I did a little research in an attempt to find some pirates I can relate to. I started with the flashiest of them all, Blackbeard, born Edward Teach (or Thatch depending who you ask). This guy didn’t have the greatest loot or the largest fleet, but he sure had style. Before heading into battle, he would braid slow-burning fuses into his beard and light them so his beard smoked like he had just risen out of hell. He adorned himself entirely in black including a black jacket and large black captain’s hat. He slung guns and knives across his chest, Rambo style. All of this was an intricate plan in an attempt to avoid fighting. The intent was to intimidate towns and crews so they would hand over the booty without putting up a fight, then Edward and his fellow pirates could hop back onboard, douse his beard and sail happily rich into the sunset. It’s as if they are putting on a show more than putting up a fight. I picture pirate rehearsal for plunder as bickering pirates arguing over who is going to “aaargh” the most, which one will threaten the women and children and who gets the best costume. “NO! Smitty got to wear the eyepatch last time! That’s not fair!”
Then I started looking into piracy during the Alaskan Goldrush. Surely someone attempted to take over ships transporting tons of gold from Alaska to California, when I wandered across this gem. French West (I already feel our connection) and George Washington Wise devised a scheme to capture the Alaska Pacific Navigation Company liner Buckman and run it aground near Cape Fear, grabbing all the gold they could carry and disappearing into the woods. West did succeed in disappearing, but little else. They bought tickets and boarded the ship. Enroute, Wise secured the pilothouse, holding the helmsmen hostage while West attacked the captain in his chambers. He shot and killed the captain, but when the gun went off, Wise thought, “Screw this! This seems dangerous!” then ran and hid shivering in his room. The helmsmen sounded the alarm, woke the crew and a gun battle ensued between West and the crew. They had him wounded and cornered, or so they thought. West proved there are no corners on a ship and jumped overboard, never to be seen again. Wise? He was pretty easy to find, still cowering in his room, where they grabbed and shackled him. The authorities sent down the verdict of, “Man! You be crazy!” and sent him to an asylum for the criminally insane. The real gotcha moment of this story? There was no gold on the Buckman.
Now most pirates became pirates out of desperation and rage. They were largely indentured servants, or destitute, with no way of making it on land, and a healthy dose of rebelling against the system. But not the Gentleman Pirate, as Stede Bonnet was known. He simply went through a really intense mid-life crisis. “My wife nags me too much. I’m going to become a pirate!” and that’s exactly what he did. He didn’t capture a ship, he purchased one after walking out of his huge sugar plantation in Barbados. He named it The Revenge and built in a nice library. Real pirates? Illiterate. Gentleman Pirates? Powdered wigs and paperbacks. He raised a a jolly roger and went sailing in search of merchants to plunder. Not really. He didn’t know how to sail, so he hired a crew of 70 to do it for him. This is only one part of what made Bonnet possibly the world’s worst pirate, as his crew could and did attest to when they ran into, that’s right, Blackbeard. Blackbeard and Bonnet hang for about a year. Eventually Blackbeard convinces Bonnet to stay on his ship and relax. Bonnet goes into a deep depression over his failure at playing the villain. Bonnet takes a pirate pardon to return to real life without criminal charges. He goes back to his ship to find that Blackbeard, a real pirate, plundered his ship and marooned his crew on an island. Turns out this is the straw that makes Bonnet into a real pirate. He was filled with rage, saved his crew and set off finally giving credence to the name of his ship by going after Blackbeard, slaying people who got in his way. Eventually, he was caught and sent to the gallows, less than 2 years after setting off on his pirate journey.
On that note, I have bought a ship and assembled a crew. Let’s raise the jolly roger and intimidate our way to winning AaaaaaRgh2AK!