Saturday, February 4, 2012

The Age of Piracy

Photo taken on Maui at a Pirate Re-enactment

From Treasure Island to the Pirates of the Caribbean the silver screen has portrayed pirates as handsome, swash buckling, devil-may-care characters, but in reality they were cruel, blood thirsty criminals. For instance, Bartholomew Roberts, known to be particularly fierce, was armed to the teeth whenever he boarded a ship. Not only did he carry a pistol in each hand, but also had two pistols dangling from a black silk sash over his shoulder. Once on board, Bartholomew demanded all sea faring men to join his crew, or die. In particular, he wanted skilled labor such shipwrights, cooks, sail makers, and coopers. While on their travels, the pirates captured parrots and monkeys, and kept them in cages until they reached harbor. They used the animals as bribes, or to curry favor from officials in port.
Although the practice of piracy was primarily restricted to men, there have been a few women pirates:  Anne Bonny, Mary Read, Grace O’Malley, Mrs. Cheng, and a few others. O’Malley came from a seafaring family in Ireland, and was said to be, “famous for her stoutness of courage and person, and for sundry exploits done by her at sea.”
Mrs. Cheng, once a prostitute, married and sailed with her husband for six years until he died in 1807. After his death, she took command of the Red Flag Fleet which comprised almost 50,000, and continued terrorizing the South China Seas. It was not long before she took a younger man, Chang Pao as her lover. Eventually, she married him, and bore him a son. In 1810, at the request of Chinese officials, Portuguese and English warships combined forces, and made life very difficult for Mrs. Cheng and Pao. Finally, seeing all was lost, she negotiated amnesty for herself and her husband. Pao died at the age of thirty-six, but Mrs. Cheng lived in comfort to the ripe old age of sixty-nine.