Monday, April 28, 2014

The Wickedest City on Earth

Port Royal, Jamaica, has a name that sounds like aristocracy and order. In the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, it is portrayed as the seat of government, home port to two large naval ships, and on-shore haven to Commodore James Norrington, arch enemy of pirates.


The facts are quite different. 

Jamaica started out as a Spanish colony, discovered on Columbus’ second voyage, in 1494. He named the island Santiago (Saint James) but the Spanish name was never used. Instead the island was referred to by the native, Arawak, name Xaymaca. This was corrupted into the current “Jamaica.” 

Because there was no gold on the island, the Spanish never used it as more than a staging point from which to conquer other lands. Then, in 1655, England sent a fleet of ships to the Caribbean to capture the island of Hispaniola (now Haiti and the Dominican Republic).

But this island was too well defended. Unwilling to go home empty-handed, the fleet’s commanders captured a different island – Jamaica. England was anxious for any foothold in the Caribbean, and the island’s central location and wide, protected natural harbor offered a prime location for trading. England built 3 forts and constructed a city, which was first called Point Cagway, and later Port Royal.

The only problem was that there were no navy ships available to protect the new colony from the Spanish. England had only 3 frigates in the entire Caribbean. So the island’s governor turned to another source of firepower. He offered pirates, buccaneers and privateers safe harbor and free trading in return for defending his colony should the Spanish ever attack. 

Ships flocked to the island, and what had been a sleepy village was soon a roaring boom town. The pirates brought in gold and captured booty, and merchants – those not too proud to deal with outlaws as long as the profits were good - arrived in droves. Dozens of taverns and brothels sprang up. In a very short time, Port Royal was known as “The wickedest city on earth.” 

Port Royal soon became a trading center for slaves, sugar and raw materials such as wood. Smuggling boomed. The Spanish ports were officially closed to foreigners, but at the same time they represented a huge potential market for African slaves and goods manufactured in Europe. Jamaica, and Port Royal, was well placed to fill that market.

Something else was unique in Port Royal. Because it was a rough-and-tumble outpost, populated by sailors from all over the world, the city had a loose attitude towards religions. In a world where religion was a national affair, a matter for alliances and wars, Port Royal was soon home to Anglicans, Jews, Quakers, Puritans, Presbyterians and Catholics.

In 1668 Henry Morgan used the city as the launching point for his invasion of the Spanish city of Portobello, an endeavor that brought over 200,000 pieces of eight into the economy of Port Royal. When the English Navy belatedly sent the warship HMS Oxford to protect Jamaica, the Governor gave the ship to Morgan out of gratitude for his services.

Morgan made Jamaica his home base, launching attack after attack against the Spanish and nearly starting a war. But the money he sent home to England got him out of a world of trouble. He was eventually made lieutenant governor of the island, and spent the rest of his life haunting the dockside taverns and recounting the exploits of his younger days.

When he died on August 25th of 1688, all the ships in the harbor fired their guns in honor, and his body was brought on a gun carriage to St. Peter’s church, where he lay in state. He was later interred in a nearby cemetery. 

By this time, the city was as large and important a town as Boston and many of the local merchants were quite wealthy. It seemed destined to become one of the leading cities in the New World. Then fate intervened.

At 11:43 am, on June 7th, 1692, Jamaica was hit by a devastating earthquake, followed by a tsunami. Most of the city sank beneath the ocean, killing 2,000 people almost instantly. 3,000 more died in the following days of injury and disease.

Looting broke out, and all order broke down for a while. Even the dead were stripped of valuables. Some of the bodies were hacked apart to remove jewelry. Many said it was the wrath of God, punishment for the inhabitants’ sinful ways.

Port Royal tried to rise, but was hit again by a serious fire in 1707. The capital of Jamaica was moved to Spanish Towne, and Port Royal became a sleepy village once again.

It had two more parts to play in the story of piracy. The pirate captains Jack Rackham and Charles Vane were both tried here, in 1720 and 1721 respectively, and their bodies were displayed on nearby Gallows Point.

Today, with continued interest in pirates, Port Royal is undergoing a pirate-themed renovation. Because the city sank so quickly and lay undisturbed for so long, the remains are a treasure-trove of archaeological artifacts. Pipes, swords, and rum bottles are brought up regularly. Researchers and treasure hunters dive in the bay. For a price, tourists can go down, too and keep whatever they find.

Perhaps you, too, will vacation in Port Royal and take a turn at diving. Who knows what you might bring up?

Monday, April 21, 2014

16 Terrible Pirate Jokes

Arrr these the BEST pirate jokes? Or the worst?

A pirate walks into a bar and the bartender says, "Hey, I haven't seen you in a while. What happened, you look terrible!"
"What do you mean?" the pirate replies, "I'm fine."
The bartender says, "But what about that wooden leg? You didn't have that before."
"Well," says the pirate, "We were in a battle at sea and a cannon ball hit my leg but the surgeon fixed me up, and I'm fine, really."
"Yeah," says the bartender, "But what about that hook? Last time I saw you, you had both hands."
"Well," says the pirate, "We were in another battle and we boarded the enemy ship. I was in a sword fight and my hand was cut off but the surgeon fixed me up with this hook, and I feel great, really."
"Oh," says the bartender, "What about that eye patch? Last time you were in here you had both eyes."
"Well," says the pirate, "One day when we were at sea, some birds were flying over the ship. I looked up, and one of them shat in my eye."
"So?" replied the bartender, "what happened? You couldn't have lost an eye just from some bird shit!"
"Well," says the pirate, "I really wasn't used to the hook yet."

Q: What did the pirate say when his wooden leg got stuck in the freezer?
A: Shiver me timbers!

 So, there's this pirate ship in the midst of a long voyage. The men have grown terribly bored. A pirate amongst them happens to know a bunch of magic tricks, and he decides to put on a magic show. His parrot, however, is quite gossipy and can't keep it's mouth shut
The pirate begins his first trick, and the parrot gives it away by saying "rawwk, the coin is in the other hand, rawwk!"

Frustrated, the pirate tries another trick, but again, the parrot gives it away by blurting out "rawwk, look under the table, rawwk!"

This goes on for some time, to a point that the pirate can't manage to perform anything spectacular to entertain the crew. His anger towards his blabbermouth parrot eventually grows so phenomenal that one night he gets very drunk and accidentally crashes the ship into some rocks.

Sobering up the next morning, he finds himself adrift on some wreckage. The parrot, ever the attentive sidekick, happens to land next to him looking quite puzzled. It says to him:

"Rawwk, Okay, I give up, What'd ya do with the boat?"

Q: What do Jewish Pirates say?
A: Ahoy vey!
Q: Why did the pirate buy an eyepatch?
A: Because he didn't have enough money for an iPad!!!

Pirates get a bad rep. They're not all bad.Granted, they're not saints, but many have been cannonized!!

Q: How do pirates pay for a round o' rum down at the pub?
A: With Bar-Nickels!

Q: What is a pirate's favorite element?
A: Aye. Ye might say aarrrrgon, but no, it's the element of surprise!

As a child, I was made to walk the plank. We couldn't afford a dog.

Q: What's a pirate's favorite letter?
A: You think it's the RRRRR, but it's the C that they're in love with!

A pirate and his parrot, were adrift in a lifeboat following a dramatic escape from a valiant battle. While rummaging through the boat's provisions, the pirate stumbled across an old lamp. Secretly hoping that a Genie would appear, he rubbed the lamp vigorously. To the amazement of the castaways, a Genie came forth. This particular Genie, however, stated that he could only deliver one wish, not the standard three. Without giving any thought to the matter the pirate blurted out, "Make the entire ocean into rum!" The Genie clapped his hands with a deafening crash, and immediately the entire sea turned into the finest rum ever sampled by mortals. Simultaneously, the Genie vanished. Only the gentle lapping of rum on the hull broke the stillness as the two considered their circumstances
The parrot looked disgustedly at the pirate and after a tension-filled moment spoke: "Now yee've done it!! Now we're goon to have to pee in the boat!"

They say that pirates are real tough. So tough, that they don't ever cry! But...
That's not true. They do cry, but when they do, it's a private tear!

Q: What happened when Bluebeard the Pirate fell into the Red Sea?
A: He got Marooned!

Q: What do you call a stupid pirate?
A: The pillage idiot!

Did you know 3.14% of Sailors are Pi Rates? 

A pirate had a parrot that wouldn't stop swearing. He tried everything. Finally one day, when the parrot started swearing, he threw it into the freezer and left it there for over an hour.

Finally, the pirate retrieved his parrot from the freezer. The parrot came out, shaken, and said "I promise, I'll be good from now on. But, I have just one question... What did the turkey do?????"

I hope you enjoyed the jokes. Now where did I put my keys? Oh, that's right. I left them off the coast of Florida.

Monday, April 14, 2014

A Pirate's Life... In the Pirate's Own Words

Many things have been written about pirates, but the problem is that much of it is suspect. Pirates were called “lazy” by former employers who believed that a 14-hour workday should be perfectly normal for working class men. They were called “bloodthirsty” despite lack of evidence that they caused more than a very few deaths.

But some pirate words have been preserved thought the centuries. What better way to find out what it was that pirates thought of themselves and their way of life?

We will begin with a quote by Bartholomew Roberts, one of the most successful pirates who ever lived. Roberts did not set out to be a pirate. In fact, he was kidnapped by a pirate crew who needed his navigational skills. But within months he had changed his mind. The following statement was made to a captain whose ship Roberts was robbing at the time:

In an honest service there is thin commons, low wages, and hard labor; in this, plenty and satiety, pleasure and ease, liberty and power; and who would not balance creditor on this side, when all the hazard that is run for it, at worst, is only a sour look or two at choking. No, a merry life and a short one, shall be my motto." -Bartholomew Roberts

(Or, in more modern language, “In honest work there is little food or drink, low wages and hard work. In pirating, there is plenty and a feeling of satisfaction, pleasure and rest, freedom and power. Who would not call this life more valuable, when all the risk is run? At worst, a pirate receives only an angry look as he is choking to death. No, I will have a short life, and a happy one.”)

Later, Roberts explained why his victims should be grateful for his merciful treatment of them.

 "There is none of you but will hang me, I know, whenever you can clinch me within your power." -Bartholomew Roberts, explaining to his victims that he was under no obligation to treat them kindly or fairly.

(In modern words: “Any one of you would hang me, I know, if only you could catch me.”)

Pirates regarded themselves as members of a brotherhood, and seemed to have strong feelings that they were on the same side in a larger struggle. This is illustrated in the words of pirate captain Howell Davis, as he formally left an alliance with Thomas Cocklyn and Oliver la Bouche

"Hark ye, you Cocklyn and la Bouche, I find by strengthening you, I have put a rod into your hands to whip myself, but I am still able to deal with you both; but since we met in love, let us part in love, for I find that three of a trade can never agree." -Howell Davis

The sentiment here is that the other two have ganged up on Davis and treated him unfairly. But, rather than fight, Davis chooses to sail away, for the sake of peace between pirates.

According to “Black Sam” Bellamy, captain of the pirate ship Whydah at least some pirates followed a version of the Golden Rule:

"Damn my blood... I scorn to do anyone a mischief, when it is not for my advantage." – Black Sam Bellamy to a captured merchant captain.

The phrase “give no quarter” shows up occasionally when dealing with pirates. In battle, this was signified by a red flag. What the phase meant in practice was that surrender would not be offered or accepted. The party calling for “no quarter” intended to fight to the last man. This was a reasonable threat for pirates to use. It discouraged the other party from fighting, a being killed was a real outcome (you couldn’t surrender and expect to be spared) and the pirates had little to lose, as they would be hanged if caught.

"Damnation seize my soul if I give you quarters, or take any from you." -Edward "Blackbeard" Teach, before his final battle

Many pirates strongly believed that all regular sailors should rise to their cause and force merchant captains to give them better working conditions and fairer pay.

"Damn ye, you are a sneaking puppy, and so are all those who will submit to be governed by laws which rich men have made for their own security." – Sam Bellamy speaking to a sailor who refused to join the pirates.

Sam also had a great deal to say about the role of pirates in society. His views on the subject of armed robbery versus robbery by trickery or use of the legal system still rings true today, and his statements about his own place in the world was a radical prequel to the phrase “All men are created equal.”

“Damn ye altogether: damn them for a pack of crafty rascals, and you, who serve them, for a parcel of hen-hearted numbskulls. They vilify us, the scoundrels do, when there is only this difference, they rob the poor under the cover of law, forsooth, and we plunder the rich under protection of our own courage; had you not better make one of us, than sneak after the asses of those villains for employment?

"I am a free prince, and I have as much authority to make war on the whole world, as he who has a hundred sail of ships at sea and an army of 100,000 men in the field; and this my conscience tells me; but there is no arguing with such sniveling puppies, who allow superiors to kick them about deck at pleasure; and pin their faith upon a pimp of a parson; a squab, who neither practices nor believes what he puts upon the chuckle-headed fools he preaches to." – Bellamy to a captured merchant captain

Although pirates believed that they were in the right in their battle against the governments of the world, they also seem to have accepted that they were also fighting against “God’s will” (which was frequently cited as a reason why poor people should not try to better themselves.)

"Heaven, you fool? Did you ever year of any pirates going thither? Give me hell, it's a merrier place: I'll give Roberts a salute of 13 guns at entrance." -Thomas Sutton, a captured member of Bartholomew Roberts' crew, when told by a fellow pirate that he hoped to make it into Heaven.

Hanging loomed over a pirate’s life as an ever-present threat. The bravest ones laughed off the fear of death with very real bravado, as in this quote from a female pirate:

"As to hanging, it is no great hardship. For were it not for that, every cowardly fellow would turn pirate and so unfit the sea, that men of courage must starve." - Mary Read

When a pirate finally was captured, many of them continued to assert that it was better to live in freedom and die early than to submit to tyrannical masters in order to live a few more years.

"Yes, I do heartily repent. I repent I had not done more mischief; and that we did not cut the throats of them that took us, and I am extremely sorry that you aren't hanged as well as we." -Anonymous Pirate, asked on the gallows if he repented.

A man named William Fly was perhaps the most hard-core in his resistance. Caught and led to the gallows, Fly is famous for taking apart the hangman’s noose and re-tying it properly, showing his contempt for a “landsman” who couldn’t do anything right. He also addressed the crow who had come to see him die. He wished that:

“All Masters of Vessels might take Warning by the Fate of the Captain (that he had murder’d), and to pay Sailors their Wages when due, and to treat them better. It is the Master’s Barbarity to them made so many turn Pyrates.”

Fly thus used his last breath to protest the conditions of work at sea, what he called “Bad Usage.” He was launched into eternity with the brash threat of mutiny and piracy on his lips.

Monday, April 7, 2014


The very name has come to mean “pirate.”

Blackbeard is the most notorious figure from the Golden Age of Piracy. The image of a tall, lean man, dark beard heavy on his chest, huge coat flapping around him, carrying six pistols and wreathed in smoke from the smoldering cords he has stuck under his hat, is as much a mythical figure as Neptune himself. But the man we call Blackbeard was not the villain we imagine.

He was probably born in Bristol, England sometime around 1680, and his name was Edward Thatch, not “Teach” as has been previously believed. We are almost certain that he served under the privateer Benjamin Hornigold in the War of Spanish Succession, also called Queen Anne’s War. When the war ended and Hornigold became a pirate, Thatch remained a member of his crew.

Pirates at the time were not like any before or since. They saw themselves as crusaders for the rights of the working man in an era when managers routinely beat their employees, and thousands of the poor literally starved to death. Hornigold stated out with a couple of canoes and soon graduated to full-sized ships.  Thatch may have been his second in command.

As Hornigold captured more ships, Blackbeard had opportunity to take command of one and become a captain in his own right, but he does not seem to have been anxious to do so. When he finally did acquire command of a ship, it was in the most unusual way possible. 

While camped out in Nassau, spending some of the gold they had collected, the pirates saw a strange, battered ship sail into the harbor. It was none other than Stede Bonnet, a gentleman plantation owner who had decided to run away from home to become a pirate. In a fight with the Spanish, Bonnet’s ship, the Revenge, had been badly damaged, and Bonnet himself was wounded.

Blackbeard talked his way onto the boat, and persuaded Bonnet to let him take command, while Bonnet himself recovered from his wounds in his luxurious, book-lined captain’s cabin.
Like most of Hornigold’s protégés, Blackbeard did not use violence in his robberies. Instead, he created a fearsome persona, took on a large number of African crew members, and relied on terror to frighten his victims into handing over their property without a fight.

We do not think of pirates as having friends, but Blackbeard seems to have become very good friends with another of Hornigold’s protégés.  Sam Bellamy, the incredibly charismatic pirate captain of the Whydah Galley left Hornigold long before Blackbeard did, but in May of 1717, when Thatch learned that Bellamy’s ship had gone down in a storm and his few surviving crewmen were in prison awaiting hanging, he sprang to action.  He left the Caribbean and sailed up the coast, apparently intending to blockade Boston and free Bellamy’s pirates.

He was too late, but this seems to have marked a turning point in Blackbeard’s career. From this time forward his moves were bolder, his actions more daring.

He terrorized Chesapeake Bay, Philadelphia and New York, at one point capturing 15 ships within 48 hours. Then, in November, he returned to the Caribbean and made the single capture that crowned his career.

She was called La Concorde and she was a French slave ship with port for 40 guns. At 250 tons, she was the same size as the Navy frigates sent to hunt him. Blackbeard re-named her the Queen Anne’s Revenge.Like many pirate captains, he had been collecting a flotilla of smaller ships that sailed in his company. He was now a pirate admiral with a flagship to match his stature.

Blackbeard is famous for saying, “I must shoot one of you now and again, or you will forget who I am.” It sounds bloodthirsty enough, and may actually be the origin of the myth that pirate captains shot members of their crew at will. The reality was somewhat less exciting. The famous pirate was playing cards with friends and drinking heavily.  Apparently he was losing, too, and being teased for it. Somehow, one of his pistols discharged (under the table) hitting his second in command in the foot. The statement was a simple refusal to apologize. The other pirate continued to serve with Blackbeard for months, but their friendship was somewhat soured.

By spring of 1718 he was the most famous man in the New World. Governors demanded his arrest, newspapers wrote about his exploits, dozens of victims gave depositions. He was also rich. It was time to disappear. He headed north again, with four sloops, including Bonnet’s Revenge. He tried to head into Topsail Inlet in North Carolina. The smaller vessels got through, but the Queen Anne’s Revenge ran hard aground.

It has been debated for years whether he did it on purpose. Even at the time, some of his stranded men said that Blackbeard wanted to “get rid of the riff-raff.” Some scholars claim that the Queen Anne’s Revenge was too great an asset to ever sacrifice willingly.  What we do know is that Thatch escaped with all the treasure, leaving the majority of his crew behind to face arrest and hanging.

He found sanctuary in the small North Carolina town of Bath, where he married into a prominent family, bought a home and kept his pirate friends at arm’s length. But the lure of adventure – and profit – were too much to resist. Soon he was slipping away to a camp on Ocracoke Island, which they used as a base to raid shipping.

Too much of the shipping came from Virginia. Blackbeard’s real identity was an open secret. Lieutenant Governor Alexander Spotswood bribed members of the Royal Navy to devote themselves exclusively to Blackbeard’s capture.

Lieutenant Maynard found the pirates at their base on Ocracoke and attempted to ambush them, but gave himself away when one of his ships ran aground. Blackbeard and his men were able to get to their own boat and fight. They killed 21 of Maynard’s men in minutes with cannon fire, muskets and hand grenades, then swarmed onto the deck of the navy ship.

Maynard had additional men in hiding, and what followed next was a pitched battle worthy of Hollywood. The Navy lieutenant and the pirate king met in mortal combat, hacking at each other unti Blackbeard fell, wounded by 20 sword thrusts and 5 pistol shots.   When their leader fell, the pirates gave up. Maynard returned to Virginia with 14 prisoners, and Blackbeard’s head hanging from his bowsprit.  

The battle in which he died is the only time that the dreaded pirate Blackbeard ever killed anyone. They say his ghost still walks the shores of the Carolinas looking for his severed head.