Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Tobacco – Cash Crop of the New World

Whenever we see an accurate depiction of pirates, there is always tobacco near at hand. Whether it be a long clay pipe or a thin black cigar, pirates – like many European of the time – loved to smoke. And since tobacco was still a luxury item in the early 1700’s, it was a habit taken up both to enjoy amd to show off affluence. This made it especially popular with pirates, who had often moved from deep poverty to sudden wealth.

Smoking is an unusual way of ingesting a drug. At the time of the European invasion in the 1500s, smoking was found only in the Americas and in a few parts of Africa. Europeans were unfamiliar with this activity and were, at times, amazed when they encountered it. 

Tobacco grows wild in many parts of the Americas and archaeological evidence suggests that Natives in the Andes mountains of South American had begun to cultivate tobacco about 7,000 years ago. The practice of growing tobacco spread north into the tribal traditions of what is now the United States and Canada and out to the Caribbean Islands. When Christopher Columbus and his men struck land in the Caribbean, they became first Westerners to see people smoking tobacco. A 16th century Spanish historian vividly described how the first scouts sent by Columbus into the interior of Cuba found:

men with half-burned wood in their hands and certain herbs to take their smokes, which are some dry herbs put in a certain leaf, also dry, like those the boys make on the day of the Passover of the Holy Ghost; and having lighted one part of it, by the other they suck, absorb, or receive that smoke inside with the breath, by which they become benumbed and almost drunk, and so it is said they do not feel fatigue. These, muskets as we will call them, they call tabacos. I knew Spaniards on this island of Espa├▒ola who were accustomed to take it, and being reprimanded for it, by telling them it was a vice, they replied they were unable to cease using it. I do not know what relish or benefit they found in it.

The Europeans were immediately fascinated, and traded with the natives for this captivating new plant.  One of Columbus' lieutenants was so drawn to primitive cigar smoking that he smoked every single day on the long journey back home. Because the natives of the Caribbean smoked tobacco in cigar form, cigars and the Spanish have been linked ever since.

Cigar smoking became quite popular in Spain and Portugal. The French ambassador to Portugal, picked up the habit and brought cigars back in his home country. From there it spread to Italy and other European nations. While some rulers such as King Phillip II of Spain and King James I of England denounced smoking as being evil, the cigar grew in popularity as companies started growing tobacco for commercial consumption.

It is important to remember that tobacco can be used by in many different ways. It can be sniffed, chewed, eaten, smeared on the skin, drunk, used in eye drops and enemas, and smoked. Europeans began smoking because that was the usage they saw. Taken in small doses, tobacco has a mild effect on those who use it. However, taken in large doses it can produce hallucinations, trances, and even death.

For the natives of North America, tobacco was a spiritual herb. As long as 3,000 years ago, the people living around North America’s Great Lakes were smoking tobacco in pipes. For these people, every act of smoking a pipe contained some measure or ritual. When the pipe was first lit, it would be offered to the directions (four, six, or seven, depending on the culture.)

When asking the advice of an elder it was (and still is) customary to give the elder tobacco. When gathering wild plants for ceremonial use, one left a small offering of tobacco for the spirits of the plants. In preparing the fire for the sweat lodge, tobacco offerings are given to the fire.

The tribes of North America most commonly used tobacco by smoking it in a pipe. Indians used pipes made from many different materials in a variety of shapes. The one we now best is the Plains Indian “peace” pipe with its stone bowl and long wooden stem. But the Indian people in the eastern part of the United States frequently made pipes from clay. It was this clay pipe which the English copied when they first began to smoke tobacco. And the clay tobacco pipe was the standard for English and Dutch pirates.  

Tobacco was an early fad in European and cultivation of the plant was one of the driving forces for profit that helped to encourage immigration to the New World. Huge profits could be made in the weed. The cultivation of tobacco as a cash crop in America marked a shift from a subsistence economy to an agrarian economy. Tobacco’s value led to it being used as a currency in colonies. Tobacco was also backed by the gold standard which meant that there was an established conversion rate from tobacco to gold.

But this led to changes. In the beginning, plantations that grew tobacco used indentured servants to cultivate the crop. But this sort of farming requires large amounts of land and labor.  Early indentured servants were promised land grants in exchange for their years of service – but when their time was up, landowners did not want to part with such profitable land.

One answer was to find ways to deny indentured servants their due. Another was to search for a fresh source of labor that would be permanent and not require land as a reward. Tobacco in North America, like sugar in the Caribbean, drove unfair labor practices and the need for slaves.

Next week… Tobacco as cash. 

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Dropping Out of Piracy

This post is inspired by a question asked at one of my events. A gentleman wanted to know if there were any pirate stories with a happy ending for the pirates. At the time I answered him with the stories of Jennings and Hornigold, two captains who hated each other. Both took the pardon offered by the King. Jennings then took his ill-gotten gains, bought into society, purchased a plantation, and lived out his life in comfort.

Hornigold was not quite so fortunate. He had lived a more classically “piratical” life, and had little money when he was pardoned. Consequently, he went back to work as a ship’s captain and, interestingly enough, pirate hunter, and died in a storm some 18 months later.

So what happened to the pirates?

Moralists wanted us to believe that most, if not all, pirates died at the end of a rope. The “short drop with a sharp stop” that was the hangman’s noose may have ended a certain number of piratical careers, but not every pirate died at ropes’ end.

Of the nine pirates in Sam Bellamy’s fleet who survived the wreck of the Whydah and her (little) sister ship the Mary Anne, two were acquitted. Bellamy has conscripted them, and so they were determined to not be pirates of their own free will. Six were hanged. One, John Julian, a Mosquito Indian, was sold into slavery.

And these were the guys who got caught. Roughly 146 died in the wreck. Was is better, or different at all, to die in a storm as a pirate? My guess is, no. Pirates and honest sailors both died in storms at sea, so in that way, a pirate’s life was no different than any sailor’s. Except that it contained more rum and friendly women.

Some pirates simply disappeared. One of the most notorious of these was Anne Bonny, close *ahem* friend of Calico Jack Rackham. Anne was pregnant when she was arrested, and so was held in custody. When the child was born, she was supposed to be hanged. But we have no records of either of these events happening. Anne, the most notorious woman in the Western Hemisphere, simply vanished. Theories range from breakouts, to bribery to an unheeded, anonymous death. We’ll never know for sure.

But other pirates – the sort of rank-and-file deck hands and topmast jacks – often drifted in and out of the life.

Pirates were known to free slaves, and many a pirate crew was swollen with these recruits. Africans sometimes fell into slavery as prisoners of war, and they made a terrifying addition to the attack force of a pirate fleet.

But few of these men were skilled sailors, and at least some of them probably found their way out of piracy and into the colonies of escaped slaves called Maroons that dotted the Caribbean. These people would have lived out their lives as farmers, hunters and scouts, and left behind descendants who still live in the Caribbean today.

But if a man went ashore with his share of pirate plunder, and was a little better than his friends at budgeting his cash, he might have a problem. Waking up after a six-week drunk, he might find out that the pirate ship had sailed off without him! Pirate crews usually partied until the money ran out (it usually took a couple of months.) Then, penniless, they went back to sea to raise more funds.

But if one or two pirates made the money last a little longer, they might be without a pirate ship to join. Some men moved between crews this way, but if no pirate ship was available, the hung-over pirate might be in need of an honest job to provide food and shelter. So he would sign on to a merchant vessel, and be a regular sailor once again.

Did he become a pirate again? Some probably did, and some probably did not. Either way, these men of little reputation did not leave behind much to tell folks 300 years later what happened to them. These are the men who lived to tell pirate stories to “Captain Johnson” as he gathered material for his book, The Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pyates.

Finally, one of the smallest percentages, are the guys who took the money and ran. A pirate could make as much a two-year’s salary in as little as six weeks, without even doing anything so noteworthy that people in our age would find out about it. They made the most of their anonymity, and went home with a truck full of treasure.

A sailor returning home with a chest of gold.
In the lower right corner is his mother-in-law, so impressed that she likes him now!

 A small group, it is sure. This kind of planning and financial restraint is completely contrary to human nature. And yet, people do manage it.

I like to imagine this fellow coming home, with enough gold to buy a small business, or a herd of sheep, or some other investment that would make his life easier, and enrich the lives of his wife and children. Or perhaps he suddenly had enough cash to pay a debt, or to marry the girl of his dreams. But whatever else he bought with him, he had stories of his life as a pirate.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

The Caribbean's Violent Winds

If you love pirates, you must, by necessity, love the Caribbean. Pirates of the Golden Age were utterly formed by this vast area of sea, sun, water and scattered islands. Here they bartered with the last of the free natives, exchanging scurvy preventing fruit for guns that the natives used in an attempt the stave off the colonial powers bent on destroying their culture and making them slaves.

Pirates drank rum produced by the local sugar plantations and made it a legend. They hid among the scattered volcanic islands, marooned their undesirables on deserted beaches, and formed free communities, hidden from the powers that be. And they raided ships of many nations, playing off the politics of what was, at that time, the farthest reaches of the wild, wild west.

Pirates faced the fury of the elements. On June 7, 1692, a massive earthquake hit the wickedest  city on earth. At 11:43 (according to a stopped pocket watch found among the ruins) 2/3 of one of the largest cities in the Caribbean sank into the waves. The grave of the infamous Captain Morgan was lost forever, and some 3,000 people died.

In true piratical fashion, the survivors looted the bodies, cutting rings from the fingers of the dead.

On July 31 1715, a large hurricane struck the Florida coast just as Spain’s Treasure Fleet, was passing by. 11 out of 12 vessels sank, and gold washed ashore on the Florida coast like sea foam. Treasure hunters form all over the New World came to loot the site, and many men who came as looters left as pirates. Even today, finds of gold and precious gems ignite the imagination – and sometimes enrich the bank accounts – of modern day explorers. 

On April 26, 1717, an unseasonable hurricane wrecked the Whydah Galley and ended the career of one of the most successful pirate captains of all time, Sam Bellamy.  Sam lost his life, and those of some 150 of his loyal followers, but the legend of the Whydah remained. When recovery began in 1984, the ship’s remains became the only fully authenticated Golden Age pirate shipwreck ever discovered. Some 26 million dollars’ worth of gold was hauled from the wreckage, but the archaeological evidence was beyond price, inspiring Barry Clifford, leader of the expedition to say, “It’s not what you find, it’s what you find out!”

If you love pirates, then you should love the Caribbean, with all its violence and unpredictability.

And the Caribbean has been hard hit.

As many thousands of Americans watched the news nervously, awaiting news of friends or relatives in Florida, the islands of the Caribbean were just coming to terms with a wake of unimaginable destruction.

The tiny island of Barbuda, home to proud people who fought for their freedom, was not easily conquered, though it was discovered by Columbus on his second voyage. Like many Caribbean islands, this tiny piece of land was eventually settled by European colonists, and stocked with slaves. The dirty business of slave export was one way the colonists made money, in addition to raising sugar cane.  But even when the British government freed slaves, these people were not given land or any way to buy other means of support. They remained as substance farm workers.

Before and after Irma

Today the island is mostly Black, mostly poor, and now mostly gone. After Hurricane Irma, 90% of the island’s structure has been either completely destroyed or left roofless. So much vegetation has been washed away that aerial photos show a change in color. And another hurricane is bearing down.

Donations are being accepted by UNICEF, which is working to protect the most vulnerable victims including malnourished children.

For a more local effort, the Halo group had a donation page dedicated to Barbuda specifically. https://foundationhalo.org/cause/barbuda-relief-effort/

Elsewhere, on the island of Saint Martin/Sint Martaan, the only place in the word where France and the Netherlands share a border, has been severely ravaged. In addition to being hit squarely by Irma, the tension and terror have inflamed long-standing issues of race and class, as resident recount how pale skin and cash seemed to strongly influence evacuation effort.

We know which side the pirates would have been on! While this island is still linked to powerful European nations, there is still concern that the locals, lacking power or influence, will be forgotten. US charities are moving in to help, but residents say that at the moment, “We have nothing.” Here’s a link to sites where donations are being accepted. https://www.gofundme.com/irma

Americans are already working to help their Caribbean neighbors. The US territory of Puerto Rico has already become a refugee center for harder-hit islands and a supply hub for donations. Six shipping containers of items from hammers to diapers have already headed to the British Virgin Islands, and privately owned boats are bringing the homeless to safety. But the island’s infrastructure has been crumbling for years, and the stress may be beginning to show.  

Cuba, after the storm

Cuba, one-time gathering place for Spanish Treasure fleets, and the probably location where Anne Bonney gave birth to her only child, was hard hit by the storm. Much of the northern coast of the island is underwater, power is out, and many buildings are without roofs. Even some dolphins have been evacuated. Destruction of resorts will have a lasting effect on Cuba’s tourist industry, and farm fields contaminated by salt water may not return to normal productivity for decades. More than a million people have been evacuated.

In a time of growing nationalism, it would be easy to say “Take care of our own first.” But citizens of the Caribbean lack many of the luxuries available to Americans – such as the ability to get out of the storm’s path by road. Though the residents of the Caribbean are hard-working, the region is still damaged by European invasion and conquest, and by the history for slavery.

Holding back aid is simply not the pirate way. Pirates fought their battles in the name of the poor and downtrodden (starting with themselves of course) and it would be keeping in the pirate spirit to give, and give generously, to help rebuild the region that they loved.  

(And, as we all know, landlubbers can try to trick honest pirates. Not all of the donation centers listed here can be checked out at this time. When in doubt, give to well-known charities. But please give. It’s the piratical thing to do.)

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

World Events During Piracy's Golden Age

Part 2

For those interested in how the events of the world fit together, here is the second part of my list of world events. For purposes of brevity, war related entries are kept to a minimum.  

The town of Bath is incorporated in the Province of Carolina, It is the first incorporated town in present-day North Carolina. The town becomes the political center and capital of the northern portion of the Province of Carolina, until Edenton is incorporated in 1722.

Sir Isaac Newton
Anne, Queen of Great Britain honors Isaac Newton with a Knighthood.

The English Parliament establishes the first “turnpike trusts.”  These trusts place a length of road under the control of trustees, drawn from local landowners and traders. The turnpike trusts borrow capital for road maintenance against the security of tolls, and this arrangement becomes the common method of road maintenance for the next 150 years.

Twinings, founded by Thomas Twining, starts England’s first tea room at 216 Strand, London. It is still open.

The Kingdom of Great Britain is formed when The Treaty (or Act) of Union, created from the union of the two Kingdoms of Scotland and England, is ratified by the Parliament of Scotland.

The last recorded eruption of Mount Fuji begins in Japan.

A Native American attack in Haverhill, Massachusetts kills 16 settlers.

Johann Sebastian Bach is appointed as chamber musician and organist to the court in Weimar.

The Company of Merchants of London Trading merges with the East Indies, and the more recently established English Company Trading to the East Indies, to form the United Company of Merchants of England Trading to the East Indies, known as the “Honourable East India Company.”

Western Europe's Great Frost of 1709, the coldest period in 500 years, begins. It lasting three months, and its effects are felt for the entire year. In France, the Atlantic coast and Seine River freeze, crops fail, and 24,000 Parisians die.

Abraham Darby I successfully produces the first cast iron, using coke fuel at his blast furnace in Shropshire, England.

During his first voyage, Captain Woodes Rogers – who will later become governor of the pirate island of New Providence - encounters marooned privateer Alexander Selkirk, and rescues him from of the Juan Fern├índez Islands, where Selkirk had been marooned for four years. This incident inspired Daniel Defoe's novel Robinson Crusoe.

The city of Chihuahua, Mexico is founded.

 The first modern edition of William Shakespeare's plays is published in London, edited by Nicholas Rowe.

The world's first copyright legislation, Britain's Statute of Anne, becomes effective.

Great Britain seizes Nova Scotia from Spain

French settlers at Fort Louis de la Mobile celebrate Mardi Gras in Mobile Alabama, by parading a large papier-mache ox head on a cart. This is the first Mardi Gras parade in America.

The Tuscarora War begins when Tuscarora natives under the command of Chief Hancock raid settlements along the south bank of the Pamlico River, within modern-day North Carolina, killing around 130 people.

New York City's Slave Insurrection. The result is that 9 whites are killed, and 21 slaves and other blacks are convicted and executed.

John Arbuthnot creates the character of John Bull, to represent Britain.

First Treaty of Utrecht between Great Britain and Spain. In it, Philip V is accepted by Britain and Austria as king of Spain, and Spain cedes Gibraltar and Minorca to Britain.
The Second Treaty of Utrecht ends the War of the Spanish Succession. In it, France cedes Newfoundland, Acadia, Hudson Bay and St Kitts to Britain.
The Treaty of Portsmouth brings an end to Queen Anne's War.

The initial offer of the Longitude prize. The Parliament of Great Britain votes "to offer a reward for such person or persons as shall discover the Longitude" They offer £10,000 for any method capable of determining a ship's longitude within 1 degree; £15,000, within 40 minutes, and £20,000 within ½ a degree.

The world's earliest surviving mixed gender school, Archbishop Tenison's School, is established by the Archbishop of Canterbury, in Croydon, south of London, England.

The Tuscarora Native Americans and their allies sign a peace treaty with the Province of Carolina, and agree to move to a reservation near Lake Mattamuskeet, effectively ending the Tuscarora War. Large numbers of Tuscarora then move to New York.

A total solar eclipse is seen across southern England, Sweden and Finland. Another will not be seen in the region for 900 years. 

A Spanish treasure fleet of 12 ships, sailing under General Don Juan Ubilla, leaves Cuba for Spain. Seven days later, 11 of them sink in a storm off the coast of Florida This will cause a “gold rush” for the spilled treasure. Gold from the wrecks is still being recovered today.

King Louis XIV, the Sun King of France, dies after a reign of 72 years,

Natchez, one of the oldest towns on the Mississippi River, is founded.

Wapping, England, a notable slum and childhood home of many English pirates, is struck by a huge fire, destroying 150 houses.

Sam Bellamy’s pirate ship the Whydah Galley, sinks off the coast of Massachusetts.

The first known Druid revival ceremony is held in London by John Toland at the Autumnal Equinox.

Dancer John Weaver performs in the first ballet in Britain, shown at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane.

New Orleans is founded.

The white potato reaches New England from England.

Daniel Defoe publishes Robinson Crusoe.

The first great financial scandal, the "South Sea Bubble" ruins thousands of investors in England. It is a scheme for the South Sea Company to take over most of the national debt of Britain, and the result of the rumors massively inflates share prices. The Lords Justice in Great Britain attempt to curb some of the excesses of the stock markets during the South Sea Bubble. They dissolve a number of petitions for patents and charters of similar institutions, and abolish more than 80 joint-stock companies of dubious merit. But this has little effect. The English stock market crashes, started by dropping prices for stock in the South Sea Company.