It’s been a busy month for pirates… at least those rascally bucaneers who pillaged and plundered the Caribbean three hundred years ago.
Disney was right to name their amusement attraction and film series by the name Pirates of the Caribbean. Both helped capture the essence of what has made pirates attractive over the centuries though some people I talk to are shocked when I point out Jack Sparrow was just a fictional character.
Books and films have propagated some of the common myths we cherish about pirates like burying treasure every chance they got or entertaining themselves endlessly by making their victims walk the plank.
The fact is pirates were too busy donating their money to impoverished innkeepers in exchange for a little rum to find time to bury it. Why they were even known to assist lonely women down on their luck and their backs in return for a couple of life’s simple pleasures. Their generosity left them broke.
As for walking the plank, it’s difficult but not impossible to find references to this diabolic deed. You can read more about it in me upcoming book Uncommon Mariners. Let it suffice to say, once pirates captured a ship, like Santa Claus on Christmas Eve, they set straight to work, searching for all that hidden gold.
Disney would have you believe as would Homer Pyle the painter of pirates that those who didn’t cough up their belongings were forced to walk the plank while a crew of gnarly, smelly pirates chortled and snarled “Aarrrgh.” Sometimes spelled aarrrrgh or arrr, the accent being on the last three letters. The truth is, if murderous pirates were sufficiently annoyed with you or their underwear was too tight that day, they simply threw you overboard.
A lot of people including a number of historians over the years put Blackbeard in this category, but that’s only because they came to believe the Hollywood hype and Blackbeard’s own press releases. Of course, Blackbeard didn’t actually issue press releases. He didn’t have to. His physical demeanor gave the aura of being the nastiest, meanest, most ornery, ferocious pirate in the Caribbean. One look at his snarly beard bedecked with burning fuses struck more fear in a shipload of sailors than a hundred press releases.
The reason I’m telling you this is because December the 10 has slipped into oblivion again this year, the date Stede Bonnet, was hanged in Charleston in 1718. Bonnet was a gentleman pirate and one of Blackbeard’s consorts, but It would be stretching the truth to call him his friend.
Bonnet became a pirate for the most unlikely of reasons. He was tired of his wife’s nagging. If you had to pick him out of a lineup of ten pirates, you’d be wrong nine times. He looked more like a Wall Street type than a thick-bearded ruffian ready to cut your heart out.
Still the fact remains he was a pirate. Strangely enough, he had to buy his ship not steal it, and he didn’t even understand how the whole pirate thing worked: First, you pillage, then you plunder, drink some rum, then pay the crew. Pirates called it: “No prey, no pay!”
Stede’s first mistake was paying his crew before they even left port. Actually, his first mistake was becoming a pirate.
After being resoundly beaten in one of his earlier encounters, he limped into the pirate base of Nassau where it was love at first sight. Not what you’re thinking I guarantee you. Blackbeard was on the dock, and when he laid his eyes on Bonnet’s ship, the Revenge, he knew he had to have it.
The amusing thing is Blackbeard through wit and coercion had Stede Bonnet join his fleet with the gentleman pirate pretty much a hostage on his own ship. “You read yer books in yer fancy library,” he no doubt told Stede, “and I’ll find ye a fine sailing captain to manage the dirty work. Arrrrgh!” I’m not sure Bonnet was ever aware Blackbeard had relieved him of his ship.
A lot of adventures passed under the ship’s keel before Blackbeard and Bonnet parted ways, but you can be sure it wasn’t over until the master of intimidation said it was over.
Bonnet didn’t last long after that. The luckless pirate was caught by mistake off North Carolina when pirate hunters were searching for someone else. He was brought to Charleston, South Carolina where more than a few common folk threatened to riot when he and his men were scheduled to be hanged.
Many of these locals were ex pirates from Nassau and smugglers who made more money than an inside trader on Wall Street. But the thriving days of piracy in the Caribbean were on the wane, and Stede Bonnet’s days were numbered.
Stede Bonnet may not have cut the colorful swath in history Blackbeard did, but you deserve to know that despite the myths, he was Blackbeard’s peer and should be respected for that.
As for this well-educated man with a refined background turning to a life of crime, I have to ask you. What would it take for you to live your pirate dreams?
See you out there on the high seas of life. Arrrgh!
To leave a comment, please go to https://billhegerichsr.wordpress.com/2016/12/19/on-stede-bonnet-pirate-myths-and-blackbeards-foil/
I have a bumper sticker with a skull and crossbones on it. The skull is wearing an eyepatch, smiling no doubt because of the bright red bandana it’s sporting. Underneath it reads: “Put a Real Pirate in Office. Jimmy Buffett for President.”
I think Jimmy is having way too much fun to be tricked into running for president, but of all the pirates I’ve known, Blackbeard would make a terrific president. It’s hard to think of a more presidential candidate than Edward Thatch. That’s his baptismal name. Yes, even the parents of buccaneers have high expectations for their offspring.
Of course, I can hear your comments now. He doesn’t look anything like a president. Look at all that hair! And that beard! Have you lost your mind? As a matter of fact, I have, but my wife has gotten used to it. Did you know we had quite a number of presidents who were no slackers in the hair and beard department? Abe Lincoln, of course, being one of the greatest.
It may interest you to know the last time we had a president with a full blown beard was President Rutherford Hayes, twenty-third president who served from 1877 to 1881. He could have passed as Blackbeard’s double though I don’t think Blackbeard would have approved of him as president. At his wife’s urging, he banished wine and liquor from the White House. That’s not the sort of thing a president with pirate tendencies does.
In case you haven’t noticed, Donald Trump is no slouch in the hair department though he would probably garner a bit more respect if he let it go pure white instead of using something on it that looks like dog pee. His hair dresser should tell him white hair implies age and wisdom.
As for Blackbeard, he was a dedicated pragmatist who knew exactly how to utilize his hair and beard. He used to weave fuses in his beard then light them during battle to intimidate his opponents. Imagine how frightening he would appear before a joint session of Congress or in a tense meeting with Vladimir Putin when suddenly smoke belched from his head, his black penetrating eyes boring a hole in your soul.
But it takes more than hair to be a leader. When you’re the leader of a pirate ship, you need three things: an ability to take control, a knowledge of people, and a thorough understanding of your profession. Blackbeard had these in aces.
However, like every politician, he held his position using guile, though his strong pirate persona would certainly give him an edge over whining tea partyers. He once blew the candle out in his cabin while drinking with a few of his crew. Suddenly, he picked up his pistols and fired them underneath the table, laming one person. When asked why he did it, he answered: “Got to show ‘em who’s boss once in a while.”
I think that would work well when a pirate president runs into a congress like we’ve had for what seems an eternity. After all, if pirates pulled off the crap that our senators and congressmen have, they’d never leave port. Pirates unlike most members of Congress today knew if you wanted to get things done… if you wanted booty, rum, and wenches then you had to compromise; you couldn’t sit on the deck and whine about having everything your way: “I don’t want to go to Africa; I don’t think we should take that prize; how come I don’t ever get first choice of captured guns. Blah! Blah! Blah!” Continue reading →
It stands about a block off Bay Street in Nassau, Bahamas at the corner of King and George, but when the sun hits the sign on that deep pink building the drunkest pirate could find it after the wildest night of debauchery. And if you haven’t indulged too heavily the night before, you’re likely to hear Blackbeard’s voice boom as he swears gleefully at Benjamin Hornigold, his one time shipmate and mentor.
“And what the hell is me quartermaster be doing on these streets when ye got important business on the ship?” swears Hornigold.
Blackbeard studying his captain barely blinks. “I got me an itchin’ for that raven-haired wench at the Crossbones Pub and a thirst to match.”
“We be sailin’ tonight for sure. Word has it a shipload of Spanish coins, lots of rum, and an assortment of lovely baubles all be headin‘ our way.”
Blackbeard grunts then slips into the dark coolness of a nearby tavern. His dark beauty is waiting.
Nassau, Bahamas is a booming island, and whether you visit by plane or by ship, you’ll find the people for the most part warm and friendly, and focused on the business of daily living just like the old days when Blackbeard and Hornigold turned it into one of the most thriving Pirate Havens of the Caribbean.
Little is left of their haunts where they unloaded their booty and swapped tales and goods with local merchants and citizens. New markets have risen on the ghostly remains of the old, but the smiles and grinning eyes remain in the town’s descendants.
But to really appreciate the significance of Nassau, you have to wander up from Bay street till you come to the pink clad building cloaked in an air of mystery. Like one who consorts with pirates, it sees far more than it tells.
Rounding the corner, the first thing I notice is the lone black figure standing tall in the street. Black boots, black trousers, black shirt frame the figure, a tricorn hat long associated with pirates sits atop the pirate’s ebony face. And he grins.
He grins and waves me over. “Let’s see how it fits you,” he calls as he motions to his weathered stocks with a hole just large enough to place my head and two smaller holes to clasp my wrists.
The black pirate’s disarming smile nudges me just feet from the dark castle-like building, its opening like a mouth ready to swallow one more visitor into its mysterious depths.
His penetrating eyes stare into my soul, and recognizing a compatriot, I smile back. With the same playful banter between Blackbeard and Hornigold, he invites me into a world of pirates, and suddenly centuries fall away, and it’s 1715 again when pirates overwhelmingly outnumbered its citizens. Continue reading →
Ever wonder if pirates in the Caribbean bothered to take time out from their busy schedule of pillaging, plundering, and wenching to celebrate Christmas?
It was no doubt the perfect time for pirates to return to the Caribbean after a year of plundering from Charleston to Boston. Once cold weather set in, it was the custom of some to head for warmer waters.
Blackbeard is a good example. Except it seems he made two fatal mistakes. One, he partied it up in North Carolina in November instead of heading to the warm waters of the Caribbean where Reggae bands, fancy rum drinks, and hot wenches waited. His second mistake was that he aggravated the living hell out of Governor Spotswood of Virginia so much so that the governor sent Captain Maynard in search of him and put an end to his fiendish ways.
Maynard didn’t have to look too far. Maynard met up with Blackbeard just before Thanksgiving in Oracoke, North Carolina. After a delicate game of cat and mouse, the curtain descended on Blackbeard with a dramatic flourish. Had he sought out a warmer clime, Blackbeard might have lived to see Christmas and another New Year.
One of the benefits of taking a few days to celebrate Christmas was the opportunity to clean your ship. We’re not talking about the excellent job housekeepers at resorts from South Carolina’s Grand Strand to Key West perform. Wooden ships are infamous for being on the menu of the toredo worm. A family of these hungry creatures can turn the hull of any wooden ship into Swiss cheese, rye bread and pastrami not needed.
The only way to combat them is to take the ship out of the water and scrape the barnacles and worms down to the hull. The process is called careening. Considering their size and bulk, putting ships in dry dock wasn’t an option, but the endless array of sandy beaches and shallow water bays in the Caribbean made that unnecessary.
Careening involved leaning the ship on its side, doing the necessary scraping, then leaning it on its other side and repeating the process. And all this while hoping the rum didn’t kick in too much with your crew and that pirate hunters would not discover you.
I admit it may sound like more work than fun, but how much fun is it for Santa to work his buns off making toys, doing recon work spying on boys and girls- and that’s not to mention the naughty wenches he’s got to keep an eye on. Well, okay, that part might bring a smile to his face, but how much fun is it to ride all over the world in one night, and then for a reward be stuck in your long johns the rest of the winter?
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!