Friday, February 27, 2009

Pirate Lingo Made Easy

If ye want to portray yerself as a bloodthirsty pirate (and let's face it, who doesn't?), ye have to take an affect to yer speech. No need of immersin' yerself in literature, nor takin' any theatrical dialects class. Just remember these five rules:

Goodbye, G
Any word with an -ing endin' now has an -in' endin'. Most of us do this anyway ("are you comin to the party?"), but with pirate speak, you actually hang on and give emphasis to that final N.

As soon as ye show yer scurvy face-- at home, at the bar, at the underground cockfightin' den, or wherever-- immediately establish your piratocity by greetin' everyone with a hearty "ahoy!" It's how pirates say hello. In Klingon, the hello greetin' basically amounts to "what do you want?" In Pirate, the hello greetin' basically amounts to "I see you."

Yes & No
Simple as mud. This rule alone will make you sound like a pirate. If you forget all the others, remember to say "aye" and "nay" in answer to questions of truth-value. If someone tells you to do somethin', and you decide to do it, say "aye" twice.

To Be or Else
Pirates do not conjugate "to be." I be a pirate. Ye be a scallywag. She be a saucy wench. They be askin' fer a keelhaulin'!

Friends & Enemies
Finally, when addressing friends, call them "hearties" or "maties." Call a disreputable friend a "scallywag." If someone pisses you off, call them a dog. Nowadays, "dog" is what male friends call each other. But in the Golden Age of Piracy, there was nothing worse you could call someone than a dog. Tone of voice helps-- say it with spitting anger. You can add adjectives: "Ye scurvy dog!" "Ye damned dog!" or make it poetic: "Avast, ye bilge-sucking wagtail!"

Right, that last one be a bit complex. But follow some or any of these rules, and ye will be well on yer way to a life of adventure and plunder! May fortune smile on yer voyages!

P.S. There's a new comic coming out in April called Cursed Pirate Girl. We're not sure how much actual piracy is in it, but it sounds mighty interesting and the art is made to look old-timey. Read an interview with the artist and see some pages here.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Pirate Haunt of the Day: The Spanish Main

The Spanish Main consisted of the Carribbean coasts of Florida, Mexico, northern South America, and the waterways that served their ports. The riches of the Spanish Empire were concentrated in this area and drew the attention of many a hopeful scallywag.

The Spanish Empire in the Americas largely consisted of Florida, Mexico, Central America and northern South America. From these regions the Spanish reaped mind-blowingly vast amounts of wealth in the form of gold, silver, precious jewels, New World spices and hardwoods, tobacco, and other goods. These riches would be hauled to the Caribbean coast, loaded onto galleons, and shipped back to the motherland. Goods from Asia were also brought in from the east to Acapulco, brought overland to Veracruz, and added to the treasure fleet for transport to Spain.

This is the major reason why the Caribbean was so rife with pirates. A Spanish treasure fleet was not easy to capture, but perhaps trailing the fleet you could pick off a straggler and immediately retire! This did not happen often, but the presence of such vast riches was enough to attract the hopes and aspirations of many an outlaw, who would then wise up and pick easier targets.

There's also a film entitled "The Spanish Main," and there are pirates in it. It is an adventure film from 1945. Check it out if you're so inclined:

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

What's That in Yer Cannon?

Cannons were the mainstay of sea battles in the eighteenth century, using gunpowder to launch iron balls at about nine hundred miles an hour. A cannonball could be anywhere from two to six inches in diameter, depending on the bore of the cannon. But there were other things besides mere balls a pirate could shoot at another ship.

Yes, you can dump a bunch of silverware, nails, and whatever else is expendable into a cannon and shoot it. This is known as a blunderbuss shot, and while not at all effective in breeching the hull, it would be downright nasty if it hit a person on deck.

They also used bomb shots-- a hollowed out cannonball full of gunpowder, with a fuse. The fuse is lit just before putting the bomb in the cannon. If you time it right, the bomb explodes just as it is hitting the opposing ship. If you time it wrong, it could land on deck and blow up later; or it could blow up in the air and be wasted. If you time it drastically wrong, or if your flash pan doesn't light, it could blow up your cannon and kill you.

What do you get when you attach two cannonballs to a length of chain? You get chain shot. A chain shot spins in the air, and if you shoot it at the rigging, it can wrap around ropes, tear sails and break off the spars, to prevent your prey from sailing away.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Happy Birthday, Black Sam

Today is the 320th anniversary of the birth of "Black Sam" Bellamy, nicknamed the "Prince of Pirates."

Bellamy was born in England, became a sailor, and sailed to Cape Cod. There he met a girl so fair: Maria Hallett. She was so fair that he decided to scour the coast of Florida looking for shipwrecks to bring her treasure. When he couldn't find any, he turned pirate.

He first joined Benjamin Hornigold's crew on the Mary Anne. In 1716, Bellamy took command of the Mary Anne. He later captured a better ship, the Sultana. Bellamy was known for his mercy and generosity. When he captured the 300-ton slaving ship, the Whydah Galley, he gave its captain the Sultana. The Whydah Galley was laden with ivory, gold, and silver. Evidently he had finally captured enough for his lady love, for he sailed back to Cape Cod.

Tragically, he never saw Maria again. The Whydah Galley was caught in a storm off the cape, wrecked, and went under the tide. Nine men from Bellamy's fleet made it ashore, and all but two were captured.

Bellamy himself went down with the Whydah Galley. The ship and some of its treasure were recovered by treasure hunters in 1984. Many of the artifacts are on display at the Expedition Whydah Sea Lab & Learning Center in Provincetown, Massachusetts. There is also currently a travelling exhibit with Whydah artifacts called Real Pirates: The Untold Story of the Whydah from Slave Ship to Pirate Ship. It just moved to The Field Museum in Chicago & the show opens on Wednesday.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Best. Teacharrr. Evarrr.

A brilliant Utah teacher has found a way to interest 16-year-olds in history. Ronald Hansen teaches pirates "rather than do[ing] Columbus." His course culminates in a three-day treasure hunt, complete with cryptographic clues. Principal's only concern: it's hard to figure out all that pirate lingo. Bravo, Mr. Hansen! May yer sails be round and yer rum casks full. Read the full story.

Friday, February 20, 2009

The Colour of Beards

Seafaring folk of the eighteenth century, like most folk of the eighteenth century, were a superstitious lot. Sailors would only sing songs that mention home when they were on the return leg of their journey. Since whistling was thought to encourage wind, a sailor would never whistle during a storm, for fear of turning a squall into a hurricanoe! And it was generally thought to be very bad luck to cut hair or nails while at sea.

Hair and nail clippings were sacred to Persephone, a Greek demigoddess. So it was considered bad form to make them while your fate rested in the hands of Poseidon, god of the sea. Consequently, many pirates ended up with noticeable beards. Some beards were so noteworthy that the name of the beard is more well known than the name of the man.

Especially Blackbeard. His beard, in addition to being black, was long and wild, and he was known to braid it and weave burning pieces of rope into it-- to terrify opponents.

Bluebeard was not a pirate. Bluebeard is a European folk tale about a character who serially marries and murders women. But this tale is outside the scope of this blogge.

Redbeard was not a pirate, technically. Redbeard was two pirates, probably the most famous of the Barbary corsairs. Baba Aruj and Hayreddin Barbarossa were Ottoman Turks born on the isle of Lesbos (then called Midilli). They and their other two brothers were all seamen in the Mediterranean. Aruj was given a small fleet by an Ottoman Prince in order to fight the Knights of St. John who were interfering with Ottoman trade and shipping. He was later given authorization to raid Italy and other Christian nations on the northern mediterranean coast. When he was killed in battle with Spain, his brother Hayreddin took over his mission. Hayreddin eventually grew wealthy and ultimately became Pasha of Algiers.

Yellowbeard is a pirate-themed comedy film by Graham Chapman of Monty Python. It is an example of a film that was probably ruined by development hell, but the finished product is still quirkily entertaining. Ah, but what might have been, if it had starred Keith Moon and Adam Ant as originally planned...

Check it out for yourself:

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Pirate Flags, or Why is Roger so Jolly?

The black flag with skull and crossbones is universally understood as a sign of pirates. But there were a wide variety of different flags flown by pirates to engender fear in their opponents. Many pirates simply flew an unadorned black flag, or a red one, to indicate that they were outlaws, not bound to the rules of engagement, and that they would torture and kill everyone on board unless an immediate surrender was tendered. Pirates would also keep a number of flags of various nations on hand, to fool other ships into thinking they were friendly. When they got close, the black flag would come up, and often the victim ship's hands would jump overboard in terror. If the ship refused to surrender, a red flag would mean the ship would be taken mercilessly, and all hands killed.

In the early eighteenth century, the skull and crossbones motif became popular among pirates. The flags were handmade, and many different variations existed.

Edward England
The Jolly Roger of Edward England

Richard Worley
Richard Worley

Christopher Condent
Christopher Condent

Calico Jack Rackham
Calico Jack Rackham

Some pirates used a different device entirely, such as an hourglass with wings to indicate "time is running out," or the Devil stabbing a heart.

Edward 'Blackbeard' Teach
Edward "Blackbeard" Teach

Edward Low
Edward Low

Black Bart  Roberts
Black Bart Roberts

Thomas Tew
Thomas Tew

This only serves to indicate the endless ingenuity and creative expression that pirates of the Golden Age represent!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Pillage of the Village

If you're in Florida, or have a way to get there, you may want to check out the 17th annual Florida Renaissance Festival which is underway, weekends through March 8. It's at Quiet Waters Park in Deerfield Beach, on the east coast near Boca Raton. The weather forecast for this weekend is partly cloudy mid-70's.

This particular weekend, the 21st and 22nd, is the pirate-themed weekend. They call it the Pillage of the Village. While you're in town, be sure to scour the coast for buried treasure. Both Blackbeard and Sir Henry Morgan deposited loot in the area.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

This Day in Pirate History

Today is the 290th anniversary of the death of Richard Worley, an English pirate of note for being one of the first to fly a skull and crossbones flag.

Worley set out from New York in a small boat with a skeleton crew of eight men, scored some loot along the east coast, picked up a few more crew members, and headed for the Bahamas.

It was about this time that King George I issued a proclamation ordering the execution of any pirate who refused his generous offer of royal pardons, a threat backed up by the departure of the 24-gun HMS Phoenix, sent to the Caribbean to hunt pirates.

Worley and his crew managed to evade the Phoenix, and signed a set of articles that included a pledge to fight to the death if captured. Worley decided to head back to the colonial waters that were proving so lucrative for the likes of Blackbeard and Stede Bonnet. The governor of North Carolina got wind of his plans, and sent out two warships to intercept him.

Unfortunately, Worley mistook the two warships for merchant ships and tried to block their entry to Jamestown harbor, effectively removing his avenue of escape. All hands were killed in the battle, save Worley and one other crewman. Worley was injured, and the authorities wanted to be sure his sentence was carried out before he died of his wounds. He was sentenced to be hanged the following day, February 17, 1719. Let us remember our fallen brother on this day!

Fly your own skull and crossbones in his honor:

Monday, February 16, 2009

Way, Hey, Blog the Man Down!

This be a blog devoted to the romantic ideal of piracy, especially the Golden Age thereof. We will discuss infamous historical pirates, pirates in literature and film, pirate events, nautical archaeology, and perhaps the occasional news story about modern pirates-- but only to lambaste them for their lack of panache and cutlasses.

So why is piracy romantical? Freedom, me hearties. Pirates represent the eschewing of authority and making one's own way with courage and a rejection of the domination of the spirit. The ideal of rational anarchy is perhaps best expressed by Captain Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean: "The only law that matters is what a man can do, and what a man can't do." Blow "the Man" down, maties!