Monday, September 15, 2014

Real Pirate Food

What did pirates really eat?

With Talk Like a Pirate Day nearly upon us, people all over are trying to figure out how to serve some authentic pirate dishes at their celebrations. So, for your enjoyment, I have produced a set of recipes. These are fundamentally like the 18th century dishes that real pirates really ate, but they’ve been updated to make them easier to cook (and eat) by 21st century people.

Since we are accustomed to starting our meals with salad, I’ll begin with an 18th century salad that has been associated with pirates, the Solomongundy.


1 head of romaine lettuce, cut into strips
8 hardboiled eggs, peeled and sliced
1 pound cooked chicken breast, cut in strips
1 pound smoked ham, cut in strips
1 cucumber cut in thin slices
3 ribs celery cut in small slices
1 can of anchovies, drained.

Lay out the lettuce in an even bed on a platter. Cover with the other ingredients, laying them out in patterns or designs. Be creative.


6 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon vinegar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
½ teaspoon dry mustard
Salt and pepper to taste
Mix all ingredients thoroughly and sprinkle over your solomongundy

Our next recipe is for ship’s biscuit, also called “hard tack” This was the nearly indestructible bread that lasted for months on long sea voyages. It’s a really simple one:

Ship's Biscuit:

4 cups of unbleached flour
1 cup of water
1 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 250 degrees

Mix the flour and salt, then add the water and mix until you have a very stiff dough. Let it rest for 10 minutes, then beat it out flat with a rolling pin or a wine bottle. When its ½ inch thick, fold it and beat it back to ½ inch. (Instead of beating it, you can also run it through a pasta maker.)

Continue for about half an hour, or until the dough is smooth and elastic.

Roll the dough out one last time, into a square shape and cut into 2” squares. Prick each with a fork.
Place on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake at 250 degrees for one hour. Cool on racks.

This will produce a little over a pound of nearly indestructible biscuits, of about the texture of concrete. How does a person eat such a thing? Answer – You make Lobscouse.

Shop’s biscuit was never intended to be eaten like a cracker. You'd break your teeth on it. Instead, the men it was given to pounded it into bits with the steel handles of their tools and soaked it in meat broth. Lobscouse was a stew based off this.


2 pounds corned beef
2 pounds smoked ham
1 bay leaf
4 large onions
6 large potatoes
½ pound ship’s biscuit, pounded into crumbs
1 teaspoon allspice
1 teaspoon nutmeg
½ teaspoon ground cloves
Salt and pepper to taste

Place the meat in a pot with the bay leaf and cold water to cover. Bring to a boil and cook until meat is tender, about 2 ½ hours. Discard the bay leaf. Skim the fat that has risen (pirates called tis “slush”) and reserve. Reserve 3 cups of the liquid.

Cut the meat into ½” dice, cut potatoes and onions into ¾” dice.

Heat 6 tablespoons of slush in a heavy frying pan and brown the meat. Remove the meat, draining the fat back into the pan. SautĂ© the onions until tender, add the potatoes and cook about 6 minutes. Add the meat and 1 ½ cups of cooking liquid, and cook until potatoes are almost tender, then add the biscuit crumbs and the spices, including plenty of pepper. Cook 5 more minutes. Add more liquid if you like it more moist.

This has been food associated with English pirates, and there is no more English way to end a meal than with a pudding. Since you’ve already beaten on bread for half an hour and boiled meat for over two hours more, I’m providing the recipe for Hasty Pudding.

Hasty Puddings:

Bring 3 quarts of water to a boil
2 cups of fine breadcrumbs
1 cup of raisins
1 teaspoon ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ cup sugar
Zest of one lemon
Two cups of grated suet.
(If you can’t get grated suet near you, as most people in America cannot, you can buy it online here, or substitute 2 sticks of very cold grated butter)

Mix all ingredients thoroughly, then beat together

5 eggs

And add to the mix. Form the dough into egg-sized balls, and roll each ball in flour. Drop balls into the boiling water, stirring just enough to keep them from sticking together. Boil for 15-20 minutes, then scoop out and let drain. Serve with sauce.


1 cup melted butter
1 cup sugar
1 cup sherry wine (The pirates called this “sack”.)

Mix together in a saucepan over low heat and pour, warm, over hasty pudding balls.

So there you go. A three-course meal that would have been right at home on a pirate’s table. Enjoy!
And Happy Talk Like a Pirate Day!

Monday, September 8, 2014

At Least One Thing You Probably Didn’t Know About Talk Like a Pirate Day

Okay, you may or may not know that the famous holiday started in June of 1995, then John Baur and Mark Summers were playing handball, and one of them was injured just badly enough to yell “Arrrgh!” The boys were amused enough that they went on talking like pirates for a while and then imagined a day when EVERYONE talked like pirates.

They picked a date for their holiday because Summers had found that, while he could never remember his wife’s birthday, once they were divorced he couldn’t forget September 19th, and he wanted to have some reason to think of it. The holiday took off when the duo wrote to the famous comedian Dave Barry, who found the idea worth a column…. And so a movement was born.

One of my friends tells a story of a family member who simply talked like a pirate on the assigned date, without explaining himself to anyone. (You can get away with a lot when you’re in IT.) Apparently it’s contagious, and so a conference call would happen, and pretty soon a bunch of VP’s were saying “Avast!” and “Me bucko!” with no idea why, until someone piped up and shouted “Why are we doing this?!”

Explanations were then offered. Pirates aren’t rude, after all. They just need to be asked direct questions.

Cap’n Slappy and Ol’ Chumbucket, as Baur and Summers are now known, have published a book, run a website, sell T Shirts and blog, all in the name of Piratical Pronunciation. Facebook got in on the fun in 2008, when they added the chance to update your Facebook language to “English – Pirate” which will change the site’s name to Ye Olde Facebook and promote most of your friends to captains.

(Go to Settings, change Language and set it to English – Pirate. Just that easy)
The number of sites and organizations celebrating the holiday gets bigger every year. Krispy Kream  gives a free donut to everyone who can talk the talk, and Long John Silver’s gives away fish. Minecraft offers pirate language, and publisher O’Reilly offers a discount on the R programming language (get it?)

The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, itself a parody, has made Talk Like a Pirate Day its official holiday, claiming that the lack of pirates is the reason for global warming. (We have fewer pirates, than during the Golden Age, and temperatures are going up, after all…)

Assorted sites will give you advice on exactly how to ‘talk like a pirate,’ though I can’t offer any better advice than to check out Disney’s 1950 movie Treasure Island, starring Robert Newton. Newton exaggerated his own West English accent for the part, and was so distinctive that he’s defined pirate-speak ever since.

Talk Like a Pirate Day even has its own official song, written by Tom Smith.

Yo, Ho, Yo, Ho,
It's "Talk Like A Pirate" Day!
When laptops are benches God gave us for wenches,
And a sail ain't a low price to pay!
When timbers are shivered and lillies are livered
And every last buckle is swashed,
We'll abandon our cars for a shipfull of ARRRs
And pound back the grog till we're sloshed. Yo ho ....

Why is the holiday so popular? Because it’s fun. No one can tell us about “What it’s supposed to mean,” or how to find “the true meaning of the holiday.” It’s supposed to mean that you talk like a pirate, and the real meaning of the holiday is “Aarrrgh!”

It’s one of the few eventss that Hallmark has yet to create a card for, and you don’t have to buy anything, although some people do invest in an eye patch. TLAPD is just about having a good time, and we need that.

Oh, and that one thing that I’ll bet you didn’t know? September 19th, in addition to being a holiday, is Hermione Granger’s birthday. Yes, that Hermione, the one from Harry Potter. And this fact has also been memorialized in song, with Tom Smith’s “Hermione Granger the Pirate Queen” a tune that you should definitely buy at Tom’s website, in addition to the Official Anthem.

And maybe we'll never get closer,
Than watchin' 'em on the big screen,
So here's to old Errol and Depp as Jack Sparrow,
And every damn one in between!

Yo Ho!

Monday, September 1, 2014

A Pirate’s Personal Armament

Although pirates usually did their best to rob people by simply scaring them witless, part of the performance was always carrying a stack of weapons. In fact, many pirates collected weapons. And the variety of things carried by pirates as weapons is vast and varied.

To begin with, there was the classic pirate sword. Often called a “hanger” because it was an ever-present item at a pirate’s side. It was fashionable for gentlemen to carry swords, and in fact special swords had been designed just for the purpose of hanging prettily at the side of a suit of dress clothes.

These swords were perfectly useless, of course. A pirate’s less so. The proper sword for a pirate was short, so it was easy to draw on a crowded deck. It was a heavy blade, not elegant in appearance but capable of dealing a heavy chopping blow. If the deck was too crowded even for this, a brass knuckle-guard turned the sword into a punching weapon. And if the deck during the fight was too crowded even to punch, a solid brass knob on the end was handy for pounding on the enemy’s skull.

In an era before pistols came with holsters, pirates were famous for carrying as many of them as possible. Blackbeard was famous for wearing six pistols in a bandolier across his chest, (the original six shooter) and another pirate trick was to tie braces of pistols to either end of a length of ribbon. The ribbon could then be slung around the pirate’s neck, so the pistols dangled in front, easy to grab and shoot. They also didn’t have to be treated specially after they were fired. Simply dropping the empty gun meant that it would fall back into place, and not be a trip-hazard, rolling around on the deck.

Pirates also favored the blunderbuss. This was an old-fashioned type of shotgun. The weapon looked like an oversized pistol, but instead of firing a single 62 caliber round ball it fired a large number of much smaller sized shot. Even more important, it was large and imposing. Pirates would much rather scare their prey, after all. Like the modern shotgun, the blunderbuss was accurate only over a short range.

Though they were not usually considered  pirate weapons, pirates also used flintlock rifles and muskets. These weapons were carried up the masts, where a marksman would brace himself and fire onto the deck of the enemy ship from a distance. Picking off an officer or helmsmen could make all the difference when chasing a fleeing ship.

Pirates also used grenades. These were round iron vessels with an opening on one side that was tubular, like the neck of a bottle. The grenade could be filled in advance with a mixture of gunpowder and roundshot, and plugged with fuse. The fuse would be lit, and the grenade thrown onto an enemy ship, or into a crowd of enemy combatants. And if roundshot was in short supply, nails, rocks or bits of broken pottery could be pressed into service.

Pirates also filled the grenade with tar, which burned with a dense smoke, creating a smoke bomb, in order to cause panic and confusion.

They also went the low-tech way, and stuffed burning rags into glass bottles full of lamp oil or liquor, creating a Molotov cocktail. This wasn’t used much, however, since it was impossible to rob a ship that was on fire, and the risk of fire spreading to the pirates’ own ship was enormous.

In close-quarter fighting, knives might be pressed into use. Of course every pirate carried a knife. They were common seamen’s tools, and the same blade would be used to cut up food at meals. The knife wasn’t an impressive weapon, but it could get the job done.

Another weapon, which many people have never heard of, was a marlin spike. This was another sailor’s tool. These ranged in size from about 8 inches long to huge tools nearly three feet in length. The marlinspike was simply a spike, a length of metal pointed on one end and blunted on the other.

What was its intended use? Well, working with rope formed a great part of any sailor’s work, and the marlinspike was used to help untie knots, to unravel rope, or to poke openings in the weave of a rope so that it could be spliced. In fact, the marlinspike was such an important item on a sailing ship that today the skills of using rope on a ship is called “marlinspike seamanship.”

The marlin spike is a weapon mostly because it was sharp and handy. It is featured in songs and stories where a sudden, passionate fight breaks out on shipboard. The most famous reference to pirates is in the song “The Derelict,” (Fifteen Men on a Dead Man’s Chest, Yo Ho Ho and a Bottle of Rum.)

The mate was fixed by the bos'n's pike
The bos'n' brained with a marlin spike 

The tool was used for stabbing, and of course this was most effectively used on soft tissue, especially the eyes or the throat. But, as the song notes, it was also sturdy enough to be driven through the soft bone of the temple and into the brain. A marlin spike would make a great, authentic addition to a pirate costume.

Another weapon of opportunity was the belaying pin. What was a belaying pin? “Belay means “stop.”  On a sailing ship, belaying pins were devices set along the railings where ropes were tied off. The pins were removable, which made it easier to loose the ropes in a hurry.

Like any other weapon of opportunity, it was simple to pick up a belaying pin and crack someone over the head with it, a trope that Hollywood has wrung a lot of mileage out of. Given the large number of other weapons available, it seems unlikely that a belaying pin would be used very often for pirate mayhem.  

However, in actual pirate trials, Captain William Kidd was convicted of murdering a man by hitting him in the head with a bucket, and another pirate murdered a shipmate by smashing his head with a trough used for feeding the ship’s chickens. So anything’s possible.

Monday, August 25, 2014

How Famous Pirates Died

“But what happened to him?” is a question that comes up at the end of many pirate stories. The end is always "he died," for the simple reason that the pirates lived 300 years ago, and no one survives that long. A better question might be “What was his fate?” Pirates seem to have been moved by fate. They came to a variety of endings.

One of the first “classical” pirates, in the terms of sailing the Caribbean and taking gold from the Spanish, was Sir Francis Drake. While he is considered a naval hero by the British, he was a pirate to the Spanish he robbed, and since he stole the goods when England and Spain were not at war, he counts as a pirate here.

Drake continued his explorations until he was over fifty, an incredible age for a sailor in his day. He died of intestinal sickness on the Spanish Main, and asked to be buried at sea in full dress armor, a wish that was carried out. His expedition not only followed his wishes, they even put together a solid lead coffin for him. Divers and explorers are still searching for this coffin, which would be one of the greatest pirate “finds” of all time.

Henry Morgan, the last of the great buccaneering pirates, died on August 25th 1688. As a reward for his success in fighting the Spanish, Morgan had been knighted and made the Lieutenant Governor of Jamaica, a largely honorary position, even though there was no official governor at the time.

Morgan used his position to spend all his time in taverns, reliving his exploits with worshipful sailors. His death came from liver failure. He was buried in Port Royal with full military honors. Every ship in the harbor fired a salute, and the entire town took a day of mourning. Morgan’s grave was sunk beneath the sea during the Port Royal earthquake of 1692.

No one knows the fate of Henry Avery, the pirate whose carrier may be said to mark the beginning of the Golden Age of Piracy. Avery was last seen in March of 1696, in the port of New Providence in the Bahamas, where he was off-loading the incredible riches he had captured from a treasure ship of the Grand Moghul of India.

Moralists of his day claimed that he was later tricked out of his entire fortune by a dishonest merchant, and died a beggar in Bristol, England. He was also rumored to have simply changed his name and retired to a life of comfort. I have seen no evidence that proves either belief, so you may believe as you choose.

Benjamin Hornigold, the pirate teacher who influenced the careers of over a thousand pirates during the Golden Age, received a pardon for his crimes in January of 1718. This general amnesty for all pirates who agreed to stop robbing ships was a tacit agreement by the British government that they could not defeat the pirates. It was the end to many a pirating career.

Hornigold, lacking any job sills apart from captaining ships, later became a pirate hunter. He was killed when his ship ran aground in 1719.

Henry Jennings, Hornigold’s political and personal rival, also took the pardon, but he had amasses a considerable fortune as a pirate. He used this fortune to purchase a plantation in Bermuda. Jennings is widely regarded as the only pirate to enjoy a really successful retirement, and lived the life of a country gentleman until the end of his days.

Sam Bellamy, star pupil of Hornigold and one of the richest pirates at the time of his death, went down with his ship, the Whydah Galley, on April 26th, 1717 off the coast of Massachusetts in a massive storm. Of the eight pirates who escaped, six were hanged, and two (a Black man raised in the Netherlands and a half-African, half Native American) were sold into slavery.

Bellamy had supposedly been going to visit his fiancé, Mary (or Maria) Hallett. Mary was rumored to be a witch, and some said that they saw her on the headlands the night of the storm, encouraging the sea in its violence. They said she was angry at Sam for deserting her. But other claim that she was trying ot save her lover, and that the two were reunited and ran away together.

Hornigold’s other famous pupil, Blackbeard, retired successfully. He took the pardon in June of 1718, and settled in the town of Bath, North Carolina. He married a local plantation owner’s daughter, and might have lived quietly. But it seems that he became bored, and began robbing ships again.

The Royal Navy wasn’t doing enough to catch the pirates, so the Governor of Virginia offered an off-the-books reward, which lured Lieutenant Robert Maynard to bring two navy sloops and attack Blackbeard near his hideout on Oracoke Island. After a ferocious battle in which Blackbeard was wounded 26 times, Maynard at last prevailed. He hacked off Blackbeard’s head and displayed it on the bowsprit of his ship. The body was thrown overboard, where according to witnesses it swam 3 times around the ship before disappearing beneath the waves.

Some people say that the end of the Golden Age of Piracy ended in 1720, with the hanging of Calico Jack Rackham. Jack had been run down by the British navy when he and his crew were dead drunk after a night of celebration. Jack and his crew were too intoxicated to fight back, though Anne Bonny and Mary Read almost held off the entire attacking force by themselves.

Jack was tried in Jamaica and sentenced to be hanged. On November 18th, he was granted his final wish and taken to see his true love, Anne, at the door of her jail cell. She was not sympathetic, and told him that if he had fought like a man, he would not now be hanged like a dog.

Anne herself, sentenced to be hung after the birth of Jack’s child, disappeared from the jail and from history. Legend has it that she escaped, married, bore 16 children and lived to be 82 years old.

Wrecked, defeated, captured (while drunk) killed by sickness or by their own weakness, pirate made their mark upon the world.  Though they may have left this earth years ago, they have, in some way, become immortal.

Monday, August 18, 2014

How to be a Pirate

Have you ever daydreamed of actually being a pirate? Do all the stories about the Golden Age, when ships were wooden, men were iron, and everyone partied nonstop, make you long to ditch your office or your classes and run off to the Caribbean to do something illegal?

I can’t condone actually robbing people. You’ve got to remember that robbing folks is what got pirate hung in the city square. But life is about having fun, and there are some things that you can do to add a little pirate panache to your everyday life.

By all means, party. Pirates knew their lives might end any day, so they lived every day to its fullest. In today’s life, that means not sitting around the house, not getting sucked into TV or the internet. Go out… explore. Real pirates sailed from the Caribbean to Africa to Asia, just on a whim. If you can’t afford this kind of world travel, make a simple effort to get out to a nearby festival, drive to a city you’ve never visited, meet new people. (But don’t rob them.) Be a participant, not just a viewer.

And please remember, real pirates were patrons of the arts. They performed in shipboard plays, and employed musicians. So go out and see something live! It’s part of being alive all the time, and it will enrich your life.

Real pirates were never jaded or disaffected. They had no time to be bored.

Swashbucklers during the Golden Age of Piracy did not judge others based on nationality or skin color. Pirate crews were white, black, Indian (both East and West), Chinese and even Japanese. So if you want to be more piratical, make an effort to meet and get to know a wide range of people. And don’t judge. Pirate culture was the one place, back in the day, where race, religion and even education didn’t matter.

And speaking of education, it wouldn’t hurt at all to become a lifetime learner, someone with an open mind, even a philosophical bent. We have evidence that pirate ships were places where knowledge was shared, such as it was. It was a place where working class people had enough leisure to pick up skills like reading for the first time. On a higher level, the art of navigation was also taught and studied. It was important to know where the ship was. Navigation involved a lot of advanced mathematics, but these guys just tucked in and learned it.

So if you want to be more like a pirate, keep your mind open and learn what you can.

If you have a desire to fight in battles, I suggest joining the civil rights movement. Pirates left the safety of life as a common sailor because they wanted to be recognized as human, with dignity and rights, in a world that didn’t offer those things to people with little property and no fixed address. Admittedly, the world is a lot better now, but there are still many battles to be fought. Just check out the news if you doubt me.

But, you say, this isn’t as exciting as firing a cannon or waving a saber. Don’t count on that. If you belong to a group that meets in person and does work for social justice (Occupy is still a presence in many places, and there’s also Amnesty International, the NAACP, SouthernPoverty Law Center, The Innocence Project and many, many more.) you will form the same kinds of battle-forged friendships that people who have actually fought together.  Fighting these fights is challenging, legal, and will help to make the world a better place.

Remember, pirates were out after justice, and went as far as putting ship’s captains on trial to decide if they deserved to be punished for treating their crews unfairly. So, in a manner of speaking, fighting for justice is one of the most piratical things you can do.

An additional thing that you can do that real pirates really would have approved of, something they fought and died to achieve, was to VOTE. Pirates, and later working-class people of all kinds, fought and died to earn the right to vote on things that affected their lives. These folks would never understand why someone who has been given the ability to vote wouldn’t use it. The fact that pirates risked their lives just to have a voice was probably one of the most amazing things that I discovered, but it’s true. Read more of this blog, or do some research on your own, and you’ll see that it’s true.

I dress up like a pirate, and I certainly drink rum. But I also fight the good fight, take a few risks, and do my best to help out those less fortunate than myself.

How about you? Ready to be a pirate?

Monday, August 11, 2014

Two Kinds of Pirate

Pirating is one of the oldest professions, and it has been practiced all over the world. But when we think of pirates, it’s almost always the Caribbean we imagine, with its blue waters, its rum, and its bands of jolly cut-throats, who might do anything except what authority tells them to.

And yet there are two different kinds of pirates in the Caribbean, and today we’ll talk about what sets them apart from each other.

The first group falls into a period of roughly a hundred and thirty years, from about 1560 to 1688, bounded on one side by Sir Francis Drake, and on the other by Sir Henry Morgan. They included the likes of Sir John Hawkins, Sir Thomas Cavendish and Sir Humphrey Gilbert. 

You may have noticed that all these men were knighted (which seems an odd fate for a pirate), evidenced by the “sir” before their names. The reason for this was that they were, at least nominally, all working for the English government, and they were most certainly sending a considerable part of their profits home to enrich that government. This sort of behavior was enough to get nearly anyone knighted, no matter what he’s been up to.

For in spite of their loyalty to their reigning monarch, they got into a lot of trouble. Drake was financed by Queen Elizabeth I to sail around the world. He was the leader of the second expedition to do it. (Magellan gets the credit for doing it first, but he didn’t live to complete the journey.)  Drake made his money by sacking several Spanish galleons, and payed off his investors at a rate of 4,700%. Queen Elizabeth took her share and paid off the national debt with it. 

Raleigh was also considered a pirate by the Spanish, a hero to his home country of England. He was so good at removing gold from Spanish hands that Elizabeth encouraged him to found the first colony in North America. Roanoke colony didn’t survive, and Raleigh got into considerable trouble through a secret marriage to a noblewoman.  He ended up with his head cut off.

Hawkins (possibly the inspiration for the name Jim Hawkins in the novel Treasure Island) caused enough disruption that he inspired the Spanish to prohibit all English commerce in the Caribbean (a prohibition that was entirely ignored by other English adventurers.)

Morgen sailed under Letters of Marque, documents that licensed him to take specific actions against the Spanish. But he never really paid any attention to the requirements of these letters. He needed success, both for his backers and for the pirates who sailed under him, and if his assigned mission did not prove profitable he simply attacked somewhere else.

This got him into such trouble that he was recalled to England to stand trial for his disobedience. The intent was to hang him, but his many friends (men whom he had enriched) came to his aid, and he was knighted and send back to Jamaica as Lieutenant Governor, where he lived out his life hanging out in dockside taverns and drinking himself to death. 

These men came from middle-class families, and had some education. They were funded by their government and by rich merchants in an era where anything was possible.  Their logic seemed to be that if they were far enough away from home, they could get away with anything, and they were mostly right. 
In these early years, sailing in general was a communal profession. All the ship’s crew risked their lives (some voyages of exploration had 90% casualty rates) and all shared in the profits. 

Often these men attacked the Spanish on land. They proved daring tacticians and inspiring leaders, as they sacked settlements and captured forts. On land they had leisure to spend days or weeks raping, burning and pillaging. To the Protestant English, the Catholic Spanish were barely human, and they had no compunction in treating them without humanity. When the Spanish, sure of their God-given rights in the New World, took revenge, a circle of torture and violence erupted.

But as time went by, sailors were expected to work for pay, and ships carrying Letters of Marque were expected to do what they were told. The Caribbean was no longer the “wild west.” Morgan’s brush with the law was a lesson to anyone who wanted to step out of line. The days of the Buccaneers were over.

Instead, corporations were beginning to rule the sea. Ships were owned by men who stayed at home, and sailed by captains who wanted their crews to work as cheaply as possible. The rise of capitalism brought about a contest between the employer and the employed. At sea pay was as small as possible, and work was all that a man could do. On land, tenant farmers who had rented the same land for generations were driven into cities, where poverty, filth and overcrowding killed them off. 

In 1690 Henry Avery, a man of common birth, was being held captive by the agents of a consortium of English merchants who had sold his ship – crew and all – to the Spanish. Henry, with no family or education, raised up a band of common sailors, took the ship back and sailed her to the Indian Ocean, where he made his fortune by pirating. The Golden Age of Piracy had arrived.  

Avery was a new kind of pirate. He was elected to the post of captain, and he led by the accent of his men. He refused to take more than twice the amount of plunder allotted to the lowest deck hand, and consulted his crew in all matters of importance. 

Avery retired, but his story spread. When Queen Ann’s War ended, throwing thousands of sailors, with no job experience except as warriors, out of work, and the Wreck of the Spanish Treasure fleet brought adventurers from all over the world, the time was ripe. 

Ben Horinigold, a former privateer, taught hundreds of young men about pirating, and along with it, the idea that working men could be free and proud. Pirate captains didn’t beat their crews. That was for the navy and the merchants. Now, when a man became a pirate, he swore to kneel before no one. The crew owned the ship, and they could vote the captain out of office. The ship was run by a set of written rules called “articles” and they applied equally to all. Never before had common men been so free.

Pirates recruited by simply asking the crews they’d captured if anyone wanted to join. And pirates were seen, more than ever before, as a danger to the established order that said some people were simply born to have more than others… More money, more respect, more freedom.

The pirate captain Bartholomew Roberts did not, at first, want to be a pirate, but when he realized the advantages of living among men who considered themselves equal, he became one of the greatest spokesmen for piracy. Sam Bellamy called himself the equal to the King of England. Captains like Charles Vane put merchant captains on trial for crimes against humanity. 

The Golden Age petered out some time about 1720, when European governments realized that they could not defeat this new idea. Instead, they pardoned all the pirates, leaving them free to keep their riches and live out their lives. 

Some fifty-odd years later, another upstart group in the New World would announce that “All men are created equal.” 

But the pirates from the Golden Age got there first. And don’t you forget it. 


Monday, August 4, 2014

Pirates and Pasta - The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster

 “Global warming, earthquakes, hurricanes, and other natural disasters are a direct effect of the shrinking numbers of Pirates since the 1800s. For your interest, I have included a graph of the approximate number of pirates versus the average global temperature over the last 200 years. As you can see, there is a statistically significant inverse relationship between pirates and global temperature.”

What madness is this?

Fear not, good friends. There is no madness here. It’s not some person with no grasp of cause and effect. It’s the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster!

In 2005, Bobby Henderson, a physics student and proponent of common sense, learned that the Kansas School Board was considering whether or not to include the “alternate theory” of Intelligent Design in the school curriculum.

Bobby believes in science, and he also believes in logic. And logic says that, if you are going to teach one “alternate theory” of creation, you need to teach them all. He whipped out a letter to the Kansas School Board illustrating just how silly the religious argument sounds to those not indoctrinated into that religion, and sent it off. When he received no answer, he posted it on line.

Soon hundreds, then thousands of people wanted to know more about the Spaghetti Monster, his religion, Pastafarianism and his chosen people, the pirates. As the phenomenon grew, serious science and religious groups such as the American Academy of Religions began using the concept of the FSM as a tool to discuss issues such as “What is a religion?”

And so a religion was born.

Henderson had only meant to create one piece of satire, but scientists, bloggers, and a general host of those who worry about the way schools are encouraged to teach religion made the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster a talking point to explain how:

1. It’s impossible to disprove the existence of ANY invisible, all-powerful being that does not want to be seen, and how this puts the burden of proof on the believer (if proof is required.)

2. Correlation (the fact that some things happen at the same time as others) is not the same as Causation (some things being caused by others.

3. Gravity is “just a theory, too.” (Pastafarians believe that gravity does not exist, and that we are held to the earth by the Noodly Appendages of the FSM.)

Hence, the talk about how a lack of pirates “causes” Global Warming. Conveniently, Somalia - home to modern day pirates – has some of the lowest carbon emissions on the planet. Though it’s actually caused by the kind of civil unrest and governmental decay that drives people to become pirates, it’s a nice touch.

Soon, Bobby created the Gospel of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, an official religious book for the organization (recognized as such by the US Army) and the 7 “I’d Really Rather You Didn’t –s.”  He claimed that heaven is where there is plenty of beer and strippers (both male and female, gay and straight) and that hell is where the beer is flat and the strippers have VD.

This signaled a new development in the church’s history. Fun loving people were wanted the trappings of a “real” religion. But Bobby’s writings are carefully non-sexist, non-dogmatic. He informs his readers that, spiritually, there is no difference between men and women, and urges them to “Just play nice, okay?”

Many who are drawn to the FSM because of the elements of parody in the Church stay because of this officially sanctioned plea for rationality. The FSM has been carried in countless parades, and bowls of pasta have appeared at serious political protests in Eastern Europe, symbolizing the importance of personal belief, rather than religious dogma.

The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster is popular at college campuses, possibly because the Church teaches that the reason the world is so messed up is that the FSM created it while drunk. With the energy and passion associated with young people, the students (and some older folk) dress as pirates in order to spread the word.

You see, it’s absolutely required that, in respect for the original pirates, those who talk about the faith must dress in full pirate regalia (or at least an eye patch).

What’s the point? Fun, in part. But fun with a purpose. Pirates have always symbolized the rejection of authoritarianism. To those who feel that a smaller and smaller group of religious fanatics is having a greater and greater effect on the way the world is run, the Spaghetti Monster is a benevolent, humorous form of protest. It’s also an enjoyable snack.

In addition, the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster is the number one contributor to its chosen charity, the micro-lending site KIVA, which funds third world farms and businesses.

Plans to build a pirate ship are on hold right now.