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Free sea: how pirate units were arranged
Free sea: how pirate units were arranged

When we say "pirate", a phantasmagoric image arises in our head, which in many ways develops into a kind of romantic picture. But if we abstract from adventure novels and do not take into account general philosophical, sociological and cultural aspects, then piracy always turns out to be a specific phenomenon, and the content of this concept depends on certain circumstances.

Together with the historian Dmitry Kopelev, we tried to figure out what features unite scattered pirate gangs, by what laws they existed, what people became sea robbers, and what piracy and modern democracy have in common.

On April 26, 1717, off the coast of Nantucket, Wyde, the famous pirate Sam Bellamy, crashed. Of the 146 people on board the ship, only two managed to escape.

John Julian, the first ever black navigator of a pirate ship, managed to get ashore. He was immediately arrested and sent into slavery. But freedom-loving Julian constantly ran away and staged riots, and in the end he was hanged.

Captain Samuel Bellamy, 28, was unable to escape. During the year of his career as a captain, this man captured 50 ships. He came from a poor family and decided to become a pirate in order to get rich and marry his girlfriend, whose parents did not want to recognize an unequal marriage. Among the victims was also a ten-year-old boy named John King, who offered gunpowder - he was the youngest known sea robbers.

A boy, a former black slave and a pirate leader - these examples are enough to see what a complex social fusion piracy was. We are faced with a supranational structure that is difficult to describe and classify.

Tolerance and cosmopolitanism

Piracy cannot be viewed separately from the socio-political context of the era. In the period from the 16th to the 17th century, which gave rise to the era of industrialization, what we today call the global world is taking shape. In fact, the ocean became the first international link that unites the world. The dominant concept in the world fighting against the monopoly of the Spanish crown on the oceans is the idea of ​​the free sea (mare liberum) by the famous Dutch legal philosopher Hugo Grotius. It consisted in the fact that the sea should not be bound by state restrictions and the one who goes to the ocean on a ship should not see borders, because trade is a worldwide trade.

People who find themselves at sea become politically part of this free world and begin to define themselves independently of the territorial boundaries drawn on land. They say about themselves: "We are from the sea." Their world is an international system with racial tolerance and cosmopolitanism. The pirates were called people who do not have a nationality: the Black Sam Bellamy ship alone united the British, Dutch, French, Spaniards, Swedes, American natives, African Americans - in particular, there were 25 African slaves in the crew, taken from a slave ship.

Some time ago, it was extremely common among piracy researchers to view pirates as Robin Hoods fighting for the rights of ordinary people. Sailors are passionate champions of freedom, and piracy is the vanguard of the maritime proletariat, freethinkers who violently oppose the system of exploitation.Today this concept looks overly romanticized and schematic, and many vulnerabilities have been found in it.

Nevertheless, the very fact of the appearance of such a point of view is indicative. After all, piracy as a whole was characterized by elements of civilization's revenge and an alternative opposition to it. And modern historians of piracy, such as the American researcher Marcus Rediker, willy-nilly proceed from the fact that in the sea, the free economic zone where modern capitalism was formed, pirates acted as a kind of vanguard of a free labor force that threw a radical challenge the laws and rules of the game that exist in society.

You can challenge the world by capturing a ship, killing a person, or in a slightly different way - using the benefits of the world. Studying, for example, how people ate on pirate ships [1] Kopelev DN Ship food XVI-XVIII centuries. and gastronomic predilections of pirates // Ethnographic Review. 2011. No. 1. P. 48–66, you can see how the hedonism of the marginalized, the joy of being, the need for the most poor, miserable, thrown out of life strata of society to show that they can also comprehend the joy of life, those pleasures that, in the opinion of the propertied strata, only they can be accessible. Not only the disadvantaged people of Bristol, London or Portsmouth - even the lords could never in their lives taste the expensive products that their compatriots, who took the path of sea robbery, ate every day. Turtle meat, avocados, tropical fruits were not available to people in Europe - pirates ate them in huge quantities. Pirate hedonism can be seen as another challenge to the land-based society.

Finally, historians view piracy as a radical society with direct democracy in an anti-democratic era. The pivot of the economic life of pirates to a large extent predetermined the plebeian egalitarianism, to a certain extent inherent in the sailors of merchant ships. Some researchers go further and find tendencies in piracy that are characteristic of the principles of American democracy in the Age of Enlightenment.

Pirates and Democracy

The pirate rules have reached historians thanks to the stories of pirate captives, retellings of journalists and newspaper publications of that time. Researchers have only 6-8 documents, which list the basic rules of conduct on a pirate ship. These meager sources differ from each other, they were created in different situations and on different ships, but they still allow us to highlight the main ideas.

Their first feature is the drafting of a robbery contract, a kind of charter for ship life. Back in the 17th century, pirates in the West Indies had agreements on who would lead and how to distribute the booty. Similar statutes existed in the gangs of Howell Davis, Bartholomew Roberts, Thomas Anstis, George Lowther, Edward Lowe, John Phillips, John Gough, and Captain Worley.

The commander on a pirate ship did not have absolute power: he could command during battle, but not in everyday life, and even more so on land. Although some of the leaders, like Taylor and Lowe, had rather broad powers, they could have their own cabin and servants. But in general, the commander had an alternative, namely the quartermaster - the person who was in charge of the quarterdeck (the deck in the aft part of the ship, which was considered a place of honor: the most important manifestos and orders were read there) and was in charge of daily life. A situation of dual power was developing. If any of the leaders exceeded their powers and it was possible to get rid of him, then this is what happened: a shot at night, a stabbing, preparation of a rebellion, followed by the division of the gang into several groups.

It is curious that when signing documents, some crew members signed in a circle to avoid a situation where someone's signature was above the rest.This was a precautionary measure against the establishment of internal hierarchies and from the persecution of the authorities, who, upon the seizure of a pirate ship, would not be able to establish who occupied what positions in the gang.

In the distribution of property among the pirates, the equalizing principle worked. As with privateer ships, each pirate received his share of the captured booty. When dividing the booty, a clear procedure was established: it was forbidden to encroach on someone else's share. All the loot was added to the "common fund", and then, having landed on the island, the pirates distributed the goods according to the allotted shares. The gang's "brain headquarters" -the commander, quartermaster, gunner, navigator, and doctor - received a little more than the others. The share could be increased for special merits - for example, the one who saw the enemy was entitled to a bonus share. Part of the booty went to the "insurance fund", a share of which was received by the victims of the battle or the widows of the dead. For cowardice and cowardice displayed in battle, they were punished with the deprivation of part of the share.

A special conversation concerns flight from society, which was a very unsafe business. When pirates joined the gang, they became members of the bloody brotherhood. Signing a pirate treaty meant joining the crew, and in the documents of that time, crew members were often indicated by name, although, of course, not all of those who signed the treaty knew how to write. And most likely, they could not read it! But if a person has signed up to be with everyone, he must stay in business until the end.

In the rules of John Phillips there was a caveat: if a pirate left on the island, who returned to the ship, signs under our charter without the consent of the entire crew, he must be punished - it is necessary that the decision be taken unanimously at the gathering.

Capturing merchant ships, pirates often offered the sailors they needed to join the gang (after all, human resources were required constantly), and so they had to choose between death and life on a pirate ship. In 1722, pirate Edward Lowe, famed for his brutality, hijacked a ship carrying a 19-year-old boy named Philip Ashton. The captured sailors were put on board the brig, and Lowe put a pistol to Ashton's head and demanded that he sign the contract. The young man said: "You can do with me what you want, but I will not sign the contract." The daredevil was beaten, he escaped several times, he was caught, flogged and shackled, but in 1723 Ashton still managed to hide in the Gulf of Honduras. He hid in the jungle and sat on the island for 16 months until traders found him. In 1725, Ashton arrived home and wrote memoirs of his stay on a pirate ship. Another sailor, William Warden, captured by the pirate John Phillips, said during a trial in 1724 that he, too, had a pistol pointed to his head and was forced to sign under the threat of death.

Other rules of conduct were no less stringent. It was forbidden to escape from the ship - if the fugitive was caught, he was entitled to the death penalty. It was forbidden to talk about the dissolution of the brotherhood until a certain amount was collected, for example, 1000 pounds, which was considered a lot of money. If a pirate made a stabbing on a ship, drank vodka at the wrong hour, drove women, he was entitled to severe punishments.

In general, a very tough collective management method based on internal self-discipline, violent measures and constant control worked in the pirate communities.

From privateering to banditry: how people became pirates

To understand what kind of people became pirates and how this happened, one must assume that these characteristics are transformed under the influence of the periods that we are trying to describe. Everything can change dramatically in just one decade.

If we take the sea robbery of the 16th – 17th centuries as a single concept, then we see first of all a maritime mobile social structure, which is based on people prone to constant movement. They live by the sea, go from port to port and cannot stay in one place for a long time.

Sea robbery attracted people for various reasons: someone was tired of dragging out a beggarly existence in the provincial outback, someone needed fame, someone - profit, someone fled from debts, hid from criminal punishment, or simply changed their place of work. In addition, piracy became a haven for thousands of people who traded in marques and ships of the British and French royal navies during the wars and found themselves at the bottom of the social ladder in connection with the end of the War of the Spanish Succession. The huge number of merchant ships, which began to conduct active commerce after the establishment of the peace agreements, promised great potential for enrichment.

One of the enduring characteristics of the pirate world is anonymity. Historians of piracy, as a rule, get their hands on reports about seamen captured by the authorities, interrogation protocols, court bills. These documents represent a one-sided view of piracy from the point of view of the administration, and the personal characteristics and portraits of these people do not actually reach modern researchers. Historians have only dozens of names, while hundreds and hundreds of people remain unknown. Unfortunately, information about them will never appear due to the specifics of police reports, recording mainly the fact of a crime, but rarely interested in the identity of the offender. Thus, piracy appears to modern researchers as an impersonal, scattered community.

But even the few biographies that have come down to us are amazing. In particular, among the sea robbers were not only representatives of the lower classes, but also people of noble birth. There were especially many of them in the 1670s-1680s - the classic period of Flibusta, when free corsairs, filibusters and privateers attacked Spanish and Dutch ships, acting rather not as pirates, but as real “soldiers” in the service of France and England. For them, legalized robbery was the most important part of building a career. Detachments of buccaneers and filibusters (French and English corsairs) were led by noble and titled people. In the 1680s, Michel de Grammont, Jean de Bernanos, Lambert, Pinel were the commanders of the corsair ships on Tortuga.

Charles-Francois d'Angin, Marquis de Maintenon, stood out in particular. A descendant of an old Norman family, he was born in 1648 in the family of the Marquis Louis de Maintenon and Marie Leclair du Tremblay, the daughter of the Governor of the Bastille Charles Leclerc and the niece of the famous father Joseph - the largest French diplomat, nicknamed the "gray cardinal", the closest adviser to Cardinal de Richelieu.

In 1669, the young marquis sold his estate to King Louis XIV, who presented it to his mistress, known as the Marquise de Maintenon, and as part of a naval squadron went to the West Indies, where he participated in the wars against the Dutch and made several successful raids against the British and Spaniards. After the Franco-Dutch war, d'Angen became the "sugar king" of the West Indies: he acquired the largest refinery and plantation in Martinique, took over as governor of the island of Marie-Galand and concentrated all sugar trade between France and Venezuela in his hands.

During the period of classical piracy (1714-1730), sung by Robert Stevenson, Washington Irving and Arthur Conan Doyle, in just 15 years, piracy managed to go through three stages - from relatively law-abiding privateering to monstrous banditry, whose victims were thousands of ships and innumerable people. The pirate carriages of the time were a bizarre fusion of people of different classes, professions and ethnicities.

In 1714, the War of the Spanish Succession ended. Thousands of people who had previously traded on marque and served on the ships of the British and French fleets for decades were left without work, abandoned to their fate. Former privateers and privateers like Britons Benjamin Hornigold and Henry Jennings decided to continue sea robbery, but without the support of the authorities. They attacked the ships of the traditional enemies - the French and the Spaniards.

In 1717, the situation changed: pirates began to attack the ships of their own compatriots. In particular, the Hornigold team put forward the requirement to capture any ships of their choice, regardless of affiliation. Hornigold rejected the ultimatum and left the team with a handful of like-minded people; later he was amnestied and even became a "pirate hunter" - however, in this field he did not succeed. His place in the team was taken by the aforementioned Black Sam Bellamy.

Another former member of Hornigold's team became famous - Edward Teach, nicknamed Blackbeard. His ships, under the black flag with the image of the devil piercing the human heart with a spear, attacked and plundered all the oncoming merchant ships. A year later, Teach was caught off guard in his own lair by a British naval squadron, tried to resist, but was killed in action. Until recently, Teach was believed to be from a simple sailor family, but publications appeared suggesting that his relatives were quite wealthy and quite influential people in the North American colonies.

Teach's partner was Steed Bonnet, who was executed in 1718. Steed's grandfather was one of the first settlers to America and owned a large house on the main street of the city and a huge fortune. At the age of six, Steed lost his father and inherited the family estate. Subsequently, he married a girl from a plantation family, they had three children. Bonnet fought in Barbados against the French. No one knows why this wealthy and respected man became a pirate in 1717. Contemporaries wrote that Steed's wife was grumpy, so he allegedly fled from her into the sea. But modern research shows that it was not about his relationship with his wife, but about politics: the Hanoverian dynasty came to power in Great Britain, and Steed Bonnet was a supporter of the Stuarts. Thus, this and not the only path to piracy can be viewed as a political challenge.

An odious figure was Bartholomew Black Bart Roberts, who captured 350 ships in just three years. He died in 1722, and his death marked the end of the golden age of piracy. During this period, the authorities launched a large-scale hunt for pirates, who, knowing that certain death awaited them, became desperate, seized a huge number of ships, killed crew members and brutally raped women who fell into their hands.

One of the more notorious thugs was the aforementioned Edward Lowe, who was born in London and raised in a thieves' family, having spent his early years in dire poverty. He led a criminal life on land, and when he became a pirate, he acted with sophisticated cruelty. During his short career, Lowe captured more than a hundred ships and is remembered as one of the most bloodthirsty pirates.

Women on the ship

Legends about brave pirates fighting on an equal basis with men excited the minds of many readers and viewers. Today it is obvious that the idea that the nautical business is exclusively a refuge for men is an illusion. Women on the ships were present as laundresses, cooks, prostitutes, wives and mistresses. As a rule, they ended up on ships with their husbands or lovers, in some cases they were even initially part of gangsters who planned to seize a suitable ship.However, the persistent belief that women on the ship undermine the working rhythm, introduce dissonance in order, cause conflicts in the male team, and was reflected in the female history of piracy. There were many superstitions and stereotypes about them. If the captain brought his wife or mistress on board the ship, this was not approved, and it was often she who was blamed for the troubles that befell the crew. Nevertheless, the fact of the presence of women on ships, including pirate ships, is undeniable.

When gender studies gained weight in the 1980s and 2000s, it became obvious that although piracy was a masculine environment, women could get into it, but for this they had to become a “drag queen”, a member of this community, dressed in a man's costume, having mastered the naval business and learned to wield a weapon. In the book by American historian John Appleby, Women and English Piracy, 1540-1720s. tells about the fate of women on pirate ships. Their direct involvement in the robbery was often controversial. Very few women have been convicted of piracy and sentenced to death. Among them, in particular, Martha Fairley, wife of the pirate Thomas Fairley, who was not punished, as her participation in pirate raids was not proven, and Mary Crickett, who was hanged in 1729.

Black Sails shows how two women - pirates Anne Bonnie and Mary Reed - actually lead the gangs. Until recently, it was believed that these famous pirates are completely fictional figures.

According to the biography of Captain Charles Johnson, A General History of Robberies and Murders Perpetrated by the Most Famous Pirates, Mary Reed had a difficult life. She was born out of wedlock, and the widow mother passed off her daughter for her deceased legitimate son, dressing her in men's clothing. Disguised as a man, Mary Reed went to serve in a cavalry regiment, where she fell in love with an officer and married him. The marriage did not last long: Mary's husband died suddenly, and she decided to put on a man's dress again and get hired on a Dutch ship sailing to the West Indies. This ship was captured by the pirate Jack Rackham, nicknamed Calico Jack - he became the historical prototype of Captain Jack Sparrow from the movie "Pirates of the Caribbean". Since Reed was dressed in men's clothing, she was accepted into a pirate gang.

The pirate ship was attended by another girl, Anne Bonnie, she was the secret wife of Rackham. According to legend, they both cohabited with the captain. In 1720, the team was captured by the governor of Jamaica. Captain Rackham was hanged almost immediately, and the execution of the women was constantly postponed due to their pregnancy. As a result, Mary Reed died in prison. Anne Bonnie was more fortunate: she was ransomed from prison by a rich lawyer father, she married a decent man, gave birth to many children, and lived until the 1780s.

It is not known for certain which of these colorful details of the biography is true and which is fiction, just as the identity of "Captain Charles Johnson" has not yet been established.

However, speaking of female pirates, one cannot fail to mention the pirate wives who were waiting for their "companions in life" on the shore. Since a considerable part of the pirates were not hardened criminals, but people who in the past belonged to the most peaceful professions, who left their families in their previous life, it is obvious that social ties were not lost. Many of the pirates kept in touch with loved ones, passing them letters and money through a network of merchants and smugglers who worked closely with pirate gangs. Some of the pirate wives even petitioned the British Parliament or local magistrates, seeking to raise awareness of their husbands' plight and obtain amnesty for them and their relatives, who were engaged in sea robbery and were often the only breadwinners.In particular, in July 1709, the House of Commons of the British Parliament considered a petition filed by the wives and relatives of the Madagascar pirates, signed by a certain, curiously, Mary Reed and her 47 companions, who proposed to consider the possibility of granting amnesty to their relatives - the pirates of Madagascar, who expressed a burning desire return to a peaceful life and become sailors of the British Navy.

The pirates were worried about both their condition and the provision of their family. They did not flaunt their family virtues, but asked friends or the captain, if they died, to send the remaining property home. For example, Captain Calliford wrote to a certain Mrs. Waley that her husband, a member of his crew, left all the "fortune" to her, and Captain Shelley of New York agreed to ferry it.

We dare to suggest that hopes to improve the life of their family were one of the motivations for choosing a criminal business. These people, deprived by society of any hopes for well-being, left home, often without a chance of returning, but the family continued to occupy a large place in their thoughts and lives. Abraham Sesnoya wrote to his wife: “I think that our voyage will last ten years, but I do not forget you … because I have nothing more than love for you and our children. I remain faithful to you until death do us part. " Evan Jones informed his wife Frances that after long hardships he finally became a captain and is now going on a long voyage and let her not hope to hear about him earlier than five years later. The pirates were interested in how their families lived, and they read the letters sent to them with impatience and curiosity. Ida Wildey wrote to her husband Richard of William Kidd's team that prices were high in New York; Sir Horn, the wife of another pirate from the same crew, reported that, in accordance with his desire, she sent her son to study with a certain Isaac Teylon, a tailor. “There are so many rumors about you here that I would be very happy to hear from you yourself,” she added and said hello from his friends.

Who knows, perhaps for some pirates the correspondence with the family, this unbroken connection with a peaceful life, constituted the last bright hope and in the end helped to break out of the clutches of the underworld. Henry Crosley sent a letter to his brother on the island of Saint-Marie, in which he wrote that he had never hoped to hear anything about him, but now he found out that his brother was still alive. He implored him to return home, reported that although his wife and children had moved to friends on Long Island, but if the pirate returned, he would help them: “I am sure that your life can be arranged only if you are here with your flesh and blood. " But we do not know how the fate of the aforementioned Mr. Crosley and the fate of thousands of similar members of other pirate crews developed.

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