history

Dinner is Now Being Served in the Main Galley

With Easter and spring upon us, it’s only natural to think of all those eggs, hams, and spring lambs adorning the tables of millions around the world. But did you ever think about what pirates and other mariners feasted on for their daily fare? Surely, if they beseeched God to “… give us this day our daily bread…” it’s no wonder they became a hard, atheistic lot when they showed up for dinner with far less to eat than their counterpart landlubbers.

It’s hard to make a sweeping generalization that captures all mariners at sea. William Dampier, the buccaneer, explorer, and navigator, once dined on flamingoes. For the PETA folks, it’s not something I would approve of, so no nasty emails please. I wouldn’t approve of dining on turtles either, which pirates and mariners did when they could, but when you haven’t eaten a very substantial meal in weeks, it’s not hard for your stomach to persuade your brain to change its mind no matter how much you love God‘s creatures.

The fact is, dining at the beginning of a journey out on the high seas was tolerable. Food and water were fresh. Fowl or livestock brought aboard provided wholesome meat and eggs; and when rations grew short, they could become tomorrow’s dinner. A few weeks into the trip was a different story. With no refrigeration, meat soon became rotten, filled with maggots and worms. A good cook disguised the putrid taste with a variety of seasonings.

Of course, there was the old standby of salted meat, so hard and tasteless that some sailors actually carved their allotment into buttons. Then there was the hardtack. Before you go thinking it was some kind of delicious candy kept in tins, you’ll be disappointed to know it was nothing more than hard biscuits made from flour and water. The only true nourishment was from the weevils that burrowed inside.

When supplies ran really low, a competent cook got creative with a little dish that survives today. Salmagundi. The word comes from the French salmigondis which means a hodgepodge of something. With what started as  scraps, the cook threw in anything available, adding a few pounds of seasoning to mask the even more putrid ingredients that weren’t getting any tastier by the day.

I know what you’re thinking, but before you turn your nose up at salmagundi, look at all the dishes that evolved from cultures where there wasn’t a lot of money to spend on food. Hash, corned beef and cabbage, shit-on-the- shingle. Even on cruise ships they serve a dish called Seafood medley. What do you think goes into THAT? What the folks didn’t eat the day before! Continue reading →

Heroines of the Sea

Anne Bonny and Mary Read were a force to be reckoned with.

Anne Bonny and Mary Read were a force to be reckoned with.

 

We recently celebrated International Women’s Day. It’s been recognized since 1901 though most countries celebrate it on March 08. Since it’s a time to honor the achievements of women everywhere, I thought it might be a proper time to recognize some of women’s accomplishments in the realm of the sea.

In a recent post A Lifetime Commitment, I focused on the extraordinary sacrifices men and women of the armed forces made to keep us safe. In light of this special occasion, let’s look at some of the women who, for good or bad, impacted the world in which they lived.

Cheng I Sao, who lived between 1775 and 1844, rose from a life of prostitution to commander of twenty to forty thousand pirates when her husband Cheng I died. It was her wits and shrewd political maneuvering more than physical prowess that was her strength. And she was no one’s patsy. Part of the code she established was the beheading of anyone who gave their own orders or disobeyed those given.

Grace O’Malley, sometimes known as Grainne O’Malley or Granuaile was an Irish pirate of the 1500’s. As commander of three galleys and two hundred men, she was a force to be reckoned with. Not only was she fearless on the water, but when she met Queen Elizabeth face to face, she refused to bow or curtsey because she did not recognize her as the queen of Ireland.

Anne Bonny, on the other hand, was a died-in-the-wool Caribbean pirate, who sailed with Calico Jack Rackham. Rackham stole Ann from her husband and embarked on a wild ride of piracy as lovers.

Mary Read likewise served on Rackham‘s ship, shoulder to shoulder with Anne Bonny and the other pirates; Bonny was unaware Mary was a woman till Ann made a pass at her mistaking her for a man. Both fought as valiantly as any man on board. In fact, when Rackham and his crew cowered in a drunken state below deck during a brutal attack, the two women fought tooth and nail with the King’s troops before surrendering. Continue reading →

Ten Startling Facts about Pirates

So you think you know all about pirates, eh, matey? Was it Jack Sparrow who taught ya a thing or two? Or maybe ye learned it from that scalawag Robert Louis Stevenson. Well, open yer one good eye cause yer about to enter the real world of pyrates. Just answer true or false. Three wrong answers and ye be walkin’ the plank!

  1. Life on board a pirate ship was hard compared to other ships. As false as yer false teeth, mate! Whippings on board a British ship were a lot more common than on a pirate ship. Pirates despised tyrants who handed out harsh whippings for the slightest provocation, and their captains understood that. Furthermore, it was share and share alike among pirates. Even the captain was to take no more than his fair share of grub.
  1. Pirates had one of the first workman’s compensation programs ever. True. When a pirate lost an arm or a leg he was given more share of the booty. The amount was fixed in the pirate’s articles. On some ships, an arm or leg was worth 500 pieces of eight. An eye or a finger was worth 100.
  1. Pirates spent a good deal of time burying treasure. False. These men of the sea spent it as fast as they got it. The expression “to spend money like a drunken sailor” especially applied to pirates. Pirate Thomas Tew did travel with his own treasure chest, but it was meant to hold his valuables while on board ship. This gem is now on display in Pat Croce’s Pirate & Treasure Museum in St. Augustine.
  1. Blackbeard was the most ruthless pirate that ever sailed the seven seas. He might have been close, matey, but there were some who were far worse. Though violent, Blackbeard was more of a tactician using violence to intimidate. French pirate Francois L’Olonnais, on the other hand derived great pleasure from inflicting unspeakable horrors on his victims. One method he was fond of was woolding, a technique of twisting a cord around a person’s head with a board till his eyes popped.
  2. The gangplank was a widely used method of punishment. False. In all the accounts of pirates, it is only referenced once or twice. George Wood at his hanging claimed he and shipmates made several walk the plank, but it might have been a case bravado. The fact is when pirates wanted to get rid of you, they simply threw you overboard, sometimes with your hands and feet tied.

Continue reading →