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/
When I was a kid, I remember a small tin chest not more than four inches wide and a couple inches high. It was shaped like a pirate’s chest with a sturdy metal handle on the top and a hole underneath large enough to slip coins into. The metallic blacks, blues, and browns beckoned this six-year old to a fascinating world of pirates with Captain Kidd’s own name inscribed on the front of the chest.
Looking back, a pirate bank seems counterintuitive. Pirates were the last ones you’d expect to save money though Henry Morgan did and purchased several estates in Jamaica. Not bad for a pirate, mon!
I guess there was more pirate in that six-year old than I realized. I never managed to save more than a few coins at a time, and while rum and wenches didn’t call my name, packages of baseball cards with bubblegum inside did. I can think of a whole lot of pirates that would be proud of me because of my spendthrift ways.
Our piggy banks have changed over the years. There’s still the common pig- mostly see-through glass or plaster of Paris. I have two myself; one large and one small, both are painted blue.
I don’t know if kids still use piggy banks these days. From the looks of the shelves in the dollar stores, there seems to be one for every kid in America with plenty to spare.
But somehow I think most kids and their parents have grown too sophisticated for them. Now there are gift cards in denominations of twenty to a hundred dollars, and it’s not much fun to stare at a gift card lying indolently at the bottom of a piggy bank. It is fun, however, to see a few single coins grow from a tiny miniscule lump to an impressive mountain of change.
I never took a poll, but had I asked the hundreds of buccaneers and pirates that sailed the Seven Seas, I bet my best tricorn hat that ninety-nine percent of them would laugh at me if I asked if they ever buried treasure. “You think wenches and rum come free, you bloat?” they’d likely sneer.
Still I can’t help but think of Henry Morgan who actually buried the treasure he stole at Nombre de Dios. Spanish ships chased his ships away while he was off plundering in the jungles of Central America. When he discovered his predicament, he hastily buried the booty then rowed several hours till he caught up with his ships.
My wife never had that problem, but she does keep her treasure in a chest of sorts. I’d use the word booty, but some you with lurid minds would get the wrong idea. Her booty is in a tall glass jar, not something you could bury very easily. She often wonders why it doesn’t fill up faster till I remind her that if she didn’t plunder it as fast as Henry Morgan raided the Spanish Main, it might be brimming over.
While few pirates ever buried their treasure, I can assure you there were some. Even today part of William Kidd’s treasure is still the target of many a treasure hunt. And that’s a good thing because my grandchildren Luke and Nora buried treasure in my garden last year. We drew a pirate map up to make sure it was official.
I’m taking an informal poll, and I’d like to ask you two questions. Have you ever buried treasure? Hiding money under a rug or in a book counts! At the very least, do you have a piggy bank or chest where you store extra booty.
You’ll have to excuse me, but I hear someone digging out back. It might be a neighbor or it might be a professional treasure hunter. Word gets around. I’ve got to grab my tricorn hat and sword and check it out. I’ll be back next week.
In the meantime, if you want to read a little more about treasure, you might enjoy reading “What’s in Your Treasure Chest?” Find it at https://billhegerichsr.wordpress.com/2015/06/26/whats-in-your-treasure-chest/ .
If you’d like to respond, please click on https://billhegerichsr.wordpress.com/2016/07/31/buried-treasure/
Happy Veteran’s Day to all those men and women who have sacrificed so much so that all of us Americans could enjoy our freedom. Whether you served in the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, or Coast Guard, our debt to you is profound. We honor and respect you and thank you for the freedoms we enjoy.
Arrrrgh! Sorry I be’s late with this communicado, but me and me pirate wench have been held incommunicado this past weekend. We were bivouacked at the Waccamaw Artists Guild’s Art in the Park at Chapin Park, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
My wife creates Little Books of Mirth that she absconded from fairies who live in the woods behind our humble abode. She learned that trick from the best of pirates. But she be just as famous for her beautiful shell wreaths made with shells from beaches around the world where many a pirate and mariner have been marooned.
As fer me, me art comprises of photographs I took while pillaging’ and plunderin’ from Cape Cod to the Caribbean. One of me favorites is a diorama I discovered celebrating Homer Pyle’s painting Marooned. It depicts a solitary pirate sitting on an abandoned beach, a bandana wrapped about his head, shoulders slumped, lost in thought, no doubt contemplating the events that led to his situation. No doubt, one of those somber thoughts, is about what is to transpire with no worldly possession in reach other than a swallow of rum and a pistol.
Ye see, mates, pirates were frequently marooned on an inhospitable island with nothing more than a bit of rum and a pistol with one ball to speed his end at his own hand. It was a fate assigned to that pirate who didn’t play well with other pirates.
Howard Pyle is also known for two other easily recognizable paintings of pirates. One is of a blindfolded man, hands tied, ready to walk the plank. In the background, several pirates leer gleefully, exhorting the victim to the edge.
No doubt, Pyle got his ideas of pirates from Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island and Alexander Exquemelin who served as physician among pirates. While Exquemelin’s embellished accounts in The Buccaneers of America are grounded in fact, Stevenson’s poetic license resulted in the creation of several pirate myths that thrive to this day.
The truth is there are only one or two accounts of pirates making their victims walk the plank. Not being well known for their patience, pirates devised a much quicker method of disposing of unwanted mariners. “Run a saber through the bloke and throw the body overboard. Alive or dead. Makes no difference to me,” pretty much captures their attitude.
However, considering that some captains and crews were, indeed, sadistic, it’s not hard to visualize pirates delighting in the torment of a blindfolded victim teetering on a plank extended over the sea.
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