Monday, August 21, 2017

Boston in 1700

During the Golden Age of Piracy, Boston was the largest English city in the New World. It was a center of religion, politics, commerce, end education in the New England region of what is now The United States. And for much of its history, it was a haven for pirates.



The area of Boston has probably been inhabited for as long as 7,000 years. Archeological evidence suggests that it was fishing that made the area attractive. Giant fishing weirs, a type of permeant fish-trap, were built into the water, and maintained for centuries.

The area was officially discovered by soldier, adventurer and part-time pirate John Smith, the same man who figures in the Pocahontas legend, in1614. In 1620, the Puritans, a group of Protestants who were persecuted in England for their harsh religious views, founded the Plymouth Colony just south of Massachusetts Bay. This legendary group gave us many of the stories and traditions visible in out Thanksgiving celebration.

Captain John Smith

 Just as legend holds, the early colony was not financially profitable. Because of this, colony shareholders who lived in England were willing to sell their shares at a discount to the shareholders who had actually chosen to emigrate. 

Many colonies were founded in the region between 1620 and 1639, some of which thrived, many of which failed, being abandoned, or merging with other colonies. In 1628, the Cambridge Agreement was signed in England among the Puritans of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. The agreement established the colony as a self-governing entity, answerable only to the king.

The official settlement of the city of Boston took place in 1630, by a group of settlers who had rejected nearby Salem (later home of the Witch Trials) for lack of food and Charlestown for lack of good water. From the beginning, religion played an important part of the town’s life. In order to vote or take a role in government, men had to pass an examination with religious leaders, and be accepted into the local church.



The official founding of the town was September 7, 1630 and it was named after town of Boston, in the English county of Lincolnshire, from which several prominent colonists emigrated. From the beginning, settlers believed that they had a special convent with God, and they celebrated this by persecuting unbelievers, and also by establishing schools. The Boston Latin School was founded in 1635, and Harvard University in 1636.

Image result for map of boston 1700s

Boston benefitted from its excellent port, which became a trading center for such things as the fur and timber trades from the north and cotton, sugar, logwood and molasses from the Caribbean. The first American distillery was set up on Staten Island, Boston, in 1664. For a time, rum was even an accepted form of currency.



Boston also became a center for the American slave trade. Early slaves were Native Americans captured in local wars (most notable the Pequot War (1636-1638.) These slaves, which posed a danger of re-capture by local natives, were traded for Africans. Trade in slaves reached as far as the pirate island of Madagascar. By 1708, the number of salves in Massachusetts was figured at 550. By 1715, it had risen to 2,000.



Overall population grew quickly. In 1640 the population was 1,200. By 1680 it had reached 4,500, and by 1720 reached 12,000. In contrast, New York City did not reach a population of 12,000 until 1740. 

Six smallpox outbreaks took place from 1636 to 1698. Then in 1721–22, the most severe epidemic occurred, killing 844 people. 5889 people out of a population of 10,500 caught the disease, 14% died, and at least 900 fled the city, thereby spreading the virus.

Colonists tried to prevent the spread of smallpox by isolation. For the first time in America inoculation (introduced by Zabdiel Boylston and Cotton Mather) was tried. This primitive form of vaccination caused a mild form of the disease, but was very controversial because of the threat that the procedure itself could be fatal.  2% of those who were treated died.



Boston was also home to the first English-language newspaper in the Americas. The Boston News-Letter was published by John Campbell, the city’s postmaster, who developed a network of correspondents along the New York, Philadelphia, and Portsmouth post rider routes, and was the first to receive mail and information from newly-arrived ship captains. Campbell devoted considerable coverage to the activities of the pirates, providing a wealth of information for later researchers.

Although no specific trade in pirated goods was recorded, it is safe to assume that a certain amount of illicit trading took place in this bustling port, with its connections to both Madagascar and the Caribbean. Pirates of the time often claimed that their undocumented goods were “salvage,” taken from distressed ships who needed to lighten their own load because they were in danger of sinking.

The only verified connection to Golden Age pirates was the incarceration of the survivors of Black Sam Bellamy’s famous pirate crew. After a disastrous storm that destroyed Bellamy’s pirate fleet, The surviving pirates that had been apprehended on Outer Cape Cod were brought to Boston overland under heavy guard.

Site of the trial of Bellamy's pirates

They were held in Boston Jail, located at what is now 26 Court Street, a stone’s throw from the Old State House. Eight of the  men were tried on the latter building’s second floor in October
1717, found guilty, and hung on the mudflats of the Charlestown ferry landing (now filled in) on November 25.

Cotton Mather, the Puritan divine best known for his role in the Salem Witch Trials (held in Salem Town, only 33 miles form Boston, in 1692 and 1693) took an interest in the pirates, visiting them in their cells and delivering long-winded sermons about their impending, eternal
damnation. He did not, however persuade any of Bellamy’s men to recant.

Cotton Mather

Boston went on to have a rabble-rousing role in the American Revolution. Boston was an acknowledged center of smuggling, and did not take kindly to British efforts to shut down this lucrative trade. It was home of both violent protests against the Stamp Act and the Boston Tea Party. British retaliation against this latter, the shutdown of Boston Harbor, was the incident that inspired the formation of the Continental Congress.  

Monday, August 14, 2017

Quotes About Pirates

Pirates aren’t just historic individuals. Pirates are an idea that has moved the minds of lovers, poets, and philosophers. What does it mean to be a “pirate?” And who wants to be a pirate, anyway? – Here is one answer:

It’s more fun to be a pirate than to join the navy.
– Steve Jobs



Pirates have been around for a long time. Many cultures have a variation of this quote. From Greece to Malaysia and back:

Where there is a sea there are pirates.
– Greek Proverb

The following is a true-ism, repeated in many ways by many authors:

The average man will bristle if you say his father was dishonest, but he will brag a little if he discovers that his great- grandfather was a pirate.



And, phrased another way:
“Every generation welcomes the pirates from the last.”
― Lawrence Lessig, Free Culture: The Nature and Future of Creativity

Some authors celebrate, not only pirates, but the sea-fairing life that leads to piracy:

“She found out that having something to do prevented you from feeling seasick, and that even a job like scrubbing a deck could be satisfying, if it was done in a seamanlike way. She was very taken with this notion, and later on she folded the blankets on her bunk in a seamanlike way, and put her possessions in the closet in a seamanlike way, and used 'stow' instead of 'tidy' for the process of doing so. After two days at sea, Lyra decided that this was the life for her.”
― Philip Pullman, The Golden Compass

Of course, real pirates were often “bad guys,” by one definition or another. Many thoughts have been written about the balance between scalawag and hero:

“It took a special kind of madness to try to be a pirate and a good man at the same time.”
― Matt Myklusch, The Lost Prince



Though the scallywag most often wins out:

“Hero? No! We're pirates! I love heroes but I don't wanna be one! Do you know what heroes are? Say there is a chunk of meat. Pirates will have a banquet and eat it but heroes will share it with other people. I want all the meat!”
― Monkey D.Luffy

But piracy is very much a state of mind. Pirates are real and imaginary at the same time:

“I'm no longer a child and I still want to be, to live with the pirates. Because I want to live forever in wonder. The difference between me as a child and me as an adult is this and only this: when I was a child, I longed to travel into, to live in wonder. Now, I know, as much as I can know anything, that to travel into wonder is to be wonder. So it matters little whether I travel by plane, by rowboat, or by book. Or, by dream. I do not see, for there is no I to see. That is what the pirates know. There is only seeing and, in order to go to see, one must be a pirate.”
― Kathy Acker



But the fact is that though dreams become a part of the reality of pirates, the reality of pirates also asserts itself. We cannot ignore the reality of the historic:

“If England had not used the services of privateers and pirates during its long struggle with Spain, there is some likelihood that people today in North America would be speaking Spanish rather than English.”
― Robert Earl Lee, Blackbeard the Pirate

And finally, a philosophical truth:

“If someone drowned at sea a couple of hundred years ago they’d either start to decompose immediately or they’d get eaten by fish or other scavengers. The bones would eventually sink down to the seabed and either be slowly buried by marine silt or broken down further over the years, but the flesh would one way or another eventually become water, which would evaporate into clouds and then rain down upon the earth once again to become plants and flowers.
The flowers in your garden could once have been famous pirates such as Blackbeard or Calico Jack.”
― Karl Wiggins, Shit my History Teacher DID NOT tell me!



In a more down-to-earth train of thought, there were many, many pirates in the world, and they no doubt left many, many children behind them. After three of four hundred years, it’s pretty likely that all of us have at least some pirate blood.

Here’s lots of love to all my pirate brothers and sisters.







                                                   

Monday, August 7, 2017

Simon the Dancer - A Dutch Pirate

Siemen Danziger was a 17th-century Dutch privateer and corsair. From fighting the Spanish to marrying a Governor’s daughter, he lived a life of adventure that might be the envy of any buccaneering pirate.

Born at about 1579, he lived when spelling was as much an art as a science, so his name has been written in many ways. Danziker, Dansker, or Danser, in Dutch, he was known by the Turks as Simon Re'is. The English called him Zymen Danseker and Simon the Danser,





Danseker served as a privateer in the Eighty Years' War. This war, which started in 1568 and lasted until 1648, was a rebellion of the Dutch provinces which had been held by Spain. The Dutch, who wished to have political freedom, also wanted to be free to pursue the new religion of Protestantism. We have no real records of Danseker’s success or failure as a privateer, but he left the life, possibly with some level of fortune, and settled in Marseilles, France, where he married the governor's daughter.

Then in 1607 he turned pirate, stole a ship, and sailed for Algiers.



What had happened? Did his money run out? Did he tire of his wife or his in-laws? We’ll probably never know for sure. But given his sudden break for freedom, I wonder if his trip to France had been some kind of dodge, and if his privateering pay had been no more than enough to set up a flash-front with the intention of marrying well.

One on the Turkish side of the Mediterranean, he found service with Redwan, the Pasha of Algiers. Here he "was made welcome as an enemy of the Spaniards" and became one of the leading captains within a year of his arrival. Often bringing Spanish prizes and prisoners to Algiers, he became known under the names Simon Re'is, Deli-Reis (Captain Crazy) and Deli Kapitan among the people on the Barbary coast and the Turks due to his exploits on the sea.



Along with the English pirate John Ward, Danseker became one of the two most prominent renegades operating in the Barbary coast during the early 17th century. Both men, traitors to their Christian and European roots, were said to command squadrons in Algiers and Tunis equal to their European counterparts, and represented a formidable naval power as allies. Danseker captured over 40 ships in a two-year period.

Among Danseker’s accomplishments was said to be the introduction of the Round Ship, or Cog, to the Mediterranean fleets. This vessel, a fore-runner of the galleon, had been designed as a cargo vessel. But the high “castles” at the front and rear of the vessel proved to be excellent perches for armed men – especially those using longbows, a weapon that still dealt more damage than the primitive firearms of the time.



The round ship had another advantage, in that it is considered the first ship to be steered by a central rudder in the back. This rudder was controlled by ropes, and the arrangement replaced the older method of steering using a left-side oar that trailed in back of the ship.

He incorporated captured ships into his fleet, and was supplied by Algiers with men and use of their shipyards. This was a time of rapid advancement in ship design. Danseker was the first to lead the fleet of Algiers out of the Straits of Gibraltar, the farthest distance any had ever successfully navigated. He traveled as far as Iceland, which would later be attacked by the Barbary corsairs in 1616.

Image result for Mediterranean Sea

After years of pirating he had become quite rich and lived in an opulent palace. Danseker attacked ships of any nation and made trading in the Mediterranean Sea increasingly difficult for every nation. Many nations therefore looked for ways to stop his attacks (by counterattack, bribes for safe-passage or even employing him as a privateer in their navy). This helped to cement the wealth of the Turks, who became enriched by the “taxes” on merchant ships (actually protection money against pirates.)

Eventually, a French fleet under the command of De Beaulieu de Pairsac, assisted by eight Spanish galleys, threatened to capture Danseker, but he was able to escape because of a sudden storm. He sailed along the coast with his ships where his pursuers could not reach them. Eight more Spanish men-of-war, under the command of Don Luis Fajardo de Córdoba, and an English squadron, under the command of Sir Thomas Shoreley, were also trying to capture Danseker, and their captains seem ot have been impressed by his bravado. Some of the exploits of Simon The Dancer are mentioned in a report written by Andrew Barker in 1609.



In 1609, while taking a Spanish galleon off Valencia, Danseker used the opportunity to communicate a message to Henri IV and the French court through the Jesuit priests on board. He claimed to desire a return to Marseilles, having left his wife and children behind long ago. He also wished to be exonerated for his crimes. Whether this was a sincere wish to see his family, or merely a way to escape the increasing pressure in the Mediterranean, the ploy worked.

He was reunited with his family later that year, shortly after arriving in Marseilles with four well-armed warships on November 17, 1609. Once here, Danseker presented to the Duke of Guise "a present of some Turks, who were at once sent to the galleys" as well as a considerable sum in Spanish gold.




He had lived in Marseilles for a year when French authorities asked him to lead an expedition against the corsairs. Rumors that he had been captured spread, but he returned to France later that same year. Then in 1615 he was called up by Louis XIII to negotiate the release of a group of French ships being held by Yusuf Dey in Tunis. According to the account of William Lithgow, Dansker was led ashore in a ruse by Yusuf, captured by janissaires, and beheaded.