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Amused Muse

Inspiring dissent and debate and the love of dissonance

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Location: Surreality, Have Fun Will Travel, Past Midnight before a Workday

Master's Degree holder, telecommuting from the hot tub, proud Darwinian Dawkobot, and pirate librarian belly-dancer bohemian secret agent scribe on a mission to rescue bloggers from the wholesome clutches of the pious backstabbing girl fridays of the world.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Real Pirates

Ahoy, there! T'is been three months at sea, and I thought ye'd like to know where I'd been gadding.

(Among other places.)

I counted me coins, quit me job, and sailed off for Chicago - that land o' riches - to hang out with a bunch of cutthroats and brigands. (Well, this is from last year, but I liked it.)

Then, turning me ship to the uncharted waters (well, totally charted), I boarded - single-handed! - the Museum of Science and Industry, the Adler Planetarium, and the Field Museum.

Among me spoils are a suitcase full of vendor literature and several fabulous meals.

Friendly ports for a starved and partched pirate:
Eleven City Diner
Italian Village
Cafe Society
Lockwood Restaurant and Bar

I had lobster for the first time, sauteed in ginger with noodles, arrrg!

But seriously, mates...

After visiting the "Real Pirates" exhibition at the Field, I have a renewed respect for these men. Not that they were boy scouts - they were violent and often bloodthirsty to be sure, but this was a time when a man could be kidnapped and forced to serve on a ship, which offered miserable toil with little or no pay, mistreatment, even beatings, and starvation rations. Going "on the account," that is, joining the pirates, offered a man - any man, and in two cases, women - a leisurely distribution of work (because so many people joined up) and an equal share in the loot, as well as the freedom to sail the world, and drink a lot of rum.

Many pirates were black, escaped or liberated slaves (the pirates boarded many slave ships and converted them to pirate ships), or free men of color unable to ply an honest trade in a prejudiced world. Even a regular, free black seaman could at any time be kidnapped and sold into slavery whenever his ship was in port! Why not, then, join the pirates? Two pirate ships had an all-black crew. Any man, regardless of the color of his skin, could ascend to any position as long as he was qualified for it. Most pirates were in fact experienced sailors. African warriors were especially respected for their fighting skills and alarming presence.

Any pirate, black, white, or native american, was treated as an equal and respected for his skills and courage. This is what is meant by a "motley crew" - it was multicultural. The loyalty among shipmates was strong.

The pirates elected their captain, who had no real power except in battle. In an unjustly hierarchical world at the height of the slave trade, this was a democracy.

Pirates did not kidnap women and tie them to the mainmast - they considered women aboard their ships to be bad luck. Some raped, but most paid prostitutes while put in at a safe harbor. Whole towns came to depend on the economy of piracy to employ their blacksmiths, their innkeepers, their cobblers, and their ladies of the evening - and for protection from raiding ships (often with Her Majesty's blessing). Some, like the tragic pirate legend Sam Bellamy, who as captain of the former slave ship Whydah (which he boarded) is profiled in the exhibit, fell in love with a respectable lady and, being a poor sailor, turned pirate in order to make enough gold to impress her family.

They did not bury their treasure - they spent and gambled it.

They did not batter and burn ships unless the crew put up a struggle, because the pirates wanted the ships. Marauding pirates would fire a warning shot, after which most captains simply surrendered. Once the ship was boarded, some men were forced to go "on the account," but many crew members willingly joined the pirates.

The pirates, after capturing a ship, would ask the crew its opinion of its captain. If he had been a cruel man, he was flogged and even killed. (No walking the plank; they just tied you up and threw you overboard.) But if he had been a kind leader, he was spared and even given a little gold. The former captain of the Whydah was allowed by Bellamy to sail away on another ship with the men who chose to remain loyal to him.

The course of a pirate ship was voted upon by its crew. The crew would also collectively repair the ship after putting in at a safe harbor. To fool passing ships, the pirates would hide and pretend that their huge crew was smaller than it was; some of them even dressed as women. Many of them dressed as dandies, in clothes that they had looted or had won from their shipmates through gambling. Others preferred a simpler garb.

At first, pirates attacked the ships of enemy nations; later, pirates recognized no allegiance to their home nation or any other country. As such, the bounty on them was high, and justice was swift and merciless. They were often hung, but sometimes lashed to the side of the rising Thames until they slowly drowned.

After the end of the "Golden Age of Piracy," slavery would remain legal until 1865, around another 140 years.

Did pirate Sam Bellamy reunite with his true love? Did he finally impress her family with his piles of loot? Legend has it that after his successful raids he was on his way to Cape Cod to meet with her again. Most pirates came to an early, violent end. The only real buried pirate treasure are the ships that went down into the sea. The recovery of the wreck of the Whydah, 300 years after it sank (you'll have to find out on your own what happened to Sam and his friends) began in a library.

A shiver me shimmies to Learning to Ride in the Bluegrass

UPDATED: Scotius brought up Sir Francis Drake, one of those blessed by Her Majesty to go out and act like a pirate on Her Behalf. It reminded me of this charming song, from the only muppet movie that I can stand to watch (mostly because of that snarky knave, Tim Curry, who is a hawt scoundrel in this scene).

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kill the fatted calf; the Prodigal Blogger has returned.
So you went to a far country to spend your substance in riotous living. It appears you did well enough; you weren't reduced to herding swine and you weren't eating peapods.
This is all quite interesting about the pirates. Of course, Francis Drake was considered a pirate by the Spanish.
At my last stop in Chicago, lo these forty-one years ago, I visited the Field Museum and the Shedd Aquarium. The one vivid memory I have of the museum is that of a triceratops skull-as long as a man is tall. At the aquarium, I got a close look at penguins. Their feathers looked like scales.

July 15, 2009 2:24 PM  
Blogger Kristine said...

Ah, Sir Francis Drake. The exhibition distinguished between him, a privateer (legal pirate, commissioned by Queen Elizabeth I who got a share of his plunder), the corsair (pirate operating out of the Mediterranean), the buccaneer (former hunters of French, English, and Dutch extraction), and the working-joe pirate.

July 15, 2009 3:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have often fantasized attacking a Mediterranean corsair with an F4U, a Vought Corsair, that gull-winged fighter plane such as was flown by the Black Sheep Squadron in World War. First sink the ship with machine gun fire and a couple of rockets, then bomb the bastards as they struggle in the sea. Explosions in water do unspeakable things to human bodies.

It would have served the scumbags right. Let 'em die and reduce the surplus population.

July 15, 2009 4:20 PM  
Anonymous BWE said...

Wow. The3 muse must be amused. Brilliant storytelling. Back in my main bookmarks:)

July 16, 2009 7:17 PM  
Blogger Kristine said...

Actually, I may have said something misleading. I wasn't on the gad for three months; I just didn't blog for three months.

July 18, 2009 12:35 PM  
Blogger breakerslion said...

"Any pirate, black, white, or native american, was treated as an equal and respected for his skills and courage. This is what is meant by a "motley crew" - it was multicultural. The loyalty among shipmates was strong."

That's because a man, black, white, or native american, was either a good-enough sailor or likely dead within a year. This required little human help. The death toll among first-time sailors on whaling ships was equally impressive. This is partly responsible for the term, "old salt."

As for buried treasure, I have often wondered if Oak Island was the basis for the legend of "Davy Jones' Locker." Oddly, it was more the habit of landlubbers in Colonial New England to stash wealth in this manner. One might find a fissure in glacially exposed rock, hide valuables, and fill it in. The "bank" was a literal bank of earth. In this way, if one's home was robbed or burned down, by accident or pissed-off native americans, one's wealth survived the experience.

July 19, 2009 3:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

" ---lashed to the side of the Thames---: in the movie "Blackbeard the Pirate" (1952), the protagonist, as portrayed by Robert Newton (Long John Silver of Disney's "Treasure Island"), was done in by a similar method: buried to the chin in the sand of a Carolina beach and left to the tender mercies of the high tide. That's the screenwriter's take on it. What really happened was more likely this. After succumbing to multiple wounds, inflicted by sword and pistol, he was decapitated, and that particular appendage was hung from the bowsprit of his adversary's vessel, to prove that the sumbitch was truly dead.

July 20, 2009 11:54 PM  
Blogger Kristine said...

Interestingly enough, the Galapagos Islands were probably discovered by pirates, and has a long history connected with them - but not necessarily to the "Prince of Pirates" Bellamy and his cohorts in this golden age of the pirate republic (more on that later).

July 28, 2009 6:31 PM  
Blogger Rev. Barking Nonsequitur said...

I have taken to wearing a patch over one eye - it gets me noticed. However, I may end up getting caught of as a malevolent character in a Matt Helm Film.

July 29, 2009 4:30 AM  

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