Tag Archives: golden age of piracy

Going On The Account: At Sea, For Real

If you ever wanted to get a taste of what it would really have been like to have been going on the account during the Golden Age of Piracy, you recently had a new option to consider:  Sailing aboard the Carnival Triumph.

 

Oh, don’t look at me like that!  Hear me out:
Consider what conditions were like aboard any vessel during the Age of Sail, which not only covers the early 18th Century, but goes a few years beyond, right through the Civil War.  There are some good online accounts of life amid ships during that time; if you look even harder, you can find in passing how they went to the bathroom during this time…

 

 

And you could probably also read here and there about the challenges the Flota de Plata faced as it made the next to last leg of the journey, hazarding the waters of Yucatan and trying to stay out of the doldrums in the Gulf of Mexico, lest you be stuck adrift with very little to eat and the stench of your existence offending you.

Or, you could do it the way 4,200 other souls did and be aboard the Carnival Triumph when her engine room caught fire and left her a hulk adrift for five days, that only this evening got towed to Mobile.  It wasn’t pretty, as the photos tweeted by passengers attest to, but if you wanted something authentic, the way real pirates braved the Spanish Main, well, this was the place to be…

 

 

At least the Coast Guard dropped in sandwiches; imagine the First Class passengers dealing with hard tack…

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Going On The Account: On Even Stranger Tides

So, among the news feed items regarding pirates, such as the release of the crew of the MV Albedo nearly two years after their capture off Somalia and how piracy is hobbling Android apps, was this piece from NorthJersey.com about how there was action during the Golden Age of Piracy on the Hackensack River.

 

Which shouldn’t surprise anyone, really; as New York became a more active port, where better to base to hit the trade coming in and out than marshy water where a low draft vessel can slide in and out of quickly and disappear into the reeds when finished?  Supposedly the situation was so bad that British and later American authorities had to set fire to the woods, which were aflame for three days, to drive the pirates out.

 

Unfortunately, the article suggests that there was so little written about the event at the time because there was no romance to be found in such actions, and so the happenings there were considered to be folklore until recently.  At best, the lives these buccaneers lived because of the lack of accounts had to mean that their existence was not worth writing about.

 

Well, here’s another item on the list for a future project for me:  The Pyrates of Secaucus…

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Going On The Account: Finders, Kee- Hey Wha’?

Someone flagged for me this story of Spain taking possession of recovered treasure that had gone down with (what the report claimed was) a galleon.

At first I wasn’t sure this dovetailed as well into my interests, as the Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes went down in 1804, a little beyond the Golden Age of Piracy.  And the fact that it wasn’t pirates or privateers that brought her down, but the Royal Navy, also at first made me pass it by.

Then I read the account of the Cape Santa Maria Action, and suddenly the sails filled again.  For now we had an act of piracy and  a cursed treasure that makes for an interesting story, maybe not as cinematic as the other one, but still worth a read…

For those wanting a little context, October of 1804 saw the US Navy going up against the Barbary Pirates to the east of the Straits of Gibraltar, while Napoleon was consolidating his hold on Europe with an eye on invading England.   Spain under Charles IV was a power on the way down, still receiving and living off the Treasure Fleet without encouraging the middle class to create capital on its own, still trying to do things the old way without realizing that that party was over.  Which I can sympathize with, having overstayed my welcome at a few affairs over the years…

Because Spain was pressured to align its interests with France’s, which is a nice way of saying it was bullied to death, there was distrust of Spanish intentions by the British, and when word came to London of Spain’s secret payments to Napoleon in order to maintain their neutrality (or if you prefer, “protection money”), the British decided to take action to force the issue.  Which is a description you can apply to a good portion of action during the Napoleonic period; bold audacity with steely resolve and a willingness to “make it up as you go along.”  An approach we get a lot of from Horatio Hornblower, who then begets Captain Kirk and Han Solo…

And so, four British frigates attempt to seize the Treasure Fleet, which no matter how you parse it is an act of piracy.  Yes, it’s a state agency (the Royal Navy) going after treasure, but it is the seizing, not the seizers, that makes the definition, and in this case we really need to render unto seizers what belongeth unto seizers…

OK, over the line; sorry…

Furthermore, Captain Moore’s action against Rear Admiral Bustamante y Guerra comes to force the issue of Spanish neutrality, by denying Spain the means of paying off the French through the sinking of the  Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes  with what is estimated in today’s currency to be worth half a billion dollars.

 

A treasure that the folks at Odyssey Marine Exploration certainly thought they were entitled to when they recovered her cargo off the coast of Portugal, until the Spanish government (which had gone through a few cycles since Charles IV and the Bourbons were swept away) stepped in to claim it.  And after five years of litigation between Odyssey and Spain, which much like the conditions around the importance of the treasure before it went down was tied to secret government dealings if some WikiLeaks cables are verified, the Spanish finally brought their silver home.

(Well, technically “their” silver, as the article does mention in passing that Peru made an appeal for a claim, as the silver in the treasure was mined from their country by Spanish colonial agents.  The courts, however, apparently decided that historical fairness can only go back so far…)

So in the end,  the treasure aboard the Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes  is indeed a tale of high seas action, with greedy raiders firing broadsides to claim a contested treasure.  And much like tales of modern conflicts, there were also plenty of lawyers, guns and money, though not in equal portions at all times…

 

 

And for their efforts, the Spanish are claiming that this haul is going to a museum, which seems strange considering their current position…

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