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Monday, April 27, 2015

When most Americans look back on the birth of Freedom in the America

Rside Will's photo.

thank you

When most Americans look back on the birth of Freedom in the Americas, they always look to that one fateful day in July of 1775. While yes, the United States marks the first successful attempt at creating a free nation, it was not the only one. Earlier in that same century, on a little island in the Caribbean, a small nation arose opposed to the monarchs across the ocean: The Pirate’s Republic.
Now, contrary to popular belief, most Pirates of the Republic were not simply bloodthirsty killers and rapists. No, they were ordinary men, trained and experienced in warfare, that were cast off by their host nations when they were no longer needed. These were men and women who had been made for war and discarded in peace.
You can imagine how that felt (And yes, because I was let go from the Army due to budget cuts, I can sympathize). Here were hundreds of men, taken from their homes (In some cases against their will), sent across the world to fight in wars they didn’t care for, and simply given orders to cease fire when peace was declared.
No plan to bring them back, no training program to integrate them into a peaceful job. Not even a simple “Thank you for crippling the Spanish Shipping in the West Indies”. They were only told that peace was declared and left to their own devices.
In all reality, what did Great Britain expect? They had created a fleet of “Privateers” in the Caribbean and left them to their own devices. The ships they were armed with did not have adequate hold space to become merchant vessels (They also had no prospects of traders), each one was armed to the teeth and crewed by the most aggressive men the British could muster. Piracy was not simply a random choice, it was a foregone conclusion.
The Republic didn’t spring up overnight either. The Colony of Nassau on New Providence Island was in a poor state even before Queen Anne’s War. Generations of corrupt officials had ruled the colony (Including a former pirate), it was central to the major shipping lanes at the time, and there was little care given by the crown to the fledgling city in the Caribbean.
Due to the extreme lawlessness and chaos on the island, a combined force of French and Spanish ships attacked and basically destroyed the colony in 1703. Undaunted, the inhabitants returned from their inland hideaways and rebuilt. With no effective leadership, it became an even greater threat to their neighbors still loyal to the crown.
As the Pirates of New Providence became more successful, their names began to be known. Former Privateer Benjamin Hornigold was one of the many Pirate Captains the island looked towards for Leadership. In time, his first mate, Edward Teach (A.K.A. Blackbeard) would be named Magistrate, with their rival Henry Jennings being named Counsel next to Hornigold.
The three infamous Captains would spawn a whole conglomeration of successful pirates, including “Calico” Jack Rackham, Stede Bonnet (The Gentleman’s Pirate), “Black” Sam Bellamy, Mary Read and the most famous, Charles Vane. By 1716, the Pirates Republic had transformed from a mass of chaos and disorder into a nation to be feared by all.
Core of Liberty
What truly made the Republic successful was its complete lack of strict governance. Each Captain was expected to keep their men in line with no real governance from above. Edward Teach was given leave to enact his own laws and enforce them on the island, but in the spirit of freedom he held so dear, his laws were mostly born from common sense and not controlling his “subjects”.
Even more astonishingly was how well this system of chaos actually worked. Captains were not simply the owners of their vessels, they were elected by the crews that manned them. Anyone, regardless of national origin, religion or even sex could be voted in as a ship’s captain. The Pirate’s Republic saw the first self-freed slaves as Captains while the rest of the world was still keeping Africans in chains.
Anne Bonny and Mary Read were the most famous female pirates, but they were not the only ones. However, they were the only two to be captured, tried and convicted of Piracy, but their ultimate fate is unknown. Neither were Captains though, as they both served under Jack Rackham and were captured when his ship was surprised by a British Patrol Vessel.
Captains could only maintain their position so long as they remained profitable to their crew. A Captain who couldn’t find vessels to plunder or wouldn’t lead his men into battle might find himself adrift in the Atlantic or ship-less once they returned to Nassau.
Many Captains ruled by not only success, but fear as well. Edward Teach once shot his Quartermaster at dinner simply to assert that he was the one in charge. Although not a member of the Republic, Edward Low single-handedly butchered a captured crew because their captain tossed a small fortune in gold overboard; this came after he sliced off the captain’s lips, cooked them and forced him to eat the still warm flesh in front of both horrified crews.
Despite this utter lack of control and disregard for worldly laws, the Republic worked. By 1718, the small island nation had become a threat the world could no longer ignore. Millions of Pounds and Pesos had been lost in trade and materials, and the European Nations were beginning to feel the pinch from this rampant banditry.
To deal with this threat, the British dispatched seven war ships to Nassau with a new Governor to oversee a return to British rule and restore peace to the region. In addition to the small Fleet of Man-O-Wars, Woodes Rogers was armed with blanket pardons, to forgive anyone who accepted of all crimes and give them a way to return to a “normal” life.
At first, it seemed this plan was doomed to failure. Although Rogers was able to capture Nassau with barely any fight, most of the Pirates of the Republic fled to the wind in his wake thanks to Charles Vane (Who used a French Vessel as a Fire Ship to break through the Blockade). However, Benjamin Hornigold, who had refused to attack British Shipping in his career as a Pirate, accepted the Pardon and was contracted as a Pirate Hunter, turning on his former comrades and seeking a life under the crown once more.
The Beginning of the End
Outnumbered and vastly outgunned, the former self-proclaimed rulers in the New World eventually gave in and were either captured or accepted the King’s Pardon. Charles Vane would prove the die hard and continued to defy the crown. After escaping Nassau and attempting to emulate Blackbeard’s famous Blockade of Charleston earlier in 1718, he began to formulate a plan to retake Nassau from the British and recreate the Republic he held so dear.
His plan called for a last gathering of some of the most notorious pirates of the Republic, including their former Magistrate, Edward Teach. Unfortunately for the Republic, Blackbeard had accepted the King’s Pardon and retired to a semi-peaceful life after losing his prize ship, the Queen Anne’s Revenge, to a sandbar.
Undaunted, Vane, in spirit the last of the Republic, with Rackham as his second mate (with Mary Read and Anne Bonny in his crew), sailed towards New York to plunder the rich shipping there. On their voyage northwards they encountered a small Brig and decided to attack. Unfortunately, the Brig wasn’t simply a merchant vessel, but a French Warship, forcing Vane to break off his attack and run.
This would prove Vane’s downfall. Jack Rackham used this failed attack as leverage to launch his own mutiny against Charles, casting his adrift with fifteen of his loyal crewmen and stealing his vessel. Vane would end up marooned and eventually captured by the British, while Rackham would be surprised and captured as well.
Simultaneously, Blackbeard would exit his semi-retirement and be killed after a shortened reign of terror off the Carolina Coast. It wouldn’t be the noose for Teach however, and by all accounts it took five gunshots and twenty saber wounds to finally bring him down.
Stede Bonnet, who had apprenticed under Teach, would be captured that same year as well. Although he had taken the pardon as well, he found the life he had come to adopt as his own was too profitable (By trade, Bonnet was a plantation owner). During his trial, many of his victims had pleaded for mercy, as among all the pirates of his time, he was by far the most polite towards captured crews, never killing unless it was absolutely necessary. The Gentleman’s Pirate met his fate to the hangman’s noose in Charleston.
Even Benjamin Hornigold, who had turned against his former comrades, would not live to see the decade turn. While hunting Stede Bonnet and Jack Rackham, his ship was caught in one of the Bahamas notorious hurricanes, and his vessel was lost with all hands. In fact, he didn’t make it more than a few months as a Pirate Hunter before finding a new home at the bottom of the ocean.
With all of their fates sealed, the Pirate’s Republic, bereft of a home and no members alive, ended. Although Piracy would continue to be a thorn in the side of the ruling powers for decades to come, the Captains who chose this life were confined to small safe havens spread throughout the Americas, never again uniting under a single banner.
It would be over half a century until another attempt to bring freedom and liberty to the Americas was attempted, and this one was much more successful than the first. The founding fathers of the United States can claim to be the creators of the first successful cry of independence; they were not the only ones. The Pirates of New Providence Island set the template that others would follow, and paid for their attempt with their lives.
History has both demonized and romanticized the bandits of the Pirates Republic, painting conflicting pictures of who they truly were. But above all, aside from thieves and murderers, they were ordinary men and women, who threw off their shackles (In some cases literally) and declared themselves free of foreign rule. And although separated by race, creed or even sex, they were all united in their desire to be free men and women of the Americas, decades before the Founding Fathers were even born.