Monday, March 25, 2013

Sailing into the Wind

We’re going to talk about a for-and-aft rigged ship, the most common sort of pirate ship. Imagine a ship with a single triangular sail, just like the sailboats you drew as a child. The wind blows from behind, the sail stretches out, and the boat moves.

You imagine that the sail is being pushed by the wind. It is not. It is being pulled by a vacuum formed in front of the sail by the moving wind. Much the way an airplane is being pulled into the sky by suction on top of the wing.

The sailors did not understand why this worked, but they knew how to use the way it worked. By changing the angle of the sail to the ship – rotating sail around the mast -  they could harness the power of the suction to move the ship at right angles to the wind. If the wind is blowing from the north, a ship can sail due east or due west with no trouble.  

But how do you go north? No matter how much you adjust the angle of the sail, you cannot sail directly toward the direction of the wind. But by fine adjustments the ship can sail at less than a 90 degree angle to the wind. Into a north wind, a ship can sail northeast of northwest. This is called sailing “close to the wind.”  The “closer” you were sailing to the wind, the more near you were to sailing directly in the direction the wind was coming from.

Still - how do you sail right into the wind?

Well, if the ship is traveling northeast, and suddenly turns into the wind, it will, if properly handled, face due north for a second, then keep turning to the west until it is sailing northwest. Keep doing this, and the ship follows a zigzag track, which averages out to due north. This is called “tacking.” The only problem is that because of the zigzag motion, the ship has to sail roughly three times the distance.  

A ship that can sail closer to the wind, more nearly right into the direction the wind is coming from, can travel “faster” by traveling in a shallower sort of zigzag. A ship with the moveable, triangular sail can always travel closer to the wind than a ship with square sails, which are not as adjustable.

This is why, in spite of what movies tell us, that pirates preferred the triangular-sailed (for-and-aft rigged) ship over the bigger square-rigged ships. By sailing close to the wind, they could travel “faster” while moving at the same speed.

They could (so to speak) make the kessel run in 12 parsecs. What Makes a Pirate Ship Sail?
White clouds skated across the clear blue sky, a fresh breeze blew from the north, and the pirate ship Donnybrook was under full sail. “Course north, northeast!” called Captain Scarlet, and the helmsman spun the wheel, turning into the wind…

Hold it, how did they do that?

Sailing ships are powered by the wind. It’s easy to understand how a ship sails away from the direction the wind is blowing.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Jack Rackham - A Pirate's Attitude

I love the story of how Jack Rackham earned his pirate name. Jack had been a common sailor, then a common pirate. He worked his way up to the position of Quartermaster under the notoriously violent Charles Vane.

At the time when he lived, there was a place for everyone and everyone was supposed to stay in their place. For poor people, this meant remaining poor. The goal of society was not for people to rise to a higher status or level of society, but to be happy where they were.

To this end, there were strict, on-the-books laws concerning where people could live, what they could wear.
The rich and titled wanted to separate themselves from those “beneath” them. So, even if you could afford fine clothing, you couldn’t wear it. And in the 18th century, brightly colored, exotic clothing was becoming affordable.

Fine cotton cloth, printed with beautiful patterns, was being imported from India. And it was so inexpensive that even working class people could afford it. But the “rules” restricted its use, both because of its beauty and because it was imported.

“Calico” Jack Rackham had an entire suit made from the stuff.

It was, of course, about doing something he wasn’t supposed to. But it was also about saying he was as good as anyone, that a working-class guy should have just as many rights as someone from a noble family.
When pirates did these things, they upset the “natural order” in a way that terrified the powers that be. The sight of these people, dressed however they liked, doing at they pleased, was proof that a “locked” social order was not natural.

At the time when Rackham was hanged for piracy, England was under a set of laws later referred to as the “Bloody Code,” under which 200 crimes were punishable by death, including Grand Larceny (described at the time as any theft of cash or goods worth more than 12 pence - about $7 in today's money) and the fact that piracy was a hanging crime is not surprising. But nearly 300 years later, in 1997, piracy was still a hanging crime, the last one, besides High Treason, in British Law. The Powers still didn’t like pirates.

Calico Jack Rackham won himself a memorable name, and had as pirates say, a merry life but a short one, being hanged in  1720, at age 37. He sailed with the most famous female pirates in history, and is also remembered for his pirate flag, a skull with crossed swords, ever popular with novice pirates and made famous by a recent movie pirate.

Oh, and a LOT of bars, saloons and taverns named in his honor, especially in the Bahamas. Jack left a history of having a good time.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Mary Read - Cross Dressing Female Pirate

Mary Read, the less celebrated half of the most famous pirate duo ever, has an even more interesting early life than Anne. Like Anne, she had an illegitimate birth. Maybe that’s a good start for being a pirate.

Mary was born in England, 11 months after her ship-captain father had gone out to sea. He died before coming home to discover what his wife had been up to, leaving Mary’s mother with two small children, newborn Mary and a brother, Mark, who was barely 10 months older. Since this was the 17th century (sometime between 1690 and 1698) and the family had no means of support, they were dependant on Mary’s paternal grandmother.

Grandma lived quite a distance away and rarely visited, but she was very happy to have a male descendent to carry on the family name. Because of Mark, she supported all three members of the family. 

Tragedy struck when one of the mysterious “fevers” so common at the time killed Mark. Now Mary’s mother was entirely without resources. Unless she took drastic action.

Desperate, she dressed year-old Mary in her dead brother’s clothes and began calling her “Mark.”  The ruse worked. Enough time passed between grandmotherly visits, and the children were so close in age that grandmother was fooled. From that time on, Mary lived as a boy. 

The arrangement seems to have been quite successful. Mary fooled everyone, and in her early teens even worked as footboy (the younger version of a footman, a type of male servant.) Then her grandmother passed away and the money stopped.

By this time Mary was in her mid teens, a marriageable age. Her mother’s new solution was that Mary should put on skirts, grow her hair out, and find a husband. Mary tried to please her mother, and began living the highly restricted life of a woman. Then she found an alternate answer. She ran away from home and joined the British Navy.

Conditions on warships were incredibly crowded. A hundred-foot-long ship might carry three hundred men. Sailors slept in one large area, in hammocks slung literally side by side, with no space at all between them.

Yet no one discovered her, and she served a proper term as a sailor. She mustered out after only a year, probably because of the harsh living conditions. Instead, she joined the army.
Britain was at war with France, and allied with the Flemish. While on deployment in the Netherlands, Mary fell in love with a Flemish soldier. She revealed her gender to her fellow soldiers, who were amazed but supportive. In fact, when she left their ranks, they raised enough money for Mary and her new husband to buy a tavern.

Mary lived in happy matrimony, helping to run an establishment called "De drie hoefijzers" (The Three Horseshoes") However, fate stepped in again. Another mysterious sickness carried off her husband after only a short time. Mary was so grief-stricken she couldn’t stand to look at the tavern any more. She sold the place and went back into the army.

Once again, no one suspected her. She fought a duel with another soldier, but this was a peace time army, and she became bored. 

Once again, her gender undiscovered, she left the army and went to sea, this time on a merchant ship. She sailed to the Caribbean, where she may have joined up with a pirate crew. She ended up in New Providence in Nassau, the capitol of a veritable Pirate Republic. It was there she met Anne Bonny.

Her run with Anne and Calico Jack Rackham lasted for less than a year, but she has gone down in history. It was she who insisted that the women wear men’s clothes. Her proven skill with weapons probably inspired Anne. Though she left no memorable quotes, she proved, over and again that a woman could do what a man did, and often times better.

Her success in so many areas leads one to believe that there must have been a very great number of women disguised as men doing all sorts of things.  Such women were recorded in the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, the settling of the American West. How many more, like Mary, existed? We may never know.    

Friday, March 8, 2013

Anne Bonny, Female Pirate continued

Prevented from marrying or keeping company together on land, Calico Jack Rackham and Anne Bonny rounded up some ex-pirate friends, stole a ship and headed out for a life of freedom at sea.

The most famous member of the crew, beside Anne and Jack, was a woman who had been a soldier, a tavern keeper, a sailor in the Royal Navy, and a pirate. She was Anne’s particular friend, and her name was Mary Read.

Many stories tell that the two met when Anne’s pirate ship attacked a merchant vessel and Anne took a liking to a young sailor, luring him back to her cabin with the offer to “show him something he would like.” When the two of them settled down in privacy, Anne was surprised to learn that the handsome sailor had a secret of his own. “He” was a “she,” a cross-dressing sailor named Mary. When Jack found the two of them together he was jealous until he discovered Mary’s secret, and then the three became a happy and long-lasting ménage-a-trois.

In fact, records state that Anne and Mary had become friendly in New Providence, and were know associates there. And although Mary had spent much of her life disguised as a man, there is no indication that she was a lesbian, or that she was disguised when she kept company with Anne. Given Anne’s emotional relationship with Jack, it’s unlikely that she would be inclined to share him. The story is false.

Women were supposed to be bad luck at sea, and while many women undoubtedly disguised themselves as men and served as sailors (Mary Read was an example) Anne and Mary alone, of all the women in the Golden Age of Piracy, lived openly as women, wearing skirts and dresses, and changing into men’s clothes only when they attacked or plundred a ship.

They also attacked people on shore. One of their first missions was finding Richard Turnby, the man who had prevented their lawful marriage. He was hunting turtles with a crew on one of the smaller islands. Jack and Anne swooped down, chased him and his young son into the jungle, forced his crew to join them, and burned his ship.
They left one sailor with a message. If they ever caught him again, they would whip him to death.

Then they went on a rampage, hunting and capturing ships and amassing treasure. Survivors of their attacks assured the authorities that Anne was in fine form, waving a cutlass, firing pistols, cursing and urging the men to violence and murder. Their victims were terrified by the women, and more terrified by what these amazons implied… that the order of law, both civil and criminal, was at an end.

It’s not known how Anne and Jack wanted their story to end, but success was their defeat. With the fall of New Providence, the authorities had come back to the region, and many of the pardoned pirates had become pirate hunters themselves. Partying after a victorious attack, the entire crew, including Jack, became so drunk that they failed to keep a lookout.

They were found and attacked by pirate hunters.  Of the entire crew, only Anne Bonny, Mary Read, and one unknown sailor were sober enough to fight back. The two women were especially fierce, and nearly drove off their attackers, but when the rest of the pirate crew failed to rally and attempted to hide below decks, they were overwhelmed. Anne’s last action was to fire a pistol into the mob of her cowering shipmates, calling them cowards.

The pirates were arrested and hauled off to Port Royal for trial and execution. Calico Jack Rackham and both women were found guilty and sentenced to death, but the women had one last card to play. Both “pleaded their bellies,” meaning that they were pregnant and could not be executed until their innocent children had been delivered.

Jack’s love for Anne lasted until the end. Just before he was hanged, he persuaded his jailors to take him past her cell, so that he could see her one last time. Remembering his cowardly behavior in their last battle, Anne gave him little comfort. Her final words to him were, “I am sorry to see you here, but if you had fought like a man, you would not be hanged like a dog.”

Calico Jack Rackham was hanged on November 18th, 1720. Mary Read died in prison of a fever.

And Anne Bonny? No one knows what happened to her. It’s possible that, like Mary, she died in the filthy, disease-ridden prison, or else failed to survive delivery of her child. But no record of this has ever been found, and her notorious reputation would make her death an important event. It’s possible that she escaped in some daring way, and whoever was in charge of guarding her chose to not to alert the authorities. I like the idea of Anne winning her freedom with some combination of sex and violence. It would be in keeping with her character.

But one other possibility remains. Anne still had a rich, influential father, and some sources believe that he bribed the magistrate or the jailors to free his wayward daughter. This story goes on to say that Anne reformed sufficiently to marry and have 17 children, dying peacefully in bed at age eighty.

Anne's story lived for years courtesy of the original pirate storybook, A General History of Pyrates. It is notable that, when sales of the book fell off, a Dutch printing company revived it with one notable change... A "tarted up' picture of Anne Bonny and Mary Read. The book immediatly regained best-seller status, and is still available in print today.

Sex, and pirates, sell. 

Monday, March 4, 2013

The True Story of Anne Bonny - Female Pirate

Once upon a time, there was a little girl with a bad temper and red hair. She spent most of her life doing exactly what she pleased. This included becoming a pirate. Her name was Anne Bonny.

The story begins in 1697, when a man named William Cormac, an attorney in County Cork, Ireland, had an affair with his housemaid.  The maid became pregnant, but instead of turning her out of the house, Cormac declared his love for her, left his wife, and moved to the New World. Divorce was impossible, so the happy couple could never be married, but they soon had a daughter, and named her Anne.

Anne seems to have had a pretty normal childhood for the time, though she had an impressive temper. When she turned 15 she started looking for excitement, and in South Carolina in 1712, this meant going down to dockside bars and hanging out with pirates.

Anne was good looking and well off: her father’s profession and property holdings made her a very eligible young woman.  But her choice in marriage partners was a small time pirate named James Bonny. Anne’s father quickly determined that the young man wanted her for her inheritance, and cut her out of his will, assuming that it would end Bonny’s advances. It didn’t work. Anne Cormac became Anne Bonny, and moved with her husband to New Providence, on Nassau in the Bahamas.

New Providence was a notorious pirate town, a place so lawless that the authorities had given up on it entirely, leaving it to be governed by a series of pirate kings who fortified the island and made it safe harbor to any pirate ship looking to fence stolen goods or take on supplies. Civil law was nonexistent.  James Bonny began to go out as a sailor on pirate ships, and Anne didn’t lack for male companionship while he was gone.

Within a very short time, they weren’t even living together.  James spent his time at sea, and Anne became notorious, even in a town full of pirates. She drank, swore, and had sex with whomever she chose, becoming violent if anyone crossed her.

In her husband’s absence, she began to keep company with a pirate captain named Calico Jack Rackham. When she became pregnant, Jack sent her to stay with some of his friends in Cuba. She delivered a healthy child, but left it with the midwife. History does not record a name, or even if the child was male or female. Anne didn’t look back.

While she had been gone, the King of England had offered to pardon any pirate who agreed to give up the pirating life. A new governor, appointed by the Crown, fought his way into the harbor and chased off the reigning pirates. James Bonny came back to town and took the pardon, and became an informant for the new governor.  

Calico Jack also took the pardon, but had no immediate need to work, since he had come in with a captain’s share of plunder from his last voyage. He immediately set out to spend his remaining cash on Anne.

They became a well-known couple, and eventually Jack proposed marriage. Anne accepted and the only thing standing in their way was James Bonny.  Unfortunately for them, in 1720, it was virtually impossible to end a marriage.

Calico Jack was determined. He hunted down James Bonny and offered him anything he wanted in exchange for Anne’s hand. James named a sum of money. Jack agreed.

It’s not clear whether Jack and Anne were seeking an annulment, or if Jack was trying to ‘buy the marriage,’ an 18th century legal proceeding where one man basically sold his wife to another.  Whatever the legal situation, papers needed to be filled out and signed, and witnesses had to be procured. James Bonny named a friend, Richard Turnby, a respectable sort, to stand as witness. Jack and Anne sought him out, offering cash for his help in annulling or selling James Bonny’s spousal rights over Anne.  Turnby, a law-and-order type, went straight to the new governor with news of what Anne was trying to do.

The new governor, an Englishman named Woods Rogers, had started his reign by handing out religious pamphlets to the pirates, and he was outraged by Anne’s history of loose behavior. Even though she and Jack were trying to make a legal change in marital status, he told her that if she applied for divorce or annulment, or if Jack sought to buy her marital rights, he would clap her in jail and force Calico Jack to beat her with a whip.

Anne was a wild girl, but she was not stupid. The transcript in the island’s records tells us that she replied that “she would stay at home with her husband, and keep loose company no more.” Satisfied, the governor let her go.

That night, Jack said, “It is plain that we cannot live on land together. Will you come to sea with me?” Anne agreed, and the two gathered a group of bored ex-pirates. They snuck aboard a sloop, the William, in the dead of night, cut the anchor line and, and headed out to sea. Calico Jack Rackham had forsworn his pardon. He and Anne were pirates.

On Friday… Anne Bonny’s life as a pirate.

Friday, March 1, 2013

How to Stay Alive in the 18th Century

And the answer is… ignore doctors. Go to a midwife.

This was the woman who provided pre-natal care to expectant mothers and delivered babies. Village midwives were often illiterate, trained by their mothers or a neighbor, but they often practiced practical medicine that had a much better chance of saving a person’s life. Why? Because although they did not have any real idea what caused sickness or infection, they followed tried and true practices that helped their patients get well.

Midwives generally followed some kind of cleanliness protocol, even if that meant keeping the patient away from the local water. They might lick a wound clean. Or they might clean the wound using the patient’s own urine.  If this sounds gross, remember that there might be a dead cow in the well.

Modern science has revealed that these things actually have curative properties. Saliva in a wound has antibacterial healing properties. And using the urine of a sick person to wash the wounds recycles some of the body’s own defenses against infection, putting them right back where they’re needed after they are flushed out of the body.

In addition, midwifes used herbs that are the forerunners of modern medicines. Willow bark tea is the natural source of the active ingredient in aspirin.  Foxglove is the source if digitalis, the drug used to treat heart trouble.  Chamomile and lavender are relaxants, and rosemary has specific uses against migraines. Doctors used these herbs also, but often cluttered up their application with untested philosophical theory. Midwives did what worked.

Some ancient treatments are worth visiting today. Honey, used on wounds as long ago as ancient Egypt, has been proven to provide better antibiotic treatment than over-the-counter antibiotic creams. Equal in effect is plain sugar-water. Midwives put spider-webs into deep cuts, and research has proven that the long protein strands in the webs are used by the human body in wound closure.

Of course, the reasons for doing these things were more superstition than science.  No one in the 18th century thought about “metabolizing protein strands.”  The first person who used webs was probably trying to tap into the “magic power” of spider webs to bind things together.

Unfortunately, this belief in “magic” didn’t resonate with medical doctors, who had their own philosophies. The determination of the rising, degreed medical doctor to disregard the traditional, female-run folk medicine cost them a years of practical medical experience.

It was the acknowledgement of some female folk-medicine that helped improve the modern technique of inoculation. Edward Jener, the discoverer of vaccination, had learned that scratching a healthy person’s skin and rubbing matter from a smallpox pustule into the wound would cause the person to catch smallpox. Usually the case would be mild.

As this was the only protection people had from full-blown cases of smallpox, it became a popular medical treatment. Unfortunately, there was no reason why the induced smallpox had to be less lethal than regular smallpox, which killed thousands of people. Sometimes the person receiving the inoculation died.

Then Jener spoke with a milkmaid, who believed that she was immune from smallpox. Indeed, milkmaids were noted for their beautiful skin, in no small part because they never seemed to have the terrible scars that come from smallpox.

The milkmaid explained that her immunity came from having had cow-pox, a much milder, less lethal and less scarring disease. Jener ran actual medical experiments and proved that the milkmaids were right. From then on, he could inoculate against smallpox and not kill his patients.

So that was medicine in the 18th Century – a little magic, a little philosophy, a lot of luck.