Going on the Account: In Celebration of Pirates, Arrrr

Arrrr, Happy International Talk Like a Pirate Day! Thar be plenty o’ speachin’ like seadogs an’ such other jawin’ bein’ done. Aye, an’ thar be plenty o’ lads and lasses tryin’ t’ catch t’ headwinds o’ t’ day from other souls mountin’ t’ head o’ a barrel o’ rum. Arrr, and they all be tryin’ t’ summon t’ spirit o’ t’ buccaneers t’ come forth from their mouths like Henry Morgan’s fleet descendin’ on Panama, Matey.

And there’s very little of what I can say next in favor of the holiday that can be done well in the vernacular, so please forgive me for shifting out of discours a la mode.

Because frankly, we owe the plunderers from the Golden Age of Piracy a lot more than just an excuse to talk like Robert Newton over our drinks.

It’s easy to see why we continue to think fondly about these pirates some 350 years after the first ship was seized in the Caribbean.  The pirate ideal is a seductive one that would probably spur quite a few modern people to go on the account if given a chance; Pirate Master still managed to get a lot of attention despite being a ratings disappointment.  What would make someone take up the Sweet Trade is obvious:

  • The Excitement:  There is a constant drive in the narrative of those pirates we think about and watch (and write about), the kind of high adventure some of us desire to be enrobed in constantly
  • The Sense of Freedom:  Being an entity unto yourself, you and your crew against all flags, has been a strong appeal to humans for years.  And unlike what motorcycle gangs deal with, pirate ships are a little quieter…
  • The Booty:  Aye, the main reason for taking up the Sweet Trade.  All one requires to get rich in this line is a little luck, a bit of effort and a willingness to roll up your sleeves when the time comes.

Mind ye, the fact that part of the duties of a pirate career included mayhem, grand theft and homicide probably keeps most of us from seriously pursuing this line of work full time…

So despite the supposed fun of being a pirate (discounting the murder and all), why do they deserve a day of honor?  There’s got to be more to it than the lingo.  And the clothes; yes, those are important too…

Seriously a second, why honor these buccaneers?

For a few damned good reasons, thank you:

  • Their Contributions to Settling the New World: While most people think of the coming of Europe to the West in the form of soldiers and settlers, the role of smugglers and brigands cannot be underestimated.  The presence of pirates forced those powers with dreams of empire to pay attention to them, spurring on new advances in naval technology and committing them to building up their presence in the New World in ways that would spur development and bring many European descendents to the Americas.  And as the new naval technology found its way into the hands of pirates, further advances were greatly encouraged; it was an effort to avoid hanging for piracy, after all, that led Drake to circumnavigate the globe, succeeding better than Magellan by surviving the voyage and bringing his single ship back to port.
  • The Culture of Capital Pursuit: At a time when the mercantilist economy ruled and assets were only thought of tools of kings, it was the pirates that fully embraced individual ownership of vast wealth.  The fact that all such buccaneers were essentially self-made men (with a few self-made women amongst them) was more than just a simple redistribution of wealth; it was a philosophical revolution that made material the ideals that the Enlightenment thinkers were discussing.  And who better to embody the core ideals of the social contract envisioned by Locke and Rousseau than Black Bart Roberts and Calico Jack?  Which leads nicely into discussion of…
  • The First Functioning Democracy for Many New World Europeans: Most of those coming to the New World from Europe (and everyone coming from Africa, sad to say) did so under terms of indenture or slavery; not everyone who showed up here had the benefit of living under a system like the Mayflower Compact.  The deprivations on land and especially at sea encouraged those going into the Sweet Trade to adopt the tradition of parley, where all would have a voice in the state of affairs.  And with such a tradition so widely adopted, is it any wonder that over a few generations others in the New World would soon come to expect that in their affairs ashore?

The result of the pirate culture exhibited above is easily seen in the Western tradition practiced in the New World, and ultimately adopted by degree by the rest of the planet during the 20th Century.  Our traditions of the bold pursuit of capital with a direct voice in how we govern ourselves owe much to the pirates that plied the trade routes of the Caribbean and the coasts of North and South America; we would not be the society we are today, for good or ill, without them having set the pace.

So aye, we do indeed owe a debt t’ Cap’n Slappy and Ol’ Chumbucket for givin’ us a day t’ think of buccaneers and dream o’ bein’ like them.  So let us be hoistin’ our grog as we wish t’ raise anchor and go on t’ account.

And if ye have a moment between rounds, give t’ pirates their due, if not ye thanks and blessin’s, for brin’in’ us t’ modern world!

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