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Life and Times of an itinerant slacker in Sacramento. Thrills, Spills Galore coming soon. Not to mention lots of opinions.

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Monday, June 09, 2008

PIRATES!! Under the Black Flag

Under the Black Flag

by David Cordingly


I just finished reading this great non-fiction book about pirates. In 1992 I saw an exhibition about Pirates in the British National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, England. And, yes, the neighboring observatory does feature the Greenwich Meridian as a line of thin tiles on the observatory’s floor.

My interest in pirates was rekindled Years back I had seen an exhibit about pirates in the same museum. It turns out Cordingly was responsible for that exhibit. The exhibit was presented in the from of a giant comic book.

“Under the Black Flag tells about pirates real and imagined. He manages to integrate chapters about pirate movies and movie pirates with in-depth and entertaining descriptions of the lives, vessels and exploits of pirates and pirate hunters from the late 16th (Frances Drake) through the early 18th century (Black beard). The book is bursting with privateers, corsairs, buccaneers and British and Spanish naval and merchant sailors. After reading about the lives of merchant seamen, it’s no surprise that so many were willing to sign on with pirates.

It’s interesting that when we think of pirates, the first characters that come to my mind are Black beard and Captain Kidd, who had rather short careers as pirate captains before being killed by the British navy or the hangman. One of the reason we remember these pirates so well is that the Admiralty wasn’t shy about spreading stories about the pirates they caught, as well as waiving their iron-banded and rotting bodies in front of the seamen to place fear in that pathetic lot.

Most of the book deals with European pirates, although there is mention of the toughest pirate in the 19th century China Sea, only know as Mrs. Cheng. Not surprisingly, we don’t have a lot of details about the pirates who didn’t get caught, with the exception of the government-sanctioned privateers in the 16th and 17th century. (aside – most of the music I play could probably be a soundtrack for this story.

After Drake, Henry Morgan was probably the greatest British pirate. He enjoyed the semi-legitimate label of privateer, invading and occupying several Spanish treasure ports around 1670 to 1675. After peace broke out between Spain and England, Morgan continued harassing the Spanish and French, until he was arrested by the Admiralty, and sent to London as a prisoner. Rather than facing trial, he was knighted by the king, and returned to Jamaica in the role of Lieutenant Governor, where he drank himself to death in a couple of years. Morgan’s exploits in the Spanish treasure ports are unbelievable, involving all sorts of deceptions, confused oxen roaming around battlefields,and,best of all, a pantomime pirate ship. It all reads like something out of Monty_Python's_Flying_Circus .

An entire chapter is devoted to the exploits of Ann Bonny and Mary Read, two female pirates-in-drag who served aboard the ship of Calico John Rackham, but after capture in Jamaica, were tired separately from the male pirates. The testimony from crew and passengers of ships their group had boarded proved that these women were true pirates. They were amazing characters. After being sentenced to hanging (even the judges were impressed with their pirate bona fides) they both admitted they were pregnant. The sentences were reprieved after examination. Ann Bonny died in prison of a tropical fever soon thereafter, however nothing is known of the fate of Mary Read or her child.

This book overflows with great stories like these (including Captain Kidd & the buried treasure).
Be not a scalawag. Iffen ye be wantin ta read bout pirates, This be yer treasure.

Arrghhhh, That be me story and to it I be stickin.

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I must enjoy shouting into a vacuum, but I think about getting my act together one of these days. My mom says I am very handsome and intelligent.

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