notes: “under the black flag” by david cordingly

under the black flag; the romance and the reality of life among the pirates.  by david cordingly, harcourt brace, 1998

“when william phillips was wounded in his left leg during a skirmish between two pirate ships, there was no surgeon on board either vessel and it was decided that the ship’s carpenter was the most suitable man to tackle the job.  the carpenter produced the largest saw from his tool chest and went to work ‘as though he were cutting a deal board in two and soon the leg was separated from the body of the patient.’  to cauterize the wound, the carpenter heated his broadax, but he proved less skilled with this tool and burned more of the flesh than was necessary.  miraculously phillips survived the operation.”  p8

“although a surprising number of women seem to have gone to sea on merchant ships or joined the navy disguised as men, very few women became pirates.  apart from mary read and anne bonny, the only female pirates mentioned in any of the pirate histories are the scandinavian pirate alwilda, the irishwoman grace o’malley, and the chinese pirate leader mrs. cheng.”  p71

“there was therefore a seasonal pattern to the pirates’ voyages.  most of the winter months were spent in the warm waters of the caribbean, and not until april or may did they head north.  bartholomew roberts, for instance, attacked shipping on teh newfoundland banks in june and july 1720, but was back in the west indies by the winter.  blackbeard was on the coast of virginia in october 1717 and blockading charleston, south carolina, in june 1718, but in the intervening winter he went south and plundered ships off st. kitts and in the bay of honduras.  edward low was cruising of rhode island and newfoundland in july 1723, but by september he had headed across the atlantic to the azores.”  p89

“a closer look suggests that pirate life at sea was well organized, and similar in many respects to life on a merchant ship.  this is not surprising, partly because the majority of pirates were former merchant seamen and would have adopted similar routines, and patly because ocean voyaging deemanded a certain level of discipline if the crew were to survive the perils of the sea.  there was the same need to establish watches, to post lookouts, to take soundings in shallow waters, and to navigate as accurately as possible.  in heavy weather life would have been as wet, as cold, as physically demanding, and as dangerous as on a merchent ship.  in calm weather there would have been days and sometimes weeks with little to do but men sails and gear, carry out minor repairs, and eat and drink.

“there were, however, considerable differences too.  apart from the inevitable dangers involved when attacking a ship which might fight back, the daily routine on a pirate ship was considerably easier than life on a merchantman because the crew were not driven by owners and captains to make the fastest possible passage with the biggest possible cargo, and because the pirates operated with very much larger crews.  the typical crew of a merchantman of 100 tons ewas around twelve men.  a pirate ship of similar size would frequently have a crew of eighty or more.  the pirates therefore had many more hands to haul on ropes, heave up the anchor, set the sails, work the pumps, load and unload provisions, man the boats, and go ashore for firewood and water.”  p90-91

“there were three qualities required in a pirate ship:  she had to be fast, seaworthy, an well armed.  a fast ship enabled the pirates to catch their prey and to make a quick getaway, ‘a light pair of heels being of great use either to take or to escape being taken’ in the words of captain johnson.  for this reason, many of the pirates in teh west indies used the single-masted sloops built in bermuda and jamaica which had a well-deserved reputation for speed. the pirates kept the in good order, careening them regularly to keep the hulls smooth and clear of seaweed, and they could usually outsail any craft sent after them.”  p158

“in retrospect it is surprising how effective the royal navy and authorized privateers were in hunting down the pirates.  the pirates’ cruising grounds extended for thousands of miles, and there were so many places in the caribbean and along the coasts of north america and africa where they could hide their shops.  and yet, without radios and telephones, the news of a pirate’s whereabouts would be passed among the thousands of ships and small craft plying among the islands and up and down the coast.  the information would eventually reach the governor of a colony, the captain of a naval ship, or an agent of the royal africa company or the east india company.. a warship would be dispatched, and a patient search made until the pirate was tracked down.”  p222

“it was not simply the numbers of pirates executed which contributed to their downfall.  the publicity surrounding the trials and the public nature of the executions ensured that seamen and their families were keenly aware of the penalty for piracy.  the pronouncements of the judges, prosecutors, and clergy stressed with wicked nature of their actions and made it plain that pirates were enemies of all mankind.  the trials, hangings, and the heavy condemnation of piracy by church and state acted as a powerful deterrent to anyone tempted to join the pirates.”  p228


About jeanne

artist, grandma, alien

Posted on April 3, 2010, in pirate, research. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: