May 23, 1701: Here’s Looking at You, Kidd

William “Captain” Kidd was a Scottish sailor who was tried and executed for piracy on May 23, 1701. Some modern historians consider his reputation unjust, suggesting that Kidd acted only as a privateer, not a pirate. A pirate plundered ships; a privateer, under government authorization,  plundered ships belonging to another government. (See the difference?) Pirate or privateer, Kidd was among the most famous of his lot and one of the handful that people today can name – unusual because he was not the most successful nor the most bloodthirsty. Perhaps it’s because he did bury treasure, an important undertaking for any pirate worth his sea salt.

Several English nobles engaged Kidd to attack pirates or French vessels, sharing his earnings for their investment. He had substantial real estate holdings in New York, a wife and children, a membership in an exclusive club.   In short, he was respectable. But, foolish man, he decided to engage in one more privateering mission. Kidd set sail for Madagascar and the Indian Ocean, then a hotbed of pirate activity, but found very few pirate or French vessels to take. About a third of his crew died of diseases, and the rest were getting out of sorts for the lack of plunder. In 1697, he attacked a convoy of Indian treasure ships, an act of piracy not in his charter. Also, about this time, Kidd killed a mutinous gunner named William Moore by hitting him in the head with a heavy wooden bucket, also a no-no.

In 1698, he and his men took an Armenian ship loaded with satins, muslins, gold, and silver. When this news reached England, it confirmed Kidd’s reputation as a pirate, and naval commanders were ordered to “pursue and seize the said Kidd and his accomplices” for acts of piracy.

Pursued, seized, and hanged he was.   After his death, the belief that Kidd had left a large buried treasure contributed considerably to the growth of his legend. This belief made its contributions to literature in Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Gold-Bug”, Washington Irving’s The Devil and Tom Walker, and Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island. It also gave rise to never-ending treasure hunts in Nova Scotia, Long Island in New York, and islands off Connecticut and in the Bay of Fundy.

No Kidding:  Terry and the Pirate, a novel of romance, adventure and plenty of gratuitous swashbuckling is available for armchair pirating everywhere. Check it out, please.

I never did very well in math – I could never seem to persuade the teacher that I hadn’t meant my answers literally. ~ Calvin Trillin

September 19, 1975: A, Alligators All Around

Back in 1967, folks looked around and suddenly noticed a dearth of alligators (not in Vermont, of course. Vermont has always had a dearth of alligators. And some Vermonters are perfectly happy with that.) But they looked around swampy places like Florida, Louisiana, and Alabama and saw a lack of these creatures that had been abundant since prehistoric times.

They should have seen in coming. Alligator shoes. Alligator handbags. Alligator wallets. Alligator briefcases. Alligator jackets. Alligator cutlets.alligator Basically anything you make from a cow you can make from an alligator. And it’s swankier. (You probably wouldn’t want to milk an alligator though.) Everyone was after alligators and we began to run out of them, so they made the endangered species list.

Alligators enjoyed being on the endangered species list. Along with giving them a certain cachet, it protected them. And they prospered. Life was good. And they went forth and multiplied. And multiplied. They multiplied so energetically that eight years later on September 19, 1975, they were removed from the endangered species list. O frabjous day!

Alligator watch fob anyone?

That Gator Got Me Pegleg

Those swampy places that were occupied by alligators often provided hideaways for another endangered species — mean swarthy pirates. From their swampy hideaways they could sail out and pillage and plunder and do a host of mean, swarthy pirate things.

A certain segment of society longs for the golden age of piracy (certainly a lot more than the golden age of alligators). It is these folks that celebrate International Talk Like A Pirate with the same gusto that the Irish celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. The day began as an inside joke between two friends but gained momentum when they sent a letter about their invented holiday to humor columnist who promoted the day.

And how does one talk like a pirate? One takes a listen to the patron saint of the holiday, English actor Robert Newton, who specialized in piracy portrayal, most notably as Long John Silver in the 1950 Disney film Treasure Island. Arrrr, matey.

Or talk like an alligator.

You’ll find plenty of pirate talk (along with romance, adventure and lots of gratuitous swashbuckling in Terry and the Pirate.  “Hangin’ be a proper death.  Or how about we shoot ‘im.  Not weaselly like in the back but man-to-man like, facing him front on and puttin’ the bullet atween ‘is eyes.”  Check it out.

Inspirational Quote for 9/19/16

politics1

 

October 20, 1720: Met a Guy in Calico

pirat23It was the golden age of piracy — that period from the mid-17th to mid 18th century during which such luminaries as Henry Morgan, Captain Kidd and Blackbeard terrorized shipping throughout the New World.

New Providence Island in the Bahamas, was nicknamed the Pirate’s Republic because it was infamous as a home base for so many ne’er-do-wells. It was here in 1718 that Jack Rackham, who became known as Calico Jack thanks to his colorful attire, first sailed into notoriety. Calico Jack’s career started as member of the pirate crew under Captain Charles Vane. After robbing several ships off the coast of New York, Vane and his crew encountered a French man-o-war which was twice their size. Calico Jack wanted to do battle with the French, arguing that if they captured the ship, it would give them not only a dandy bit of plunder but a nice big ship as well. Vane demurred, ordering his ship to sail away to fight another day, even though most of the crew agreed with Jack.

Shortly afterward, Rackham called a vote in which the men branded Vane a coward, impeaching but not keelhauling him, nor treating him to any other pirate punishments. In fact, they sent him away with a nice gold watch for his years of service. Calico Jack was swept into office with a pillaging and plundering mandate.

One of Calico Jack’s most famous adventures as spelled out in A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the most notorious Pyrates, was an encounter with a Spanish warship. He and his men were docked in Cuba, refitting their small sloop, when the warship patrolling the Cuban coast entered the harbor, along with a small English sloop they had captured. Although the Spaniards spotted the pirates, low tide prevented their capture, so they remained in the harbor awaiting the higher tide of the morning. But during the night, that sneaky Calico Jack and his men rowed to the captured English sloop and overpowered its guards. Come dawn, the warship began firing at Calico Jack’s now vacated ship as Calico Jack and his men brazenly sailed past in their new ship.

Calico Jack and his men sailed back to Kingston where they promptly applied to the governor for a royal pardon, claiming that the devil Vane had made them do that pirate stuff. They received a pardon, but by 1720, Calico Jack and his new life partner Anne Bonny were back to plundering. Unfortunately, it was a short-lived comeback. They were captured on October 20 by pirate hunter Jonathan Barnet. Calico Jack was hanged in November of the same year.

Calico Jack’s career was short but he will always be remembered for one important contribution to the world of piracy: the design of his Jolly Roger flag, a skull with crossed swords.

TERRYCOVERjune13Please check out my humble contribution to the world of piracy — Terry and the Pirate — it’s got romance, adventure and plenty of gratuitous swashbuckling.