Brothers of the High Seas

Sunset_Taganga_POTD_b&w_Santa_Marta

It’s one a.m.  

The reflection of a silver moon dances like a ghost on the water. Cool night breezes stir the rigging of a forty-five foot ketch anchored near the harbor of Santa Marta Bay. The family on board is fast asleep after a week of hard sailing, with nothing but the gentle sound of waves lapping against the sides of the boat to disturb their slumber. 

Around one-thirty, the captain of a Norwegian freighter steps out on deck for a smoke. He had noticed the ketch earlier as she was putting in across the way. Suddenly he hears the sound of a motor fall silent and notices a small dingy easing up along side her. The captain doesn’t like it. He slips inside, calls the harbor agent and alerts several members of his own crew… He’s sure he also saw the telltale glimmer of moonlight flashing on the blade of a cutlass.

Meanwhile, two thieves have silently climbed onto the deck of the ketch, and in no time, they hold the startled skipper and his wife at knifepoint below. They demand the keys to the storage compartments. A larger craft silently arrives with more bandits. Brandishing guns and machetes, they quickly help themselves to the cargo. By now, the couple’s frightened children who were sleeping in the aft berth are also awake, and crying. 

Just then, a siren wails, as machine gun fire knocks one of the intruders on deck down the cabin steps. Immediately, the pirates abandon the heist, and make a run for it. The larger craft, a speedboat, gets away, but as Columbian customs agents open fire, they manage to kill two of the men in the small motor boat, including the driver. 

In the darkness, it’s difficult to tell just how many pirates have boarded the ketch, but with spotlights flashing, the agents block the vessel and manage to nab another of the bandits as he attempts to climb overboard. Moments later, they join the family to get a full report. The captain of the Norwegian freighter also arrives, with several crew members, ready to lend a hand. 

Unfortunately, after searching the storage compartments, it’s clear that most of the ketch’s cargo left with the fleeing speedboat.  Agents attempt to go after the goods, only to discover that the propeller of their own vessel is now missing – obviously, the count from the motor boat was one pirate short…

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This above incident at Santa Marta happened years ago to the family of Savannah resident Albert Seidl, but it’s more likely to be repeated today. Since the 1990s, the world has seen a resurgence in piracy. Statistics show attacks rising dramatically since 2006, mainly in the China Sea, Straits of Malacca, Gulf of Aden, Somalia, Gulf of Guinea, and in the Caribbean, currently peaking in 2010, and tapering off somewhat in 2011 and 2012, thanks only to the combined efforts of maritime enforcement in international waters. Still, differing laws and treaties that govern the capture and prosecution of today’s pirates often pose dilemmas and legal obstacles for modern navies, leading to unsatisfactory results – pirates go free. 

While movie goers flock to films depicting Disney versions of the characters that roamed the Caribbean three centuries ago, modern pirates sail the waters of the twenty-first century equipped with technological weaponry and ready for warfare. Added to the growing treat of terrorism on the high seas, it’s safe to say that yacht owners had better make sure they know who, and where their friends are – before they set sail.

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A Savannah Seaman’s Story –  Captains and Brothers:

Captain Albert Seidl was born in Essen, West Germany and educated at the Folkwang Academy of Fine Arts. He has spent his life combining his talents as a sketch artist and a painter with his love of ships and sailing.

Seidl was the Skipper and co-owner of the Barba Negra (Spanish for “Black Beard”) – a 121-foot fishing ketch, vintage 1896 Norwegian Barquentine that once graced Savannah’s historic docks on River Street.  Originally christened  ‘Moder, or Mother,’ Seidl found her in Norway in 1971, and along with his business partner and captain, Gerhard Schwisow, restored her, and lived on board for over twenty-five years with wife Alise, and two sons.  Incidentally, Schwisow was one of the crew members of the Norwegian freighter who came to Seidl’s rescue that night at Santa Marta.

Barba Negra_the Norwegian barkentine

Barba Negra, 121-foot fishing ketch, vintage 1896 Norwegian Barquentine anchored at Savannah’s historic docks on River Street.

During the 1974 and 1976  ‘Bicentennial Tall Ship Races’ in New York City, Seidl met Mayor John Rousakis who insisted the Barba Negra come south to Savannah for a visit. When she finally arrived in 1978, she stayed, and soon became the main attraction on the riverfront.

Before coming to Savannah, the stately ship had assisted the US Navy, the New York and Bermuda Zoological and Biological Societies, and participated at the United Nations Law of the Sea Conference. She was featured in numerous films and television specials, hosted several years of Seidl’s “Save the Seas” educational presentation program, and with her tallest mast rising 96 feet above water was promoted as the “second oldest square-rigged vessel with a wooden hull still in operation in North America.”

In 1995, the vessel was rededicated as ‘Barba Negra – The Spirit of Savannah,’ with the River Street waterfront designated as her permanent home. It was also the year Seidl finally decided to ‘come ashore.’  He bought a house in Savannah’s historic district and in 1996, he sold his interest in the ship to Schwisow.  For a while, he and Alise would continue to crew on board the ship, and they made regular visits to friends and family on other working vessels.

Capt. Schwisow eventually employed a 26 year-old Navy veteran, Capt. Frank Joseph Schwindler to run operations on the Barba Negra.  Though in all probability the aged vessel’s career of high-seas sailing was over as more and more costly repairs mounted, Gerhardt Schwisow hoped to maintain her as a sailing school vessel, an alternative junior and senior ‘high school’ for young crew members under Schwindler’s direction.  He also had dreams of another full restoration, but that was not to be.

In the spring of 1999, the Barba Negra sank off Hutchinson Island during a terrible storm. The day before Savannahians woke up to the news, the vessel had been anchored off a dock at Hutchinson Island awaiting more repairs, but the bilge pump was not on that evening when the storm struck. Consequentially, the old ship quickly filled with water, and sank to the bottom of the Savannah River where it remains to this day.

Thankfully, much of the ship’s beautifully crafted woodwork that was done by Albert Seidl, and the antique artifacts onboard the vessel had been removed to Seidl’s residence prior to the accident.

Gerhard Schwisow aboard the Barba Negra docked at River Street.

Even more tragic was the death of Gerhardt Schwisow on March 8th, 2006.  It had long been Gerhardt’s desire to try, in vain, to raise the Barba Negra from the river, and the heartbreak of his untimely passing at age 59 was even more devastating when it was ruled an ‘apparent’ suicide.

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Years ago when Albert Seidl first migrated from Germany to Vancouver, British Columbia, he bought an ‘old sea chest’  through an estate auction. No one had bothered to open it for many years, and it was discovered to contain an authentic ‘treasure map.’  Seidl was inspired to build a sailing ship from scratch – a fifty-one foot auxiliary ketch fashioned like an ‘Indian war canoe’ that he called the Illahee (Chinook for ‘All My Belongings’ or ‘My Country’).

Eventually he took the ship on an archaeological expedition to the Pacific, and the Caribbean and actually found a treasure on an island off the coast of Costa Rica. But his vessel fell into the hands of corrupt Mexican officials in league with local pirates, who discovered the map, confiscated his boat, and terrorized his family. It took two naval escorts to sneak him and his family out of Acapulco to safety. The episode at Acapulco was Seidl’s first encounter with pirates. The second encounter was the one previously described at Santa Marta Bay. 

For many years, Seidl had been under the impression that his beloved vessel sank somewhere in the South Pacific. In February 2014, through a miraculous twist of good fortune, he learned not only had she survived, but she had been bought several times, and thankfully, the name had stayed the same. Illahee’s newest owner, a West Coast sailing enthusiast and fellow artist had recently found her in rough shape, rescued her, and was planning a full restoration. Much to Albert’s delight, he also learned that most of his original solid woodwork was still intact.

Visit Illahee Project, to learn more. 

Albert & Alise Seidl at Tybee’s Pirate Festival.

These days Albert and Alise live in their residence in Savannah’s historic district. Although they still make time to sail with family and friends around the globe, they also spend a lot of time at City Market – he paints in his upstairs art studio. Seidl’s artwork hangs in numerous local venues, and he’s had solo exhibitions in over 22 countries worldwide. Alise recently closed the small ice cream shop, below on Jefferson Street, that she ran for many years to pursue their new ventures.

On special occasions, she and this most distinguished sea captain don what might be mistaken as an authentic ‘pirate’ costumes. Albert’s eyes twinkle as he twirls his white moustache and admits to flying the ‘Jolly Roger’ from the mast of the Barba Negra in the old days when custom’s officials were particularly uncooperative.

Dressed in full regalia, with tiny skulls and crossbones woven into his beard, he could pass as a character right out of Treasure Island, but he says with sincerity and genuine pride, “I’m not a pirate, I’m a brother!  He’s referring to his membership in The Brotherhood of the Coast.

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In 1951, a small group of Chilean sailors formed a modern sailing alliance inspired by law or custom of the coasts, an ancient code of conduct that has bound seafarers together in mutual respect for the sea, and for one another since the days of antiquity. Drawing upon their rich maritime heritage and the legends of the musket bearing “buccaneers” from the island of Tortuga, the seven founders penned eight basic principles derived from the old code, now known as the ‘Octalog,’ to govern the alliance they called Hermandad de la Costa, literally ‘Brothers, or Brotherhood of the Coast.’  The word spread to sailors in other localities, an international fraternal order was born.

Thirty-three countries now have established ‘Tables’ (or groups) of buccaneers. The rugged, fighting men from Tortuga known as Frères de la Coste (Brotherhood of the Coast) once lived by such a code. These men were called ‘filibustiers’ by the French, or ‘boucaniers’ from the word ‘boucan’ meaning the place where strips of meat (and sometimes the flesh of an enemy) were hung out to dry, or ‘barbecued’ in Indian fashion.

They hunted the wild herds of cattle that roamed the island of Hispanola, (now Haiti and the Dominican Republic), and were excellent marksmen, fiercely loyal to one another, and totally unafraid of death. They also had a deep hatred of the Spanish, and in the mid sixteen-hundreds, they joined forces with Henry Morgan’s English and Dutch ‘privateers,’ and French corsairs to carry out raids against Spanish settlements throughout the Western Caribbean.

Flag of International Organization of BOC

Though self-serving and brutal, pirates of the 17th and 18th centuries were often at war with the perceived tyrannies and social ills of their day. Some would argue that modern pirates do the same, but according to The Brotherhood of the Coast (BOC) Chilean interpretations of the spirit of the old code, today’s pirates have strayed considerably when they make war against international maritime law – a universal standard for peace and civility on the high seas.

In First Watch, the US Brothers of the Coast printed newsletter, and The Tortuga Post, the official international newsletter of the BOC, numerous articles have cited “an increase in acts of piracy and violence as noted by seamen, worldwide,” stating “pirates are increasingly more powerful, armed and organized. All types of ships are concerned, but freighters, from which pirates plunder the cargo (and sometimes seize the ship, disguise it and resell it), fishing vessels and yachts are main targets.

Sometimes it involves the taking of hostages, and the demand of ransom, and too often, the death of men: 72 in the year 2000.” The article goes on to state the United Nations has handed down a mandate that all those with maritime interests take measures to fight the “exactions of pirates,” citing recommendations, “means for prevention, and attitudes to be observed”.

Today’s mariners are always on the look out for thieves and thugs, and sometimes they get a little extra help. One of Seidl’s seafaring ‘brothers’ tells a story about being alone in the cabin of his yacht one night, when his little dog heard a noise outside. He looked out in time to see a pair of hands sliding over the railing. The dog ran on deck, and ferociously bit off one of the thief’s fingers. “All you can do is take precautions, trust your skills and instincts,” Seidl smiles, ”and be thankful for every friend who comes to your rescue.”

Savannah, Georgia’s Table of The Brotherhood of the Coast was formed in 1992.  Seidl was one of the co-founders, and its first Table Captain.  Members lead separate lives (some reside in other parts of the country) but these distinguished professionals with busy schedules manage to savor the seas together. Experienced captains and tall ship enthusiasts, they take time to socialize, race, go on sailing excursions, and crew on one another’s vessels. Individual sailors travel often, with spouses and families to visit other BOC members throughout the United States and abroad.

The international organization is composed of men and women from all walks of life. As sworn protectors of the earth’s oceans, many work for the preservation of coastal and maritime environments. Renowned explorers such as Jacque Coustou, and inventors like Thor Haierdahl were among the ranks.

Every four years, the worldwide ‘fleet’ comes together in festive gear for a celebration at a designated port of call. Tables in twelve cities across the United States host national ‘Zafarranchos’ (gatherings) every other year. Like the buccaneers of old, it doesn’t take much to get these twenty-first century ‘brothers’ on board a ship headed for adventure, and their commitment to one another spans the globe – come pirates, hell or high water!

*Copyright 2012 – 2014, A Pyrate’s Life for Me – Cynthia Farr Kinkel

(*Portions of the above article appeared in the Oct./Nov. 2006 issue of The South Magazine. It is re-published here with additional information, updates and edits.)

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The Last Days of the Pirates Republic

Bellamy Declares...Of all the pirate stories handed down to us across the centuries, those from the “Golden Age of Piracy”
(approximately 1715 -1725) are perhaps the best known, mainly because they are so well documented. The drama that unfolded throughout the islands of the West Indies helped shape the future of colonial empires in the Americas, and is therefore an integral part of our nation’s ‘prenatal’ heritage.

During this period, a particular track of political events, wars, and socioeconomic factors combined with a resourceful brand of lawlessness to forge an alliance based in the Eastern Caribbean known as the ‘Pirates Republic.’ Historically, it might be compared to the days of the American Wild West in the middle of the nineteenth century.

Tales of pirates from this brief period come alive with a singular spirit of bold defiance as old as Homer’s descriptions in The Iliad and The Odyssey. But were it not for the uncertainty of the times, and the assertion of this undaunted spirit, such a world of pirates would never have existed at all.

The first crews of the Golden Age of Pirates were made up of willing privateer recruits. Later, they would be composed of sailors from every sort of vessel that sailed the Atlantic. In the best of circumstances, common sailors did hard labor for low wages, and the very nature of their positions put them in constant peril. As time passed, plenty of sailors who joined pirate crews held a deep resentment against the merchantmen and the slave traders with whom they had previously sailed. Often harsh authoritarians who imposed cruel, arbitrary punishments on their crews with few accessible remedies, commanded these vessels. Under successful pirate captains, crews shared a sense of equality, even ‘ownership.’

Although it didn’t spare them from the death penalty if they were caught trying to desert, all were bound by a common oath known as Articles of Regulation (pirate law) that gave them a means to air their grievances. Good thing, because there was a lingering mistrust of leadership among all pirate crews. They were constantly voting leaders in and out, and would resort to whatever means necessary to depose them.pirate-map-of-caribbean

The most admired pirate captains embodied both the best and the worst traits and temperaments of their crews. These leaders had to be bold enough, and clever enough to outmaneuver not only their enemies, but their own demons as well. For the most part, when they weren’t under the influence of an adrenaline ‘fight or flight’ rush, pirates had uneventful lives, sometimes, even boring. Music helped sailors pass the time on board, and was the chief source of inspiration and entertainment.

Musicians were often ‘retained’ from captured vessels, as well as ‘artists’ such as tailors, carpenters, and surgeons for service to both captain and crew. When pirates went after their prey, they had to work together, so harmony among shipmates was a must. If sailors got irritable, and tempers flared, arguments were often settled by dueling. This was not permitted on board the ship, however, and had to be carried out on shore.

After capturing prizes, pirates often retired to some safe harbor where their vessels could be cleaned and repaired. Then the loot was divided, and there was a lot of feasting and drinking. With such ‘addictive highs and destructive lows,’ it’s no wonder that drunkenness was a real problem.

It might be safe to say that outlaws in any age are prone to extinction, but the short, violent lives of many of these young pirates were filled with adventures, pleasures and freedoms about which other men (and women) of those times had not even dreamed.

Throughout most of the Golden Age, neither the constant presence of the Spanish Masters, nor the various periods of manipulation by British, French, Portuguese, and Dutch (European) colonial interests were the most immediate perils for pirates. In the beginning these things actually worked in their favor. The most immediate perils were natural made life in ‘paradise’ almost unbearable; the jungle undergrowth was difficult to maneuver; the ultramarine blue waters of the Caribbean Gulf Stream were swift and full of unpredictable currents; and the threat of tropical disease lurked in every watering pail. Sometimes even earthquakes shook the region. Above all else, nothing was as costly as the hurricanes.

Many pirate vessels and their consorts had a cyclical route of plundering called the ‘pirate round,’ sailing out of the West Indies, and up the American coastline as far as Newfoundland to escape the summer’s heat. Then in the winter, they’d sail southward to the Leeward Islands or Barbados, and lie in wait for the Christmas provision ships. Some of the later pirate crews would even sail to Brazil, Africa and over to the Indian Ocean, before returning to the West Indies to start the round over again. This took them out of the warm waters of the Caribbean during the most threatening months of the year, and often ensured that they wouldn’t get caught in the paths of the biggest storms.

But as we all know, sometimes hurricanes follow a path that takes them right up the eastern seaboard, and at any time of year, smaller storms, and Nor’easters can take their toll. The account that appeared in The General History of the Pyrates of two ferocious gales that pounded Captain Samuel Bellamy and his crew in the Whydah Galley off the coast of the South Carolina in early 1717 stands as a grim reminder. The writer says that during the first storm, the ship was nearly ‘quick going down into Hell,’ and sustained such damage that they were forced to keep the pumps running day and night to get rid of the seawater.

Several weeks later, as they were making their way off a lee shore around the treacherous shoals near Cape Cod, Rhode Island, the Whydah was caught in the second storm. Cape Cod had been Bellamy’s home before he took up piracy, and he often went back up there to visit. This time he was sailing at night with a small fleet of captured ships, one of which was ‘a pink’ named the Mary Anne. The master of the Mary Anne had been left on board his ship, and when the fleet was separated by high seas and blinding rain, the Mary Anne ran aground.

Seeing the ship’s light, but not the shoreline, the Whydah followed. It is believed that Bellamy and his crew were intentionally lured into shallow waters by the master of the Mary Anne, who deliberately ran his own vessel aground in order to trick the pirates into following him to their destruction. Whatever happened it was enough to doom the wounded Whydah, as the force of the fierce winds off the Atlantic continued to push the large square-rigged galley towards the shore. Several miles up the coast, she was blown into a rocky shoal, broken apart by the pounding breakers … and went down.

The boastful Samuel Bellamy, who spoke what the hearts and minds of many pirates believed, had just days before vehemently proclaimed, “I am a free prince, and I have as much authority to make war on the whole world, as he who has a hundred sail of ships at sea, and an army of 100,000 men in the field, and this my conscience tells me…” But on that stormy April night, off the coast of Cape Cod, Bellamy went down with his ship, along with 144 members of his crew. It was every pirate’s nightmare come true. As news of the tragedy spread throughout the Pirates Republic, it was quite a sobering moment.

Ironically, more pirate ships were destroyed by such storms and other ‘acts of God,’ or by the pirates, themselves, than were ever captured by the British Royal Navy before 1718. Contemporary author Peter Earle points out in The Pirate Wars (2003) that during the War of the Spanish Succession, and the Jacobite Rebellion, Britain was reluctant to send ships to the West Indies, because they were needed elsewhere. Many of the pirates were also Jacobite sympathizers, who would attack any British ship that sailed into the region. It was under those circumstances that the privateers and the pirates kept the shipping lanes open, fought their own private wars with the Spanish, and turned profits from stolen Spanish goods into their own local ‘pirate economy’.

For years, that was the order of things. After all, as David Cordingly tells us in Under The Black Flag (1996), even when the young Welch privateer, Henry Morgan first arrived in the West Indies in 1654, he was part of a British expedition sent out to capture Spanish Hispaniola. When the attempt failed, they decided to attack the less-fortified island of Jamaica. They were successful, and Jamaica became a British settlement that evolved into one of the most important bases of operations for the Royal Navy against the Spanish during those early years.

Morgan was given letters of marquee (commissions) from the Governor of Jamaica and carried out many raids against Spanish possessions in Central America, with the blessings of the Cromwell and the English Crown. Then at age thirty-two, Henry Morgan was made Admiral of the original ‘Brethren of the Coast,’ a loose and diverse association of French, Dutch and English privateers and pirates from Tortuga, who worked together to carry out raids on Spanish ports and towns, rather than attack ships. They operated under a strict, but remarkably democratic code known as the ‘Law of the Coast,’ and shared the spoils of their efforts. Many of these ‘buccaneers,’ as they were also called, were excellent marksmen who carried French muskets rather than swords and cutlasses, as later pirates did.

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Captain Henry Morgan is often called the ‘King of the Pirates,’ because of the depth and breadth of allegiance sworn to him by so many of his contemporaries. After uniting the privateers of Jamaica with the ‘Brothers’ from Tortuga, he sailed with some two thousand ‘wild men,’ and one woman who was purported to be a witch, and commanded a fleet of thirty-eight ragtag buccaneer ships and boats in his last campaign to Panama. However, this last ‘big adventure’ got Morgan (and the Governor of Jamaica who issued the commission) into big trouble. At the time of the sacking of Panama, England was supposed to have been officially at peace with Spain after signing the Treaty of Madrid in 1660. In an attempt to distance themselves from the incident, British authorities called for Morgan’s arrest.
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Morgan spent two years back in London, where he was eventually knighted in 1673, for all those exploits against the Spanish. He was never convicted of piracy charges under English law, and did not consider himself a pirate by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, when he returned to Jamaica as Lieutenant Governor, Sir Henry Morgan led the attempt to rid Port Royal of privateers and pirates. He believed times were changing in favor of agriculture and legal commerce on the island, and Jamaican planters and merchants agreed. Under his leadership, the city of Port Royal grew and prospered. But years of hard living and drinking finally caught up with Morgan. He died in his mid-fifties of tuberculosis in 1688, retaining his status as statesman, aristocrat, and ‘King of the Buccaneers,’ not as ‘King of the Pirates!’
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Privateers who came after Henry Morgan received only limited, legal credentials in Jamaica, and they would never again be considered heroes. When the infamous pirate haven of Port Royal was shaken to its core by a sudden, devastating in June of 1692, the accompanying tsunami washed even Morgan’s remains in Palisadoes Cemetery out to sea. The old town eventually imploded from the loss of life. However, the wild men (and women) were still out there. Though many of the Tortuga buccaneers left the trade, and carved out settled lives on the shores of the Spanish Main, some of the displaced pirates and privateers sailed off in search of other ports of call. By the turn of the eighteenth century, legal or not, ‘privateers’ were back in business in Jamaica, the greater Caribbean, as well as up and down the coasts of the American colonies. (Remember, Captain William Kidd was hanged in May of 1701.)
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During those years, the war with Spain was rekindled several times, and the French were also hostile. At one point, the settlement at Nassau had been plundered and burned three times, and the people there were left to fend for themselves. But according to Peter Earle, since there were only occasional and minor complaints about a few of the ‘masterless men’ like Benjamin Hornigold at Nassau, England was not that interested in ‘small scale villains, so far away.’

Then came the wreck of the Spanish treasure fleet in July of 1715. Earle says “there were ten shattered ships laid waste by a hurricane along a forty mile stretch of reefs, a thousand men drowned, and a fortune in silver coins and bullion lost in the shallow waters off the coast of Florida.”
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When the Spanish sent out a desperate call for help, every privateer within a thousand miles
raced to the scene, (including Samuel Bellamy who heard the news as far north as Cape Cod), and they helped, all right! They helped themselves to the Spanish treasure! Earle describes it as a frenzied ‘treasure-hunting bonanza,’ which triggered the greatest surge of piracy in the eighteenth century. Even commissioned ‘pirate hunters’ turned pirate. Henry Jennings raided the Florida storehouses where the Spanish salvers kept their recovered treasure, then he and his crew linked up with Ben Hornigold’s ‘three sets of pirates’ from New Providence Island. The numbers of pirates began to grow at Nassau, and so did the complaints against them. Whenever the Royal Navy attempted to contain them, British naval officers with limited experience in American and Caribbean waters were no matches for these resourceful, local operators, whose connections and hiding places were easily accessible.

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So arose the pinnacle of the Pirates Republic, with its infamous circle of captain cohorts, Henry Jennings, Ben Hornigold, Bart Roberts, Sam Bellamy, Charles Vane and Edward Teach (or Thatch), as well as many smaller operators like Calico Jack Rackham (with Anne Bonny and Mary Read) and James Bonny. But after several seasons of ‘lawlessness,’ London began to wonder if the Bahamas might not be turning into another Madagascar.

The King’s Pardon in 1718 created a short period of relief for British authorities. Some of the outlaws accepted the reprieve, came ashore and stayed there, including Ben Hornigold and Henry Jennings. The rest of them were hell-bent upon ‘sailing under their own flags.’ Attacks against virtually all seagoing vessels along the coasts, and in the shipping lanes of the Atlantic seaboard and Eastern Caribbean reached new heights between 1719 and 1720. When the British finally decided to act, they were decisive. This time, many Royal Naval ships were sent, and authorities began soliciting aid from local captains. Even newly reformed pirates (including Ben Hornigold) became pirate hunters. Suddenly there was a local threat, just as formidable as any hurricane or Spanish fleet … right on the doorstep of the Pirates Republic.

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Late in the game, some of the pirates like Captain Bartholomew Roberts and his crew had extended their operations to the coast of West Africa and as far east as the Indian Ocean. But off Cape Lopez, Gabon, in February of 1722, Robert’s gallant ship, Royal Fortune met its fate at the hands of Royal Navy Captain Challoner Ogle, commander of the Swallow. Roberts lost his life, and two hundred sixty-two pirates from two pirate ships were captured in a humiliating defeat. But the body of ‘Black Bart,’ still dressed in his scarlet waistcoat, was thrown over-board by the members of his crew, rather than let it be taken by the British.

Although the last execution of a pirate from the Golden Age on an island in the Indian Ocean didn’t take place until 1730, David Cordingly writes, ‘Of twenty-seven trials held between 1700 and 1728, in only five cases were the executions restricted to the ringleaders…,’ so as the total number of pirates operating in the Atlantic in 1720 was only about two thousand strong, the last days of the Pirates Republic were swift and final.

It’s also interesting to note that when the first city of Port Royal founded in 1650 was completely destroyed in the summer of 1692, four years after Henry Morgan’s death, nearly two thousand lives were lost, and everything in the old city was washed away from its sand foundations by the tsunami. Many to this day believe that such a natural disaster was a form of divine judgment on what had been a hellish ‘pirates’ den of iniquity.’

Although the old town, which remains underwater, was never rebuilt, Port Royal continued as the seat of commerce in Jamaica. The new town survived a fire in 1703, a major hurricane in 1722, and several more earthquakes, before it’s final decline. Nassau was spared the earthquake, survived the fall of the pirate economy, and eventually recovered from frequent abandonment by aggressive British colonial interests.

The robber barons of the Pirates Republic would never again rule the waves, but pirates would, at various times in American history, sail again as heroes. The Patriot, John Paul Jones sought to deter English shipping during the Revolution. Countless others were captured and detained as pirates in British prison ships off the coasts of New England during the War for Independence. Later, the French pirate, Jean Laffite aided General Andrew Jackson in the battle against the British at New Orleans in 1814.

“The Law of the Coast” also survives, and in the early fifties, a group of seven seamen from Chile decided to revisit the tradition. Searching for a means to restore that early spirit of democratic egalitarianism, and preserve the skills and joys of seafaring, they revived the name and formed a fraternity, adopting principles of conduct much like the custom of the coast that guided the original ‘brethren of the coast’ in the seventeenth century.

As word spread out from Chile, the association quickly grew into an international organization known as Brotherhood of the Coast.‘Tables’ (memberships of at least seven sailing captains to honor the seven founders) now exist in many countries, including the USA.

Flying a single ensign designed specifically for the brotherhood, these twenty-first century buccaneers dress in full regalia at celebrations and share hospitalities all over the world. They strive to affirm the camaraderie of sailing, navigate the seven seas in sailing ships, and promote the preservation of the oceans, worldwide.

In many ways they are very much like the pyrates of old, but unlike the ill-fated outlaws of the Pirates Republic, these modern-day adventurers, along with their families and friends, are free to enjoy the true spirit of universality – the loftier spirit that has accompanied seafaring ever since the days of antiquity!

*Copyright 2012, A Pyrate’s Life for Me – Cynthia Farr Kinkel

(*Elements of the above story have appeared in other publications, including the Sept. 2005 issue of The Tybee Breeze and Sept/Oct 2006 issue of The South Magazine. The content has since undergone several revisions for further publication with additions and updates.)