Wednesday, March 31, 2010

People: "The Great Pirate Of Petit Goave"

Today's buccaneer is rather like the high school football star who is, to the surprise of many, eclipsed at the 10 year reunion by that nerd who made it big in rock and roll (who knew he could play the guitar and sing?). If you say Laurens de Graff to most people today they might ask you if you've had a recent medical procedure. The six foot something model of the 17th century sea rover now stands in the ominous if physically diminutive shadow of Morgan, which is too bad really. Even though Jamaica's eventual Lieutenant Governor did have some awesome riffs.

Lauens de Graff is thought by most historians to have been born in Dordrecht, The Netherlands, some time in the 1650s. There is some debate, however, as to his actually genetic heritage. Some authors claim de Graff was a mulatto, saying that his name may actually have been assumed by him as a play on the word griffe, someone with African or Native American blood. It's an ongoing debate that, along with a few other points, makes de Graff very similar to our old privateering ami Dominique Youx. No one is sure where he came from or who he was, but his deeds speak louder than words.

It is known that de Graff went to sea young and aboard Spanish ships. Here he learned seafaring and picked up the working of the great guns. According to that famous buccaneer biographer Alexander Exquemelin: "One has never seen a better artillerist". He also witnessed the unfortunately common art of Spanish torture and sometime in the 1670s decided he was fed up. Either captured by boucaniers or deserting his Spanish ship voluntarily, de Graff joined the Brethren of the Coast at Tortuga and was raiding Spanish shipping by 1676.

By 1679, de Graff was Captaining the 28 gun brig Tigre and carrying a French commission from Governor Pouancay of Saint Domingue (now Haiti). De Graff was large and in charge. Standing about 6' 3" he was handsome, swarthy and blond according to Exquemelin. He was also reputed to be an expert swordsman and touchy about his honor. His fellows gave him a wide berth when he was in a foul mood or drinking but his success meant he never lacked for men. Or ladies (more on that tomorrow).

De Graff was also a busy buccaneer. Like Francois L'Olonnais he rarely took much time off and was all over the Spanish Main most of any given year. Unlike L'Olonnais or Morgan for that matter, de Graff was a sailor first and foremost and a sea raider because of it. He famously raided the 30 gun Spanish warship carrying the annual pay for the garrison of Havana in 1682, for instance. The following year he captured three Spanish warships that attacked him off Cartagena, and then sent the Governor of the town a note thanking him for the Christmas gifts. De Graff's rare raids on land were almost always in concert with other captains, Michele de Grammont and Nicolas Van Horn in particular.

The most famous of these was staged against the city of Veracruz on the Gulf Coast of what is now Mexico in May of 1683. De Grammont took the lead, with de Graff and Van Horn as his lieutenants, and the plunder and carnage were probably equal to Morgan's much more famous raid of Panama. Not satisfied with the take in gold and silver from the town, the three buccaneers decided to move wealthy prisoners to Sacrificios Island in the Gulf and demand ransom from the Spanish.

Things turned ugly when Spanish warships fire on the Island while the buccaneers were bringing food from their ships to feed their prisoners. Van Horn in particular was outraged and lined up a few likely hostages to decapitate in retaliation. De Graff steped in and said he wouls not allow the carnage. Van Horn questioned his courage and then it became a point of honor. De Graff and Van Horn already disliked each other over a previous botched raid on a Spanish treasure ship for which de Graff blamed Van Horn. What actually happened to set off the duel is still debated (I'm giving you Exquemelin's story) but the outcome remains the same.

"Voila," Laurens cried out, drawing his cutlass. Van Horn did the same and the fight on the beach commenced. It was not, in fact, a fight to the death but a typical French match to settle honor: a duelo. Laurens struck Van Horn on the wrist. Van Horn was then said to port en coupe or carry a blow and the duel was over. De Graff upheld his honor. Unfortunately for Van Horn the wound, which no one appeared particularly concerned about following the duel, festered. Nicolas Van Horn died and was buried, according to Exquemelin, at Cay Logrette on Sacrifice Island.

None of it seemed of much interest to de Graff. Once the Spanish finally ransomed the prisoners at Sacraficios he returned to raiding. He traded up to the 40 gun ship Neptune the same year. In April of 1685 he and de Grammont tried a raid on Campeche that ended in disaster as the Spanish were warned ahead of time. De Graff was met by an armada of five Spanish warships in the Gulf. Exquemelin calls Laurens the bravest of his crew as they faced down the impossible enemy before them. De Graff takes advantage of every opportunity and famously splits the armada in two, firing both his broadsides as his ship sails into the very center of the maelstrom. De Graff is wounded but will not leave the deck. Night falls at last and, to the buccaneers' surprise, the Spanish turn tail and run.

After another land raid at Tihosuco, de Graff seems to have decided to settle down. He briefly considered defecting to the English but finally settled on Saint Domingue where he purchased a plantation and became a French citizen. He was appointed to the local military by Governor de Cussy and defended Saint Domingue from 1691 to 1695 during the war against Britain. In 1699, after years as a settled planter, he joined Pierre LeMoyne d'Iberville's expedition to the Mississippi river as a pilot. Some historians claim he settled there, but it is almost certain that he returned to Saint Domingue, his plantation and his second wife.

De Graff died in 1704, leaving an estate worth approximately 200,000 livres to his wife and daughter in Saint Domingue's Quartier Morin. Pretty good for a pirate.

Though author Rafael Sabatini claimed to have used Morgan as his inspiration for the character of Peter Blood in the book (and later movie) Captain Blood, one has to wonder. The exploits of the pirate Blood mirror de Graff's at so many points right down to the famous sailing between two men-of-war, broadsides blazing. And then, of course, there is the duel on the beach between Blood and LeVasseur which mimics de Graff and Van Horn but with the fictional Arabella Bishop present to add titillation.

Exquemelin called Laurens de Graff "the great pirate of Petit Goave" and went on to say of him: "To resolve, to attempt and to accomplish, these are all the same thing to him." A freebooter like that is surely worth remembering.

But wait, there's more. Tomorrow the history and legend of the women in Laurens' life. Talk about titillation...

Monday, March 29, 2010

Ships: Four Masts And High Castles

Embarkation of Henry VIII Aboard Great Harry by Bernard Finnegan Gribble

Henry VIII of England was a naval minded kind of guy. Following his father's advice he began handing out letters of marque in a fashion akin to the original monarch of commissions, Edward III. Henry also began to build ships fairly early on in his reign and his ship makers quite literally embraced an entirely new design for His Majesty's navy.

Henry Grace a Dieu (literally "Thank God") was built in 1514. She was a new kind of vessel, the descendant of the caravel and the mother of the galleon. She was a carrack, and she was one of the largest ever built. Like the two great ships Henry and his father built before her - Mary Rose in 1505 and Great Galley in 1513 - she was capable of carrying tons in arms and men. But Henry Grace a Dieu, or Great Harry as she was known in common parlance, trumped all her sister ships.

This monster carrack was built at Woolwich Dockyard in Kent. Her hands on builder was William Bond and the overseer of the project was Henry VIII's clerk of ships, Robert Brygandine. Great Harry weighed in at 1,500 tons (most carracks topped out at 1,200 tons) and could carry a compliment of 700 men. She could ship up to 180 guns. The heavy guns, usually around 20 of them, were mounted below decks at her waist and used to hull the enemy in a firefight. The other, lighter guns were mounted on Great Harry's two deck fore castle and her four deck after castle. These guns were trained downward on an enemy to destroy rigging, guns and men.

The ship carried four masts with seven tops between them. The fore and main masts were square rigged while the mizzen and bonaventure mizzen sails were lateen rigged making Great Harry surprisingly maneuverable for her behemoth size. On state occasions and when the King was aboard her, the ship unfurled sails made of cloth of gold damask (as in the painting at the header). Pretty fancy.

Great Harry was involved in the great naval action against French Admiral d'Annebault in 1545. This was the same battle that saw Mary Rose so famously sunk. Great Harry survived the war but was destroyed by fire while at anchor on August 23, 1553. Fortunately Henry VIII had died six years earlier, so he did not have to witness the unfortunate demise of his favorite ship, Henry Grace a Dieu.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

History: Round The Cape

On this day in 1800 USS Essex, Captained by Edward Preble (above) became the first U.S. Navy ship to round the Cape of Good Hope and enter the Indian Ocean. Want to know more about one of my favorite ships? Of course you do.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Sailor Mouth Saturday: Berth

HMS Discovery at Port Stewart, Alaska Painting by Mark R. Myers

Berth is one of those words so common to sailors and sailing that people on the water hardly think about it. Lubbers hear "berth" and think "birth" and then you've got a complete morass that needs clearing up fast. So let's do that right now.

A berth can apply to a ship, its company or an individual jack. First, the ship herself. In this case berth means the area where the ship is at anchor. By and large unless they were in for repairs wooden ships didn't berth near a dock but out in a bay or anchorage. A ship is said to lie in a good berth when she is in sheltered water a respectable distance from both shore and other ships. To berth a vessel is to locate such a sweet spot and drop your anchor there.

As regards the ship's company, to berth sailors is to designated the space in which each man's hammock will be slung. Usually this is an area fourteen inches in width so you'll pretty much literally be sleeping with your mates, mate. A berth in the case of an officer can mean his cabin which may, in practice, be no more than a small space draped off with canvas. Again, privacy comes at a premium if at all. A ship is said to be berthen when she has her full company and all stores aboard.

Individually a berth might be a man's hammock at sea or the lodging he takes by land. A snug berth refers to someplace safe and comfortable. A sleeping berth seems self-explanatory.

Then there is the old expression about giving a wide berth, which literally means staying well clear of something. "We shall give that wicked shoal a wide berth." Good idea.

Finally, because I used "jack" earlier and because I haven't done this in a while:
Yes, I am a shameless hussy. See you next week, Brethren. Until then, may your berth be snug and your commander as capable as Jack Aubrey himself. Huzzah!

Friday, March 26, 2010

Booty: Fair Winds And A Valid Commission

When the fledgling U.S.A.'s second war with Britain, the War of 1812, started in the year from which it took it's name the U.S. and her navy began handing out letters of marque against the enemy. There is no limit to the number of privateering commissions a country at war can legally issue and the U.S., with a navy consisting of mostly sloops and schooners, wasn't shy about the process.

Down in old New Orleans, Louisiana had just become a state and the Naval Station, established in 1809 by Commodore David Porter, was giving letters of marque away like dentists gave out gum when I was a kid. I frequently see historians scratching their metaphorical heads about why the Laffite brothers didn't get in line for a commission or two. Shows how much research they've done.

First of all the Laffites had valid commissions from Cartagena. Sure, that government still wasn't recognized by half the countries in the world but tell Jean that and he would have laughed condescendingly I'm quite certain. Second, and perhaps more importantly, both Jean and Pierre had outstanding warrants for their arrest at the time. Walking in to the Cabildo, then the seat of the navy, army, state and local government and gendarmerie, would have ended in an indefinite stay in a cozy 8' by 8' cell in the Calabozo. The Laffites were probably certifiable but they weren't stupid.

There was a renowned Baratarian, however, with a squeaky clean record and a knack for prize taking who decided to sign up with the U.S. That lucky Captain was none other than my own dear Uncle Renato Beluche. At the time he was sailing a beautiful schooner he named Spy. She was fast first and foremost and particularly so when handled by her gifted Captain. The U.S. was lucky to have him. And he was lucky to escape the English in the Bay of Biscay a year later. Luck was all the motto that man needed.

So imagine my delight, as a lover of Baratarian privateers and a proud descendant of Beluche, when I found the replica letter of marque pictured at the header. Signed and endorsed by James Madison, it is virtually an exact copy of the kind of commission Beluche would have been given for Spy. How cool is that?

You can own a letter of marque just like it - and plug in your own ship's name, captain's name, etc. - simply by clicking over to Pirate and telling them what you want. Rather like my Uncle did with the U.S. government. They have commissions from other times and places too so if you'd rather be Drake or Morgan, go for it. It's a wonderful site that I found because I'm a pretty lucky daughter of a privateer.

And now for the meta (nice segue, Pauline!). This is the 200th post here at Triple P and as you can see, I spent last night blinging out the blog a little for this occasion. I also want to take a moment to acknowledge all of you out there in Internet-land who keep me going, keep me honest and make me so happy.

First a big thank you to those of you who have bravely staked your claim to a place among the Brethren of the Coast. From first to last I appreciate each and every one of the people who publicly follow Triple P. You all are the best!

Second, many thanks for all comments past and future. I've been told I don't know what the hell I'm talking about, asked for further information, challenged and enlightened and it is all 100% appreciated. Keep 'em coming.

Third, I want to acknowledge some amazing folks who include Triple P on their links pages and blog lists. Click on over and spend some time with some knowledgeable, talented and truly amazing people:

The Pirate Guys at International Talk Like A Pirate Day have this site on their links page now. Triple P can be found under "Other Kindred Souls" and that's made of awesome.

Cindy Vallar has included Triple P in her History of Maritime Piracy links. Find me under "Treasure Troves: outstanding gateways to pirate info". I get four out of five piratical thumbs up.

Mike Burleson is an expert on all things military and a great writer. His New Wars website includes Triple P under "Research" as well as linking back to many of my posts. You are pretty cool, Mike.

The amazingly talented Munin at Munin's Sketch Blog keeps track of Triple P, too. If I ever get to be one of "those" authors, Munin will be the only artist doing my book covers.

Jessica at Miss Novelistic, a thoughtful and eye-catching blog about writing and reading historical fiction, recommends Triple P "...when your nose isn't stuck in a gripping novel". Thank you for the high praise. I can't wait to read your novels.

The terrific researchers and writers over at Two Nerdy History Girls put Triple P on their "Blogs we read" list yesterday. To say I'm flattered is an understatement.

Denis, the king of questionable cinema who writes so entertainingly about it at The Horror!?, frequently includes Triple P on his FriendFeed. Now if I could just get him to add his Lovecraftian avatar to the Brethren of the Coast...

Finally, the local Alaska Grown includes Triple P under "Other Family Blogs" and I'm proud to be there.

If I've missed anyone (and I'm certain I have) it's through forgetfulness and not spite. Leave me a comment and jog my memory. I'll edit this thing post haste.

That's enough of that, I know, but I want to be clear that I really do appreciate your support. I'll keep the seafaring adventures coming if you'll keep coming back for more, mates. Thankee indeed.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Tools Of The Trade: In The Palm Of Yer Hand

Sailmaker's Palm from the 1800's in the Maine Marine Historical Society via

In Patrick O'Brian's novel The Truelove (Clarissa Oakes in the U.K.), Captain Jack Aubrey is begrudgingly shuffling deportees to New South Wales aboard the Nutmeg of Consolation. When convicted murderess (she had good cause, believe me) Clarissa accepts a proposal of marriage from Nutmeg's gunner, Jack gives her some of the flaming red silk he previously bought for his wife, to make a gown (hell to pay later on that score). What is interesting here is not Clarissa's history of abuse or Sophie Aubrey's shrewish jealousy but who makes the bride's wedding dress from that crimson fabric. It is not, as one might imagine, the bride herself nor even one of the other female prisoners. It is in fact the finest tailor in the crew: Barret Bonden, the Captain's coxswain.

It may come as some surprise to the lubbers that happen upon my seafaring ramblings (not to the Brethren, however) that seamen in the age of sail were by and large magicians with a needle. Many seafarers before the dawn of naval uniforms, and without question aboard freebooters, sewed their own clothes. If they couldn't sew they could do something else, such as leather work for instance, and men traded their skill with a mate to keep both of them in clothes, shoes (for land use only), belts and tools.

Keeping sails in top condition and making new ones when needed was an almost constant job aboard a sailing ship. Caring for the sails evolved into a kind of ritual, done on certain days and at certain times much like swabbing the deck. The heavy canvas, sometimes sewn double and triple thick, would seem ridiculously difficult to just get a needle through much less maintain the even stitching that was necessary for a sail to function properly. Thimbles are fine, of course, but if you've ever tried to sew a button on a pair of jeans you know just how useless even a "heavy duty" thimble can be. And nothing hurts, aside from maybe a burn, quite like having the back end of a needle jam itself through the thimble and up into your finger.

Here's where the leather workers aboard ship came to the rescue. The tool shown above is a palm or sailmaker's palm and it could save not just your thumb but your entire hand. Palms are generally made of leather for left and right handed people and are used as the name implies. The body of the tool sits in the hand and the thinner portion wraps around to buckle at the hole through which you put your thumb. The metal thimble, with it's handy indentations, is then used to push the needle through all those layers of canvas and even rope to make or mend sails. The benefit of a palm over a simple thimble is that the pressure of the entire hand, not just one finger, can be applied against the resistance of the canvas.

Your humble hostess has always opined that sailors were pretty clever. Once again, a simple tool proves me at least partially correct. If you'd like a modern sailormaker's palm, an excellent replica of the kind shown above is available at Alternatively, if your as handy as our seafaring ancestors, find instructions for making your own at

So get out and mend some sail, mates. Time's a wastin' and the horizon draws closer. Tomorrow a little celebration for a Triple P milestone. See you then for Friday Booty!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

History: Fear Of Fire

It is a truth as old as sailing itself: sailors are afraid of fire. To this day a fire aboard ship is something that will get the adrenaline pumping in every man jack on deck as surely as combat. That awful unwelcome guest must be smothered as soon as possible or the consequences can be catastrophic. And that's in a ship made of steel.

When ships were made of wood it wasn't just the wood you had to worry about. Ships were routinely filled with flammables such as tar, pitch, alcohol and of course black powder. Even in the most unkempt freebooter these items were generally kept in separate areas and a powder room or magazine was designated only for the storage of that necessary combustible. But not everyone is careful, or sober, aboard every ship and accidents unfortunately happen. We'll deal with this subject in the heat of battle in another post but here are some infamous accidents that did no one any favors aboard the ships they struck.

Jean Baptiste Labat in his 1722 Voyages Among the Islands of America tells the story of a "rogue" gunner aboard a British ship who was secreting barrels of black powder among the splinter netting and rolled up hammocks. His plan was to sell "the King's powder" for his own profit. Unfortunately some stray spark, most probably from the galley stove on the gun deck, ignited one of the barrels and sixty of the gunner's fellow seaman were killed in the ensuing explosion. The gunner, who survived the firestorm, was hanged.

Before the late 18th century, when ships lanterns were installed in all but the most ill-fitted out ships, open candle flames were not uncommon. Men also smoked aboard ship, particularly pipes, and then there was that pesky need to cook food. A bucket of tar or pitch could easily catch fire by accident. There is also documentation of barrels of rum being opened and stray sparks falling into them setting the liquor aflame. Barrels of alcohol have been known to explode in such situations.

There are repeated and awful descriptions in maritime literature from witnesses of such accidents. They speak of men screaming in agony as they jump overboard, whether they could swim or not, or literally blowing up when the fire reached the powder magazine. Burns were not an uncommon injury aboard ship what with the unstable nature of the sea. Galley stoves were frequent culprits as were cannons but a ship on fire was a true terror for the men, boys and animals aboard. One witness, in a boat near HMS Queen Charlotte when she exploded while at anchor off Leghorn in the Mediterranean in 1800, described the "loathsome sweet smell" of burning flesh.

In navies, the danger was sometimes doubled by the urge to be prepared. Some fighting Captains would keep their guns loaded in preparation for battle. If fire got out of control on such a ship, the cartridges filled with black powder in the cannons would "cook off". The guns would discharge their shot and hit or even sink boats heading for the ship to try to affect rescue. This was another factor in the horrible loss of life aboard Queen Charlotte.

Probably the most famous and impressive of all accidental fires aboard a buccaneer occurred on New Years Day 1669 on Henry Morgan's flagship Oxford. Morgan had called a meeting of his Captains, as he always did before setting out on a raid, and with 12 ships and 900 men in attendance he led a counsel while at anchor off Ile a Vache. (Cow Island, a speck of land south of what is now the port of Les Cayes in Haiti, was so named because the Spanish had "seeded" it with cattle for the benefit of their navy; the buccaneers, of course, took full advantage of the largess.)

Once an agreement to sack Cartagena (a mission that never materialized thanks to what happened next) was made, Morgan his Captains and their men began to celebrate. Huge bowls of rum punch were brought out for the captains and the common sailors dipped into hogsheads of rum on deck. Soon most if not all the buccaneers were drunk and the 26 gun Oxford resembled nothing so much as a yacht on a holiday cruise. You know, if one of those things was full of firearms and combustibles.

Alexander Exquemelin tells us that the boys "...drank many healths and discharged many guns as the common sign of mirth among seaman used to be." The sun set in the west and candles were lit so that the party could continue. Morgan presented a fine feast in his cabin and, just as supper was commencing, a thunderous crack was followed by a massive explosion. The powder room had been touched, somehow, by flame.

Half the captains at table with Morgan were killed instantly. The other half, Morgan included, were thrown into the sea but almost miraculously survived. 200 men lost their lives in the explosion itself and others died later from splinter wounds and burns. Oxford was a total loss.

Morgan's unbelievable escape was the talk of the Spanish Main. Most Spaniards agreed that such impossible luck signalled that Morgan was indeed the Devil incarnate. The people of Cartagena, however, whose city was quite literally saved by a freak accident, saw the whole thing as a miracle. Their patron, Nuestra Senora de La Popa, had caused the explosion herself so that Morgan's raiders would leave their city alone.

Divine intervention or no, it didn't stop Morgan's famous raid on Panama. And fires aboard ship, regardless of her nationality or occupation, continued to be the bane of every sailor afloat. Who can begrudge them a healthy dose of respect, and fear?

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Pirates Own Book: "Life, Atrocities And Bloody Death"

Everyone is at least vaguely familiar with the storied life of Edward "Blackbeard" Teach. He's a legendary pirate that, as I understand it, is set to figure prominently in not one but two Hollywood movies next year. They don't put you in movies if you're not a household name. Not anymore, anyway. Frankly I'd prefer to see a remake of The Buccaneer rather than Blackbeard the evil sorcerer but that's just the way I swing.

Despite Blackbeard's familiarity, it does not surprise me at all to find that our old friend Charles Ellms has given us the most lurid side of the story possible. Ah, Mr. Ellms, you never cease to amaze me. So here is a brief overview of The Pirates' Own Book's life of Blackbeard (or Black Beard as Ellms would have it). Since you know the general story, I'll just hit the high points. If you want to digest this or any other chapter of Ellms' Victorian classic, it's free on the web right here.

"Edward Teach was a native of Bristol," Ellms says, and he made his way to Jamaica in his youth where he joined a privateer during "the French war." Teach served under Benjamin Hornigold until 1717, when the Captain gives the soon-to-be Blackbeard a sloop of his own.

The narrative gets a little confusing at this point. Ellms has Teach taking the king's pardon in one paragraph and then off a-pirating aboard Queen Anne's Revenge in the next. What follows is basically a list of prizes, which are indeed impressive, until Teach meets Stede Bonnet:

...and these two men co-operated for some time; but Teach finding him unacquainted with naval affairs, gave the command of Bonnet's ship to Richards, one of his own crew, and entertained Bonnet on board his own vessel.

The use of the word "entertained" is particularly amusing given that Bonnet was basically Teach's prisoner until such time as Teach got all the use he could out of Bonnet's ship.

Having parted company with the perpetually pathetic Bonnet, Teach turns to terrorizing Charleston. He takes prisoners, burns ships within sight of the town and essentially blockades the port:

Meanwhile, there were eight sail in the harbor, none of which durst set to sea for fear of falling into the hands of Teach.

Teach's recently taken prisoners begin to fall ill aboard his ship and he sends two of his men along with a healthy prisoner, Mr. Marks, to negotiate for medications. The deal is done and once the sailors return Teach pillages the ships in the harbor, sets his prisoner's free and heads out to sea.

At this point Ellms has Teach treacherously running Queen Anne's Revenge aground in order to avoid having to share out his prizes with his entire crew. He strands some of his men on a "sandy island" to die of thirst and starvation and takes the rest to North Carolina where he surrenders to the Governor. He manages to keep his prize goods and he and his men are set to live by land in style. It is also worth noting that Ellms tells us it is Stede Bonnet who comes to the rescue of the seventeen unfortunates stranded by Blackbeard.

Ellms now details the sordid deal between the Governor of North Carolina and Teach whereby the pirate will raid foreign shipping, claim the ships were unmanned when he came upon them, have them libelled by the Governor and then share the spoils evenly with him. It does appear that something like this scheme went on in fact, but most probably not to the incredible extant that Ellms would have us believe. At this point, Ellms is painting Teach and the Governor with the same brush.

Of course, as always with Charles, the blue paint comes out too:

Before he entered upon his new adventures, [Teach] married a young woman of about sixteen years old... It was reported that this was only his fourteenth wife... and though this woman was young and amiable, he behaved towards her in a manner so brutal that it was shocking to all decency and propriety...

Well of course he did. By now, though, the "limits of human insolence and depravity" are catching up with our anti-hero. The people of North Carolina appeal to the Governor of Virginia for help and he enlists the assistance of the noble Lieutenant Maynard, "an experienced and resolute officer."

The initial meeting of Teach's ship with Maynard's seems cordial enough with tankards hoisted in greeting. As we know, though, things got ugly quickly. Teach boards Maynard's vessel, thinking that the Lieutenant's men have been killed by his pirate ship's broadsides. In fact the Royal Navy sailors are only hiding and they surprise Teach's boys:

The most desperate and bloody conflict ensued: - Maynard with twelve men and Black Beard with fourteen. The sea was dyed with blood all around the vessel, and uncommon bravery was displayed upon both sides. Though the pirate was wounded by the first shot from Maynard, though he had received twenty cuts, and as many shots, he fought with desperate valor; but at length, when in the act of cocking his pistol, fell down dead.

Teach's head is cut off and hung from the bowsprit of Maynard's ship. His men are taken to Virginia where they are tried and hanged with the notable exception of First Lieutenant Israel Hands. He receives, inexplicably, "his Majesty's pardon" just as he is about to be executed.

The usually stories - Teach's fondness for attaching lit fuses to his hat in battle, his random shooting of a crewman under a table, the sulfur lit below decks with hatches closed to see who can stand the horror the longest - follow with Ellms leaving nothing out. It's all there. And it is, of course, a great story.

Still, I wonder how much of it was really true...

Monday, March 22, 2010

Tools Of The Trade: Hard-A-Larboard

Your humble hostess is quite certain that you understand "sailor speak" fairly well. Aft or stern is the back of the ship. Fore or bow is the front. If you are standing right aft (say on the quarterdeck of the lovely HMS Rose pictured above) and looking fore, to your right is starboard and to your left is port. So it has always been, yes? No.

Port came into common use in the British and American navies in the 1840s. Prior to that the word used was larboard. The word "port" as in "port your helm" is mentioned in writing as early as 1580 but on a day-to-day basis the usage was larboard and starboard.

The words may be derived from the Italian questa borda "this side" and quella borda "that side". These were then shortened to sta borda and la borda and then came to English as they now exist. That's just one theory but it makes sense to me. In French the terms are droit and de bâbord.

Obviously in a situation where a ship is being piloted through dangerous shoals, shallow water, etc. or in heavy weather the terms can easily be confused. A pilot calling out for the ship to larboard the helm could be misinterpreted, the helm is put hard to starboard and voila! Trouble on deck at the very least. A sunken wreck at worst. Not good.

In the Royal Navy, port became the official term in 1844. By 1846, the U.S. Navy had gone the same way. The distinction is certainly much easier but I miss the sing-song quality of the word larboard, especially when it's matched with starboard.

On another note, the division of crewmen into watches on an a ship of frigates size or smaller went by the names larboard and starboard. Sometimes the larboard men were known as larbolins.

There you have it, Brethren. Now you'll know that when that historical novelist includes a call of "port her helm" aboard ship in 1782, he or she hasn't done their research at all. At that point, it's time to find another book.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

History: Another First

March 21, 1917 - Chief Yeoman Loretta Walsh is sworn in to the U.S. Naval Reserve making her the first woman to officially join the United States Navy.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Sailor Mouth Saturday: Pennant & Pendant

Sailor Mouth Saturday is about as serendipitous as it gets around Triple P. Usually I've found some interesting or, contrarily, common word in my research during the week that sticks in my head like an annoying jingle. Once that happens your humble hostess has no choice but to pull out the sailor's dictionary of old and find out what the heck the deal is. That doesn't get done until Saturday, though, so to actually accuse me of planning ahead would be erroneous.

Today's words came up as I was thumbing through the glossary of my current read, David Cordingly's Cochrane: The Real Master and Commander. Cordingly is, of course, a preeminent historian with regard to all things nautical and I would never say otherwise. All the same, now that I am three chapters into this one, I realize I am reading it for four distinct and separate reasons. They are, in no particular order, 1) Thomas Cochrane spent at least half of his time at sea privateering and he kicked ass at it, 2) Research means my historical fiction is true and correct to the best of my knowledge and ability to make it so within the context of the story, 3) I plan to review the book here, and 4) I am a masochist. I will discuss all these when I finally get around to number 3.

What I will say now is that it appears the book's glossary needs a little tweaking. Either that or the entry on pennants and pendants was written for the most land loving of lubbers. The first sentence of the entry reads:

pendant (pronounced 'pennant') The term can be used for any long tapering flag.

Of course I could have left it at that and walked away. But you all know it is not like me to leave well enough alone. According to The Sailor's Word-Book of 1867, the words are destinct and seperate with different meanings.

First, pennant. This is indeed a long, tapering flag of the type we see waving in the breeze from HMS Brittania's mainmast in the picture at the header (her foremast is flying the Union Jack; click on the picture to enlarge). Single pennants were nine feet in length. They were two feet high at the mast and a foot or less at the end. The pennant denoted a commissioned ship-of-war and would not be flown if the ship was out of commission. Merchants do not fly these flags but privateers or pirates might fly a pennant as a ruse. A pennant with a swallow-tail indicates a commodore's "flag" ship. A pennant at half mast signals that the ship's captain has died. Pennants are of various color and design, depending on the navy using them.
Second, pendant. This is, in fact, part of a ship's rigging and there are more types of pendant than one would reasonably imagine. The pendant may be a piece of rope fixed on either side of a mast to which the hooks of tackles are attached. I honestly tried to find a picture of this, since it's relatively hard to explain, but no luck. There are also pendants which are essentially rope passing through block and tackle for hauling. In this case the names are endless: stay-tackle-pendant, brace-pendant, fish-pendant and so on. Also a ship may have a rudder-pendant which are cables attached to the rudder in order to prevent it being lost if it comes unshipped. In all the cases the pronunciation is indeed pendant.

I'm not trying to split hairs but I know, Brethren, that you do not come to Triple P to be treated like a lubber. The fascinating and action-packed life of Captain Thomas Lord Cochrane not withstanding, a pendant is not a pennant. And now we both know it.

I will say that the glossary's entry on quarter gallery is spot on:

quarter gallery A covered gallery with windows that projected from the side of the ship at the stern, used as a lavatory or toilet by the captain and officers.

As my mother always said, rank has its privileges.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Booty: Another Kind Of Woman At Sea

The unfortunate truth is that your humble hostess spends more time with her nose in one type of book or other than cruising the current news outlets for interesting seafaring tidbits. That's one of the many, many reasons I am so indebted to my First Mate. He actually spots items of interest from today's headlines rather than, like me, reading Le Gazette de la Louisiane circa 1814.

Last Wednesday my mate came across a story on Yahoo! News about a certain old sea dog (do pardon the pun) that very much sparked my imagination. A little more research and today's booty is upon us. For your contemplation, Brethren, the story of Hatch the Mary Rose dog.

Mary Rose was Henry VIII of England's flag ship and she sailed and fought in three wars over the course of her 34 years at sea. She was considered charmed, and by the year 1545 most people in England believed that good King Hal's mighty galleon could not be sunk. Unfortunately for the upwards of 500 men aboard her on July 19th, 1545, belief and fact are two different things. On that day, while engaging French warships, Mary Rose went down with her entire compliment of men, boys, a ton of Tudor booty and one hard working bitch.

Above is Hatch's 99% preserved skeleton. She's a smallish dog who was approximately three years old when she drown in the wreck of the only home she ever knew. Experts have poured over Hatch's remains and have determined that she probably got very little exercise, indicating that she was always a ship's dog. The same experts call her a "hound" but from the superior way she did her job, I'd say she's got some terrier in her.

Hatch was on board Mary Rose for one specific reason: to catch and kill rats. Tudor seaman were notoriously suspicious of cats, who would later become standard tools of the trade in Nelson's Royal Navy and beyond. Due to the fear of cats bringing bad luck, dogs were employed to keep the burgeoning rat populations in ships at bay. Hatch was a champion indeed. No intact rat skeletons have been found in the wreck of the Mary Rose, which was discovered in 1982. Every last rat skeleton has been torn apart, gnawed on and at least partially eaten. Despite her gender, Hatch may have been the finest seaman - as far as attending to her duty - aboard Mary Rose.

Hatch got her name because she was found by divers near the sliding door, or hatch, of the carpenter's cabin. She is in the limelight right now because her beautiful and beautifully preserved skeleton was on display at Britian's prestigious Cruft's dog show from March 11th to 14th. Of course, if you were to ask me, Hatch should have won Best in Show hands down.

Another article about Hatch and the Mary Rose wreck (with some great pictures) from Mail Online UK can be found here. Or, if you want to get lost for the rest of the day, visit the Mary Rose website.

And so I'll end with a hearty Huzzah! for Hatch. And for all the women at sea past and present. Fair winds and fine prizes, ladies, and plenty of rats for Hatch.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Tools Of The Trade: Up And Down

Manning the capstan aboard ship (model at the San Fransisco Maritime Museum website)

It probably goes without saying that anchors are heavy things. Even aboard smaller ships like sloops and schooners, you're dealing with tons rather than pounds. You can heave away at a cable with your mates until your hands are bloody but that's really not the most efficient use of your time. Human beings (and I like to believe sailors in particular) are pretty clever creatures so, of course, there is a better way.

Enter the capstan. The device, shown above in use on a small ship, is a essentially a winch and has been in use in different forms since ancient times. Both the Greeks and Romans had mechanisms for hauling up their blocky anchors. Viking longboats and Chinese junks used a form of capstan and by the 18th century the capstan as it is pictured above was an established feature on all but the smallest boats.

Obviously capstans come in many sizes and the shapes differ but the basic design is the same. The head of the capstan, which is barrel shaped and has an iron spindle passing through it under the deck on which it sits, is fitted with holes at even intervals for inserting the capstan bars. Looking at the picture, you can see why the bars (which our sailors are diligently pushing on) need to be removable. When the bars are "shipped" into the holes and their outer lengths are even, they are said to be "swifted".

Now it's time to heave, mates. The anchor could be any number of fathoms below the ship. Hauling her up was heavy, slow and grueling work so as many hands to the capstan as possible was the general rule. It was also nice if a ship's boy with a talent for a flute or recorder could hop up on top and play an invigorating tune. By literally pushing at the bars, the men made the capstan turn. The cable attached to the anchor (jog your memory of cables here) is also attached to the main body of the capstan and the it is literally wrapped around the barrel as the thing is pulled up.

In small ships, as shown above, a single mate can keep the rope from tangling. In larger ships, an entire system of men and trench-like leads was needed to keep the cable in line. For a pirate or privateer in a schooner or brig, a single capstan would do the job nicely.

Imagine, however, a first rate ship-of-the-line such as Nelson's HMS Victory carrying 102 guns and 850 men. The sheer size of the ship is mind boggling. Now think of her anchor. In such ships a double capstan was necessary. An extension of the capstan on the first deck drops into the deck below so that twice as many men can heave to. Also, a ship that can accommodate longer capstan bars can more efficiently pull up a heavier weight. It goes without saying that four or five men to a bar can apply more pressure than one or two.

But the ingenious capstan was no one hit wonder. Run aground on a shoal or reef and your capstan can jump to directly. A boat with the ship's anchor or anchors (again, in larger ships you may have more than one) would be sent out in the opposite directions from where the ship has run aground. The anchor is dropped and set, and then the men at the capstan are put to work to "haul off" the ship if at all possible.

This can also come in handy if a ship is already at anchor, crippled or becalmed and needs to move. The set of the anchor and the working of the capstan can literally get a ship from one place to another without the assistance of wind, oars or engine. An example of manpower at work.

Of course ships still utilize capstans, but now they are generally motorized objects that make a distasteful whirring noise. It's a shame really. Your humble hostess misses the days of hard working sailors with impressive muscles heaving to at the capstan bars until the cable is up and down and finally the anchor is clean and dry for weighing. Still, the anticipation of getting underway will never change and we have the capstan to thank, at least partially, for that.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Home Ports: Erin's Pirate Haven

Clare Island viewed across Clew Bay (via the Museums of Mayo website)

Last week we talked about Grania ni Maille, the famous Pirate Queen of Ireland, and her long running operation out of Clew Bay in what is now County Mayo. Of course with St. Patrick's Day upon us, it seems only fitting to talk of Ireland once more. For La Padraig, let us revisit the bay and the stronghold at her mouth known as Clare Island.

The Bay has been in use by the people of Ireland for fishing and commerce probably since before any documentation of ships coming and going was kept. It stands in the shadow of Croagh Padraig, the famous mountain named for the island's patron saint that may have been the holy place known as Tara, home of the Celtic gods.

The Maille or O'Malley clan probably laid claim to the bay and it's islands as early as the 1200s. The fortress on Clare Island from which Grania commanded the bay and the Western ocean is a thick walled, square medieval building in the style of the early or mid-14th century. Certainly by the 1400s, the O'Malleys were large and in charge in the area with seafaring for fish and booty as their main source of income.
Clew Bay is known in Ireland as the bay with an island for every day of the year. Technically there are not 365 islands out there in the bay, but there are over 100. The rest are what is known as drumlins. This is a corrupted Gaelic word meaning "mound". They are essentially little hills of silt and sand left behind when glaciers retreated. Though not islands proper, they can be treacherous to ships that are not familiar with the area. Even locals in shallow draft vessels have been known to go hull up on a drumlin. This also made the bay attractive to those in the covert businesses of piracy and smuggling. Any place difficult to navigate will almost ensure privacy for the people that know it well.

Even after Grania's death and the O'Malleys' conversion to English gentry, Clew Bay continued to be used by smugglers. It was a notorious hideout for rebels during the troubles. So much so that troops were landed there in July of 1922 to ferret out the Anti-Treaty groups. Later in the 20th century Clew Bay turned from notorious to luxurious. Fish farms were established, the Glenans Irish Sailing Club set up a base on Collanmore Island and John Lennon purchased Dorinish Island for his private use in 1967.

Of course the legends of the roguish O'Malleys still remain as does the clan, but the wild days are unfortunately over. All the same, shlante! to Erin's pirate haven, the great Bay of Clew. Remember her tonight as you enjoy your beer and corned beef. Your humble hostess (a bit Murphy from my mother's side) most assuredly will.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

People: "Brilliant And Intrepid"

Most of us who are rabid fans of Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey/Maturin novels know the story well. Jack Aubrey is "loosely" based on the vigorous and controversial hero of Nelson's Royal Navy, Captain Thomas Lord Cochrane. It's one of those established "facts" that no one questions for the most part. After a chance meeting with a handsome portrait followed by some research, your humble hostess would now argue that a certain capable officer of the same era is being left out of the mix. Today, Brethren, allow me to introduce you to Captain Sir William Hoste.

Unlike Cochrane, Hoste was not from a family of landed gentry. Born on August 26, 1780, Hoste was the son of Dixon Hoste, rector of Godwick. Much like his hero and mentor, Horatio Nelson, Hoste was a clergyman's child. The Hostes rented Godwick Hall from Sir Thomas Coke while young William was growing up and it was through this connection that he would come to the sea.

Coke, as it turned out, was acquainted with the then Captain Nelson. This relationship allowed William to have his name entered into the Royal Navy books at the tender age of 5. This little trick allowed Hoste to accumulate "book time" while at home attending to his studies. It would also make him eligible to become an officer at a remarkably young age.

In April, 1793, Nelson took William aboard his HMS Agamemnon, a 64 gun man-of-war, as Captain's servant. William excelled in his duties and caught Nelson's attention. In a not unusual instance of complete disregard for his wife's feelings, Nelson wrote her that William "...each day rivets himself stronger to my heart." He made only passing and belittling mention of his other young servant, his wife's son Josiah Nesbit. Leaving the hapless Josiah in the dust, William was promoted to Midshipman by February, 1794.

From there, William's career took off. He followed Nelson into HMS Captain and fought with him in the Battles of Cape St. Vincent in 1796 and Santa Cruz de Tenerife in 1797. William was with Captain Nelson when he lost his arm. He was promoted to Lieutenant in 1798 (thanks in no small part to Nelson and all that book time William scored starting at age 5).

Aboard HMS Theseus commanded by Ralph Miller, William participated in the famous Battle of the Nile. After this victory, Nelson recommended the 18 year old for promotion to Master and Commander and the promotion was confirmed in December. William took command of HMS Mutine at Naples. Three years later he was still in charge of Mutine but now under Lord Keith, who saw no reason for further promotions. The brilliant career slowed down and might have stalled all together if it weren't for William's perpetual benefactor Nelson. On his recommendation, and based on more than one capable action aboard Mutine, William made Post-Captain in 1802.

Mutine had largely spent her time around the Nile delta and William contracted malaria some time before his promotion. By 1803 he was suffering from a "lung infection" which may or may not have been the first signs of tuberculosis. He was forced to take some time off but returned to the Mediterranean aboard HMS Eurydice in 1804.

By 1805 he was again reporting to Nelson and in command of HMS Amphion. He was engaged in "diplomatic" (read intelligence) work in Algiers when the Battle of Trafalgar was fought. Upon hearing of Nelson's death, William was inconsolable. He wrote his father that " have lost such a friend... is really sufficient to overwhelm me."

It didn't, of course. William was given a cruise in the Adriatic where he captured or sunk 200 enemy vessels and brought trade with France to a halt locally. He was then given a Commodore's flag with two other ships under his command. In March, 1811 his squadron was attacked by the able French Captain Dubourdieu. The seven French frigates came straight at William's three but, with the signal Remember Nelson flying from Amphion, William and his ships won the day. Dubourdieu was killed, one of his ships was grounded and William took two as prizes. The battle, which occurred in the Bay of Vis, prompted the locals to name a small promontory there Hoste Island.

This success certainly was used as an example by O'Brian. A later victory, in which William had cannon raised up onto a rocky cliff above an enemy fortress with block and tackle in 1814 was used almost verbatim in The Hundred Days.

William Hoste, however, was becoming a sick man. Malaria ate away at him and he eventually contracted TB. He returned to England, received a Baronet in 1814 and was knighted in 1815. William married Lady Harriet Walpole in 1817. His health didn't deter him from the business of family. By 1825 they had six children. Appointed to the royal yacht Royal Sovereign that same year, William continued as her Captain until 1828. He contracted a cold in January and never managed to recover. By December he was gone.

The man that inspired O'Brian and that Admiral Alexander Cochrane called "...brilliant and intrepid" is buried in St. John's Chapel, London. Another place I must visit when I'm there.

Monday, March 15, 2010

History: The General And The Captain

L to R: Jean or Pierre Laffite, Louisiana Governor William C.C. Claiborne, General Andrew Jackson

On this day in 1767 Andrew Jackson was born in South Carolina. Jackson would eventually become the seventh President of the U.S. but he became a household name by handily overcoming a formidable British force at the Battle of New Orleans in 1815.

Old time New Orleanians told a story about an early morning meeting between their new hero General Jackson and home town favorite and Baratarian Captain Dominique Youx. Dominique and his friend and fellow privateer Renato Beluche had command of crews working the two cannons of Battery No. 3 on Rodriguez canal facing Chalmette plain. General Jackson, inspecting his line on January 8th before the decisive battle, came upon Youx making coffee for his boys and stopped to join them for a cup.

The meeting of these two great men most probably never occurred but it is a tale repeated fondly to this day. So here, for your enjoyment, is your humble hostess' imagining of that moment in time from my novel The Heroes of New Orleans:

As they approached Battery number 3, the General reigned in his horse. "Do you smell that, Reid?" he asked his adjutant.

"I do. One can hardly mistake the scent of these Creoles' coffee."

"Battery number 3 perhaps?"

"I must imagine so."

"Let us have a look." Jackson dismounted and walked toward a group huddled around a well concealed fire.

The men turned as the General approached and two of them rose to their feet.

"Good evening to you, gentlemen," Jackson said. "Or should I say morning?"

"Morning." The man tending the coffee looked up from his chore. His dark face glowed in the fire light and his teeth glinted when he smiled. "So it is, Monsieur le General."

"Captain Dominique. Are you making coffee?"

"This surprises you?"

"He's a number of talents," one of the two standing men said in an unexpected contralto.

Jackson stared across the fire a moment. "Miss Juliette Flynn ma'am. Is that you?"

"Yes, sir."

"What ever the -" Jackson caught himself. He would not swear in front of a lady. Even if she was wearing trousers. "You should not be here, madam."

"She has been here the past week gone." Renato Beluche slipped his hand around Juliette's as he spoke. "She is the sponger on my crew."

"Am I to understand you are working a cannon Miss Flynn?"

"Yes, sir. Under the command of Captain Beluche as he said. I have a deal of experience with guns. I Captain my own privateer you understand."

"Now you mock me," Jackson said as his disbelief turned to offense.

"Not at all, Monsieur," Dominique said. "It is all true. And do not think to send her away. She will be back before dawn and you none the wiser. Dominique would see to it personally."

A chuckle rippled around the fire.

"Is that a fact?" Jackson allowed himself a smile.

"I fear it is, sir," Juliette replied. "Do you forgive me but I shan't be leaving until this business is done."

"I see." Jackson nodded. "Well then I won't trouble you further."

"Do not run off now, General," Dominique said. "Join us in a cup before you go."

"That is kind, sir. Are you certain there is enough?"

"Always. And more to hand."

Jackson crouched down to watch Dominique fill a tin cup with the steaming brew. "Why, this coffee smells far better than what is served to my officers. Where did you get such fine coffee?"

Dominique shrugged and handed the mug to Jackson.

"Maybe you smuggled it in, eh?"

"Maybe so," Dominique said with a grin. He handed a second cup to Reid. "Bon appetite, Messieurs."

"Ah. That is good coffee." Jackson gave his now empty mug to Dominique. "Thank you for sharing it with us."

"De rien, Monsieur. It is the least Dominique can do."

"Good luck and God's blessing to you men," Jackson said. "And women. We will overcome our enemy this day, and then I shall treat you all to a pot at Masparo's."

The Baratarians called their thanks and Jackson and Reid returned to their horses.

After going further down the line a few yards, Jackson pulled up and looked back at the group around the fire.

"What is it, sir," Reid asked.

"Those are fine men after all. And I will tell you that if I were ordered to storm the Gates of Hell, with Captain Dominique as my Lieutenant, I would have no misgivings of the result."

I hope you've been entertained, at least. A bientot, freres.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Sailor Mouth Saturday: Loggerhead

Ahoy Brethren! Saturday is upon us once again and, even if it is that unfortunate Saturday where most of us here in the U.S. are forced to "spring ahead", it is to be enjoyed. The gentleman (or lady as the case may be) pictured above looks like he is having a glorious time.

Loggerhead (or logger-heat) is a seaman's tool that was so named long before Chelonia caouana the turtle was given that nickname. To describe it (since for the life of me I cannot find a picture of the thing), a loggerhead is a ball of iron attached to a long handle usually made of wood. The handle has an iron hook on the end for pulling the ball out of the fire or stove where it has been heated. The ball is then submerged into a bucket of tar in order to make the black goo workable for tarring rigging and so on. Interestingly, this device was also used to pound cocoa and coffee beans aboard ship.

The heavy tools were also crippling when used as weapons. When you are boarded by an enemy, as you may well imagine, anything to hand is fair game for striking, cutting and bashing. A heavy iron ball on a long handled hook can do a great deal of repeated damage that a flintlock cannot. Brains all over the deck and so on.

The problem is the opposing party might get ahold of one too. They're not hard to locate when in use. And then there you are. At loggerheads. First guy to lose his ball better have a backup handy. That flintlock comes off rather well at that point because other than a pike, nothing is going to be longer than the loggerhead's handle.

The topical turtle, well known in the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean in the days of buccaneers, pirates and privateers, was called a loggerhead because of its, well, big round head. It was also considered quite tasty and its shell could be made into lovely tortoise shell goo-gaws for your sweetheart back home. Nothing wasted.

I'm rather fond of turtles, though, so I think I'll have more of yesterday's boucan instead and let our charming friend enjoy his (or her) swim.

Happy Saturday to one and all. Come back Monday when the Carolina General meets the Creole Captain on Rodriguez canal in January, 1815. Or so the locals like to say.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Booty: Fire Up The Boucan

Our habit of barbecuing has become synonymous with summer and now even spring. I'm brought to mind (as I look out my window at the two feet of snow in the yard) of the recent "winter's over" commercials where the mountain man-esque guy in parka and flannel PJs stumbles into his neighbor's yard looking confused. "Get this guy a burger!" someone among the manly men out by the grill yells. Of course that outdoor, smokey flavor will rouse the big bear from the throes of hibernation. I get it. Though winter may not be over where I live, it never really showed up in some places. One of those spots is the birthplace of the whole idea of barbecue as we know it.

The word barbecue comes to us from old Hispaniola where the word barbacoa was born. Whether or not this can be called a Haitian word proper (as Webster's indicates) is debatable but it is certainly Spanish. The idea comes from the boucan which was a tall framework of sticks over which meat was smoked by the native Arawak of the island. The predominantly French indentured servants who escaped to Hispaniola adopted the local custom and soon they were called - say it with me - boucaniers.

But what were they smoking on that boucan? Most often it was pig. By the early 1600s there were two types of swine on the island.

The native piggy was called sanglier by the Frenchmen and was a type of smallish, black wild boar. The things were ferocious and frequently slathered with blood from recent kills, thus the name (sang meaning blood; sanglant meaning bloody). As an aside, these boars are virtually extinct in Haiti now. They were wiped out by Catholic officials in order to end their use as an offering to the lady warrior Erzulie Danto and thus curb the practice of voudon.

The second type of bacon on the hoof was a domesticated pig brought by Spanish settlers in the 16th century that went feral when the Spaniards retreated from the island. These guys were known as cochon marron: runaway pig.

OK. So you've got your sanglier and your cochon marron all dressed out. Good. Now what? Here's your recipe for relatively authentic cochon boucan:

Slather your pork (any raw cut will do) with a marinade of lime juice, salt, pepper and all spice. This last is probably the French piment of the original recipes which was doubtless just a combination of whatever herbs were available on the island at the time, so feel free to deviate widely here. If you've got a little Madeira or port, which our intrepid boucaniers would have taken from Spanish ships, throw that in too.

The marinaded pork should sit for an hour or overnight in the fridge. Now drape the pork over a hot grill and turn regularly until cooked through (no medium rare pork, Brethren). Traditional fresh boucan was eaten as a feast while the uneaten portions were left to smoke into a kind of jerky. It was mandatory to drink to excess at these soirees but rum would not have been available. More Madeira would do nicely. Alternatively, an agave tequila comes pretty close to the boucanier "home brew". Have your Advil handy.

Enjoy grilling season, Brethren. Whether it's burgers, chicken or runaway pig, take a moment to remember the original boucaniers and their generous mentors in grilling, the Arawak people.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Ships: From Concorde To Revenge

Edward "Blackbeard" Teach's flagship, which he named Queen Anne's Revenge, was one of the largest successful pirate ships of the Golden Age. Only William Kidd's Adventure Galley and Bartholomew Robert's Royal Fortune can boast as many men and arms.

Teach's ship was probably built in the first decade of the 18th century. She was 200 tons with a length of 103 feet, 25 feet at the beam and a draft of close to 13 and a half feet. Obviously she was bulky and her draft was almost preposterously deep for a freebooter. Teach, of course, worked his magic more through reputation than fast sailing. Hiding out in shallow cays wasn't exactly his style.

Queen Anne's Revenge was most probably one of the early model frigates being built in England, Holland and France during the late 17th and early 18th century. She had a fore, main and mizzen mast, could carry up to 40 guns and was probably envisioned with a 125 to 150 man crew. Teach would probably have crewed her far more numerously than that. Pirates and privateers not only worked on strength of numbers but needed extra hands to man prizes once they were caught. A reasonable estimate might be 200 to 210 men all together.

From the history available, it appears the Teach's flagship was originally Concorde, a French merchant turned slaver. She carried 14 guns and made trips between the Guinea coast and France's islands in the Caribbean, probably Haiti (then San Domingue) in particular. It was, of course, a cruel trade and when Teach caught up with her in his much smaller sloop Revenge he knew no one aboard would want to fight. Concorde had been becalmed off St. Vincent and her crew and cargo were suffering from fever and dysentery. When Blackbeard raised his skeleton flag, Concorde's captain surrendered without a struggle.

Teach tortured the French captain until he gave up the hiding place of a chest of gold dust. Then he put captain and crew aboard Revenge, to tell the tale of the terrible Blackbeard, and sailed off in Concorde - now Queen Anne's Revenge - with her human cargo and her gold. Once the ugly business of slave trading was taken care of, Teach added 28 guns to his new ship's deck and headed out to really embark on his short but brilliant career of non-stop terror.

It was with Queen Anne's Revenge that Teach blockaded the city of Charleston, eventually receiving a ransom and medical supplies to release her. Shortly after this brilliant episode, in June of 1718, Teach grounded his ship in Beaufort Inlet, North Caroline not far from his home port of Ocracoke Island. In this instance, Queen Anne's Revenge's deep draft was her downfall. The ship could not be hauled off the bar and Teach had to salvage what he could and leave her for a wreck.

In 1997, a ship very nearly fitting the description of Blackbeard's was found in 24 feet of water off Beaufort. Archaeologists are still examining the wreck, bringing up bits and pieces of seafaring life in the 18th century. The North Carolina Maritime Museum at Beaufort has more information about the ship and the pirate here. The scientific jury appears to be still out on whether or not the ship is actually Queen Anne's Revenge. Some are certainly convinced while others remain hesitant. It's hard for me to imagine that the vessel is not what she seems, but maybe that's wishful thinking.

Edward Teach, the infamous Blackbeard, followed his ship's burial at sea only five months later when his headless body was tossed into the ocean by the British off Ocracoke. It seems only fitting, in a violent, piratical sort of way.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Lady Pirates: Queen Of The Manannans Part 2

When we left off yesterday, Grania ni Maille was making Barbary corsairs hurry below to change their underwear with her swagger. Unfortunately there was another redhead preparing to put her fist squarely down on Ireland. Despite the rebellious spirit of the people of Erin, Elizabeth I wasn't used to taking "no" for an answer.

In 1576, when Grania was in her 40's, Sir Henry Sidney became the English Governor of the Western provinces of Ireland. He had orders to bring the area to heel because the Crown was concerned that the wild Irish would team up with Spain in her war with England. Grania evidently smelled the change in the air and, though she did not disband her pirate fleet, she presented herself and her husband to Sidney as loyal subjects. Sidney went with it, even knighting Richard-an-Iarainn making he and Grania Lord and Lady Burke in 1583.

Lord Burke died the same year, but that didn't slow down the now fifty-something Lady. Her predations around Galway were legendary and Queen Elizabeth decided it was time to get things under control. She sent Richard Bingham in as the new Governor of Connacht in 1584. Bingham, who seems to have been especially well suited for the job, was specifically ordered to destroy Grace O'Malley.

Grania was finally apprehended by the Governor's men in 1586 and unceremoniously chained in Dublin Castle's dungeon. Bingham built a gallows. His mission was almost accomplished. But he was foiled by valiant behavior when Grania's own son-in-law, Devil's Hook, showed up and offered himself as hostage in exchange for his "elder mother". Bingham was stuck; he'd look like no gentleman at all if he hung an old woman when one of her clan had offered himself as a replacement. Grania walked out of Dublin Castle and Devil's Hook walked in. There he would stay for many years.

Bingham wasn't finished though. If he couldn't kill the pirate queen outright he'd shut her down and starve her out. He sent his brother John to Clare Island where Owen O'Flaherty was looking after things for Ma. John requested asylum on the island for he and his men. When Owen granted it, as was custom, Bingham's men treacherously slaughtered Grania's people and turned to rounding up her cattle and horses. Owen was stabbed over a dozen times.

Grania retaliated by mounting a guerrilla war against the English in Western Ireland. It worked for awhile, but the world was changing around the aging pirate. In 1592 Bingham managed to blockade and seize Grania's fleet in Clew Bay. Left without income, she was forced to seek asylum inland with Red Hugh O'Donnell. Her sons and daughter were on the lamb too and things looked bleak for the O'Malley's.

The pirate queen treated all this as no more than a setback, though. She decided, quite shrewdly, to petition the most powerful person in England. In July, 1593 she wrote to Elizabeth I directly. Grania asked that her two sons be allowed to hold their lands under English law and that some provision be made to "grant her [Grania] some reasonable maintenance" for life. She wanted her sons made rightful lords and herself to receive a pension from the crown. A bold request, indeed.

The Queen, obviously curious, sent back a series of interrogatories to which Grania promptly responded. Then Grania packed up her things and headed off to Greenwich Palace on the off chance that she might meet Elizabeth face to face. As Grania travelled, Bingham continued his assaults. By the time she reached England, her favorite son Tibbot-ne-Long was in chains at Dublin Castle.

In September of 1593, Grania ni Maille was granted a private audience with Elizabeth I. History is unfortunately silent on the meeting of two great Queens. Whatever was said, though, Elizabeth was clearly impressed. She granted Grania an English privateering commission and wrote to Bingham to free Grania's relatives, make Murrough and Toby proper Lords and see to Grania's pension.

Bingham went into a lather. He call the commission a "grave oversight on the part of her Majesty" as if he thought Elizabeth didn't know what she was doing. The lady who funded Drake and Hawkins knew what she was doing. He freed Toby and Devil's Hook but refused to acknowledge Murrough or Toby as English Lords, and he denied Grania's pension. Grania's fleet was returned but, on Bingham's orders, an English soldier was required to be aboard each of her galleys to make sure things were above board.

Grania returned to sea raiding, while continually petitioning the privy council for redress. It took some time but by 1595 Bingham, in hot water over other issues, was recalled to London. Grania again fell afoul of England when one of her galleys was taken by an English warship. She countered any bad blood by putting Toby in charge of her fleet and ordering him to sail only in England's service. He fought for England at the Battle of Kinsale, and was officially knighted as Sir Theobald Burke for his trouble. The year was 1603.

Grania saw her son become a Lord and then, at age around 73, she died. The great Elizabeth passed away shortly before. Two surprisingly successful women, the Virgin Queen and the Queen of the Manannans, gone in the same year.