land, riddled with salt water pools, was bad for growing. Both Spanish and English merchants refused to trade with the colonists as well. Their marching orders from Madrid and London were to let the Scots starve, grow sick and die. There was no room, in European opinion, for another colony in the Americas. Things grew so horrible that the colonists finally threw up their hands. in July of 1699, the 300 remaining colonists left a small number of their dying comrads at the tent city on the Isthmus and sailed for Port Royal, Jamaica. There they were denied food and water and not even allowed to come ashore. They sailed home, but not in time to save more wide eyed adventurers.

1,000 more colonists left Scotland in November of 1699. Their journey was also pitiable. From aboard the Rising Sun a man named Shields wrote of "our company very uncomfortable, consisting for the generality, especially the officers and volunteers of the worst of mankind, if you had scummed the Land and raked the borders of hell for them, men of lewd practices and venting the wickedness of principles; for these things God was provoked to smite us very signally and severely with a contagious sickness of the fleet." You can read the rest of the letter here.

The ships were so close packed that the "contagious sickness" was probably gaol fever: typhus. The colonists, weakened as before by illness and lack of proper food, could do very little for fortify what was not really the settlement they had hoped to find. They subsisted, to a large degree, through the kindness of passing buccaneers. These men, having no country on many occasions on often of French or Creole descent, were not hampered by orders from the kings of Europe. But the help was sparse as, for the most part, the colonists had little or nothing to offer the freebooters in exchange for food, fresh water and medicine.

The final blow to New Caledonia came when the Spanish, fed up with the annoying Scots, besieged what was left of Fort St. Andrew. According to Nat Edwards in his book Caledonia's Last Stand, the Scottish colonists made a daring raid on the Spanish stockade at Toubacanti in January of 1700. This was the last straw for the Spanish. By April of the same year, the colonist capitulated to the Spanish. Less than 200 men and women sailed for Scotland, leaving the dream of New Caledonia behind forever.

Many historians, Edwards included, see the failure of the Company of Scotland and the Darien Scheme as the death knell of the Scottish Kingdom. Their coffers empty and their crops still meager, the Lords of Scotland had no choice but to sign the Acts of Union and become part of Great Britain in 1707. The Darien Scheme, then, cost Scotland her chance at empire.

Header: New Caledonia and the Isthmus of Darien from a Scottish map possibly informed by adventurer Lionel Wafer c 1699 via Wikipedia