Category Archives: piracy

U.S. Private Trade with Britain, 1812-14

From The Age of Fighting Sail: The Story of the Naval War of 1812, by C. S. Forester (Doubleday, 1952; eNet, 2012), Kindle Loc. 1091-1131:

It became apparent that provisions from America were necessary to maintain the British effort in the Peninsula, despite Wellington’s search for other sources of supply in Canada and Egypt and the Barbary States.

This was [Admiral] Warren’s opportunity to kill two birds, or three birds, with one stone. From Halifax and Bermuda he began to issue licences to American ships, giving them immunity from capture while they were engaged on voyages to and from Lisbon. During the periods of Non-intercourse and Embargo a wide connection had been built up with those merchants who were willing or anxious to evade the regulations of the United States Government; it was easy enough to make the new system known to them. The cargoes could be sold to the Portuguese Government, or to private merchants in Lisbon. They might feed the Portuguese army or the Portuguese civilian population; in either case it was a burden lifted from the shoulders of the British Government, which would have had to undertake the task—and could well have found it impossible—if it had not been performed by American private enterprise.

There was more than a possibility that some of the supplies might find their way into British Government hands and might feed British soldiers; some of the flour might be baked into biscuits to feed British sailors who might fight American ships; that possibility did not check the trade that was carried on. We find Wellington writing as early as September 1812, ‘I am very glad that Mr Forster has given licences to American ships to import corn to Lisbon.’ Wellington was a man of the strongest common sense and of a clear insight into human nature. We find him writing at the same time pressing that Portuguese ships should be licensed in a similar way to trade with American ports. That would render him less dependent on American shipping; also he warned that there was every chance that American ships, crossing the Atlantic protected by their licences, would be tempted to turn aside towards the end of their voyage and run the blockade into French ports. It would be well to assume that a man guilty of one knavery could be capable of another.

By the issue of licences Warren could not only keep Wellington’s army fed; he could retain the goodwill of the American mercantile community. He was sowing the seeds of discord—if any more needed to be planted—between that community and the American Government if the latter could ever nerve itself to cut off this profitable business. American ships sailing from American ports carried with them American newspapers and American news; for Warren they constituted an invaluable source of information regarding American public opinion, regarding the movements of American ships-of-war, and also regarding any attempts to maintain American trade along lines that the British Government did not approve of. The New England states were profiting by this system of licences, while the Southern states were suffering from the interference with their necessary seaboard communications. Later a proclaimed blockade of the Southern seaboard hampered those communications even worse. There was at least the chance that the sectional favour he was conferring would lead to sectional jealousies and from there to sectional strife.

Warren’s astute handling of the situation did not lead to all the advantages that he expected, and it led to some unexpected difficulties, of which the principal one arose from the necessity for payment for the American supplies. Portugal, devastated by war and with much of her manpower conscripted into her army, had little enough to export in return. A little could be done by sending British manufactured goods to Lisbon for sale by Portuguese merchants to Americans, but that did not bridge the gap. All the large balance had to be paid for in cash, in gold and silver. The problem had been exercising Wellington’s mind (Wellington fought a series of successful campaigns while acting as his own paymaster-general and economic adviser as well as his own chief-of-staff and commissary-general) even before the war began during the period of the Embargo: ‘The exporters of specie, to the great distress of the Army and the ruin of the country, are the American merchants . . . these merchants cannot venture to take in payment bills upon England . . . they must continue therefore to export specie from Portugal.’ Again: ‘When the Americans sell their corn in Lisbon they must receive payment in money.’ In the midst of commanding England’s Army in a desperate war he was writing such lines as ‘The merchants of England will, of course, send Colonial goods and merchandise where they can sell it with advantage,’ but even he had to set limits on his activities—‘I cannot enter into the detail of sending Colonial goods or merchandise to pay for corn.’

The final result was a constant drain of gold and silver from England to America at a time when the British Government was at its wits’ end to find any supply of the precious metals. England had to endure the troubles resulting from a paper currency, inflation, and a rising cost of living, while Wellington, who needed hard cash to pay his army’s way during its constant movements in the Peninsula, had to devote many anxious hours as to how to proportion his limited supplies between paying his long-enduring troops and his Spanish muleteers and buying the vital stores from America. It is hardly necessary to add that the American merchants did not suffer. The troops fell into six months’ arrears of pay, the muleteers and the Portuguese middlemen into as much as a year, but the Yankee captains sailed home with the gold and silver which, by the end of the war, gorged the New England banks and was to play an important part in American expansion and in the later development of American industry.

Leave a comment

Filed under Britain, economics, food, France, military, piracy, Portugal, Spain, U.S., war

First Barbary Ambassador to U.S.

From Dawn Like Thunder (Annotated): The Barbary Wars and the Birth of the U.S. Navy, by Glenn Tucker (Corsair Books, 2019), Kindle Loc. c. 8150ff:

When the American fleet was released from the patrol off Tripoli by Lear’s peace treaty, [Commodore] Rodgers showed his power to Bey Hamouda Pacha at Tunis.

He dispatched the Congress and the Vixen and followed with the Constitution, Constellation, Essex, John Adams, Siren, Nautilus, Franklin, Enterprise, Hornet, and part of the flotilla of gunboats which were now arriving from the United States; sixteen sail in all….

They made an imposing sight when they rounded Cape Bon and stood into Tunis Bay on August 1, 1805.

Then Rodgers wrote a letter asking the Bey if he wanted peace or war and giving him the generous time of thirty-six hours in which to reply….

The Bey now refused to receive Decatur, whom Rodgers sent ashore, and the Captain started back to the ship. The Bey told Davis that Rodgers’ letter amounted to a declaration of war. But Bey Hamouda Pacha had no appetite for the big guns of the frigates anchored off his city, and on quick reflection he sent a messenger to Rodgers in such hot haste that he reached the waterfront ahead of Decatur and got a conciliatory reply to the Commodore before Decatur could report how he had been snubbed.

Lear eventually went ashore to assist Davis in the negotiations, but he could not have put any indemnities or weasel clauses into this arrangement even had he desired because Rodgers was watching. To the Bey’s complaint that the entire American fleet had descended on him, Rodgers gave assurance it was not so, because a frigate, a brig, eight gunboats, and two mortar boats had not yet arrived.

Davis wrote to Rodgers suggesting a suspension of any hostilities until a communication could be had with the President of the United States.

That was not Rodgers’ way of doing business. He replied that unless Bey Hamouda gave a guarantee of the maintenance of peace and signed it in the presence of the British and French consuls, he would seal the port so tight that nothing could get in or out. Then Rodgers sent a copy of the wording he wanted in the guarantee. Lear and the Bey went into a round of letter-writing during which Rodgers’ patience was wearing thin. In a letter of August 15 he declared that the Bey must give a guarantee of peace and then he could send an ambassador to Washington to treat if he desired.

Then Rodgers let loose to Lear an opinion about this petty tyrant: “His prevaricating with you in particular, induces me to believe, that he is now more than ever the Scoundrel, I had thought him before, and I have only to repeat, that if he does not do all that is necessary, & proper, that even at the risk of my Conducts being disapproved by my Country, he shall feel the Vengeance of the Squadron now in his Bay.”

In the face of such force and persistency Bey Hamouda capitulated. He gave notice that the United States would be placed on a most-favored-nation basis and that he would send an ambassador to the United States to deal with any complaints. Rodgers answered cordially, said he had a frigate returning, and asked to have the ambassador make ready at once.

The ambassador was Sidi Suliman Mellimelli, who sailed with Decatur on the Congress, and was to become a startling figure, during the winter of 1805-1806, in the American capital where he lived luxuriously at the expense of the American government and pressed a claim for tribute and indemnity.

Decatur carried a letter from Rodgers to Secretary Smith, saying of the Bey of Tunis that if his late hostility should be overlooked, “I can with almost certainty say that he will never again attempt to behave in a similar manner.”

Mellimelli took four beautiful Arabian stud horses with him as a gift to President Jefferson, one having been a gift to the Bey from the Dey of Algiers. The scrupulous Jefferson would not accept them for himself but the Treasury sold them as part payment of Mellimelli’s expenses. But first they were kept in the President’s stables and the stud fees went to the collector of revenues.

The ambassador was accompanied by a suite of eleven, including an Italian band. He was short on women, for whom he had a ravenous appetite. The prim little Secretary of State Madison had to have concubines supplied at public expense, and wrote about it later, saying: “Appropriations to foreign intercourse are terms of great latitude and may be drawn on by very urgent and unforeseen occurrences.”

Madison never lacked the ability of choice expression. Mellimelli did not know the tightness of the American farmer-congressman. He was unable to exact a single coin from Congress or Secretary Gallatin, but the more freehanded Lear did make an adjustment with the Bey two years later by paying $10,000.

After much difficulty and some revolts among his followers, Mellimelli, whose main argument for tribute appeared to be that he would likely be killed if he returned without it, was packed off home in a ship from Boston. The United States continued its payments of tribute to Algiers through the years, but learned what other powers had long known, that it was best to be in arrears.

Leave a comment

Filed under Mediterranean, military, piracy, religion, U.S.

Navy Gunners vs. Tripoli Pirates, 1801

From Dawn Like Thunder (Annotated): The Barbary Wars and the Birth of the U.S. Navy, by Glenn Tucker (Corsair Books, 2019), Kindle Loc. ~2750:

Captain Sterrett bore a British flag as he approached the Tripolitan ship, an expedient frequently practiced in the naval warfare of the day. He inquired of the Tripolitan the object of her cruise. The commander replied that he had come out to look for Americans but lamented that he had not yet found a single one. Sterrett promptly lowered the British and hoisted the U.S. colors and ordered a volley of musketry discharged across the Tripolitan’s decks.

The Tripoli replied with a partial broadside. It was 9:00 a.m. For three hours the ships lay alongside at pistol range and blazed away at each other with broadsides and small arms. Three times they came together and the Muslims tried to board. Each time they were beaten back with severe loss.

Fortunately the Enterprise had a small Marine Corps detachment, commanded by Lieutenant Enoch S. Lane, whose fire was particularly effective during the boarding efforts. An equal number of times the Tripolitans seemed to give up the contest and surrender. They struck their colors, but each time as the wary Lieutenant Sterrett drew close for boarding and as the American gun crews relaxed their efforts, came to the spardeck and cheered for their victory, the enemy ship hoisted her flag again, let loose a blast and renewed the battle. After the last deception Sterrett ordered the gunners to sink the craft, whose fire had grown steadily weaker under the unmerciful bombardment from the American guns. The seamen took up the cry of “Sink the villains.”

Finally the unhappy and treacherous Admiral Rais Mahomet Rous, who like his second in command was wounded, called out for mercy. He bent over the vessel’s waist in a supplicating position which appeared to be a genuine surrender.

Sterrett, not to be duped by further trickery, held his fire but told the commander to come aboard the Enterprise or send some of his officers. The Admiral replied that the Tripoli’s boat was so shattered it was unfit for use.

Sterrett then inquired what assurance he would have that his men would not be murdered if he sent a detail aboard the Tripoli. The Admiral threw his colors into the sea. After that and other supplications and assurances, the American commander decided to take the risk. When the boarding party headed by Lieutenant Porter reached the enemy deck it found a scene of death and desolation almost unparalleled in such small ship actions.

The ship was shot to pieces. Of her eighty men thirty were dead and thirty wounded, leaving but twenty to man the ship. The deck was covered with bodies, splinters, blood, and wreckage. The ship’s surgeon had been killed and there was no one on board to care for the wounded. With the two top officers wounded and the third officer dead, the distressed vessel was virtually out of control.

But the strange feature of this battle fought for three hours at close pistol range, with the two ships often lying alongside, was that when Captain Sterrett checked the American gunners, marines, and seamen, not an American had received a single scratch.

The reason can only be guessed at; partly chance, but mainly because the Barbary powers who were accustomed to boarding defenseless merchant vessels were not fitted by training or temperament for the fierce, desperate, pent-up fury of sea actions in the era of “iron men and wooden ships,” in which, for some reason, the Americans of that day seemed to excel.

Leave a comment

Filed under Britain, Mediterranean, military, piracy, religion, U.S., war

Cost of Barbary Tribute, 1786

From Dawn Like Thunder (Annotated): The Barbary Wars and the Birth of the U.S. Navy, by Glenn Tucker (Corsair Books, 2019), Kindle Loc. ~1150ff:

When Jefferson went to London in company with John Adams to meet the ambassador of Tripoli, Abdurrahman, he found that this least powerful of the Barbary regencies wanted an aggregate of $160,000 from the United States.

The Ambassador thought Tunis would settle for the same tribute.

The cost for all four of the Barbary States probably would be a million dollars, a figure later considerably increased. The ineffectual Congress which operated under the Articles of Confederation had difficulty in raising any kind of money from the states and had no powers of direct taxation.

The request for a million dollars was fantastic. Jefferson was in no temper to pay it even if the money came easily. He rejected it forthwith. What the expected tribute amounted to may be understood better by a comparison with present-day expenditures.

The cost of the federal government for the first ten years under the Constitution, from 1789 to 1800, was roughly $5,775,000 a year. That was the average. The proposed tribute of one million dollars would have aggregated more than one-sixth of the entire federal expenditure.

It would have been tantamount proportionally to fifteen billion dollars of federal expenditures in 1963, at a time when money is much easier to procure by taxation than it was in 1786.

Leave a comment

Filed under economics, Mediterranean, military, piracy, religion, slavery, U.S.

Battling Barbary Pirates in the 1600s

From Dawn Like Thunder (Annotated): The Barbary Wars and the Birth of the U.S. Navy, by Glenn Tucker (Corsair Books, 2019), Kindle Loc. ~980-1000:

England had her first naval brush with the Barbary Powers in 1655. When Oliver Cromwell became Protector, the Dutch ruled the waves and their Admiral Van Tromp moved with his fleet up and down the Channel with a broom fastened atop his mainmast, giving notice that he would sweep England from the seas. After he had been defeated by the English Admirals Blake, Dean, and Monk, and the Dutch Admiral De Ruyter likewise had learned that Blake’s broadsides swept cleaner than a broom, England became the leading sea power.

Admiral Robert Blake, sickly with dropsy [edema], scurvy, and other ailments on his voyages but awesome in battle, was in 1654 given secret orders by Cromwell to sail to Tuscany and collect reparations for injuries inflicted on British shipping. Cromwell would not mind if Blake picked up some of the Spanish treasure ships returning from the New World while he was cruising around Gibraltar. But one of his leading tasks was to chastise the Barbary powers and put an end to their raids on British and Irish seacoast towns.

Blake has generally been held to be the first admiral who dared to take wooden ships against stone fortresses. What he accomplished in this respect must have been in the mind of Captain Edward Preble of the U.S. Navy 150 years later. The question was whether mobility was superior to great stationary strength and he gave the odds to mobility.

Blake claimed forts were effective only for making noises and arousing fears. He sailed into the harbor of Tunis, gave the two fortresses such a pounding that he battered them down, and here and at Algiers and Tripoli he destroyed the pirate fleets and put a stop for a season to all Barbary depredations.

Clearly, Christendom could have used more Admiral Blakes along the Barbary Coast. He managed to pick up part of the Spanish plate fleet as he returned to England. But was that not technically war and in no manner piracy? England and Spain were ever at odds on the sea.

De Ruyter, whose sea greatness was by no means ended by Blake, took a Dutch fleet into the Mediterranean in 1661, dictated treaties with Tunis and Algiers, liberated Christian prisoners, and gave piracy another setback. These nations learned what the United States discerned later, that treaties with petty despots were not worth the paper they were written on.

Leave a comment

Filed under England, Mediterranean, military, Netherlands, piracy, religion, slavery, Spain

African & Japanese Mercenaries in Asia, 2

The following is part 2 of a condensed version (with footnotes omitted) of “African and Japanese Mercenaries in Southern China and Southeast Asia, c. 1550-1650” by Richard Bradshaw, in Kokujin Kenkyu 76 (April 2007), published by the Japan Black Studies Association.

Many Spaniards and Portuguese in Asia came to regard the Japanese – particularly members of the samurai class – as a “warlike race” from which soldiers could be recruited for new conquests. Spain’s occupation of Portugal and the uniting of the two kingdoms in 1582 “unleashed the imperialist and messianic imagination of the king’s subjects, among them some of the Portuguese clergy.” In 1584 a Portuguese Jesuit in Macao assured King Philip II of Spain that the Japanese were a warlike race and thus that only three thousand Japanese Christian soldiers would be enough to conquer. In 1586 officials in Manila signed a petition encouraging the invasion of China and suggested that 6,000 Japanese and an equal number of Filipinos should be recruited to join the invasion force. The proposed “Spanish” force of 12,000 soldiers would have included many black slaves and freemen as well since they often fought for the Spanish. By the time the petition reached Madrid in January 1588, however, Spain’s attention and resources were focused on sending the Great Armada against England and so the plan to conquer China with Japanese, Filipino and African mercenaries did not receive support.

Manila’s need for military and other labor led to a rapid increase in the numbers of Japanese and African resident in Manila. During the sixteenth century, Spaniards in Manila imported large numbers of African slaves from Arab and Chinese traders. “The country is flooded with black slaves,” one observer noted at the end of the sixteenth century. In 1603, three hundred Japanese, fifteen hundred Tagalogs, and an unknown number of African slaves or freemen joined Manila’s Spaniards in attacking Chinese residents of the city. There were massacres of Chinese in Manila by Spaniards and their Asian and African soldiers in 1639, and 1662 as well. By this time many of the Africans in Manila had become freemen. In 1638 “the number of free blacks serving in Manila as soldiers, laborers and sailors was estimated at around five hundred.” “The diversity of the peoples who are seen in Manila and its environs,” reported a friar in 1662, “is the greatest in the world, for these include men from all kingdoms and nations – Spain, France, England, Italy, Flanders, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Poland, Muscovy; people from all the Indies, both east and west; and Turks, Greeks, Persians, Tatars, Chinese, Japanese, Africans and other Asians.”

Leave a comment

Filed under Africa, China, Japan, labor, migration, military, Philippines, piracy, Portugal, Spain

Chinese Overseas Labor Recuitment, 1800s

From Singapore: Unlikely Power, by John Curtis Perry (Oxford U. Press, 2017), Kindle Loc. 2328-68:

During the nineteenth century, in seaports along the China coast, … it was not a good idea for a Chinese man then to walk alone along the waterfront, especially after dark. “To be Shanghaied” entered the English language to signify the kidnapping that occurred, not for service at sea—unless it were pirates desperate for additional crew—but for labor ashore. A ship would simply be the vehicle bearing the victim to his new life. He would be headed for some overseas destination, sometimes Singapore, as a contract laborer, and a virtual slave in many cases.

Customarily brokers would not resort to kidnapping. Instead they would advance a variety of approaches to their quarry: cajolery and threats. Crimps would receive a bounty for every victim delivered to a holding pen, the so-called barracoon, a word taken directly from the African slave trade. The Chinese shipped all the way across the Pacific received treatment as bad as Africans in the Atlantic Middle Passage. Many would die at sea….

In the barracoon, the man would be given a cursory physical examination and if passed, which was highly likely, he would be handed a contract to sign specifying the number of years he must work and the amount of pay he would receive. A governor of Hong Kong, Sir John Bowring, saw this process for himself: “hundreds of them gathered together in barracoons, stripped naked, and stamped or painted with the letter C (Cuba), P (Peru), or S (Sandwich Islands–Hawai’i) on their breasts .” They would be held there until a ship was ready for them. Some did escape from the barracoon, Bowring said, “by going through an opening in the water closet into the mud and water of the river,” which might mean survival—for those who could swim.

Driven by poverty, many Chinese also left the mother country voluntarily. The 1849 gold rush in California encouraged those looking for a new life promising prosperity. The mines and plantations of Southeast Asia beckoned others. Treatment of those bound for Singapore was marginally better than those heading for forced labor elsewhere. Their numbers were heavily male; the few females who came, often kidnapped or deceived, were mostly prostitutes whose services an all-male society craved.

From the China coast the seaborne flow of emigrants to Southeast Asia lay in Chinese hands. The official Qing attitude toward this human traffic, free or forced, was analogous to its attitude toward the opium trade. Many in authority deplored it; but no one took consistent action to stop it. Too many local officials found such activities personally profitable.

Those who went to mine tin in Malaya, tough as it was, were more fortunate than those taken across the Pacific, either to shovel acrid bird dung, guano, prized as fertilizer, in a treeless environment on a desolate island off the coast of Peru with hot sun beating down all day, or to equally disagreeable toil on sugar plantations in Cuba. The tin miners in Malaya were often able to complete a work contract and then find something better to do.

For them, Singapore served as a gathering spot, a free port for people as well as objects. Unlike so many other countries, Singapore welcomed immigrant Chinese, most of whom came as contract laborers who passed through the city to work in the nearby staple industries that were crying for labor. Those who stayed and failed to climb the economic ladder pulled the rickshaws, or carried sacks of rice on the docks, working a long day in the tropical heat. Immigrants were overwhelmingly male until the twentieth century. When females began to come in number after 1918 and the Great War, family life could begin, transforming the immigrant community.

Leave a comment

Filed under Britain, Caribbean, China, Hawai'i, labor, Latin America, migration, Pacific, piracy, slavery, Southeast Asia

Alexander Selkirk’s Rescue, 1709

The Republic of Pirates: Being the True and Surprising Story of the Caribbean Pirates and the Man Who Brought Them Down, by Colin Woodard (Mariner Books, 2008), Kindle Loc. 1058-1081:

Selkirk had been stranded on Juan Fernández Island for four years and four months, indeed ever since William Dampier’s ill-fated privateering mission had passed through these parts in the latter part of 1704. Selkirk, a Scotsman, had been the mate aboard Dampier’s consort, the Cinque Ports, whose captain and officers had lost faith in their commodore’s leadership and sailed off on their own. Unfortunately, the Cinque Ports’ hull was already infested by shipworm, so much so that when the galley stopped at Juan Fernández for water and fresh provisions, young Selkirk decided to stay—to take his chances on the island rather than try to cross the Pacific in a deteriorating vessel. According to the extended account he gave Rogers, Selkirk spent the better part of a year in deep despair, scanning the horizon for friendly vessels that never appeared. Slowly he adapted to his solitary world. The island was home to hundreds of goats, descendents of those left behind when the Spanish abandoned a half-hearted colonization attempt. He eventually learned to chase them down and catch them with his bare hands. He built two huts with goatskin walls and grass roofs, one serving as a kitchen, the other as his living quarters, where he read the Bible, sang psalms, and fought off the armies of rats that came to nibble his toes as he slept. He defeated the rodents by feeding and befriending many of the island’s feral cats, which lay about his hut by the hundreds. As insurance against starvation in case of accident or illness, Selkirk had managed to domesticate a number of goats, which he raised by hand and, on occasion, would dance with in his lonely hut. When his clothes wore out, he stitched together new goatskin ones, using a knife and an old nail, and grew calluses on his feet as a substitute for shoes. He was rarely sick and ate a healthful diet of turnips, goats, crayfish, and wild cabbage. He’d barely evaded a Spanish landing party by hiding at the top of a tree, against which some of his pursuers pissed, unaware of his presence.

Although Selkirk greeted Rogers’s men with enthusiasm, he was reluctant to join them after learning that his old commodore, William Dampier, was serving with them. Cooke wrote that Selkirk distrusted Dampier so much that he “would rather have chosen to remain in his solitude than come away with [Dampier] ’till informed that he did not command” the expedition. Dr. Dover and his landing party were only able to rescue the castaway by promising they would return him to the island were he not satisfied with the situation. Selkirk, in turn, helped them catch crayfish, piling them into the ship’s boat before they rowed him out to the Duke. On seeing Selkirk for the first time, Rogers said he looked wilder than the original owners of his goatskin coverings. “At his first coming on board us, he had so much forgot his language for want of use that we could scarce understand him, for he seemed to speak by halves,” Rogers wrote in his journal. “We offer’d him a Dram, but he would not touch it, having drank nothing but water since his being there, and ’twas some time before he could relish our victuals.” Selkirk was remarkably healthy and alert at first, but Rogers noted that “this man, when he came to our ordinary method of diet and life, though he was sober enough, lost much of his strength and agility.”

Leave a comment

Filed under Britain, migration, Pacific, piracy, Scotland

European Peace Dividends, 1713

The Republic of Pirates: Being the True and Surprising Story of the Caribbean Pirates and the Man Who Brought Them Down, by Colin Woodard (Mariner Books, 2008), Kindle Loc. 1212-1228:

WITH THE END of the War of the Spanish Succession in 1713, tens of thousands of sailors suddenly found themselves out of a job. The Royal Navy, bankrupted by the twelve-year-long world war, rapidly demobilized, mothballing ships and dumping nearly three-quarters of its manpower, over 36,000 men, in the first twenty-four months following the signing of the Peace of Utrecht. Privateering commissions ceased to have any value, their owners compelled to tie their warships up and turn the crews out onto the wharves of England and the Americas. With thousands of sailors begging for work in every port, merchant captains slashed wages by 50 percent; those lucky enough to find work had to survive on twenty-two to twenty-eight shillings (£1.1 to £1.4) a month.

Peace did not bring safety to those English sailors who found work in the West Indies. Spanish coast guard vessels, the guardas costas, continued to seize English vessels passing to and from Jamaica, declaring them smugglers if so much as a single Spanish coin were found aboard. They always found the “illicit” coins because they were the de facto currency of all of England’s Caribbean colonies. Thirty-eight Jamaican vessels were so seized in the first two years of peace, costing the vessel owners nearly £76,000. When the crews resisted, the guardas costas often killed a few in retribution; the rest spent months or years in Cuban prisons. “The seas,” the governor of Jamaica would later recall, had become “more dangerous than in time of war.”

As the months passed, the streets, taverns and boarding houses of Port Royal grew crowded with angry, destitute mariners. Merchants, stung by their losses, sent out fewer vessels, further reducing the number of jobs for sailors. Those sailors who had been captured—some more than once—were physically abused by the Spanish and financially pinched by their employers, who reduced their losses by not paying them for the time they were serving in prison. “Resentment and the want of employ,” one resident later recalled, “were certainly the motives to a course of life which I am of [the] opinion that most or many of them would not have taken up had they been redressed or could by any lawful mean have supported themselves.”

Leave a comment

Filed under Caribbean, economics, England, France, labor, Netherlands, piracy, Spain, U.K., war

European Naval Tactics, 1702

The Republic of Pirates: Being the True and Surprising Story of the Caribbean Pirates and the Man Who Brought Them Down, by Colin Woodard (Mariner Books, 2008), Kindle Loc. 739-785:

In the spring of 1702, England went to war, siding with the Dutch, Austrians, and Prussians against France and Spain. By doing so, they were setting the stage for the greatest outbreak of piracy the Atlantic would ever know….

In the early years of the conflict, the English and French navies clashed in two massive fleet engagements. These battles involved only the Royal Navy’s largest vessels, the ships of the line: enormous, lumbering, wooden fortresses bristling with three stories of heavy cannon. These ships, the first-, second-, and third-rates, were too slow and cumbersome to use in more subtle operations such as convoying merchantmen, attacking enemy shipping, or patrolling the unmarked reefs and shoals of the Caribbean. They were built for one purpose: to join a line of battle in a massive set-piece engagement….

Each of the navy’s seven first-rate ships had a crew of 800 men, who were crammed into a 200-foot-long hull with a hundred heavy cannon, and months of supplies and food stores, including live cows, sheep, pigs, goats, and poultry…. [Each] massive ship maneuvered into the line of battle, two hundred yards ahead of one ship, two hundred yards behind another. The enemy ships lined up in similar fashion and, after hours or even days of maneuvers, the two lines passed each other, discharging broadsides. The ships would sometimes pass within a few feet, blasting thirty-two-pound cannonballs into each other’s hulls. These balls punched straight through people, eviscerating or decapitating, and spraying the cramped gun decks with body parts and wooden splinters. Cannon trained on exposed decks were generally loaded with grapeshot or with a pair of cannonballs chained together, either of which could reduce a crowd of men into a splay of mangled flesh. From the rigging, sharpshooters picked off enemy officers or, if the ships came together, dropped primitive grenades on their opponent’s deck. Above and below, every surface was soon covered with blood and body parts, which oozed out of the scuppers and drains when the ship heeled in the wind. “I fancied myself in the infernal regions,” a veteran of such a battle recalled, “where every man appeared a devil.”

These early engagements took the lives of thousands of men but they were hardly conclusive. Seven English and four French ships of the line fought a six-day battle off Colombia in August 1702, for example, with neither side losing a single ship. Two years later, fifty-three English and Dutch ships of the line squared off with some fifty French vessels off Málaga, Spain, in the largest naval engagement of the war; the daylong bout of fleet-scale carnage ending in a draw.

By happenstance, the Royal Navy wiped out its French and Spanish rivals early in the war. In October 1702, an English battle fleet trapped twelve French ships of the line and most of the Spanish navy in a fjordlike inlet on Spain’s northern coast, destroying or capturing all of them. Five years later, an Anglo-Dutch force captured the French port of Toulon and so many men-of-war that the French were unable to engage in further fleet actions. Thereafter on many English ships of the line, crewmen had substantially reduced odds of dying in battle, though disease, accident, and abuse still carried off nearly half the men who enlisted.

Leave a comment

Filed under Austria, Caribbean, England, France, Germany, military, Netherlands, piracy, Spain, war