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

Monday, February 25, 2013

Sea Monsters: The Mermaid Song

One Friday morn when we set sail,
And our ship not far from land,
We there did espy a fair pretty maid,
With a comb and glass in her hand, her hand, her hand,
With a comb and glass in her hand.

And the stormy winds did blow,
And we jolly sailormen were up, up aloft,
And the lubbers lying down below, below, below,
And the landlubbers lying down below.

Then up spake the cabin boy of our gallant ship,
And a well-spoken boy was he,
I'va a father and mother in fair Portsmouth town,
And this night they will weep for me, for me, for me,
And this night they will weep for me.

Then up spake the captain of our gallant ship,
And a right good captain was he,
I have married a wife in fair Plymouth town,
And tonight she a widow will be, will be, will be,
And tonight she a widow will be.

Then up spake the cook of our gallant ship,
And a dirty old sinner was he,
I don't care a damn for the pots and the pans!
They may go to the bottom of the sea, the sea, the sea,
They may go to the bottom of the sea!

Then three times round went our gallant ship,
And three times round went she,
And she sank to the bottom of the sea, the sea, the sea,
And she sank to the bottom of the sea.

And the raging seas did roar,
And the stormy winds did blow,
And we jolly sailormen were up, up aloft,
And the lubbers lying down below, below, below,
And the landlubbers lying below.

This old sea song, whose origin remains in question, seems to imply from its title that sighting the mermaid at the beginning of the voyage is what doomed the song's ship. As any good seaman knows, this is surely a ruse. Leaving port on Friday was doubtless what actually did her in...

Header: Mermaids by George W. Maynard via American Gallery

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Seafaring Sunday: USS Hornet vs HMS Peacock

By the middle of February 1813 the U.S. Sloop of War Hornet (Master Commandant James Lawrence) had been cruising the Atlantic for nearly four months, sometimes in company with the big frigate Constitution, but by herself since early January. She had spent half of December and most of January off Bahia, Brazil, blockading the British sloop of war Bonne Citoyenne, and subsequently captured a couple of merchantmen.

On the 24th, still operating off northern South America, Hornet encountered HMS Peacock, a somewhat smaller and less powerful brig-rigged sloop of war. The two warships closed from opposite directions and, shortly before half-past five in the afternoon, opened fire on each other. Hornet's gunnery was so much more effective that Peacock surrendered within fifteen minutes, having lost her commanding officer and seven men killed or mortally wounded. The Royal Navy brig-sloop was so badly shot up that she sank in shallow water shortly after the end of the action.

Hornet, which had suffered one fatality among her crew, took aboard Peacock's survivors (except for a few who escaped to shore) and quickly repaired her own damages. Badly overcrowded, she the sailed for the United States, arriving at Martha's Vineyard on 19 March.

~ via the Naval History and Heritage Command website where you can find more information about USS Hornet, MC James Lawrence, and the etching above

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Sailor Mouth Saturday: Victualler

When Henry VIII had the brilliant notion to establish the Royal Navy, ships were a bit different than they would be 300 years later in the glory days of Admiral Nelson. A fine carrack of war, like the iconic Mary Rose, was often filled to bursting with men and arms, leaving very little in the way of room for the food and water needed to keep those men in good working trim.

Enter the smaller, but equally important, companion ship that became known as the victualler. As Admiral Smyth notes in The Sailor's Word Book:

In the early age of the navy, each man-of-war had a victualler especially attached to her; as, in Henry VIII's reign, we find the Nicholas Draper, of 140 tons and 40 men, was victualler to the Trinity Sovereign; the Barbara of Greenwich to the Gabriel Royal, and so on.

The smaller ships, probably more closely resembling a Medieval cog than their larger companions, could ship supplies far out to sea allowing their man-of-war to focus on the important duties to hand.

The word victualler and victualling thus entered the parlance of the Royal Navy and in turn her American daughter. The same could not be said of the Latin-speaking navies, who relied more on a form of the word "provider"; le fournisseur in French, for instance.

Thus we find in the English speaking countries the victualling bill which was essentially the receipt kept at a customs house for provisions and stores provided to the quartermaster of a merchant ship after payment or bond had been received. The victualling book would have been kept aboard ship, generally by the purser, and would have been a log of incoming and outgoing provisions. This would have been inspected on a regular basis by the captain and/or owner to ensure that all was on the up-and-up, so to say.

In the navy, the victualling yards were a series of warehouses where provisions and other dry goods were stored for the stocking of naval vessels. These yards were generally located near naval dockyard such as Boston, New York, Baltimore, Charleston and New Orleans in early 19th century America, and Plymouth, Gosport, Gibraltar and Jamaica for the Royal Navy (to name only a few.)

And now that we have our victuals in, I'm away to sea Brethren. Fair winds for this Saturday and beyond; huzzah!

Header: The Argonauts Leaving Colchis by Ercole de Roberti c 1480 via Old Paint; a fanciful interpretation of a round ship, or cog

Friday, February 22, 2013

Booty: Time to Get Back to Da Bayou

It's that time again. Time for all the seadogs and wenches to head down to New Orleans, LA and commune with our own. That's right; NOLA Pyrate Week is coming.

Thanks to my dear friends Captain John Swallow and Quartermaster Seika Hellbound, this event happens annually in NOLA and beyond. They work hard all year to put this wonderful even together and this year it's bigger and better than ever. Be sure to click over to the Pyrate Week website for more details on all the wonderful events and history awaiting you in southeastern Louisiana.

My only regret here is my inability to attend due to the sudden collapse of income aboard us; both the First Mate and I are looking for gainful employment with health benefits.

But that's temporary and we'll get down to Pyrate Week sooner than later. If you can at all, Brethren, be sure to head to NOLA for this one of a kind event March 29th through April 7th. Give the Captain and QM my very best regards, and thank them for all they do to keep pirate and Louisiana history alive and well.

On a final note, a heart felt Happy Birthday to the United States' first President, George Washington. As he once said:

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

And that is a visionary for you; always thinking ahead of his time.

Header: 2013 NOLA Pyrate Week poster featuring the lovely QM and the dashing Captain via the Pyrate Week website

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Women at Sea: "An Extremely Manly Woman"

For over 300 years, the lady we will speak of today was revered as, for lack of a better analogy, the Jeanne d'Arc of Holland. She was, according to contemporary if anonymous accounts, a key player in the city of Haarlem's defense against its Spanish overlords. During the siege of the town that began in the winter of 1572 and would drag on until July of 1573, Kenau Simonsdochter Hasselaar fought the Spanish with the spirit of a lion. Or so it was said until a particular Victorian minded historian got a hold of her story and brought the idea of a fighting matron into question.

Kenau Hasselaar was evidently born in the city she held dear some time in 1526. Her parents, Simon Hasselaar and Grietje Koen, ran a brewery and Kenau grew up learning a great deal about business at her mother's knee. It would doubtless be to that Victorian historian's great chagrin that we are now aware of the facts about middle class women in 16th century Haarlem. Most were partners in their husband's businesses, or ran their own outright as Kenau would. Their business acumen was stellar and Dutch women gained a reputation on both sides of the Atlantic for driving a hard bargain, so to say.

Kenau grew up tough and smart. She was married at 18 to a shipwright and wood seller named Nanning Borst. It appears that Kenau jumped right in to the ship building business while also continuing to deal in grain, the best of which she funneled to her parents' brewery, no doubt at wholesale. The Borsts were blessed with four children, all of whom had reached maturity by the time Nanning died in 1562.

Kenau along with her youngest child and only son, Gerbrand, continued to run the lucrative shipbuilding business. There is also some hint that Kenau may have been involved in the usually illegal, often piratical and always profitable logwood trade. Although the documentation is sketchy, if true, this would have made Kenau the next best thing to a pirate in her own right.

When the Spanish, who were already occupying the Low Countries, decided they were fed up with the free-thinking and free-speaking Dutch, Frederick of Toledo, the son of the powerful Duke of Alva, descended on Haarlem with 12,000 men. Frederick's intention was to lay siege to the wealthy port city and thereby cut off supply routes to the interior of the country. He imagined the siege would last no more than seven days; in fact it would stretch out to a full seven months.

Inside the city, things were not as bad as they might have been. Haarlem, with its various water ways, was almost impossible to isolate. Provisions and arms came into the city across the Harlemmermeer lake and, despite the vast superiority of Spanish numbers, the 4,000 or so fighting men of Haarlem stubbornly refused to give in to tyrants.

Meanwhile Kenau, now in her forties and, according to one contemporary, "an extremely manly woman", was not about to sit by and let the heretics destroy her city. She rallied some 300 able bodied women - those with children that could be left at home and who were not pregnant, nursing, infirm or too aged to be of much use - and marched to the city walls with pike and sword in hand. From the moment she and her "batallion of Amazons", as historian Vicki Leon refers to them, set right to work. They shored up breaches in the walls, carried earth to build new ramparts, nursed the wounded and sick, carried water both for drinking and to swab the city's cannon, and cheered on those who seemed to falter in their resolve. All in all, their tireless efforts proved very worth while to their city and their cause.

To some degree, all that sweat and struggle was for naught. The city surrendered to the Spanish of July 13, 1573. While it appears that no women were put to death, perhaps in part because of a general ransom paid by the city to Frederick, the entire city garrison and 40 of Haarlem's burghers were executed. According to Robin Cross and Rosalind Miles in their book Warrior Women, there were so many men to kill that the executions took more than a week to complete. When the Spanish executioners grew too weary to lift their swords, they tied their victims back to back and threw them into the Spaame river to drown.

Kenau, whose nephew was briefly held by the Spanish but later released, continued her shipbuilding business. She traveled a good bit after the fall of Haarlem, which is documented by sales receipts for things she bought and sold. Was this a purposeful way of avoiding punishment for her defiance during the siege? No historian I can find has said so, but one has to wonder.

Some time after 1585, Kenau bought a ship and apparently departed upon it bound for Norway. The ship was carrying wood, and possibly some of that precious and contraband logwood, but was lost at sea. When the ship returned to Haarlem under the command and ownership of a captain named Lieven Hansz, Kenau's no doubt savvy daughters cried foul. They took Hansz to court as a possible thief and murderer. Hansz claimed he bought the ship at the port of Flensburg where the port official was selling deserted ships. Hansz's theory, which the court seemed to buy, was that Kenau must have been attacked by pirates and murdered with her crew.

Regardless of the actual circumstances of Kenau Hasselaar's death, she remained a national hero for centuries. She was celebrated at each centennial of the siege of Haarlem in etchings, paintings and song. Ships were named after her, statues erected and her given name, Kenau, became part of the Dutch language; its meaning denoted a feisty, unconquerable woman.

And then along came Dr. C. Ekama who, in 1872, disputed not only Kenau's role during the siege but that of any other woman. His argument centered around the lack of documentation of women dying in battle or, in particular, being executed with the burghers. There is very little to his theory aside from this and, it must be said, his obvious 19th century take on the place and capability of women in general.

Kenau's actual contributions during the siege may never truly be known, but the rewriting of her history is an old and sad story. Our recent ancestors, at least in the West, decided that we should not know the whole truth about our distant past. But we are digging up those truths one at time, and the story of Kenau Hasselaar, that extremely manly woman, and her bravery is worth knowing.

Header: An etching of Kenau Haselaar by an anonymous artist from the 17th century via Wikimedia

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

People: The Antarctic Hero

James Clark Ross joined the Royal Navy in 1812 and remained a sailor for the bulk of his life. Like many lifetime navy men, Ross was born to it. His uncle, Sir John Ross, would become one of the foremost explorers of the Arctic in his day. He took his young nephew off to search for the Northwest passage - a popular but often deadly pastime for British seamen - in 1818 when young James was 18.

The younger Ross made captain in 1834 and took command of HMS Cove in 1835 when he sailed off to Baffin Bay to rescue a wayward group of British whalers. The trip was difficult, but Ross, as can be guess by his portrait above featuring Polaris over his left shoulder, had a way with cooler climes. Cove did not meet up with the whalers but nonetheless returned safely home in September of 1836 with all men alive and healthy.

Ross' greatest achievement as a sailing Captain occurred over the years 1839 to 1843 when he led an expedition to the Antarctic. His vessels at this time were Erebus and Terror, whose names will ring a bell with anyone familiar with the aforementioned search for the nonexistent Northwest passage. Under Ross' care, the two ships would have greater successes than they would in later life. The expedition mapped much of the Antarctic coast where some features, such as the Ross Ice Shelf, still speak of the commander by name.

Ross returned to England to great praise. He was named to the Royal Society, married into landed gentry and returned to the Arctic more than once, even exploring inlets that would later thwart the doomed expedition of Sir John Franklin.

All in all Ross' career was remarkable but not unusual. Certainly two things about the commander have come down to us that continue to intrigue and delight to this day. First, the portrait above, which has been deemed swoon-worthy by more than one blogger. Second, the poem written by Louisa Sheridan as a memorium to his death in 1862. Entitled "Song of Captain Ross (of the North Pol-ice station)", the thing is full of somewhat less than respectful puns regarding Ross' career as an Arctic and Antarctic explorer. Everything is cool and chili and frosted; Louisa must have been very droll in conversation. One wonders what Lady Ann Ross thought of this "tribute" to her hero husband. You can find the poem in its entirety over as the wonderful Two Nerdy History Girls blog.

And so goodnight to another sailing man. Fair winds in the far beyond, Ross; with luck they'll all be warm.

Header: James Clark Ross by John R. Wildman c 1834 via Wikipedia

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Seafaring Sunday: Departure of Doom

February 17, 1700: HMS Advice leaves Boston Harbor for London. She is carrying a frail, sickly man of 55 years who was once a prominent citizen of Massachusetts Colony. He is on his way to stand trial for piracy and will die most pitiably at the end of a rope at Execution Dock in Wapping. His name is William Kidd.

Header: William Kidd in New York Harbor by J.L.G. Ferris via Wikipedia ~ a fanciful imagining of Kidd at the height of his success

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Sailor Mouth Saturday: Lay

"A rough hardy seaman, unus'd to shore ways; Knew little of ladies, but much of lay-days."

Or so Captain Cuttle explained of the merchant service in the 18th century. Lay-days were the express number of 24 hour periods as designated in a ship's bill of lading which said vessels was allowed in port. These days were specifically for the unloading of one cargo and loading of another and not for the convenience of the sailors. The less time this process took the better. The ship's owner had recourse to an overage of days - or even hours - in port by deducting a specified sum from what would amount to the crew's pay. No wonder so many merchant sailors went on the account...

To lay was the sea-speak for to come or go; lay aloft, lay forward, lay aft, lay out etc. As Admiral Smyth notes in The Sailor's Word Book, "This is not the neuter verb lie mispronounced, but the active verb lay." A mistake of semantics seen in unfortunately ill-researched nautical fiction. One may also lay a gun, which is essentially to aim a cannon. Not the easiest thing with a huge 24 in a rolling sea.

To lay in is the order for men to return from the yards or to man the capstan. Taking on provisions was sometimes spoken of as laying in sea stock and laying in the oars was the order from the coxswain to ship the oars of a boat. This would generally be preceded by the order to lay (or lie) on your oars, meaning to stop rowing. Lay out your oars then means the opposite: row harder.

Laying or lying out a yard: to go out toward the yard arms. Laying or lying along: when a ship is down sideways in a gale.

On can lay up; a ship by dismantling her or lay the land by almost losing sight of it. To lay-to is to set only one sail in a rough sea and can also be spoke of as to lie-to. Lay her course: this is the ability to sail in the direction desired, regardless of whether or not the wind is in your favor.

Laying down, sometimes spoken as laying off, is the delineation of the lines of a ship from the draught at the beginning of building her.

And thus we find the end of another Sailor Mouth Saturday. See how that lays with ye...

Header: Gorgeous draught of a French frigate from the late 18th century via my good mates at Under the Black Flag (see sidebar)

Friday, February 15, 2013

Booty: Pirate Women

Happy Friday, mates! Enjoy the view (and the sentiment).

Header via Pirate Woman R. C. Hennessy on Facebook

Thursday, February 14, 2013

History: Chocolate Bones

Western civilization has chocolate in its bones. From the late 17th century until this very day it has been alternately revered and reviled; thought of as a tonic for the health or a destroyer of same. Regardless of the cultural opinion at any given time, chocolate has been a much sought after commodity, sometimes even more so than gems and gold. Pirates and privateers plying their trade in New World waters were always happy to find chocolate aboard a prize, even if it was only a little stash meant exclusively for some greedy merchant captain. There was and is no getting around the lure and lore of chocolate.

That's why this little article over at ScienceNOW is so very tantalizing. While the focus of the research is, for the most part, on trade between Mesoamericans from Central America up to the northern southwest, the article of trade that is begging the question is cacao, the base ingredient in chocolate.

Evidently archaeologist Dorothy Washburn from the University of Pennsylvania has found an overwhelming number of clay vessels - mostly bowls - that contain minute traces of chocolate or, to be clear, two of the key ingredients in chocolate. These components, Theobromine and caffeine, have convinced Washburn that a small colony of Mesoamerican peoples, at a village in modern Utah called Site 13, were enjoying chocolate as an apparent staple food in the 8th century C.E.

Since, or perhaps more correctly because, the dating done by Washburn places the availability so far north at such an early date, other archaeologist are "hesitant" to agree with her. As an example, Ben Nelson of Arizona State University in Tempe, had this to say:

If cacao were so common, there would be stories or visual references or historical references to it.

Nelson appears, at least from what is written in the article, to be skeptical because "so much chocolate" was found.

These arguments are, at least from my limited experience in the field, typical of archaeologists as a community. A new find by someone unknown to them, or with whom they are only distantly acquainted, is usually challenged rather than embraced. From the outside looking in, their is a lot of the green eyed monster in what should rightly be a united field. It is curious that the article and indeed the skeptics mention nothing of Patricia Crown's 2009 research in New Mexico, the findings of which were very similar to Washburn's.

Beyond all this, there is no debating the rich history of chocolate. It's in your bones, dear Brethren; enjoy some today - St. Valentine's - and offer just a little of your treat to your ancestors. No matter who they may have been, you have them to thank for that satisfying morsel of cacao.

Header: La Chocolatiere by Jean Etienne Liotard c 1744 via Old Paint

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Literature: Great Ship's Language

Hoists of bunting broke out at yardarms, ascended to mast heads, hovered a minute or two, and came down in rainbow curves where flagship talked to flagship. A shore signal station was speaking in white flashes that dazzled you even in the strong sunshine; and between ship and ship of the same squadron minute conversations, visible only through a strong glass, were being carried ceaselessly on by the busy tossing arms of semaphores and by the small flags that a signalman, perched on the rail of a bridge like a fly, was waving to his opposite number in the next ship.

What were they all saying?

~ Filson Young (find his groundbreaking book Titanic, published in 1912, here)

Header: Lake Scene by George W. Maynard via American Gallery

Monday, February 11, 2013

Tools of the Trade: The Cut of Her Jib

JIB: A large triangular sail, set on a stay, forward. I extends from the outer end of the jib-boom towards the fore topmast head; in cutters and sloops it is on the bowsprit, and extends towards the lower mast-head. The jib is a sail of great command with any side wind, in turning her head to leeward. There are other jibs, as inner jib, standing jib, flying jib, spindle jib, jib of jibs, jib-topsail &c. Jib is also used for the expression of the face, as the cut of his jib. Also, the arm of a crane. To jib, is when, before the wind, the sail takes over to the opposite quarter; dangerous in strong breezes [and known a jibbing or gybing]. Clear away the jib! The order to loose it, preparatory to its being set. Flying jib; a sail set upon the flying jib-boom. Middle or inner jib; a sail sometimes set on a stay secured to the middle of the jib-boom.

~ from The Sailor's Word Book by Admiral W.H. Smyth

Header: the modern barque Alexander von Humbolt out of Bremen with four jibs set and a fifth furled on the bowsprit; photo c 2003 via Wikipedia

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Seafaring Sunday: A Pirate's Death

February 10, 1722: Bartholomew Roberts, known as "Black Bart", the reluctant pirate who was certainly one of the most successful freebooting captains of the Golden Age, meets his end aboard his ship Royal Fortune. Caught in a firefight with HMS Swallow, Roberts died on deck of wounds to his throat and chest from a blast of grapeshot. He was quickly buried at sea by his crew, still wearing a beautiful coat of crimson brocade.

Header: Captain Bartholomew Roberts by Edward Mortelmans c 1970 via IAG

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Sailor Mouth Saturday: Card/Careen

The card was intimately familiar to our sailing ancestors, just as it was only a few short decades ago to anyone trying to find their way in unknown territory. The face of the magnetic compass is and was known as a card and poets have sung its praises for centuries. As Admiral Smyth quotes from Plato in The Sailor's Word Book: "Reason the card, but passion is the gale." Unfortunately, our appreciation for the compass and so the card has at least depreciated in recent years.

Relating to the card are the cardinal points - north, south, east and west - and the cardinal winds which originate from those points. The cardinal signs are those more familiarly known as the zodiac, through which the sun passes. The cardinal points of the ecliptic are those zodiac signs into which the sun enters at the equinoxes - Aries and Libra - and the solstices - Cancer and Capricorn.

Careening, as Admiral Smyth tells us, is:

the operation of heaving the ship down on one side, by arranging the ballast, or the application of a strong purchase to her masts, which require to be expressly supported by the occasion to prevent their springing; by these means one side of the bottom, elevated above the surface of the water, may be cleansed or repaired.

This operation was quite an undertaking and all ships without the benefit of copper sheathing by necessity needed to be cleaned off at intervals. Seamen, and pirates in particular, would covet secluded careening beaches that would allow for not only a thorough overhaul of their ship but also time ashore to bathe, collect fresh water and provisions and all the other simple things that time aboard ship might not allow. There were many such spots in particular around the Gulf of Mexico not the least of which included Matagorda, Isla Mujeres, Galveston, Barataria and various spots on the Florida coast.

The term careening actually comes from careen which is a corruption of the word carina: keel. A ship is said to careen at she when she inclines to one side to such a degree that her keel is seen above the waves.

And that's enough for now, I'd say. May you sit upon a warm careening beach this evening, Brethren, with all the best of everything to your hand.

Header: Harbor Scene by Andrew Andrews via American Gallery

Friday, February 8, 2013

Booty: Pirate Treasures

My friend Elizabeth (find her here on Twitter) is exceptionally talented at digging up unique and sometimes macabre pieces for personal and home adornment. So I was far more delighted than surprised when she sent me a link to Italian jewelers Percossi Papi's exquisite collection entitled Collezione Oceano. That's right, Brethren it's fine pirate jewelry.

Of course fish and seaweeds feature in the collection, but there are beautiful pieces with an unmistakable pirate theme. Anchors, skulls, swords and perfectly sculpted galleons are featured in jewelry that is really more art than adornment.

The only drawback here is these gorgeous bobbles are probably far out of my financial reach. Makes one want to go a-plundering though...

Header: Galleon and seaweed earrings from the Percossi Papi website

Thursday, February 7, 2013

History: The Portsmouth Chain

Protecting important harbors has been an ongoing nautical pursuit for centuries. Often it meant deploying ships and men that could be better utilized elsewhere. But England, being an island nation, was one of the first modern countries to use a more efficient and ingenious strategy.

Known as the Portsmouth harbor chain, the length of enormous metal links was stretched across the "haven" or mouth of Portsmouth harbor during the reign of Henry VIII some time in 1518 or 1519. King Hal had established the English Navy a few years prior and had declared Portsmouth, with its deep water, wide entry and dry dock built by his father, the navy's home port. The problem was that England's enemies, and France in particular, knew the strategic importance of Portsmouth harbor and had staged raids upon it throughout the Medieval and early Renaissance period.

As this article at The Portsmouth News online indicates, Bishop Fox of Winchester had written to Henry's Lord Chancellor Wolsey that "if war were intended against England, the Isle of Wight and Portsmouth are too feeble for defense" in 1518.

Bishop Fox's assessment was, of course, backed by historical data. The French sacked the town repeatedly in 1338, 1369, 1377 and 1380 with the Black Death devastating Portsmouth in between just for good measure. Henry V, whose decisive victory over the French at Agincourt put a stop to that nonsense - at least for a while - was the first English king to fortify Portsmouth harbor with wooden towers. Henry VII rebuilt these in stone and it was from these towers that the chain was strung.

The enormous metal links were obviously too huge to raise and lower by hand, so capstans were built to do the job. The chain was lowered into the water to allow ships to pass over it and raised to block entry.

Despite the placement of the chain, the French continued their attempts to sack Portsmouth. In July of 1545, one of those attempts resulted in the loss of Henry VIII's beloved galleon of war Mary Rose. The king witnessed the sinking of the ship and the loss of her 500 sailors from Southsea Castle, which he built at Portsmouth with money from all those monasteries he ransacked.

Today, as The Portsmouth News piece points out, only a fraction of the great Portsmouth harbor chain has been recovered. The search goes on, however, for the rest of this particularly English bit of nautical history. As the writer notes: "it must be somewhere."

Header: Two links of the Portsmouth harbor chain c 2011 via Wikipedia (click over to TPN article to see a picture that really shows how very large the links are)

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

People: Goodnight Sweet Prince

February 5, 1823: Jean Laffite, known so well today and yet so little known, dies aboard his privateer General Santander after a firefight with either American or British pirate hunters. The "prince of pirates" is buried at sea, according to William C. Davis in The Pirates Laffite, somewhere in the Gulf of Honduras. Coincidentally, this Gulf is also the final resting place of the "prince of seadogs" Francis Drake.

The above, aside from that part about Drake, is still a controversial statement among Laffite scholars largely due to the so called "Journal of Jean Lafitte" which we have discussed here at Triple P on more than one occasion. Although the journal has yet to be authenticated, many scholars continue to cling to its assertion that Laffite somehow escaped the Santander - leaving his men, one assumes, rather spinelessly to face the navy ships - recovered from his wounds on land, made his way back to the U.S., took on a new identity and settled down to farm corn in Iowa. I'll say no more about the absurdity of that statement other than to point out that General Santander's confrontation with pirate hunters was documented in the press shortly after it occurred while the journal does not mention it - or even the ship for that matter - at all.

We may know a lot about Laffite's life - and much more now than we did prior to Davis' incredibly well researched book - but his appearance and mannerisms have not come down to us. No contemporary portrait of the man exists (save the above, which is highly questionable) and the Laffite legend has built up a hard crust on the actual personality of the man.

Returning to Davis, here then is a nice description of what people remembered of Jean Laffite when he was the Commandant of his operation on  modern Galveston island:

If Jean Laffite showed any difference in his dealings with people, it was that he treated his subordinates with a coolness approaching the aloof, while visitors got a warm welcome. He spoke good English, with an accent that left no doubt as to his Bordeaux nativity, and which [Warren] Hall found gave additional zest to his impressive conversational skill...

Hall found Laffite "always affable, but perfectly impenetrable." Gaines thought much the same, finding Laffite gentlemanly, sober, and thoughtful, but distant from his subordinates, rarely smiling. He had the manner and bearing of a leader, and relied on his personality and prestige to maintain control, though he occasionally wore a brace of pistols on his belt when he thought it lent weight to his authority. He did not brook disobedience, and could punish malefactors severely, but apparently with the sort of rude equitability that even the roughest men respected...

Clearly Laffite was a man in his element around the less than savory types that might be drawn to a distant outpost of misfits and miscreants. And from that capability to make the dregs of humanity fall in line and at the same time appear both elegant and eloquent to the ostensibly more refined, came a significant portion of the legend we now know.

Header: Alleged portrait of Jean Laffite drawn by a sailor named Lacassinier who claimed to have known both Jean and Pierre at Galveston circa 1819; originally published in the Galveston Daily News September, 1926

Monday, February 4, 2013

Literature: From the Log Book

4 Feb. Fine breeze from NE; going 9 1/2 knots. Wild Flower astern. Hands employed stowing the cables and anchors. Latter part wind failing. Set all std sails, during the light winds and easterly.

5 Feb. Moderate breezes inclining to the SE. Hand employed putting on chafing gear and other necessary work; carpenter variously. Lat 21 degrees 35 N, long 116 degrees 2 E. Wild Flower out of sight astern. Latter part wind SE. In all std sails. Midnight fresh breeze; in royals and staysails.

8 Feb. Fresh breezes from NE. Carrying all sail. At 7.30 PM hove to and sounded on the Macclesfield Bank in 50 fathoms; coral rock. At 8 bore away and set all std sails.

9 Feb. Fresh breezes all these 24 hours; carrying all possible sail. Lat 13 degrees 46 N, long 111 degrees 20 E.

10 Feb. Strong breezes; wind NE. Sees 2 ships going S. Carpenter finishing new jibboom. People as most requisite. Lat obs 11 degrees 23 N, long 110 degrees 43 E.

~ from the log of Captain John Mann, the clipper ship Strathmore in the South China Sea, 1857

Header: Clipper ship Flying Cloud off the Isle of Wight by James E. Buttersworth c 1859 via Wikipedia

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Seafaring Sunday: Close of the Quasi-War

February 3, 1801: The United States Congress officially ends the undeclared and entirely naval "Quasi-War" with France. The war encouraged America to rethink her position on embracing her own navy and made American privateering a staple which would continue though to the Civil War.

Header: U.S. Capitol building circa 1800 via Wikimedia

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Sailor Mouth Saturday: Mid/Middle

We've talked about midshipmen before here at Triple P, but there are a few other reference points for the words mid and middle at sea. None are particularly surprising, but they are interesting.

The word middle, perhaps curiously, comes from the Anglo-Saxon into Middle English words middel and middle. According to our old friend Webster they both indicate the halfway point between two others. That's fairly straight forward at least.

At sea, this general application of the word applies often but not always. A middle band is the central band on any sail, one of the many that is sewn to the canvas to give it extra strength. Middling a sail, on the other hand, is the act of arranging the sail for attaching it to the yard. A middle-topsail is one usually particular to schooners and sloops. This type of sail was - and still is - set on such vessels between the top and the cap of their topmasts.

Midrib is an old word for a slender or narrow canal. Mid-channel is the center, or halfway point from one shore to the other of a river, channel or smaller lake.

When a ship's position is determined by converting departure/arrival in difference of longitude, the type of navigation used is said to be middle latitude sailing. In such cases the middle latitude is used as a point of reference rather than the meridion.

Middle-timber reference the planking amidships and to the stern. Middle-wales are the strakes or outer planking along each side of a three decked vessel between the lower and middle deck ports.

The middle watch on naval ships was counted between midnight and 4:00 AM. A middle-watcher is no a member of that watch but a light, usually hand-held meal (such as a biscuit or sandwich) which officers of the middle watch might be able to, as Admiral Smyth puts it, "snatch" at about five bells or 2:30 AM. Fortifying oneself is always a good idea in the middle of the night, after all.

To return to where we started, midshipmen were often referred to, particularly as a group, as mids. Either affectionately or derogatorily they may also be referred to as "middies." I suppose it would depend on the individual young gentleman whether or not he appreciated such a moniker.

A happy Saturday to all the Brethren, then. Fair winds, following seas, and a little sunshine is my wish for you.

Header: Lake Superior by Walter Shirlaw via American Gallery ~ an example of a lake more like a small sea and far too large to have a mid-channel

Friday, February 1, 2013

Booty: Heroic Anniversary

February 1, 1780: David Porter is born in Boston, Massachusets. From an illustrious seafaring family - his father, also David Porter, served in the Continental Navy and famously managed to escape the hellish British prison hulk Jersey - Porter would go on to be one of the most celebrated and controversial commanders in the U.S. Navy. He is certainly at the top of my list when it comes to examples of true nautical heroes.

In his honor, here is a portion of President Madison's speech to Congress circa 1814 in which he voices his opinion of Porter's service aboard the frigate USS Essex during the War of 1812 and it's unfortunate loss to the British:

On the ocean... a second frigate has fallen into the hands of the enemy*; but the loss is hidden in the blaze of heroism with which she was defended. Captain Porter... whose previous career had been distinguished by daring enterprise, and by the fertility of genius, maintained a sanguinary contest against two ships, one of them superior to his own... until humanity tore down the colors, which valor had nailed to the mast. This officer and his comrades have added much to the rising glory of the American flag; and have merited all the effusions of gratitude, which their country is ever ready to bestow on the champions of its rights, and its safety.

* The other frigate Madison refers to was USS Chesapeake, lost in battle with HMS Shannon.

For a capable discussion of Porter's cruise aboard Essex, see this post at Historynet.

Header: David Porter USN by John Trumbull via Naval History Center