Friday, May 29, 2009

Tank Riot Podcast: Pirate History

Another link I found on boing boing is to this podcast. I had never listened to this podcast before, but they cover a wide variety of topics and this [nearly] two hour episode is all about pirates. They cover pretty much all the basics from the very first pirates all the way to to the Maersk Alabama (the American freighter recently captured by Somali pirates and freed by the US Navy). They even spend the last 20 minutes or so talking about music and movie piracy, which, as they point out, isn't really piracy, its just called that. But over all they do a really good job covering everything you might read in a pirate history book (and some things you wouldn't). [One correction though: I think they mention Blackbeard's Tower as being on St. Thomas, its actually in The Bahamas (unless there are two in which case I am mistaken).] They also talk about pirate movies, but no mention of Against All Flags, which they should see if they haven't. In any event, its well worth a listen.

[Please note: there are a few PG-13 moments so keep that in mind if young, impressionable ears might be listening.]

Click here to download the podcast directly from itunes (its FREE!)

visit the Tank Riot episode page.

and of course, found via boing boing

[(I'll try to use less parenthetical marks in future posts!)]

Update: Viktor from Tank Riot emailed me back and there is, in fact, a Blackbeard's Tower on St. Thomas. Click here to read more about it.

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Thursday, May 28, 2009

All About Pirate Economics, A Book Review Online

The magazine Reason has an review online about The Invisible Hook: The Hidden Economics of Pirates. The book looks pretty interesting and the article has quite a bit of information in itself (and I confess to not having read much of it so far, but I will!). From the review:
But a pirate’s life had less publicized qualities as well: Ships were known among sailors for their relatively decent living conditions, profitsharing opportunities, democratic practices, and racially integrated crews. Life “on the account,” as pirating was known, was often far more civilized than legitimate seamanship.

Read the review/article here

Found via boing boing

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Thursday, June 19, 2008

Of Pirates and Parrots

The Hostage by N. C. Wyeth, 1911, for Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson

Did pirates keep parrots? Long John Silver's parrot, Captain Flint, may be fictional, but he has some basis in fact. While there are no records of well known pirates keeping parrots, there was a trade in exotic animals during the golden age of piracy. And where there was trade, it goes without saying, there were pirates. In seems reasonable that parrots, being easy to tame, quite colorful and rare would have been taken as booty if found. Also of note is the fact that those engaged piracy often liked to dress, eat or otherwise engage in practices that were usually reserved for the higher classes, so keeping an exotic pet would not be out of the question. But it is almost certainly Treasure Island that cemented parrots into the popular view of pirates.

Pirate (DK Eyewitness Books) by Richard Platt
A Pyrate's Life: Pirates, Parrots, & Pets

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Thursday, June 12, 2008

Gentlemen of Fourtune

I have come across an amazing website called Gentlemen Of Fourtune. It contains a wealth of information about pirates clothing, weapons, ships and other information. The focus is on accuracy for re-enactors and living history groups. The attention to detail is amazing. I especially like their section on period shoes, and how virtually nobody that dresses up like pirates wear shoes that are accurate to the Golden Age. The photo above comes from their website.

Click here to go there.

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Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Rulers of Europe during the Golden Age of Piracy

The height of the golden age of piracy ran from about 1650 - 1727* (depending on who you ask). The European powers shifted alliances and fought a lot during this period. The constant war making gave rise to privateers, and peace making made many privateers turn to piracy. This is a rough guide, as political history in Europe was quite complicated during this period (at least as far as this silly American is concerned). Here are some of the rulers of the Golden Age:

England/Great Britain
Charles I: 1625–1649 (House of Stuart)
Oliver Cromwell: 1653-1658 (Commonwealth)
Richard Cromwell: 1658-1659 (Commonwealth)
Charles II: 1660-1685 (House of Stuart)
James II: 1685-1688 (House of Stuart)
William III: 1689-1702 (House of Stuart)
Mary II: 1689-1694 (House of Stuart)
Anne: 1702-1714 (House of Stuart)
George I 1714-1727 (House of Hanover)

Philip IV: 1621-1665 (House of Habsburg)
Charles II: 1665-1770 (House of Habsburg)
Philip V: 1700-1746 (House of Bourbon)
Louis I: Ruled briefly in 1724 when his father, Philip V abdicated

Louis XIV: 1643-1715 (House of Bourbon)
Louis XV: 1715-1774 (House of Bourbon)

John IV: 1640-1656
Afonso VI: 1656-1657
Peter II: 1667-1706
John V: 1706-1750

Republic of the Seven United Netherlands
Jacob Cats: 1636-1651
Adriaan Pauw: 1651-1653
Johan de Witt: 1653-1672
Gaspar Fagel: 1672-1688
Michiel ten Hove: 1688-1689
Anthonie Heinsius: 1689-1720
Isaac van Hoornbeek: 1720-1727

Austria/Germany/Hungary/Holy Roman Empire
Ferdinand III: 1637-1657 (House of Habsburg)
Leopold I: 1657-1705 (House of Habsburg)
Joeseph I: 1705-1711 (House of Habsburg)
Charles VI: 1711-1740 (House of Habsburg)

Source: wikipedia

* According to wikipedia, the execution of William Fly "is used by historian Marcus Rediker to mark the end of the Golden Age of Pirates."

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Wednesday, June 4, 2008

More Pirate Coins

In the Angus Konstam book mentioned in my recent post on pirate coinage, he mentions how a character in Robert Louis Steveson's Treasure Island (Billy Bones) has in his notebook a table for converting one nations coins to the value of another's. Also mentioned in Treasure Island are some more types of coins found as part of Captain Flint's treasure.

It was a strange collection, like Billy Bones's hoard for the diversity of coinage, but so much larger and so much more varied that I think I never had more pleasure than in sorting them. English, French, Spanish,Portuguese, Georges, and Louises, doubloons and double guineas and moidores and sequins, the pictures of all the kings of Europe for the last hundred years,...

Louis d'or (gold, 1640 - French Revolution): A gold coin from France. Replaced by the Franc.

Guinea (gold, 1663 - 1816): A gold coin from England. Worth 21 shillings.

Moidore (gold, 1614 - 1732): A gold coin from Portugal.

Sequin (gold, 1543 - ?): A gold coin from The Republic of Venice (in Italy). They also minted silver Ducats.

Source: Wikipedia and Treasure Island

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Saturday, May 31, 2008

Pirate Coins In The Golden Age

Bootie, originally uploaded by Ack Ook.

Blunt, booty, tin; call it what you may, but it was the raison d'être for nearly all pirates. The Spanish became fabulously wealthy in the new world, and pirates and privateers set out to relieve them of their riches. Once acquired, the pirates would squander their loot on drink, gambling and other vices you could very well imagine. They seldom, if ever buried their treasure. Coin was not they only thing they were after. Aside from precious metals and gems, things like medicine, clothing and weapons were also highly prized.

Ahhh, but who now can one mention a pirate's treasure without conjuring up images of parrots squawking out "pieces-of-eight" or chests full of doubloons? Here is a rundown of what you might have found in a pirates pockets in the Golden Age:

Pieces-of-eight (silver, 1497 to 1857): This was the silver dollar of its day. It was worth 8 reales (pronounced ray-ahls) and was frequently cut into pieces to make change, hence the name pieces-of-eight.

Doubloon (gold, 1566-?): A gold coin worth 2 escudos, see below.

Spanish Real (as in Reales) (silver/alloy, 1497 to 1864): This coin changed value a number of times throughout its existence. From 1642 to 1737 (which encompasses the Golden Age), there were two reales; on of silver (real de plata) and a less valuable one (real de vellón) made from billon (silver alloyed with other metals).

Gold Escudo (gold, 1566-1833): This coin was worth 16 silver reales during the golden age. Actually, they were minted in several quantities from 1/2 to 8 escudos, the 2 escudo coin was commonly known as the doubloon.

Onza (gold, 1566-????): A gold coin worth 8 escudos.

Going roughly on the facts in books:
1 Doubloon = 2 Escudos = 4 Pieces-of-eight = 32 Reales
1 Escudo = 16 Reales de plata
1 Pieces-of-eight = 8 Reales de plata

It should be noted that coins and other forms of money were in short supply in the new world. A pirate was more likely to come across all manner of goods than a galleon laden with coins. But there were some coins. Pieces-of-eight minted roughly in South America for transport back to Spain were known as cob. There were also coins from other nations used in trade, and a pirate might have to be "his own exchange broker", as Angus Konstam points out in one of his books.

But pieces-of-eight and gold doubloons will always remain at the heart of our romanticized image of pirates, weather its Ben Gunn's cave full of loot in Treasure Island or the treasure room at the end of the Pirates of the Caribbean rides. Pirates and coins go hand in hand, or coin in hand, if you please.


  • The Complete Idiot's Guide To Pirates, Gail Selinger

  • Pirates 1660-1730, Angus Konstam

  • Pirate (DK Eyewitness Books), Richard Platt

  • Wikipedia

The Great American Coin Company makes reproductions of some factual and fanciful pirate coins. You can even order them by the chest-load. Click here to go there.

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Saturday, December 1, 2007

"The Fate Of A Treasure Town" available on Google Books

Howard Pyle's short story The Fate Of A Treasure Town is now available for viewing and download at Google Books. The story and a number others are part of a public domain book called Adventures Of Pirates and Sea Rovers. Unfortunately, I don't think this book has the illustrations set up the same way they appeared when the story was originally published in Harpers Monthly Magazine. Follow this link to the book:

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Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Articles about articles about modern pirates has an article about a National Geographic writer who went to Malaysia to write an article about modern piracy. I have also seen and read the National Geographic article.

[link to NPR article]

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Sunday, July 15, 2007

Some Things You Did Not Know About Pirate Clothing

Most pirates didn't wear tri-cornered hats. The wind on a ship at sea would be likely to blow them off, and they were not practical when climbing on the rigging. Pirates wore bandanas to keep the sun off their heads, but they also believed that a tightly tied bandana on the head was a way to keep from getting seasickness.

Pirates often went barefoot on the ship. This gave them a better feel for the movement of the ship and helped them keep their sea-legs. If they did wear footwear, they wore sandals made from rope. Pirates only wore boots when going into battle. They did this to protect their feet from debris on the deck and as a place to store extra daggers.

Red and yellow scarves were used in a lot of pirate movies because they showed up well when new color processes came into use. Lots of burning ships were used in these movies for the same reason.

Reprinted from aperturequiet.

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Monday, July 9, 2007

Pirates and Concertinas: History or Myth?

Sea chanties are often the music most associated with pirates in popular culture, and the instrument most associated with sea chanties and pirates is the concertina.

As it turns out, the concertina (and other related instruments like the accordion) were not invented until about 1829 (verified in numerous online encyclopedias), a hundred years after the golden age of piracy (1690- 1730). Nevertheless, concertinas appear in The Pirates of the Caribbean rides and movies as well as in Disney's adaptation of Peter Pan.

Of course it can be said that Peter Pan is pure fantasy, and not really set in the golden age. Interestingly, the Pirates of the Caribbean ride was originally planned as walk-through exhibit featuring historical pirates. Of course, it evolved into something much more fanciful, and we all love every bit of it.

So what did pirates play? They did play jigs and shanties. According to The Idiot's Guide To Pirates, pirate musicians were very popular aboard ship. Author Gail Selinger writes that pipe and drum units were kept on naval ships. Pirates would spare the lives of musicians who were willing to join them. She mentions instruments such as bagpipes and lyres, but she also mentions the concertina. She probably wasn't writing about the golden age.

The Pirate's Realm (website) also mentions trumpets and fiddles.

So how do I feel about the concertina? I don't mind it a bit. History be damned, its part of the great pirate mythos.

"A pirate's life is a wonderful life You'll find adventure and sport. But live every minute For all that is in it The life of a pirate is short."

Click here for more discussion on Pirates and concertinas

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