Wednesday, September 19, 2012

"The scum of the World": pirates in the 17th century.

This morning I visited Innerpeffray Library again, and in honour of International Talk Like A Pirate Day, which is today (19th September), I decided to find something pirate-related for my blog. Innerpeffray Librarian Lara Haggerty entered into the spirit of the day, and after telling me what must have been one of the worst pirate jokes ever, she found me A Collection of Voyages and Travels in Four Volumes, printed in 1704. It is a collection of works by various authors but the chapter about piracy occurs in Volume 2, as part of the True Travels, Adventures and Observations of Captain John Smith (1580-1631) - the very same John Smith who met Pocahontas!
I've transcribed the chapter exactly as it appears in the book - so there are some curious spellings and free use of capital letters and italics! Interestingly, the writer is not unsympathetic to the reasons why men became involved in piracy - often poverty or the fact that they had not been paid wages they were due. He concludes by encouraging merchants and shop owners to pay fairly and seamen themselves to consider reputation and prospects and therefore avoid piracy. 

Here is the chapter:

The true Travels, Adventures, and Observations of Captain JOHN SMITH.


The bad Life, Qualities and Conditions of Pirates; and how they taught the Turks and Moors to become men of Warr.

As in all lands where there are many People, there are some Thieves, so in all Seas much frequented, there are some Pirates; the most Ancient within the Memory of threescore Years, was one Callis, who most refreshed himself on the Coast of Wales; Clinton and Purser his Companions, who grew famous till Queen Elizabeth of Blessed Memory, hanged them at Wapping; Flemming was as expert and as much sought for as they, yet such a Friend to his Country, that discovering the Spanish Armada, he voluntarily came to Plimouth, yielded himself freely to my Lord Admiral, and gave him notice of the Spaniards coming; which good warning came so happily and unexpectedly, that he had his Pardon, and a good Reward; some few Pirates there then remained; notwithstanding it is incredible how many great and rich Prizes the little Barques of the West Country daily brought home, in regard of their small Charge; for there are so many difficulties in a great Navy, by Wind and Weather, Victual, Sickness, losing and finding one another, they seldom defray half the charge: But for the Grace, State and Defence of the Coast and narrow Seas, a great Navy is most necessary, but not to Attempt any far Voyage, except there be such a Competent stock, they want not wherewith to furnish and supply all things with expedition; but to the purpose.
After the death of our most Gracious Queen Elizabeth of Blessed Memory; our Royal King James, who from his Infancy had Reigned in Peace with all Nations; had no imployment for those Men of Warr, so that those that were Rich rested with what they had; those that were poor and had nothing but from hand to Mouth, turned Pirates; some, because they became slighted of those for whom they had got much Wealth; some for that they could not get their Due; some that had lively bravely, would not abase themselves to Poverty; some vainly, only to get a name; others for Revenge, Covetousness, or as ill; and as they found themselves more and more oppressed, their Passions increasing with discontent, made them turn Pirates.
Now because the grew hatefull to all Christian Princes, they retired to Barbary, where altho’ there be not many good Harbours, but Tunis, Argier, Sally, Mamora, and Tituane, there are many convenient Rodes, or the open Sea, which is their chief Lordship: for their best Harbours Massalqueber, the Towns of Oran, Mellila, Tangier, and Ceuta, within the Streights, are possessed by the Spaniards; without the Streights they have also Arzella, and Mazagan; Mamora they have likewise lately taken, and Fortified. Ward a poor English Sailer, and Dansker a Dutchman, made first here their Marts, when the Moors knew scarce how to sail a Ship; Bishop was Ancient and did little hurt; but Easton got so much as made himself a Marquess in Savoy; and Ward lived like a Bashay in Barbary; those were the first that taught the Moors to be Men of War. Gennings, Harris, Tompson, and divers others were taken in Ireland, a Coast they much frequented, and died at Wapping. Haws, Bough, Walsingham, Ellis, Collins, Sawkwel, Wollingstone, Barrow, Wilson, Sayres, and divers others, all these were Captains amongst the Pirates, whom King James Mercifully Pardon’d; and was it no strange, a few of those should command the Seas. Notwithstanding the Malteses, the Pope, Florentines, Genoeses, French, Dutch and English, Gallies and Men of War, they would rob before their Faces, and even at their own Ports, yet seldom more than three, four, five or six in a Fleet: many times they had very good Ships, and well Man’d, but commonly in such Factions amongst themselves, and so Riotous, Quarrellous, Treacherous, Blasphemous and Villanous, it is more than a wonder they could so long continue, to do so much Mischief; and all they got, they barely consumed it amongst Jews, Turks, Moors and Whores.
The best was, they would seldom go to Sea, so long as they could possibly live on shoar, being compiled of English, French, Dutch and Moors, (but very few Spaniards or Italians) commonly running one from another, until they became so disjointed, disordered, debauched, and miserable, that the Turks and Moors began to command them as Slaves, and force them to instruct them in their best skill, which many an accursed Runnagado, or Christian turned Turk did, till they have made those Sally-men or Moors of Barbary  so Powerful as they be, to the Terror of all the Streights, and many times they take Purchase in the Main Ocean, an, yea sometimes in the narrow Seas in England, and those are the most cruel Villains in Turky or Barbary; whose Natives are very Noble, and of good Natures, in comparison of them.
To conclude, The Misery of a Pirate, (altho’ many are sufficient Seamen as any) yet in regard of his superfluity, you shall find it such, that any wise Man would rather live amongst wild Beasts, than them; therefore let all  unadvised Persons take heed they entertain that quality; and I could how wish Merchants, Gentlemen, and all Setters forth of Ships, not to be sparing of a Competent Pay, nor true Payment; for neither Soldiers nor Seamen can live without Means, but necessity will force them to steal; and when they are once entred into that Trade, they are hardly reclaimed. Those Titles of Seamen and Soldiers, have been most worthily honoured and esteemed, but now regarded for the most part, but as the scum of the World; regain therefore your wonted Reputations and endeavour rather to Adventure to those fair Plantations of our English Nation; which however in the beginning were scorned contemned, yet now you see how many Rich and Gallant People come from thence, who went thither as Poor as any Soldier or Sailer, and gets more in one Year, than you by Piracy in seven. I intreat you therefore to consider how many Thousands yearly go thither; also how many Ships and Sailers are imployed to Transport them, and what Custom they Yearly pay to our most Royal King Charles, whose Prosperity and his Kingdom’s good, I humbly beseech the Immortal God to preserve and increase.

...and finally, here is a picture of a lady pirate from M&D's theme park in Glasgow (above)! Still capturing the imagination.  

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