Monday, December 13, 2010

Pirate Week Begins!

I blame Disney World for my love of pirate history. I have vague images from when I was three of the Pirates of the Caribbean ride and I'm almost positive that ignited my interest. And while movie pirates make better heroes than the real thing, the truth can still be fascinating. To kick off pirate week, let's explore a little about pirate history and the people who made it.

Not Just in the Caribbean
I imagine many of us think of the Caribbean when you think of pirates (or maybe you think Somalia). But piracy goes back to ancient times and covers pretty much every coastline. The Aegean Sea was a special hot spot for ancient pirates (and today is a hot bed of shipwrecks). The Vikings count as pirates. Corsairs from the Barbary Coast in Africa threatened the Mediterranean once upon a time. Farther east in the South China Sea, pirates were so prevalent that they had their own squadrons!

Booty Galore
When you think of pirates the obvious next leap is treasure. Pirate loot included cold hard cash, but they took almost anything of value, including necessary items like salt. Jewels and amphorae filled with olive oil also made good plunder. Corsairs especially valued the humans on board the ships they attacked - they used slaves as oarsmen for their galleys. (Wealthier captives were ransomed.) Basically anything considered valuable by the people of the time was fair game for pirates.

Famous Pirates
Some pirates are more famous to the general public than others. For instance, Edward "Blackbeard" Teach is infamous for lighting his beard on fire during pirate raids. Mary Read and Anne Bonny are probably more famous than the man they worked under. Henry Morgan may also be a familiar name thanks to a brand of rum.

You may know Captain William Kidd's name. What you may not know is that he started as a pirate hunter and was accused of piracy by the British East India Company while in this profession. It looks like a misunderstanding from today's perspective. But whether he was innocent or not, Kidd was promptly tried and hung, and they set his body up in a gibbet as an example to would-be pirates. Poor Kidd may not have been what he seemed to the government at the time. But it's rather too late to save his reputation now. (We'll see more of Kidd later in the week.)

"Black Sam" Bellamy is another name you may have heard but know little about. He has a love story attached to his name and supposedly returned to New England to marry his sweetheart after one last successful capture. Unfortunately, the poor guy sunk with his ship in a bad storm just off of Cape Cod, Mass. before that could happen. (Get more of his story in the Behind-the-Book section on my site.)

Not Even the Half of It
I could write pages and pages of info just covering the highlights of pirate history. I have a couple of favorite go-to reference books that are both fun and informative and not at all the dry pages of text often associated with history books. If you're a history geek like me who prizes an interesting read, check out Piratepedia and Pirateology. I know they seem like they're for kids, but they're really just as good for adults.

And thus begins Pirate Week! Stay tuned to get caught up on your pirate lingo, get the scoop on some real buried treasure, and find out how much you know about pirates!

Now it's your turn. Do you have any interesting tidbits about pirates?

Photos by Simon Carrasco & me
blog comments powered by Disqus
Related Posts with Thumbnails