21 December 2013

Godly Pirates

Clarence Henry Haring, The Buccaneers in the West Indies in the XVII Century (1910) lacks the reticence of today's historical scholarship. Haring's criticism of Spanish mercantilism and Spanish national character fills the text with the sort of judgement that historians eschew today. The book was an Oxford University thesis for the Bachelor of Letters degree in 1909. Haring earned his B.A. at Harvard in 1907 and then attended Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar. The book marked the beginning of a long and distinguished career in the study of Latin America.

His discussion of the religious motivation of English privateers is typical.
The Spaniards, ever since the days of the Dominican monk and bishop, Las Casas, had been reprobated as the heartless oppressors and murderers of the native Indians. The original owners of the soil had been dispossessed and reduced to slavery. In the West Indies, the great islands, Cuba and Hispaniola, were rendered desolate for want of inhabitants. Two great empires, Mexico and Peru, had been subdued by treachery, their kings murdered, and their people made to suffer a living death in the mines of Potosi and New Spain. Such was the Protestant Englishman's conception, in the sixteenth century, of the results of Spanish colonial policy. To avenge the blood of these innocent victims, and teach the true religion to the survivors, was to glorify the Church militant and strike a blow at Antichrist. Spain, moreover, in the eyes of the Puritans, was the lieutenant of Rome, the Scarlet Woman of the Apocalypse, who harried and burnt their Protestant brethren whenever she could lay hands upon them. That she was eager to repeat her ill-starred attempt of 1588 and introduce into the British Isles the accursed Inquisition was patent to everyone. Protestant England, therefore, filled with the enthusiasm and intolerance of a new faith, made no bones of despoiling the Spaniards, especially as the service of God was likely to be repaid with plunder.
Haring, Buccaneers, 33.
The religious conflicts of the Reformation entwine with national rivalries. Privateers were outfitted by their governments and sent out to make war upon sworn enemies. But, if they attacked and plundered ships of the wrong nation, the penalties could be severe.

The briganteen, Charles, was outfitted in Boston in 1703, "to War, Fight, Take, Kill, Suppress and Destroy, any Pirates, Privateers, or other Subjects and Vassals of France, or Spain, the Declared Enemies of the Crown of England" (The arraignment, tryal, and condemnation, of Capt. John Quelch ... [London, 1705], 20).

These orders were issued to Captain Daniel Plowman, but there was a mutiny on board the ship shortly after leaving port. The Charles was not specifically named as a privateer ship in its commission and orders, although it was to "take, seize, sink, or destroy any of the Ships, Vessels or Goods belonging to France or Spain" (Quelch, 21). After the mutiny, however, and the actions under the leadership of Captain John Quelch, it became a pirate ship.

Plowman's instructions included moral and religious leadership. Swearing, drunkenness, and profanity were to be punished.
First, You are to keep such good Orders among your said Briganteen's Company, that Swearing, Drunkenness and Prophaneness be avoided, or duly Punished; and that GOD be duly Worshipped.
Quelch, 20.
In the trial of John Quelch, the Charles is termed a "Private Man of War" (Quelch, 2), hence a privateer vessel. Quelch neglected Plowman's orders after the commissioned captain had died aboard ship, orders that required the ship to return to Boston. Moreover, he led the crew, some against their will, to attack and plunder Portuguese ships--a crime against an ally of the queen.
You neglected his Orders, and those of your Owners, to return with the said Private Man of War to Boston, would not set on Shore Matthew Pymer and John Clifford, Two of your Company (who dreading your Pyratical Intention) ernestly desired the same; but bore up the Helm to Sea, directing your Course for Ferdinando Island, and the Coast of Brasil, whereby it is open, manifest, you intended Murders; Piracy, and Robberies; which afterwards you perpetrated.
Quelch, 2.
In the charges against John Quelch detailing each of nine ships plundered over the course of two months, certain phrases are repeated.
[B]y Force and Arms upon the High Sea, (within the Jurisdiction of the Admiralty of England,) Piratically and Feloniously did Surprize, Seize, and Take a small Fishing Vessel, (having Portuguise Men on Board) and belonging to the Subjects of the King of Portugal, (Her Majesty's good Allie) and out of her then and there, within the Jurisdiction aforesaid, Feloniosly and Piratically, did by Force and Arms take and carry away ...
Quelch, 2.
The second charge replaces "a small Fishing Vessel" with "a small Brigantine of the Berthen of about fifteen Tons" (Quelch, 3), and so on.

Under the leadership of Captain Plowman, had he lived, the Charles could have plundered French and Spanish vessels for the glory of England and to God. Doing so would have brought profits to the merchants who owned and financed the ship. The crew would have been godly pirates, thus not pirates in the language of the seventeenth and early eighteenth century. Under the leadership of Captain Quelch, however, they plundered the ships of an ally, and hence were criminal pirates. For these crimes they were executed.

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