Saturday, May 06, 2017

Brief History of American Violence

Many folks criticize me for the assertion that Pirates of the Caribbean actually founded America's Deep South through Carolina and, ultimately, infected the whole country with their extreme conservative ideology. Remember the Civil War? What about the recent presidential election? Guess where the conservative anti-government theme comes from...

This should, however, be rather obvious to most historians. I'm sure it is to Richard Dunn, author of Sugar & Slaves,  author Douglas R. Burgess, Jr., of The Politics of Piracy, and especially to Colin Woodard, author of American Nations.  This is especially obvious when you truly see pirates for who they actually were, instead of just reading about "alternative" pirates in Robert Louis Stevenson novels or in 300-year-old texts written in London by a man with an agenda - no, not a politician - but, a "running mouth" who owed money to politicians.

"Alternative" Pirates of the 18th century "fake media"

A "pirate" was generally a sea-going vessel run by a crew who raided and stole from you - your government and its citizens - yes, sometimes the other guy's, but you only cared about yours - that's very important. Only those personal-affecting marauding types were called "pirates." Now, "you" might mean English, Spanish, Dutch, French, Portuguese... even Swedish! Your own "pirates" were called "privateers" and you generally loved them - yours, I mean - not the ones who preyed on you! Everyone fought like cats and dogs to steal each others' stuff... for centuries! Not only did they get their stuff taken, but they died a lot, too.

Consequently, the West Indies was a maelstrom of all of these governments vying for the gold, silver, sugar, and slaves concentrated there. It was like a gigantic factory where all the companies competed against one another on a daily basis - in the same building - while taking each others' profits! Pirates were once greatly needed to steal from other companies/nations and they even invigorated heroic visions among their thieving descendants. Sir Francis Drake, Sir John Hawkins, Sir Henry Morgan and many others were often knighted flamboyant treasure-seekers - especially even Morgan, who held an official office of power in the West Indies. Morgan was once governor of Jamaica some years after the English conquest of 1655 - a colony stolen from Spain, of course.

Sir Francis Drake being knighted by Queen Elizabeth

Needless to say, only the roughest, most ruthless, unprincipled corporate-types were successful in the American business of piracy and its cousin, chattel slavery. Every man in America with a ship, sloop, or even a canoe and the know-how to navigate probably committed piracy at one time or another. This is important: only educated gentlemen of some stature were capable of the math necessary to navigate. Pirate captains and many of their crew were not born poor folks! Most of these unprincipled ruthless gentlemen were cast out of England for various reasons, usually religious (Anglicanism played a significant role - if only to alleviate the guilt of slavery) or criminal, especially after the Jacobite Rebellions. This may have affected any links they may have had to their original family fortunes, but America offered great treasures in gold, silver, and slaves! Rebellion paid well!

"Beyond the line..." of Civilization

The Brits had a saying for this faraway lucrative "Frankenstein" creation of theirs - "anything was possible beyond the line in America," referring to the southwest quadrant of the Atlantic community - specifically Southern America and the West Indies. This meant that any deprivation, no matter how disgusting or reviled it would be in European civilization, could be conducted with impunity across the Atlantic - "over there" - as long as it wasn't brought back home. This continued for centuries and became well-ingrained in a newer more unique American culture.

Nathaniel Mist, the controversial Jacobite polemicist who wrote as "Capt. Charles Johnson," even called America the "Commonwealth of Pyrates," in print! He did this most likely because Lord Sunderland threatened him, but the appellation was still appropriate. 

Now, you can imagine how a growing population of outcast conservative rebel gentlemen, with multiple generations in America and Stuart politics firmly planted in their psyche, might view their "mother country," right? From 3,000 miles away in England -  too far for the government to mount a serious opposition? They dallied a bit with the idea of separation... especially in Barbados during the Interregnum or Parliamentary rule when the Stuart king's head was removed and his son and heir kicked out - Stuart rule was re-established in a short time, after the son came back from France. The Interregnum only lasted eleven years - a bit longer than a two-term American president. Still, the Interregnum proved that the world did not explode when you chopped off a king's head. It also gave Parliament a taste of what government could be like without a monarch controlling everything like a dictator!

Liberal Reform and Cultural Divergence

Now, imagine that the formerly unprincipled (and already weakened by distance) government that once created an unprincipled America in its own Stuart image began to fall from power in England itself -  they were replaced by Parliamentary reformers of a more liberal persuasion. Parliament, growing ever more powerful, finally ousted the elite Stuarts, rejecting their heir to the throne, James III, and replacing him with a "Dutch dog," as one American referred to him, Protestant Dutchman William of Orange.

Suppose these reformers then passed anti-piracy legislation following that Great Revolution of 1688? Rules such as proper flag use on vessels so as not to fool an adversary (favorite pirate tactic), new regulations involving condemning prizes, wreck salvage, reinforced tax laws, etc. - and, they expected Americans to abide by these regulations - regulations designed to handicap their success and profit! How did these piratical Americans see their liberalizing, weakening "mother" once she began to betray their conservative Stuart principles and time-honored practices - like their beloved piracy?

Edward Randolph, colonial administrator, understood all too well! He fought for revocation of politically corrupt private colonies like Carolina, the Bahamas, and the Jerseys - colonies run by wealthy aristocrats who never left their comfortable homes in London or other great estates. Lord Carteret, for instance, carried on a strong political rivalry with one of the Whig reformers, Sir Robert Walpole, known as England's first prime minister. Randolph scorned the Stuart or Tory abuse of power and privilege of men like Carteret, and the careless allowance of the colonies to hold Vice-Admiralty courts over themselves - how could pirates try pirates, he argued?

From an outside perspective, South Carolina, one of Randolph's favorite reform projects, appeared to respond to reform measures. This was, however, only superficial at best. Their merchants had no intention of reforming, but merely responded to being picked on so heavily and personally by pirates since 1717. After all, it was James Moore, a former governor of South Carolina, who had recently said in court that “Mr. [Peter] Painter having comitted Piracy & not having his majesties Pardon for ye Same [meaning South Carolina's permission].  Its resolved he is not fit for that trust.”

South Carolina, founded in 1671 by the "Corporation of Barbados Adventurers" to "Conquer and Dominate the World," once viewed piracy as a "trust" - not at all a crime! How reform-minded were they in 1717? Not really - just pissed, actually. Americans adored their pirates as well as their conservative political ideology. I wrote American Pirates in the News! telling of how even the word "pirate" was never used in a colonial newspaper in reference to Englishmen until 1716. England, however, used the term regularly in their records and newspapers. Again, they were 3,000 miles away from the land "beyond the line," in the "Commonwealth of Pyrates," a land where even the governors dealt in stolen goods with men like Edward "Blackbeard" Thache, Henry Jennings, and Benjamin Hornigold. Even the Puritanical north had been affected by the pirate William Kidd in 1699. Gov. Samuel Cranston had bartered with him for gold and jewels from a Red Sea raid.

South Carolina administrators' open policy on piracy had changed only a little - and only when it interfered with their profit. Merchants' property had been taken, their ships prevented from leaving harbor, at least three times by pirates Stede Bonnet, Edward "Blackbeard" Thache, and Charles Vane... it was threatened a fourth time by Richard Worley, but by then, South Carolina's merchants had had enough. Their "privateers" sought Vane, captured Bonnet, and killed Worley in their harbor, both of his ships confiscated. There was nothing personal about any of this, you understand - only business!

Stede Bonnet was to be tried by their Vice Admiralty court. But, before that could happen, a local resident of South Carolina, Richard Tookerman, a wealthy man with an estate in Goose Creek, several slaves, and owner of two ships, broke Stede Bonnet from jail. He loaned him a canoe, two slaves and ammunition to get away from Charles Towne - at least until they cooled off!

South Carolina's official administrators, sent from England, might have been more upset than the locals - residents who helped Bonnet, like Richard Tookerman of Goose Creek, a pirate himself, referred to notoriously by Woodes Rogers, governor of the Bahamas. Remember, Rogers came from England to clean up the Bahamas' pirate nest.

Americans in general, still revered their pirate heroes and dealt regularly with pirates and their illicit goods, available to an often disenfranchised destitute people for pennies on the pound. Wealthy men like Tookerman were the upper crust, the 3% merchant class of landed, rich, and voting South Carolinians - men who desired to live their lives in the style of their own heroes: Drake, Hawkins, and Morgan, early thieves, slavers, and murderers of America! Corruption was simply the norm. South Carolina usually looked the other way when you had power, influence, and money.

In fact, a great many of those pirates, men who once sailed with Thache, Hornigold, Rackham, Vane, Burgess, Nichols, Napping, and many others, who surrendered in the Bahamas to the Rogers administration, came to privately-run South Carolina afterward. They knew that they could retire there with their illegally-acquired wealth - even continuing to pirate treasure from their new base - with permission, of course. That "permission" entitled South Carolina to a cut of the booty.

Thomas Porter, brother of Daniel Porter, and former master of the pirate vessel Mayflower (then captained by his brother), came to South Carolina in 1718 in the company of a surrendered pirate, Othniel Davis. Porter had earlier purchased a South Carolina estate of over a thousand acres from the Bahamian customs collector John Graves - probably while conducting pirate raids with Benjamin Hornigold in Bennett late in 1717. He settled there while Davis became a commissioned privateer for South Carolina and went on to become another great American hero, destroying Spanish privateers in 1719 and 1720. Who knows what money he collected on the side... or how?

This excerpt from Quest for Blackbeard illustrates Thomas Porter's wealth and South Carolina's ingrained corruption:
Consequently, the will of Thomas Porter of Colleton County, South Carolina, planter (11 Sep 1755-12 Oct 1755) appears rather interesting. Porter appeared to begin his family in the mid-1720s, as his pirate career wound down. He purchased his 1,036-acre plantation in Colleton County from an aged John Graves, former collector for the Bahamas who argued fervently for Resumption of private charters for two decades, 1697-1717, and died soon after Woodes Rogers arrived as the Bahamas’ first royal governor. Porter served on a SC Grand Jury in 1740. In his will, he mentions 100 acres of land at Beechill that borders Richard Be[a]don, son of George and brother of Stephen Beadon, who claimed the slave Peter from the effects on board Stede Bonnet’s Revenge when Richard and Katherine Tookerman claimed their slave Ned Grant. He also refers to two houses and fifty acres near Dorchester. Porter was rather wealthy at the time of his death. The slaves York, Phillis, and Caser [Caesar], he left to his wife Elizabeth along with the Beechill estate. His eldest son Thomas received half of the old Graves land, along with “wearing apparel: my Gold Buttons, my Gold Buckles, my Gold headed Cane, my sword & other of my Weapons of War,” and a mulatto boy named Elick with the assorted silver in the house. George received the other half of the main estate. His daughter Elizabeth acquired “one necklace of Pearl with a Gold Locket, one pair of Gold shoe Buckles, one Diamond Ring,” a gold crop, a prayer book, and £2,000. His daughter Mary received a similar collection of gold and jewels. Thomas Porter, Bahamian ship owner and repeat-offender former pirate, later upstanding South Carolinian, was not, by any stretch of the imagination, a poor man.
America’s Deep South, the later Confederacy, came into being with Carolina whose Barbadian founders even then fully intended to fill the land with rice and slaves. The sugar islands and the wealth that they generated contributed significantly to Carolina, intended as a "breadbasket" of sorts to a West-Indian colony who sugar crop was too lucrative to grow food! Driven by the profits of a lucrative West Indian sugar production, laissez-faire capitalism also developed “with the convergence of agricultural improvements, global explorations, and scientific advances.” America became independent and resented government control from a nation that no longer served their interests.

So, as you can see by Porter's will, in the Deep South of the "Commonwealth of Pyrates," crime paid pretty well! Ask any corporate CEO how it pays today - remember that "crime" - to you - is defined by your own country's laws and your own cultural influences. America called the shots after 1783 - and, it's written history reflects the new power structure.

Carolina was not the glorified and gilded fantasy, ordained by God, often displayed in early history textbooks, with Stevenson's visions of imaginary "alternative pirates" diverting criticisms of America's corporate ancestry. It was an often overlooked and religiously-justified immoral and bloody affair, a crime by any other name. Woodard wrote:
Scholars have long recognized that cultures organized around [chattel] slavery rely on violence to control, punish, and terrorize—which no doubt helps explain the erstwhile prevalence of lynching deaths [see map] in Deep South and Tidewater. But it is also significant that both these nations, along with Greater Appalachia, follow religious traditions that sanction eye-for-an-eye justice, and adhere to secular codes that emphasize personal honor and shun governmental authority. As a result, their members have fewer qualms about rushing to lethal judgments. 

Woodard, in his book, painted Deep South slave society as “a system so cruel and despotic [that it] shocked even its seventeenth-century contemporaries.” He further clarified that it has remained a “bastion of white supremacy, aristocratic privilege, and modeled upon the classical Republicanism of the slave states of the ancient world.” Moreover, they practiced a religiously-justified plantation economy based upon slave labor - modernizing a brutal Stuart conservative-Jacobite culture in every sense.

Wealthy English corsairs and businessmen perpetrated heinous deeds from Carolina's shores, not unlike the Crusades of the Middle Ages: Spain’s territory invaded, their treasures stolen, Dutch and French trade and lands forcefully bootlegged, and Africans, Indians, and even Europeans murdered, mutilated, and/or enslaved. Of course, the fact that the Spanish, French, Dutch, etc. committed their own crimes against the English often rhetorically justified those of the English, citing their own "gentler treatment" as a sign that they most deserved God's blessings!  One’s “adventurer” is another’s “criminal,” just like one’s “privateer” is another’s “pirate.” And, the violence continues...


"Quest for Blackbeard" is now available in ebook format and can be found on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other online booksellers, including Apple iTunes.

Quest is already previewable on Google Books.

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