Pirates!

Pirates come in all shapes and size…and cultures and times…

Zach – Welcome back to Minimum Wage Historian. Our topic for today is something that has been requested and we always listen to the will of the people.
Anna – I’m a princess of the Roman Empire based in Constantinople. I do not listen to mobs.
Zach – Okay, the rest of us listen to the people.
Olga – Nyet, I do not.
Zach – Most of us…
Caesar – I don’t even listen to the Senate!
Zach – Never mind.
Gaspar – I listen to my stomach.
Buffalo – I listen to the spirits.
Zach – Enough! Just…let’s get on with it. Today we have with us my co-host, Anna Komemne, first woman historian. Then we have St. Olga of Kiev, um…very smart and dangerous lady. Next up we have Buffalo Calf Road, Cheyenne warrior woman who fought Custer. Then we have Gaspar Correia, Conquistador and historian. (sort of) Then we have Hua Mulan, fierce woman soldier of ancient China. And lastly we have Julius Caesar, dictator of the Roman Republic. Thank you all for coming.
Olga – I wouldn’t miss it for the world. And flamethrower is in shop.
Anna – Today’s topic is that of Pirates. A frightening topic if I say so myself.
Mulan – I do not like pirates, they are like filthy barbarians, but on the water.
Caesar – I dare say that I had a run in with pirates before.
Gaspar – You are lucky they were not Portuguese, you would not be here today.
Caesar – No, they were Cilicians, natives of southern Anatolia.
Zach – That’s Turkey, btw
Caesar – They captured me and asked for twenty talents of gold. Can you believe that? So I told them that I’m worth at least fifty! The nerve! When I was finally released, I gathered a fleet and went and wiped them all out.
Gaspar – Did you get your fifty back?
Caesar – And more.
Mulan – That is an appropriate response to pirates.
Anna – First, let’s talk about the early history of pirates. Ever since man took boat to water there has been piratical activity. The Egyptians were terrorized by the raiding “Sea People” and in Ancient Greek times the Balkans were known as a hot bed of pirate activity. They raided the western Adriatic so often that the area became impoverished.
Zach – That’s a good point to bring up. When we think of pirates, we think of giant man-o-wars dueling each other with cannon broadsides. However, much pirate activity actually consisted of land raids. They’d swoop in on their ships, dismount and attack a helpless town. Though you wouldn’t think of them as such, Vikings made great pirates. They even sacked whole cities. Moorish pirates sacked Rome even. So, just because pirates had boats, don’t assume they always stayed on them.

Pirates heading to work. They had villages to pillages.

Olga – Many of my fellow Slavs were pirates, da?
Zach – Yes they were. They were famous for sacking towns and capturing vessels and selling the victims into slavery, thus we get the name “Slav” because they were slavers. They were a constant source of problems for the Venetians and Byzantines. In 870 these pirates captured a bunch of Catholic bishops as they were returning from important meetings with the Byzantines. In typical Byzantine fashion they didn’t end the problem by sending out huge war fleets, though they did do a little of that as well.
Anna – We solved it in the way we know best: we converted the Pagan pirates into honest Christians!
Mulan – Not the way I would have done it.
Buffalo – Alright, but how mean were these pirates really? They have a fearsome reputation, but is it earned?
Gaspar – Absolutely. Haven’t you heard how the Barbary pirates would kidnap young maidens and by heathen magic, turn them into unstoppable, berzerking monsters that they’d set loose against their enemies?
Anna – That’s a total…
(Gaspar glares at her, challenging her to call him a liar. Anna smiles and sits back in chair.)
Zach – Yes, some pirates were very cruel. They’d sack a town and those they didn’t kill they’d send off to sell into slavery. Very nice people.
Buffalo – Sounds like General Custer to me.
Mulan – Yes, he was a douche bag.
Anna – In fact, piracy has always been a great problem in the Mediterranean. Moors, Ottomans, Slavs, even Goths. The Romans fought them, the Venetians, the Ottomans, even the American Marines! Why, it was one of America’s first foreign wars. The US was tired of paying extortion money to the Barbary Pirates so they sent the Marines to deal with it. It is in the Marine anthem, “from the halls of Montezuma, to the shores of Tripoli.”
Mulan – Simper Fi.

Even as a small, young country, you don’t want to mess with a handful of Marines.

Caesar – Of course, my legions would have done better.
Zach – I’d like to see them try.
Gaspar – Gentlemen, this issue has already been resolved. Do you not remember when the US Marines, during their invasion of Tripoli, stumbled across a Roman legion that was lost in the desert?
Olga – I think this thing is impossible.
Gaspar – But true nonetheless! The two sides fought a fierce battle and only intervention of the Knights Templar on their dragon steeds ended the hostility.
Zach – Umm…yeah, I don’t remember reading about that.
Olga – Did pirates loot and burn places and kill many peoples?
Zach – That they did.
Anna – But, there was also a somewhat respectable side to piracy. Many countries created what they called “privateers.” These were vessels that engaged in piracy, but only against enemy countries. A famous privateer was a man by the name of Benjamin Hornigold.
(Olga starts laughing.)
Anna – What’s so funny?
Olga – Name! Very good for pirate.
Anna – I don’t get it. Anyway, Benjamin was an Englishman who had a small fleet of ships that he’d use to attack the Spanish ships along the eastern coast of North America and the Caribbean.
Caesar – Ah! Now we get to the great age of pirates. In the 16 and 1700,s, the age of sail. Pirates roamed the Atlantic fighting for gold and loot.
Zach – In 1717, Benjamin had a sloop with thirty guns which allowed him to outrun and outshoot any other ship in the region.
Buffalo – I’m not up on my nautical terms. Prairie nomad and all. What’s a Sloop?
Zach – Sloop has had a few definitions over time. It might be a single masted ship, or a fast ship or it’s called a sloop because of the rank of the captain. But basically, in this time period, a sloop is a fast, light ship that pirates stuffed a bunch of cannons on.

Here’s a typical sloop that a pirate might use. Sometimes they were long and skinny with up to three masts, go figure.

Anna – This Benjamin Hornigold (Olga laughs) goes on for three years as a successful pirate, but then England offers a pardon for every pirate if they give up piracy. Benjamin takes the deal and becomes a privateer for the Queen. Unfortunately his men didn’t follow the same path. One of his captains, a man named Edward Teach, decided that he rather enjoyed being a pirate and continued to raid and capture ships. He captured one large French trader ship and renamed it “Queen Ann’s Revenge.” This pirate was also known as Blackbeard.

Like Rob Zombie, Blackbeard purposefully invented a frightening image of himself. He’d have lit wicks in his hair to give himself a demonic appearance. He made himself so scary that most people would surrender without a fight, which was how he liked it.

Zach – Blackbeard gathered a coalition of pirates and began hitting larger targets. They blockaded the entire city of Charlestown South Carolina and ransomed everyone in it.
Caesar – I like this man! He has audacity!
Olga – Did he burn city down?
Zach – No.
Gaspar – But he did use the ancient transporter stones of Ur’ell Kell to summon cruel blood beasts into the city.
(Anna groans)
Zach – Then the governor of Virginia, Lord Spotswood, goes out to capture Blackbeard.
Buffalo – Hold on a second. Why’d he call his ship, “Queen Ann’s Revenge?”
Mulan – Because Edward Teach was a veteran of the “Queen Ann’s War” which was a part of the War of Spanish Succession. And England and Spain fought many battles. Some of them in the New World.
Buffalo – I guess that’s where he learned to fight. But where’d he come from?
Zach – Teach was an Englishman and probably from a wealthy family. Teach wasn’t his real name because pirates often used fake surnames so their families wouldn’t be disgraced by their chosen profession.

I once saw an American patrol of Humvees in Iraq flying this flag. Very classic and different from the traditional skull and cross bones. Every pirate worth his grog had their own flag.

Anna – Despite his piracy and fearsome image, there is actually no account of him murdering anyone. Teach’s lieutenant was arrested by Spotswood and brought to trial in Williamsburg. However, the pirate had accepted a pardon earlier on and had technically done nothing wrong. So, that pirate sued them for wrongful arrest and got off scott free!
Zach – This made Spotswood angrier and sent his men to hunt down Blackbeard. Teach had accepted the pardon as well and for a while was a privateer, but soon fell back into bad habits. Spotswood send Lt. Maynard with some ships to go stop Blackbeard.

Here’s Maynard giving his men the typical “Fight for freedom or whatever!” speech that every movie seems to have.

They caught Blackbeard unprepared with only a skeleton crew. Still, Blackbeard put up a fight. He sailed his ships in between two of the British vessels and broadsided them each, damaging one so badly that it couldn’t fight anymore. Having lain the smack down thus, he sped out of there as fast as he could. But Maynard’s ship was faster and caught up with them. Blackbeard used cannon launched grappling hooks and grenades to board the English ship but found it empty. Suddenly the British charged out from below deck and took Blackbeard’s men by surprise. In a scene fit for any action movie, Teach and Maynard face off. They draw their pistols and fire, but both miss. Then they draw their cutlasses and begin to fight.
Gaspar – The fight ranged all over the ship. They fought on the mizzen, they fought on the main mast. Blackbeard pulled out a 7.62mm Gatling gun and raked the deck. Maynard took cover and used the breather to prepare of energy ball of chi power. He launched his fireball while shouting the name of his kung-fu master. The ball struck Teach’s chi- force field. You may now continue.
Zach – Thanks, Gaspar. Well, yes, the fight was pretty awesome. But eventually Teach found himself surrounded and they ganged up on him and killed him. His men were brought back to Williamsburg and put on trial.
Mulan – Good riddance, barbarian filth. Was this the end of pirates?
Zach – Afraid not. Even now they’re fighting pirates down near the horn of Africa. It’s still going on and probably always will.
Olga – I like these pirates. They have fun, da?
Gaspar – This reminds me once when I was a privateer and…
Anna – Well, that’s all the time we have! Gotta go. See you next time!

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2 comments on “Pirates!

  1. Desert Rat says:

    Excellent roundtable, I have to say. I love stories of pirates.

    Incidentally, if you want to hear a Gaspar-worthy telling of the secret history of Blackbeard’s career, try Tim Power’s amazing book On Stranger Tides. Yes the same On Stranger Tides that inspired, but in no way resembles, the Pirates of the Caribbean quadrilogy. You’ll never look at Blackbear the same way.

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