Anne Bonny

My Stamp of Approval

It’s amazing how many different kinds of postage stamps you can buy at the post office this time of year. There’s the Madonna and Child, Saint Nick, and a lamb proclaiming, “All is calm and bright.” Of course, there’s also one celebrating Hanukkah, another Kwanzaa, plus quite a few more. And that’s on top of some pretty amazing stamps commemorating people and events from America’s past.

One of my favorites is a black and white stamp of John Kennedy. It captures a very handsome man displaying an air of leadership and dignity, something lacking in the presidency these days. I remember when he first became president. I was only 14, but even a callow youth like me sensed the feeling of hope that pervaded the country. Anything seemed possible then, so much so that Kennedy promised the United States would put a man on the moon in a decade. He beat his own timeline.

Coming from any other politician, the prediction would have been preposterous dribble, like a slimy politician promising to build a wall to keep Mexicans out of the country. But when a man like John Kennedy shared the vision of a New Frontier, most Americans believed that it was not only possible but probable.

I don’t think we should put the picture of politicians on postage stamps today. It seems most are obnoxious and deceitful, many millionaires who buy their position with the family inheritance or with obscene amounts of money from lobbyists. And that’s a disgrace. Who wants to mail a letter with a politician’s picture on it who robs from the poor to give to the rich?

It’s not that people don’t expect you to bend the rules when you ’re president, but they do expect you to play fairly and not be mean-spirited or vengeful. Which brings me back to postage stamps and an interesting character from America’s past. Blackbeard.

It takes a real leader to handle a shipload of pirates. Imagine what Blackbeard could have accomplished as President

I can’t help but think he would have made a great president, looking great on a postage stamp. He was clever, manipulative, strong, focused, and a great motivator. If you served with him, you might not always agree with his methods or his goals, but life couldn’t have been fairer on his ship. He wouldn’t have had to tweet for you to know what he was thinking or to exert his authority.

As I mull over this whole postage stamp thing, I can’t help but think what one would look like with Blackbeard’s picture on it. He’s usually portrayed with a black, straggly beard and a full head of hair. His eyes didn’t twinkle like Santa Claus’. Rather they were dark and piercing, quick to root out malingerers.

I don’t know if Donald Trump’s likeness will ever appear on a postage stamp. One reason is just practicality. How can you get a picture of someone with all that hair into such a small space? The other reason is more ethical. Is it really a good idea to extol someone who thinks it okay to grab a woman by her genitals without even asking? I’d like to see Donald Trump do that around Blackbeard.

Another figure that deserves a place on a postage stamp is Captain William Kidd. Kidd’s gotten a pretty bad rap over the years, but many historians are revising their view of Kidd as a ruthless, blood-thirsty murderer. The fact is, when Kidd set sail from New York, he did so with the explicit approval of some very influential politicians. His fortunes turned bad when his crew grew mutinous after failing to capture any ships on a list pre-approved by the King and politicians.

Kidd struggled to control his crew, all the while attempting to satisfy the demands of his well-connected investors. If Kidd had a flaw, it was that he was naïve and trusting. After returning to the Caribbean, he discovered he was a wanted man, yet opted to willingly return to New York, certain he would find support from those who hired him.

Politicians, realizing they were about to be embarrassed, disassociated themselves from Kidd, and even went so far as to hide two tickets that would have exonerated him. Upon his arrival in New York, he was jailed and shipped to England to be tried for murder and piracy. Forbidden to present an adequate defense, he was found guilty and condemned to hang. Kidd’s picture on a postage stamp? He earned it after dealing with cutthroats at home and at sea.

And not to slight the ladies, I think Ann Bonny is another pirate who deserves to be on a postage stamp. At an age when women on ships were taboo, Ann broke the glass ceiling or at least the crow’s nest on the mainmast. It took a lot of courage for a woman to pass herself off as a man, rubbing elbows and God knows what else with a ship filled with lusty sailors. Just going to the bathroom took a lot finesse and cleverness so as not to expose her identity as well as other things.

Eventually, Bonny’s sex was discovered, but she earned the crew’s approval when she showed she could fight as well as any man. Surprisingly, Ann and her cohort Mary Read proved more valorous than the men who cowered below deck when the ship was under attack. When captured, she was tried and sentenced to death. The only reason the sentence wasn’t carried out was because she was pregnant.

Blackbeard’s flag depicts a heartless scoundrel, but he was fair to the little guy. He would disapprove of today’s politicians who steal from the poor guy to give to the wealthy.

I could suggest other pirates whose faces deserve to be on postage stamps, but I’d be happy with just these three. Like the typical politician today, they were resourceful, clever, and master manipulators. Unlike today’s politicians with their aristocratic attitudes, pirates had a strong sense of fair play and democracy. On a pirate ship, no one was privileged. Not the rich; not the well-connected; and certainly not the blood-sucking lobbyists.

The motto of pirates could be summed up in a familiar phrase: “All for one. One for all.” If Blackbeard and his ilk were alive today, they might even adopt the motto of the Carnival Cruise Line: “Fun for all, All for Fun.” Though they would probably insist on changing it to: “Rum for all. All for Rum.” Rather than argue with them, I figure why not join them.

It’s almost 4:30, and I have to close this piece. My wife needs a book of stamps at the post office. I don’t know what kind she wants, but if I had my way, I know which ones I’d buy.

                                            Bill Hegerich

                                            The Uncommon Mariner

 

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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 More Facts You Never Knew about Pirates

JOLLY ROGER 8X10 FINAL What a day

Last time we visited, ye took a little test to see how much ye really knew about us buccaneers. Did ye know enough to escape the gangplank or was ye swimming with the sharks. Think you’ll survive a second broadside from me cannons? Good luck, mates. Ten right answers and ye merit sailing with Blackbeard himself. Three wrong answers and anyone will know yer a landlubber fer sure and no mariner of the high seas.

  1. Piracy in the Caribbean ended when England ruthlessly hunted down pirates like Blackbeard and Captain Kidd. False. On September 05, 1717, the king actually offered a pardon for most pirates if they agreed to stop their nasty ways. Knowing the handwriting was on the wall, 300 pirates In Providence agreed, thus making it easier to hunt down those that remained.
  1. Pirates preferred tall ships with three masts and lots and lots of cannons. False. The overwhelming number of pirate ships weren’t close to the majestic ships portrayed in movies. Many pirates opted for smaller, lighter vessels that could move swiftly when chasing or being chased. Because large ships could not navigate shallow channels needed to dodge and hide, pirates preferred boats with shallow drafts.
  1. Except for a few isolated incidents in history, pirates were not a problem for mariners until the Golden Age of Piracy. False. A century before, Cheng I Sao ruled the South China Seas for years with as many as 300 ships. The Mediterranean Seas were infested with Corsairs for years, attacking ships and villages for booty and slaves. Both St. Patrick and Julius Caesar were kidnapped by pirates. Caesar told his captors he would be back to crucify them. He did just that.
  1. Pirates used the Jolly Roger to create a esprit de corps among themselves. False. Pirates used the Jolly Roger with trickery and intimidation, flying the same flag as a ship they targeted so as not to arouse suspicion. Then when they were on top of their prey, they raised the skull and crossbones, striking terror into the hearts of everyone on board.
  1. The only worthwhile booty for any self respecting pirate was gold or silver. False. While no one ever turned down these treasures, food, water, rum- especially rum, clothing, medicine, and other supplies were all valued.

Continue reading →