Captain Kidd

Pirates in the Art of Howard Pyle

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MAROONED!!! 8X10

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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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.

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