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‘Amongst the Ancient Seamen’
Pirate Narratives #3: Chapter 1
© 2020 James LaFond
Pages 49 to 53
Shipping from Havre de Grace, France, on May 2nd 1666, the author is as yet of uncertain identity. There are 20 mariners to sail the ship and man the 28 guns, which is wholly inadequate. However, this is necessary to leave room to ship passengers, of which there are 220, including “free” passengers, which means redemptioners, people sent out by the French West Indies Company who will be auctioned off and sold to pay for their passage. These are human cargo, many of whom would have been abducted, arrested and otherwise forced aboard the ship. This is, however, the condition of most of the passengers, so there seems to be no general sorrow. Rituals are conducted by the old mariners and some passengers who [presumably have paid their passage] are taxed a brandy at a mariner’s baptism when certain dangerous points of the journey are passed.
The fleet gathers to “thirty sail,” a hug flotilla necessary to ward off English pirates. The man-of-war that is the flagship has 37 guns and 250 men. The four English frigates that menace the fleet each have 60 guns and anywhere between 250 and 400 men. The English are outmaneuvered, however the people along the French coast are terrified of the fleet even with French colors flying, indicating that slave raiding by mariners is a regular occurrence, and not just by Turks and Barbary corsairs, but by men of all nations. Indeed, they run into a ship that has been robbed by a French pirate and then have a duel with a lightly armed English pirate.
With three to five men required to properly man a gun, one can see how understrength a 27-gun ship is with 20 sailors, half of whom will be required to man the sails. In the single battle they have, three guns are touched off at the enemy—all they could manage.
So one may imagine, that if a ship of 20 guns, manned by a hundred pirates were to tackle such a prize, the pirates would be in a position to offer freedom to passengers and crew alike—with some of the crew possibly serving against their will. It was a fact that in Plantation Maryland and Pennsylvania, in the mid-1700s, after the Age of Pirates had been extinguished by the British Navy, runaways of various races were most likely to be described as heading for major seaports and threats were constantly posted aimed at sea captains who might hire on such desperate men. The ship was described as so crowded with passengers that the sailors would tread on them during the course of their duties.
The passengers were the most valuable cargo heading west, as they would provide the free labor necessary to clear land, build settlements and extract resources. Such companies were a combination of and the forerunners to our private military contractors, oil companies and private corrections companies of today.
The chapter ends with the ship anchoring off Tortuga on July 7 after passing “Punta Rica,” the beautifully wooded island where other ships in such westward convoys would take the northeasterly winds and currents up the North American coast.
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