Cindy Vallar, Editor & Reviewer
P. O. Box 425, Keller, TX 76244-0425
The History behind the Novel
By Cindy Vallar
The Monmouth Rebellion
Transport to the Caribbean
Escape from Barbados
Tortuga, Levasseur, and Maracaibo
Cartagena, Port Royal, and War
Peter Blood, bachelor of medicine and several other things besides, smoked a pipe and tended the geraniums boxed on the sill of his window above Water Lane in the town of Bridgewater.
The most important sentence a writer pens is his first, for its words are what compel a reader to delve deeper into the story. Perhaps if I hadn’t already been familiar with the story of Peter Blood, I might not have read further, for this Peter Blood bears little resemblance to the character who’s convicted of treason, sold into slavery, and escapes to become a famous pirate. Yet in this single sentence Rafael Sabatini reveals the depth of his research and knowledge about England and the year 1685. If Peter wasn’t a doctor, his life wouldn’t be altered by the events that unfold on this particular night. If he didn’t reside in this particular town, he wouldn’t be close to the upcoming battle that decides who rules England. Even the choice of geraniums isn’t left to chance. John Tradescant, a botanist who worked for King Charles I, introduced these South African flowers to England in the seventeenth century and, when colonists sailed for the New World, they brought geraniums with them.
Politics and religion have long played a role in English history, and to understand the rebellion that leads to Peter Blood’s conviction as a traitor, we must go back in time to the reign of Henry VIII. While married to Catherine of Aragon, a daughter of Isabel and Ferdinand of Spain, Henry met Anne Boleyn. Desperate for a male heir, he opted to set aside Catherine for Anne and thought the pope would grant his request to do so. The pontiff didn’t; six years later, Henry and Anne got together, and believing she carried his son, he took matters into his own hands. He declared his marriage to Catherine dissolved and married Anne. In doing so, he named himself head of the Church of England, which in time became the Anglican Church.
When Henry died, he had three children – one son and two daughters. Edward VI reigned for only six years, and on his death, Henry’s elder daughter became queen. There was just one hitch – Mary was a Catholic was married to Philip of Spain, the true defender of the Catholic faith. During her reign, Mary’s main goal was for England to reconcile with Rome. When the Protestants objected, she forced her beliefs on them. Anyone who failed to convert was burned at the stake, which led to her earning the nickname “Bloody Mary.” Elizabeth inherited the crown on her sister’s death, and the Church of England once again became the country’s religion.
Never having married, Elizabeth needed to choose an heir, for with her death the House of Tudor ended. The monarch who got the nod was James VI of Scotland, who belonged to the Royal House of Stuart. James was a stalwart believer in the principle of divine right: his “subjects . . . were inferior beings, the nobles ‘feckless and arrogant’ and full of conceit, the merchants concerned only with their own profits, the craftsmen inherently lazy and given to rioting, the clergy troublemakers who led the people astray.” (Erickson, 2004) Although christened a Catholic and tolerant of his friends who practiced that faith, James became a staunch defender of the Protestant faith. His eldest surviving child was a daughter named Elizabeth, but his son, Charles, inherited the throne. Since Elizabeth wed a Protestant, the Elector of Hanover, James evened the scales by arranging for Charles to marry a Catholic princess of Spain. Neither the Scots nor the English favored such a union, so Charles waited until he became king to marry Princess Henrietta Maria of France, a fervent Catholic. The changes he instituted with the church, his resolute belief that his power came from God, and his failure to listen to the wishes of either Parliament or his people, led to civil war. The Puritans, led by Oliver Cromwell, came to power and beheaded Charles I. His family fled to France and monarchy ceased to exist.
At least not in England. Charles’ son, Charles II, was proclaimed King of Ireland and Scotland. After Cromwell’s death, his son Richard became Lord Protector, but he lacked the strength to control the various political factions and talk of restoring the monarchy surfaced. If Charles II would respect Parliament’s authority, he was welcome to become King of England. Not only did he concur with Parliament, but he also assured its members he would practice religious tolerance. So in 1660, Charles became the monarch of three nations.
“All appetites are free, and God will never damn a man for allowing himself a little pleasure.” (217, Erickson) These words from Charles II best describe him. He was a vigorous man who feared nothing. Intelligent and thoughtful, he spoke his mind. His charisma attracted people, especially women. While his wife, Catherine of Braganza, never gave him any children, his numerous mistresses did.
His first love was Lucy Walter of England, whom he met while living in exile in Holland. She always maintained they had wed in secret, although Charles never confirmed this and no proof of the marriage has ever been found. After his son was born, Charles adored his son, James, who lived with his royal grandmother and aunt in Paris until his father was crowned King of England, at which time he joined the royal court in London. At fourteen he became the first Duke of Monmouth, and once he wed, he adopted his wife’s surname, Scott. He was an impressionable young man, who lacked the maturity that comes with age and often heeded the advice of the wrong people. These traits would lead him down a treacherous path, and once again, politics and religion took center stage.
Having no children with Catherine, Charles needed to choose a successor: either his son or his brother. Had Lucy married Charles as she claimed, that meant James Scott was next in line to the throne. If not, James Stuart was the rightful heir.
James the son had three advantages: people liked him; he was young; and he was a Protestant. But was he legitimate? And did he possess the tact, diplomacy, and intelligence to make him a good monarch?
Many people thought James the brother the better choice, but he practiced Catholicism, as did his second wife, Mary of Modena. James was more virtuous and serious than Charles, and he was intelligent and had done well as Lord High Admiral of the realm.
In the end, Charles concurred with the majority and named his brother his heir. This led to James Scott becoming embroiled in a plot to kill his father and uncle. Once the conspiracy was discovered, James went into exile and remained there until his father collapsed, lapsed into a coma, and died in 1685.
The Earl of Lauderdale wrote, “This good prince has all the weakness of his father without his strength. He loves, as he saith, to be served in his own way, and he is as very a papist as the pope himself, which will be his ruin.” (226, Erickson) Others apparently agreed and once again attempted to correct the situation. They cajoled and argued until James Scott, the Duke of Monmouth, agreed to mount a rebellion and take the crown from his uncle. It is this decision that leads to the evening on which Peter Blood’s story begins.
Part 2: The Monmouth Rebellion
When “The Messengers,” the first chapter of Captain Blood, opens, it is the eve of battle. Everyone in Bridgewater knows the Duke of Monmouth intends to launch a surprise attack that night. Peter Blood, though, cares little for fighting; he’s been there and done that already. He has set aside a life of “wandering and adventuring” to “embark upon the career for which he had been originally intended and for which his studies had equipped him.” He is a physician, unlike Jeremiah Pitt, the nephew of his neighbors, two elderly spinsters. This young lad forsook his chosen profession – ship’s master – to follow the duke “in defence of Right.”
Here Sabatini provides us with the first description of our hero.He had a pleasant, vibrant voice, whose metallic ring was softened and muted by the Irish accent…. It was a voice that could woo seductively and caressingly, or command in such a way as to compel obedience. …[H]e was tall and spare, swarthy of tint as a gipsy, with eyes that were startlingly blue in that dark face and under those level black brows. In their glance those eyes, flanking a high-bridged, intrepid nose, were of singular penetration and of a steady haughtiness that went well with his firm lips. Though dressed in black as became his calling, yet it was with an elegance derived from the love of clothes that is peculiar to the adventurer he had been, rather than to the staid medicus he now was. His coat was of fine camlet, and it was laced with silver; there were ruffles of Mechlin at his wrists and a Mechlin cravat encased his throat. His great black periwig was as sedulously curled as any at Whitehall. (Sabatini, 4-5)Peter is what was called “black Irish,” and, with the swarthiness of his complexion, Sabatini hints at Blood’s ancestry. Ireland and Spain traded with each other in the Middle Ages, and with both countries firmly rooted in Catholicism, that alliance remained strong even in Queen Elizabeth’s reign. Twenty-five ships of the Armada wrecked off the coast of Ireland, and those who survived found sanctuary in that country. Throughout the association there was an exchange of peoples between both countries, and some Spaniards married Irish colleens, and their offspring resembled the fathers, with their dark coloring and black hair.
While doctors today wear white coats, their daily dress mirrors our own. This was not so in the past. From an early period in history, clothes have distinguished a person’s rank and occupation, such as the hat barber-surgeons wore. What sets Peter apart from others of his profession are the ruffles and cravat. Mechlin is expensive lace made in Mechlin, Flanders. Sometime in the past, Peter encountered this Belgian textile, although it wasn’t called this in England until Queen Anne’s time. Shirts had lace at the base of the sleeves, and sometimes this lace covered the wearer’s hands. A cravat hid the shirt’s front opening. Men did wear large wigs. The majority preferred natural hair color, although some continued to powder theirs.
At twenty years of age, Peter received his medical degree from Trinity College in Dublin. Thomas Smith, an apothecary and the city mayor, founded the school in 1592. Peter’s training included a variety of courses, dissections, case studies of patients’ histories, and hands-on work with apothecaries. Sir William Temple wrote the first medical curriculum, but more disciplined instruction and practice didn’t take place until John Stearne became Regius Professor of Physic in 1662. Although medicine was taught, the official medical school didn’t open until 1711, several decades after Peter’s graduation. In spite of this training, Peter had a “certain wildness” that perhaps he inherited from his ancestors, who were related to the Frobishers. Martin Frobisher, one of Elizabeth’s Sea Dogs, explored the northern regions of the New World and brought back to England the first Inuit in the second half of the sixteenth century. He discovered Baffin Bay and the Hudson Straits. His partner once said of him, “Frobisher grew into such a monstrous mind that a whole kingdom could not contain it but already, by discovery of a new world, he was become another Columbus.” (Ronald, 213)
Perhaps because his mother’s family was from Somersetshire, Peter chose to settle down in Bridgewater. On this particular evening, he retired and the two armies clashed at the Battle of Sedgemoor, three miles away, sometime after midnight on 6 July 1685. The Earl of Feversham, Louis Duras, commanded the Royalist troops. As often happens on night marches in unfamiliar territory, problems arose and the advantage of surprise was lost. For three hours the battle raged, but by five or six o’clock that morning the Monmouth Rebellion had ended.
Among those present at the battle was a young doctor named Henry Pitman who was visiting relatives in Sandford, another town in Somersetshire. Friends convinced him to see the Duke of Monmouth and his army as they marched to Taunton. As he later wrote in A Relation of the Great Sufferings and Strange Adventures of Henry Pitman in 1689:After some stay there, having fully satisfied my curiosity, by a full view both of his person and his army; I resolved to return home: and in order thereunto, I took the direct road…but…if we went forward, we should be certainly intercepted by the Lord of Oxford’s Troop, then in our way; we found ourselves, of necessity, obliged to retire back again to the Dukes forces, till we could meet with a more safe and convenient opportunity. (Stuart, 433)That chance to return home never came. He lost his horse and, unable to secure another, he “was prevailed…to stay and take care of the sick and wounded men.” Like the concern Peter showed to captured Spanish seamen later in Captain Blood, Henry “saw many sick and wounded men miserably lamenting the want of chirurgeons to dress their wounds. So that pity and compassion on my fellow creatures, more especially being my brethren in Christianity, obliged me to stay and perform the duty of my calling among them, and to assist my brother chirurgeons towards the relief of those that, otherwise, must have languished in misery; though, indeed, there were many who did, not withstanding our utmost care and diligence.” (Stuart, 434)
Sabatini read Pitman’s account and based Peter Blood’s story on this surgeon’s. The author never disclosed how he came to select the name Blood for the novel’s hero, but it was a surname well known during Charles II’s reign. During the seventeenth century, if not earlier, England’s state regalia (more commonly referred to as the Crown Jewels) were viewable by the public. In 1671 an Irishman named Thomas Blood attempted to purloin the crown, orb, and scepter from Martin Tower. Arrested as he fled, he was imprisoned, but refused to “answer to none but the King himself.” Blood got his wish – King Charles, among others, questioned him at length. For whatever reason, the king opted to pardon Thomas Blood and gave him title to lands in Ireland. Thereafter, he frequently appeared at Court.
Peter Blood becomes embroiled with the rebels only after Jeremiah Pitt fetches him to tend Lord Gildoy, who “is sore wounded…at Oglethorpe’s Farm by the river….” (Sabatini, 7) Peter goes willingly. While ministering to Gildoy, Captain Hobart of Colonel Kirke’s dragoons comes in search of rebels. This regiment did participate in the Battle of Sedgemoor. Its actual name was the First Tangier Regiment, but was more often referred to as Kirke’s Lambs and its leader was Colonel Percy Kirke. For twenty-two years before being recalled to England, this regiment guarded Tangiers from the Moors. Peter is aware of the regiment’s past, for when Hobart orders his men to take Gildoy outside, he intervenes. “’In the name of humanity, sir!’ said he, on a note of anger. ‘This is England, not Tangiers.’” (Sabatini, 11) During his visit to Tangiers, Samuel Pepys heard tales of rape and plundering on the part of the regiment. Hobart and his men demonstrate this in Captain Blood. Having arrested the rebels, Hobart sends them on their way.…[T]here was the fullest confirmation of Mr. Blood’s hideous assumption that to the dragoons this was a conquered enemy country. There were sounds of rending timbers, of furniture smashed and overthrown, the shouts and laughter of brutal men, to announce that this hunt for rebels was no more than a pretext for pillage and destruction. Finally above all other sounds came the piercing screams of a woman in acutest agony. (Sabatini, 17)Like his fictional counterpart, Henry Pitman was arrested and “commited to Ilchester Gaol by Colonel Hellier; in whose porch, I had my pockets rifled and my coat taken off my back, by my guard: and, in that manner, was hurried away to prison; where I remained, with many more under the same circumstances, until the Assizes at Wells….” (Stuart, 434) As often happened following a rebellion, the victor sought vengeance. In this case, that man was King James II, and while Pitman failed to share his opinions of this man, Peter Blood’s unjust incarceration – at least in his eyes – gnawed at him until “the unspeakable imprisonment had moved his mind to a cold and deadly hatred of King James and his representatives.” (Sabatini, 17)
Imprisonment did not guarantee a rebel the right to a trial. In 1848 T. B. Macauley – a historian, politician, and essayist – published The History of England from the Accession of King James II. Chapter five covered the Monmouth Rebellion, and in it Macauley wrote about Lord Feversham and his orders after the battle ended:A considerable number of prisoners were immediately selected for execution. Among them was a youth famous for his speed. Hopes were held out to him that his life would be spared If he could run a race with one of the colts of the marsh. The space through which the man kept up with the horse is still marked by well known bounds on the moor, and is about three quarters of a mile. Feversham was not ashamed, after seeing the performance, to send the wretched performer to the gallows. The next day a long line of gibbets appeared on the road leading from Bridgewater to Weston Zoyland. On each gibbet a prisoner was suspended. Four of the sufferers were left to rot in irons. (Macauley, 418)Sabatini’s version of the aftermath was equally grim and unforgiving.
…[I]n that first week after Sedgemoor, Kirke and Feversham contrived between them to put to death over a hundred men after a trial so summary as to be no trial at all. They required human freights for the gibbets with which they were planting the countryside, and they little cared how they procured them or what innocent lives they took. (Sabatini, 18)One of those whose life was snuffed out was James Scott, Duke of Monmouth. Although he attempted to flee England, he was captured three days after the battle and taken to London. King James visited his nephew on 14 July, then signed Monmouth’s death warrant. The next day Scott walked from his cell in the Tower of London to his place of execution, Tower Hill. Like others destined to die, he spoke briefly, then gave his executioner six guineas to make the killing blow swift and neat. John Ketch failed in that regard. It took five blows before he severed the traitor’s head.
Henry Pitman found himself standing in the dock before Lord Chief Justice Jeffreys at what became known as the Bloody Assizes. Henry’s account explainded how he and others were coerced into confessing, which merely served to acquaint Jeffreys with their crimes and provide “the [True] Bill against us, by the Grand Jury”, rather than proving them guilty of treason. As the trials began, Jeffreys made certain no one would recant his confession and prolong the trials. He “caused about twenty-eight persons at the Assizes at Dorchester, to be chosen from among the rest, against whom he knew he could procure evidence, and brought them first to their trial.” Anyone who dared to say “Not Guilty” was shown evidence to contradict such a plea. Then Jeffreys “immediately condemned [them], and a warrant [was] signed for their execution the same afternoon.” (Stuart, 435)
That singular mass execution convinced most of the remaining prisoners to plead guilty and throw themselves on the mercy of the court. The traitors, Henry included, were “condemned ‘to be hanged, drawn, and quartered.’ And by his order, there were two hundred and thirty executed; besides a great number hanged immediately after the Fight. The rest of us were ordered to be transported to the Caribbee Islands.” (Stuart, 435-6)
The sentence of execution Henry initially received was what guilty traitors could expect. Major General Thomas Harrison was one of the men who condemned King Charles I to death, and once the king’s son, Charles II, returned to England and claimed the crown, he had these men brought to the Old Bailey. The judge told Harrison:That you be led to the place from whence you came, and from thence be drawn upon a hurdle to the place of execution, and then you shall be hanged by the neck and, being alive, shall be cut down, and your privy members to be cut off, and your entrails be taken out of your body, and, you living, the same to be burnt before your eyes, and your head to be cut off, your body to be divided into four quarters, and head and quarters to be disposed of at the pleasure of the King’s majesty. And the Lord have mercy on your soul. (225-226, Abbott)In essence such an execution meant he was first hanged, but not enough to kill him. Then the executioner cut him open, removed his guts, and burned them while Harrison yet lived. Unlike most traitors, though, Harrison was also castrated. Finally, he lost his head, and his corpse was divided into four parts and mounted in various parts of the city as a warning to others – just as William Kidd’s body was placed in a gibbet and left to rot at the mouth of the Thames to discourage seamen from following the sweet trade.
While Henry Pitman appeared at the Autumn Assizes in Wells, Peter Blood was tried in the Great Hall of Taunton Castle, which meant the latter’s trial occurs before that of his real counterpart. The Assizes opened at Winchester on 25 August 1685. From there it progressed to Dorchester, then Exeter and Taunton. Court opened in Wells on 23 September. Nearly five hundred men were tried at Taunton alone.
Like Henry, Peter Blood appeared before Lord Jeffreys, “a tall, slight man on the young side of forty, with an oval face that was delicately beautiful.” (Sabatini, 20) Born in 1648, Baron George Jeffreys began studying law in 1663. Four years later he married Sarah Neesham, and they had seven children. During his tenure as the Duke of York’s Solicitor General, he received a knighthood in 1677. He was appointed Lord Chief Justice of England two years before the Monmouth Rebellion and became Lord Chancellor in 1685. His brutal judgments and penchant for taunting defendants with elaborate details of their impending punishments earned him the moniker “Hanging Judge” Jeffreys. When roused, he spoke with religious fervor and great anger. His devout loyalty to King James eventually led to his being charged with treason and imprisoned in the Tower of London. He died in 1689 of kidney disease, which Sabatini alluded to in Peter Blood’s speech prior to sentencing.I, being a physician, may speak with knowledge of what is to come to your lordship. And I tell you that I would not now change places with you – that I would not exchange this halter that you fling about my neck for the stone that you carry in your body. The death to which you may doom me is a light pleasantry by contrast with the death to which your lordship has been doomed by that Great Judge with whose name your lordship makes so free. (Sabatini, 29)When asked for his plea, Peter responds, “It’s entirely innocent I am.” (Sabatini, 21) His ignorance of proper trial procedure is the first hint of what justice was like in the seventeenth century. Unlike today where a defendant is considered innocent until proven guilty and has a lawyer to defend him at trial, if Peter has an attorney, he can only consult with him on specific points of law. Only Peter may question the witnesses, which he declines to do of the prosecution’s only witness, Captain Hobart. Peter tries to call witnesses of his own, but Jeffreys neither allows other rebels to testify nor postpones the trial until witnesses can appear in court. The heated exchange between these two demonstrates the inequity of England’s justice at the time – someone unfamiliar with legal proceedings pitted against another who is well versed in law and how trials are conducted. Since Jeffreys’ appointment as Lord Chief Justice comes from the king, Peter’s fate is sealed before he declares himself innocent of the charges. Giving aid to the enemy makes him as guilty as if he had fought at the Battle of Sedgemoor and, therefore, he is condemned to death. Such a sentence wasn’t fictitious. Dame Alice Lisle, an elderly widow, provided shelter to John Hickes, a rebel preacher. Condemned for treason, she received the punishment of being burned alive. King James II heeded pleas for mercy, and instead, she was beheaded.
Pitman’s and Blood’s death sentences weren’t carried out because the Secretary of State, Sir Robert Spencer, Earl of Sunderland, sent word that “rebels should be furnished for transportation to some of His Majesty’s southern plantations, Jamaica, Barbados, or any of the Leeward Islands.” (Sabatini, 31) Henry and Peter would be sold into slavery for at least ten years. Such a “reprieve” wasn’t unusual, for Irish rebels had suffered similar fates during Oliver Cromwell’s reign as Lord Protector – perhaps as many as 50,000 between 1641 and 1660. By 1669, around 8,000 Irish worked the plantations on Barbados, while another 4,000 could be found on other Caribbean plantations.
Sabatini refers to other historical facts in these three chapters of Captain Blood. When Captain Hobart says, “Which you reached by way of Lyme Regis in the following of your traitor Duke”, he makes reference to where Monmouth came ashore at the start of the rebellion. (Sabatini, 12) Peter Mewes, who intervened to end the mass hangings, was Bishop of Winchester. He had supported the Stuarts in the English Civil War, but later followed James Scott in his bid to gain the throne. Robert Ferguson, who “preached a sermon containing more treason than divinity” at Castle Field, was a Scot and Presbyterian minister. (Sabatini, 1) He became embroiled in the Rye House Plot, which resulted in a hasty departure to the Netherlands in 1682. He also fled there after the Battle of Sedgemoor and was tried for treason in absentia. He was convicted of treason and condemned to death, although the sentence was never carried out because he did not return to England until William III of Orange’s arrival during The Glorious Revolution in 1688. Ferguson died impoverished.
One participant who was not executed for his part in the Monmouth Rebellion was Lord Grey, of whom Sabatini wrote:Later they heard that Lord Grey, who after the Duke – indeed, perhaps, before him – was the main leader of the rebellion, had purchased his own pardon for forty thousand pounds. Peter Blood found this of a piece with the rest. His contempt for King James blazed out at last. (Sabatini, 19)Grey would eventually become Lord Privy Seal once William III became King of England.
Part 3: Transport to the Caribbean
Life on a wooden sailing ship was anything but romantic. Seamen lived in damp, cramped, and filthy quarters. Cockroaches, fleas, and rats infested the vessel. The latter gnawed through anything, including a ship’s hull, while sea creatures and plants worked on the hull from the outside. Food spoiled or became infested. Drinking water became foul. The lower decks reeked of bilge water, human excrement, and body odor from poor ventilation. Bathroom facilities were primitive.The era’s equivalent of toilet paper was a rope kept dangling in the water. When stormy weather prevented using the head, sailors were known to urinate and defecate into the hold. They rinsed their clothes by towing them in the sea, and on rare occasions bathed using a bucket of fresh water (soap was useless in salt water) shared by many men. (Gibbs, 24-25)Conditions were worse for prisoners convicted of treason and transported to the colonies. Henry Pitman barely mentioned the five-week voyage: “…had a very sickly passage, insomuch that nine of my companions were buried at sea.” (Stuart, 436) Sabatini expanded on this somewhat in Captain Blood:
From close confinement under hatches, ill-nourishment and foul water, a sickness broke out amongst them, of which eleven died…The mortality might have been higher than it was but for Peter Blood. (Sabatini, 32)Such sickness wasn’t unusual in such close confinement and unsanitary conditions. Following the rebellion, 890 prisoners left Bristol and Weymouth for Barbados, Jamaica, and the Leeward Islands. In his recounting of the rising’s aftermath, Macualey wrote this about the transport ships:
The human cargoes were stowed close in the holds of small vessels. So little space was allowed that the wretches, many of whom were still tormented by unhealed wounds, could not all lie down at once without lying on one another. They were never suffered to go on deck. The hatchway was constantly watched by sentinels armed with hangers and blunderbusses. In the dungeon below all was darkness, stench, lamentation, disease and death. Of ninety-nine convicts who were carried out in one vessel, twenty-two died before they reached Jamaica, although the voyage was performed with unusual speed. The survivors when they arrived at their house of bondage were mere skeletons. During some weeks coarse biscuit and fetid water had been doled out to them in such scanty measure that any one of them could easily have consumed the ration which was assigned to five. They were, therefore, in such a state that the merchant to whom they had been consigned found it expedient to fatten them before selling them. (Macauley, 455)This passage contradicts Peter’s experience once he arrives in Barbados, for these treasonous rebels were not sold at auction as he is. Lord Jeffreys determined each rebel was worth ten to fifteen pounds after expenses, and the competition for the grants of slaves was fierce. When Secretary of State Lord Spencer wrote to the Lord Chief Justice in September to announce King James’ instructions to transport the prisoners, he included the following list:
Henry Pitman made no mention of being sold at auction, only of being “consigned to Charles Thomas and his Company,” who, in turn, commanded him to serve Robert Bishop. The list above certainly implies these men were already slated for specific masters, but in some manner at some point there had to be an exchange of funds to compensate the royal treasury.
- 200 to Sir Philip Howard, Governor of Jamaica
- 200 to Sir Richard White
- 100 each to Sir William Booth, a Barbados merchant
- Sir James Kendall, later Governor of Barbados
- Sir Jerome Nipho, the Queen’s Italian Secretary
- Sir William Stapleton, Governor of the Leeward Islands
- Sir Christopher Musgrave
Sabatini, however, chooses to have his characters experience being sold. For example, Colonel Bishop stops before Jeremiah Pitt and “fingered the muscles of the young man’s arm, and bade him open his mouth that he might see his teeth.” (Sabatini, 34) Bishop purchases the former navigator for £15. Pitt’s experience wasn’t far off the mark. Chevalier Laurent d’Arvieux, a diplomat from France stationed in one of the Barbary states in the seventeenth century, wrote:They examine their teeth, the palms of their hands, to judge by the delicacy of the skin if they are working folk; but they’ll pay special attention to those with pierced ears, which implies that they are not common folk but people of quality who’ve worn earrings since childhood. (Ekin, 178)Henry Pitman’s master was Robert Bishop, who “grew more and more unkind unto us, and would not give us any clothes, nor me any benefit of practice…. Our diet was very mean. 5 lbs. of salt Irish beef, or salt fish, a week, for each man; and Indian or Guinea Corn ground on a stone, and made into dumplings instead of bread.” (Stuart, 443) Unlike his fictional counterpart, this Bishop eventually owed so much money all his property, including Pitman, was confiscated and resold.
Sabatini’s description of Colonel Bishop implies a penchant for extravagance, similar to that which led to Robert Bishop’s penury:After [Governor Steed], in the uniform of a colonel of the Barbados Militia, rolled a tall, corpulent man who towered head and shoulders above the Governor, with malevolence plainly written on his enormous yellowish countenance. At his side, and contrasting oddly with his grossness…came a slight young lady…. (Sabatini, 33)While these convicted rebels were welcome labor for the plantations, the government of Barbados took no chances with the presence of such “dangerous” men. In his account, Pitman included a copy of An Act for the governing and retaining within this island, all such rebel convicts, as by His most sacred Majesty’s Order or Permit, have been, or shall be transported…. Henry considered this “inchristian and inhuman”. It contained rules governing these rebels during their period of servitude and regulations to prevent citizens from abetting them in any escape attempt. One example of the former was:
That is one or more of the aforesaid Servants or rebels convict[ed], shall attempt, endeavour, or contrive to make his or their escape from off this island before the said Term of Ten Years be fully complete[d] and ended; such Servant or Servants, for his or their so attempting or endeavouring to make escape, shall, upon proof thereof made to the Governor, receive, by his warrant, Thirty-nine lashes on his bare body, on some public day, in the next market town to his Master’s town, be set in the pillory, by the space of one hour; and be burnt in the forehead with the letters F. T. signifying Fugitive Traitor, so as the letters may plainly appear in his forehead. (Stuart, 439)The word “Servants” was a euphemism for “slaves”. In 1651 Cromwell sent rebel convicts to the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Thirty-five Scots ended up working for the ironworks. “They felled trees, chopped wood, and hauled load after load to the charcoal pits…. Some Scots wielded picks and shovels in the swamps, or dredged the lakes and ponds…. Others tended crops and cattle… producing much of the food for the worker population, or spent countless hours loading, unloading and measuring carts of charcoal, mine ore, and iron bars.” (Rapaport, 48) During the following year, the wood these “servants” chopped amounted to £500 in wages saved, for these men earned no money for their backbreaking labor.
Some of the rebels in Captain Blood toil on Colonel Bishop’s sugar plantation. Gentlemen planters with large estates discovered that growing and harvesting sugar cane made them wealthy. Barbados was the principal supplier of Caribbean sugar, and a thriving plantation was around two hundred acres, which meant the number of such estates was relatively small. Thus a few men wielded a lot of influence in the governing of the island.
While indentured servants were the principal workers when these plantations first began, by the time the prisoners arrived, African slaves did much of the backbreaking work. Regardless of where slaves worked, they were treated as property to be used and abused as their owners saw fit.
The lash was the primary implement used “to make sure that they weren’t lazy about the work and didn’t try to run away.” (Lester, 33) Branding was a more severe form of punishment, especially for escapees. The Ancient Romans burned an “F” on runaways and robbers, while France branded galley slaves with “TF” until 1832. On 10 October 2006, Lord Phillips, Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, presented a lecture at Oxford on crime and punishment.Today criminal records are kept on computer. Up until the end of the 18th century they were recorded by branding the criminal, in the courtroom, after conviction, ‘T’ for thief, ‘F’ for felon, ‘M’ for manslaughter and so on. The letters were burned on the thumb, the hand or the wrist.Pitman mentioned such a punishment in his account, which Sabatini incorporated into Captain Blood. One rebel fled, but “was tracked, brought back, flogged, and then branded on the forehead with the letters ‘F.T.,’ that all might know him for a fugitive traitor as long as he lived.” (Sabatini, 42)
Unlike his friends, Peter has relative freedom because of his medical training and skill at easing the governor’s gout. Edward Steed, whom Sabatini describes as “a short, stout, red-faced gentleman, in blue taffetas burdened by a prodigious amount of gold lace, who limped a little and leaned heavily upon a stout ebony cane”, was indeed Governor of Barbados at this time. (Sabatini, 33) His signature adorned the Act for the governing and retaining within this island, all such rebels convict, as by His most sacred Majesty’s Order or Permit, have been, or shall be transported from his European dominion to this place, which Henry Pitman referred to in his account. Whether Steed actually suffered from the gout, I don’t know, but it was a common affliction in colonial days.
Gout strikes mostly men – usually between the ages of forty and seventy – who eat large quantities of meat and drink prodigious amounts of alcohol. The intense pain strikes suddenly, usually attacking the large toe. While there are other doctors on Barbados, Peter seems to be the only one who brings the governor any relief, and Peter plays on this indebtedness several times in the story until Colonel Bishop decides the uppity doctor needs to be taught a lesson. Before that happens, though, Peter uses his “freedom” to plan an escape with the assistance of those other physicians.
While these men plant the seed of freedom in the fictional characters’ minds, Henry Pitman resolved to flee because his brother died. He also gave up hope that he’d receive a pardon, which his relatives back in England attempted to secure for him. Nor could he endure the abuse. Around this time he made the acquaintance of John Nuthall, “a carver; whose condition was somewhat mean, and therefore one that wanted money to carry him off the island: I imparted my design unto him, and employed him to buy a boat of a Guiney Man that lay in the road; promising him for his reward, not only his passage free, and money for his present expenses, but to give him the boat also, when we arrived at our port.” (Stuart, 445)
Once again the true story and the fictional one collide. Peter colludes with a man named Nuttall, “who follows the trade of shipwright” and wishes to leave the island, but they encounter a problem because of that act Governor Steed and the assembly enacted.…every Owner or Keeper of any small vessel…shall, within twenty days after publication thereof, give into the Secretary’s Office…[security] in the sum of Two Hundred Pounds sterling…that he will not convey or carry off…any of the aforesaid rebels convict….After Nuttall bought a boat, an officer sought him out for failing to declare the purchase as the law required. Nor did he pay the ten pounds surety – a far smaller amount than the declaration actually states. The real Nuthall, however, didn’t make the same mistake because Pitman made certain “he…gave in security for [the purchased boat] at the Secretary’s Office, conformable to the custom and laws of the island.” (Stuart, 445) Not that this mattered; government officials became suspicious and demanded Nuthall name the real purchaser. Although he denied anyone else was involved, they didn’t believe him and raised the surety. When told of this, Henry told him to sink the boat. That made the officials more suspicious, but they had no use for a sunken boat and washed their hands of the matter.
…if any Owner or Keeper of such small vessel…hereafter make sale…thereof, without first giving notice in the Secretary’s Office…such vessel…shall be forfeited to His Majesty his heirs and successors…. (Stuart, 441)
The supplies that both Henry and Peter acquired for their escape are similar. The former’s list cites “[a] hundredweight of bread, a convenient quantity of cheese, a cask of water, some few bottles of Canary and Madeira wine and beer…a compass, quadrant, chart, half-hour glass, half-minute glass, log and line, large tarpaulin, a hatchet, hammer, saw and nails, some spare boards, a lantern and candles.” (Stuart, 446) Peter’s supplies include “a hundredweight of bread, a quantity of cheese, a cask of water and some few bottles of Canary, a compass, quadrant, chart, half-hour glass, log and line, a tarpaulin, some carpenter’s tools, and a lantern and candles.” (Sabatini, 58)
Many of these tools are those a seaman would utilize during a voyage. The compass, quadrant, and chart are navigational tools. That last item is a mariner’s map that provides necessary details to insure a ship’s safe passage through a body of water: what the coast looks like; any distinguishing landmarks to differentiate one spot from another; how deep the water is; and what the tides and currents are. Yet the information on seventeenth-century charts wasn’t necessarily correct because much of the world remained unexplored or hadn’t been studied enough. Also, nations jealously guarded their charts from each other. A prized treasure pirates and early privateers sought once they captured a Spanish ship were the sea charts. Much of the west coast of South America was unknown to English seamen until Bartholomew Sharp captured the Santa Rosario in July 1681. He wrote in his journal, “In this prize I took a Spanish manuscript…. It describes all the ports, roads, harbours, bays, sands, rocks and rising of the land and instructions how to work the ship into any port or harbour. They were going to throw it overboard but by good luck I saved it – and the Spaniards cried out when I got the book.” (Rutherford-Moore, 18)
Another important instrument at sea was the compass, which allowed helmsmen to steer steady and true courses. The quadrant permitted a navigator to affix the vessel’s latitude. John Davis invented this instrument, also called a back staff, in 1595. It allowed the user to take his position without gazing directly into the sun as the earlier cross-staff required. The log and line were used to determine a vessel’s speed and the depth of water in which she sailed. Sandglasses allowed those on board to measure the passage of time. Those used in navigation contained sufficient sand to pass from one glass to another in increments of one hour, thirty minutes, or thirty seconds. Seamen used the first two to time the watches, the periods in which men were on or off duty. All were essential for navigating across the ocean successfully.
How Henry Pitman and his comrades escape differs from that of Peter Blood and his friends. Henry’s group departs late on the evening of 9 May 1685. Edward Steed entertains a fellow governor from another island. Although he puts the militia on alert, the “reveling, drinking, and feasting to excess” results in “drowsy security and carelessness.” (Stuart, 447)…we embarked in our small vessel; being in number eight, viz., John Whicker, Peter Bagwell, William Woodcock, John Cooke, Jeremiah Atkins, and myself, which were Sufferers on the account of the Duke of Monmouth: the other two were John Nuthall, who bought the boat for me, and Thomas Waker. (Stuart, 448)Just as Colonel Bishop is about to give Peter his comeuppance for being impudent and giving aid to Jeremy Pitt contrary to orders, providence intervenes in the form of Spanish privateers, who attack Barbados.
By sunset two hundred and fifty Spaniards were masters of Bridgetown, the islanders were disarmed, and at Government House, Governor Steed…supported by Colonel Bishop and some lesser officers, was being informed by Don Diego, with an urbanity that was itself a mockery, of the sum that would be required in ransom. (Sabatini, 78-9)Ransoming captives was normal, and in this particular instance, the ransom amounted to 100,000 pieces of eight and fifty cows. If paid, Don Diego wouldn’t torch the town. The buccaneers frequently attacked settlements of the Spanish Main and threatened similar devastation. Both sides parleyed, and, while the negotiations took place, the majority of men “were smashing and looting, feasting, drinking, and ravaging after the hideous manner of their kind.” (Sabatini, 79) When Henry Morgan captured Portobello, he demanded a ransom of 350,000 pesos while his men plundered the city. The Spanish negotiator eventually got Morgan to accept 100,000 pesos. He wrote, “Thence being under sayle we sent the hostages on shoare, leaving both towne and castles entirely….” (Earle, 77)
Sir Henry Morgan and a Spanish galleon
During this timely diversion, Peter Blood and his comrades make their way to the harbor and row out to the Cinco Llagas, the Spanish privateer. They steal aboard the ship and quickly subdue what few Spaniards remain.
Part 4: Escape from Barbados
Although the idea of Captain Blood came from Henry Pitman’s account of his experiences as a rebel convict, the novel’s narrator provides another source – the log Jeremiah Pitt kept while sailing with Peter Blood. Later on, the narrator elaborates on this:In addition to his ability as a navigator, this amiable young man appears to have wielded an indefatigable pen…. He kept the log of the forty-gun frigate Arabella, on which he served as master, or, as we should say today, navigating officer, as no log that I have seen was ever kept. It runs into some twenty-odd volumes of assorted sizes…they are preserved in the library of Mr. James Speke of Comerton…. (Sabatini, 119)Pitman’s account is a mere handful of pages, but at times as harrowing as some of his fictional counterpart’s adventures. He and his comrades depart Barbados in a small boat that leaks badly, “[b]ut having the conveniency of a tub and a large wooden bowl; we now fell to work, and in a little time, we pretty well emptied our boat: and then we set our mast, and hoisted our sail, steered our course south-west as near as I could judge…. For although we endeavoured all we could to stop her gaping seams with our linen and all the rags we had…yet she was so thin, so feeble, so heavily ladened, and wrought [laboured] so exceedingly by reason of the great motion of the sea, that we could not possibly make her tight, but were forced to keep one person almost continually, day and night, to throw out the water, during our whole voyage.” (Stuart, 449)
To complicate matters a strong wind splits the rudder, then five nights later “…the sea began to foam, and to turn its smooth surface into mountains and vales. Our boat was tossed and tumbled from one side to the other; and so violently driven and hurried away by the fury of the wind and sea, that I was afraid we should be driven by the island in the night-time…”. (Stuart, 452) In spite of these hardships, they eventually arrive at Saltatudos to rest and make their boat seaworthy enough to take them to “Curaçoa.” But they aren’t the only ones on this island.
The other inhabitants turned out to be privateers – a word often used by buccaneers to describe themselves, rather than saying pirates – who had once crewed aboard a privateer mounting forty-eight guns and captained by a man named Yanche. They had intended to attack Saint Augustine in Spanish Florida, something Sir Francis Drake had done in 1586 and Robert Searle in 1669. (Such devastating attacks would lead to the erection of a stone fortress known as Castillo de San Marcos, which can still be seen today.) Beforehand, though, the privateers went ashore “to turn turtle [i.e., on their backs],” but natives attacked them. By the time they returned to the rendezvous point, their ships were nowhere in sight.
Turtles were a common food of the buccaneers. Alexandre Exquemelin wrote of these creatures:…the green turtles…are of middling size, being a good four feet in breadth. Their shell is thicker, covered with small scales about as thick as the horn used in lanterns. These turtles are extremely good to eat – the flesh very sweet and the fat green and delicious. This fat is so penetrating that when you have eaten nothing but turtle flesh for three or four weeks, your shirt becomes so greasy from sweat you can squeeze the oil out and your limbs are weighed down with it.Pitman also described how he and the others turned turtles.
…No special implements are carried for catching the green turtles…but when these creatures come on shore every night to lay their eggs, they can be levered over by two men with a hand-spike. Once laid on their backs, the turtles cannot budge. (Exquemelin, 74, 75)…we walked along the sea shore to watch for tortoises or turtle: which when they came up out of the sea…we turned on their backs. And they being incapable of turning themselves again, we let them remain so till the day following, or until we had conveniency of killing them: for if they were sufficiently defended from the heat of the sun by shade…they would live several days out of the water.These creatures fascinated him, for he wrote several times about them and how the men prepared and ate the food the turtles provided. Rather than eat bread, which wasn’t available to them, they beat the yolks of the turtle eggs “in calabashes with some salt; and fried them with the fat of the tortoise, like to pancakes, in a piece of an earthen jar found by the sea-side….” (Stuart, 457-8)
...in the night-time, to turn turtle; and in the day-time, we were employed in killing them: whose flesh was the chiefest of our diet, being roasted by the fire on wooden spits. (Stuart, 456)
Such lengthy explanations were common inclusions in early accounts of life in the West Indies, and buccaneers wrote a number of these. The first part of Exquemelin’s The Buccaneers of America described Hispaniola – its geography, as well as the vegetation growing and creatures living there. But this book was merely the first of the travel/adventure books pirates wrote. Lionel Wafer, another buccaneer surgeon, published his account in 1699 and much of it discussed the exotic places and people he met and the flora and fauna he encountered. Two years earlier, William Dampier came out with A New Voyage Round the World, which the Royal Society considered a “factual, talented, and richly detailed account of people, places, things, plants, fishes, reptiles, birds and mammals.” (Shipman, 4) Between this book and subsequent ones, Dampier introduced a number of words into the English language: avocado, cashew, chopsticks, sea-lion, sub-species, thunder-cloud, and many others.
The privateers on the island attempted to dissuade Henry and his comrades from repairing their boat, instead suggesting they become privateers like themselves and accompany them in their piraguas. Failing to convince the rebel convicts in this idea, the privateers burned the leaky boat expecting Henry and company would go with them rather than remain on the island until a ship passed in “eight or nine months” or risk capture by Spaniards who would accuse them of being pirates.But this contrivance answered not their expectations. For notwithstanding they burnt our boat and took our sails and other utensils from us, I continued my resolution, and chose rather to trust Divine Providence on that desolate and uninhabitable island than to partake or be any ways concerned with them in their piracy: having confidence in myself, that GOD, who had so wonderfully and miraculously preserved us on the sea and brought us to this island, would, in like manner, deliver us hence, if we continued faithful to Him. (Stuart, 454-5)Four of the privateers opted to remain with Henry and the others. Three months passed before a ship ventured near the island. Those aboard turned out to be privateers. Henry was the only one invited to join the captain aboard the ship, “where I was not only feasted with wine and choice provisions; but had given me by the Doctor a pair of silk stockings, a pair of shoes, and a great deal of linen cloth to make me shirts, &c.” (Stuart, 462)
Since the privateers were bound for port with a recently captured prize, Henry requested that he and his comrades accompany them. As was the custom on pirate ships, however, the captain could not make that decision “without the consent of the Company, having but two votes and as many shares in the ship and cargo….” (Stuart, 462) Once the men gathered in the waist, they agreed to take Henry, but not his companions. They didn’t, however, leave those men empty handed.…they sent them a cask of wine, some bread and cheese, a gammon of bacon, some linen cloth, thread and needles to make them shirts, &c. And the next day, they permitted them to come on board, and entertained them very courteously. (Stuart, 462)Two days later Henry and the privateers sailed for Providence in the Bahamas. The English had abandoned the island earlier, but had returned to settle only eight months earlier. “[T]hey had built a town by the seaside; and elected a Governor from among themselves: who, with the consent of twelve more of the chief men of the island, made and enacted divers laws for the good of their little commonwealth; being as yet under the protection of no Prince.” (Stuart, 464)
Henry stayed for about two weeks, then departed aboard a ketch bound for Carolina and New York. One morning he went for a walk and encountered an acquaintance from Barbados, the island where he had escaped his enforced servitude. This man told him:…of the different resentments people had at our departure, and how after we were gone, our Masters had hired a sloop to send after us; but thinking it in vain, they did not pursue us. However, they sent our names and the description of our persons to the Leeward Islands, that so, if any of us came thither, we might be taken prisoners and sent up again. (Stuart, 466)The man also recounted numerous rumors of what had become of Henry and his companions, but most believed they had perished at sea.
Soon after this meeting, Henry set sail for Amsterdam. Five weeks later, the ship stopped at the Isle of Wight, and Henry headed for Southampton incognito, only to learn upon his arrival that this disguise was unnecessary. His relatives “had procured my Pardon; and joyfully received me, as one risen from the dead.” (Stuart, 466) He ended his account with a devout prayer to the Almighty for seeing him through his trials while residing “at the sign of the Ship, in Paul’s Churchyard, London” on 10 June 1689.
Whereas Henry remains true to his principles and devout in his faith that God will deliver him, Peter Blood and his friends see no such deliverance for themselves. Out in the harbor rides the Spanish ship Cinco Llagas, which Blood feels is a far better vessel than the small boat originally purchased for their escape. To gain control, they must steal aboard and overpower any remaining Spaniards. This is not an unusual tactic for pirates to employ, but boarding by stealth does have disadvantages. One danger is they may be sighted before they reach their intended target. Another is the enemy may have guards aboard who have tricks up their own sleeves for dealing with thieves. Blood and his men are most vulnerable as they ascend the ship and come over the rail. They must be willing to fight to the death, for retreat isn’t an option.
What differs in this boarding action from those pirates normally employed is the lack of preparation time. Peter has no time to evaluate the vessels available to him and select the best one to suit their purpose. Nor has he any time to learn more about the Cinco Llagas or devise a well thought-out plan to guarantee success. One trait Peter does possess that was essential in any successful pirate, though, is he thinks on his feet and takes advantage of whatever opportunities present themselves. He also leads by action, rather than words.
Shipwrights did not design pirate ships and sell them to sea raiders. Like Blood, pirates acquired their vessels through appropriation, either sneaking aboard at night or attacking a potential prize at sea in the light of day. Then they adapted these vessels to suit their needs. For example, after Bartholomew Roberts and his company captured the Onslow, they made “[a]lterations as might fit her for a Sea-Rover, pulling down her Bulk-Heads, and making her flush, so that she became, in all Respects, as compleat a Ship for their Purpose, as any they could have found; they continued to her the Name of the Royal Fortune, and mounted her with 40 Guns.” (Defoe, 229)
Most pirates start out with small boats and work their way up to larger and larger ships, but Peter acquires a large ship from the first. Sabatini calls it a frigate, a naval vessel Spain first built in Flanders in the early 1600s. As the century progressed, other navies also adopted her as did privateers. In the latter half of the seventeenth century, this type of warship had three masts and was “smaller than ships-of-the-line and typically with 20 to 44 guns in one or two batteries.” (Glete, 69)
When Don Diego de Espinosa y Valdez returns to the ship at dawn, Peter has his men haul the four treasure chests aboard while Ogle, a former gunner in the Royal Navy, prepares a surprise for the men in the eight boats heading for the Cinco Llagas. Once Don Diego climbs aboard, Hagthorpe deftly wields a capstan bar to “put him to sleep” and stows him in his cabin. Meanwhile, “a round shot struck the water within a fathom of the foremost boat…a second shot, better aimed…came to crumple one of the boats into splinters, flinging its crew dead and living, into the water.” (Sabatini, 87) More shots followed before the three remaining boats headed back to the wharf where the puzzled islanders waited.
Thankful for this timely salvation, Governor Steed sends Colonel Bishop to the Spanish ship to thank those aboard. The man who greets him bears little resemblance to a certain physician indentured to him. Peter has abandoned his tattered rags for an outfit purloined from Don Diego’s wardrobe.…a lean, graceful gentleman, dressed in the Spanish fashion, all in black with silver lace, a gold-hilted sword dangling beside him from a gold embroidered baldrick, a board castor with a sweeping plume set above carefully curled ringlets of deepest black. (Sabatini, 89)Stupefied to find Blood facing him, Bishop is nevertheless jubilant. He calls the rebel convicts’ actions heroic and offers to write King James II of their exploits, for which “some portion of your sentences shall be remitted.” (Sabatini, 90) Hagthorpe suggests they toss him overboard, while Wolverstone suggests hanging him from the yardarm. Peter, however, clarifies there’s only one captain on the frigate and he intends to set sail with Bishop aboard as a hostage until they pass the fort that could stop their escape. Only then does Peter release Bishop so he can swim back to shore. While some may assume this violates the pirate code, they technically are still in battle and thus, Peter has the right to make command decisions without putting it to a vote of the others. Sabatini takes literary license, though, and perpetuates a pirate myth – walking the plank.
Earlier, Sabatini made reference to where and how Blood came to his skill as a tactician: “It was not for nothing that he had served under de Ruyter.” (Sabatini, 86) This Dutchman did exist. Michiel Adriaenszoon de Ruyter went to sea sometime between the ages of nine and eleven. Born in 1607, he became a ship’s master (captain on a merchantman) in 1635. The Zeeland Admiralty approached him to command the Haze, a warship mounting twenty-six guns, to fight the Spanish for a time, then he returned to the merchant fleet. He spent ten years scuffling with Barbary corsairs, and also freed Christian galley slaves by paying their ransom. When the First Anglo-Dutch War started, he reenlisted in the navy and became a vice admiral. He waged war in the Caribbean against the English, but during a two-hour battle with English ships in Carlisle Bay at Barbados, his flagship was heavily damaged. During the Second Anglo-Dutch War, he boldly sailed up the river Medway and destroyed several Royal Navy ships at the Chatham Dockyard. In 1676 he participated in the Battle of Augusta at Sicily against the French and was mortally wounded. Much admired, even by his enemies – Louis XIV ordered his gunners to fire salutes as the vessel carrying de Ruyter’s body sailed home along the French coast – Lieutenant Admiral General de Ruyter was a modest man who found comfort and inspiration in reading the Bible. A charismatic and brave man with keen tactical insight, he regularly conferred with his officers before implementing a course of action. He once observed, “One can not prepare everything; at sea so much unexpected may happen, that it is possible neither to put it all on paper nor to observe it timely.” (Bruijn, 451)
It was under this admiral’s tutelage that Peter Blood learns the art of war, as well as seamanship. His intent is to sail for Curaçao, but one skill Peter lacks is navigation. With Jeremiah Pitt out of commission from the severe lashing he received at Bishop’s hands, Peter offers Don Diego a chance to live if he gets them to the Dutch colony. The Spaniard agrees, but sets them on a course that will cross the path of the Lord Admiral of Castile’s flagship. This man is his brother, and Don Diego is certain Miguel will quickly end the pirates’ lives. Peter learns of the deception and has the Spaniard trussed to the open end of a gun.
One of the prisoners kept in the ship’s roundhouse is Don Diego’s son, and Peter offers the lad a choice: accompany Peter to visit with Don Miguel and convince his uncle that all is well, or his father will die when the first shot is fired to defend themselves. Don Esteban chooses the former, and with six other prisoners rowing the boat, Peter and Don Esteban board the Encarnacion with two chests laden with 50,000 pieces of eight. Deception is one tactic pirates used to snare their victims or to escape capture, and Peter plays the part well, convincing everyone aboard that he is a liberated captive returning to Spain.
Among those who greet him as Don Pedro Sangre (Spanish for Peter Blood), is “a friar in the black and white habit of St. Dominic.” (Sabatini, 113) Saint Dominic de Guzman of Spain had founded the Dominican Order in the Middle Ages. Spain defended the Catholic faith, so a regular member of a vessel’s crew was a priest, who was charged with protecting the souls of all those aboard.
Peter soon returns to the frigate, where Don Esteban learns his father had succumbed from fear prior to their departure for the Encarnacion. He warns Peter that one day he will hang from the yardarm, which makes some of his fellow pirates want to string up Esteban and the other Spaniards. Peter, however, sways the council to put their captives over the side in a boat and sail for Tortuga, the haven of the buccaneers.
Part 5: Tortuga, Levasseur, and Maracaibo
At this juncture in Peter Blood’s story, the narrator tells the reader of Pitt’s logs. He also confesses he believes “Esquemeling…must have obtained access to these records, and that he plucked from them the brilliant feathers of several exploits to stick them into the tale of his own hero, Captain Morgan. …I mention it chiefly as a warning, for when presently I come to relate the affair of Maracaybo, those of you who have read Esquemeling may be in danger of supposing that Henry Morgan really performed those things which are veraciously attributed to Peter Blood.” (Sabatini, 121)
John Esquemeling is the name under which Alexandre Exquemelin’s book Buccaneers of America was published in English. This tome recounts the exploits of Morgan and other buccaneers, including Exquemelin, as well as pirate life. Whether Morgan would agree that he’s the hero of the book is a matter of perspective. He sued several publishers for libel and won.
The safe haven for French and English pirates in Peter Blood’s time was Tortuga. Exquemelin said of it:Tortuga lies on the north side of the great and renowned island of Hispaniola, about three leagues from the coast, 20° 30’ north. The small island is some sixteen leagues in circumference, and acquired its name because its shape is like a turtle, which the Spanish call ‘tortuga.’ …People live only on the south side, and here there is but one harbour which ships can enter. (Exquemelin, 29)This is the “home” of the Brethren of the Coast, and much of what we know of them comes from Exquemelin. Once Peter and his company officially go on the account, they draw up articles under which they will sail.
Aboard the Arabella there was to be none of the ruffianly indiscipline that normally prevailed in buccaneering vessels. Those who shipped with him undertook obedience and submission in all things to himself and to the officers appointed by election. (Sabatini, 122)This differs from the historical agreement or chasse partie that Exquemelin describes.
…in which is specified what the captain shall have for himself and for the use of his vessel. …Providing they capture a prize, first of all these amounts would be deducted from the whole capital. The hunter’s pay would generally be 200 pieces of eight. The carpenter, for his work in repairing and fitting out the ship, would be paid 100 or 150 pieces of eight. The surgeon would receive 200 or 250 for his medical supplies….Sometimes the buccaneers sailed in fleets, and one captain approaches Blood with such a proposal. His name is Levasseur, whom Sabatini describes as “…tall and built on lines of agile strength, with a swarthy, aquiline face that was brutally handsome…. A roaring, quarrelsome, hard-drinking, hard-gaming scoundrel, his reputation as a buccaneer stood high among the wild Brethren of the Coast. He enjoyed also a reputation of another sort. There was about his gaudy, swaggering raffishness something that the women found singularly alluring.” (Sabatini, 124-5)
Then came the agreed awards for the wounded, who might have lost a limb or suffered other injuries…for the loss of a right arm, 600 pieces of eight or six slaves; for a left arm, 500 pieces of eight or five slaves…; a left leg, 400 or four slaves; an eye, 100 or one slave, and the same award was made for the loss of a finger….
These amounts having first been withdrawn from the capital, the rest of the prize would be divided…. The captain draws four or five men’s portions for the use of his ship…and two portions for himself. The rest of the men share uniformly, and the boys get half a man’s share.
When a ship has been captured, the men decide whether the captain should keep it or not…. When a ship is robbed, nobody must plunder and keep his loot to himself…. To prevent deceit, before the booty is distributed everyone has to swear an oath on the Bible that he has not kept for himself so much as the value of a sixpence…. And should any man be found to have made a false oath, he would be banished from the rovers…. (Exquemelin, 71-2)
Did Levasseur actually exist? Not this particular one, but the name is familiar to any who study pirates. Jean le Vasseur arrived in Tortuga in 1642 to serve as governor. He was of Norman extraction and a Huguenot (Protestant) who had fled France. A military engineer by trade, he constructed a formidable stronghold on a rocky outcrop overlooking the harbor. Armed with twenty-four cannon, Fort de Rocher successfully defended the buccaneer haven against Spanish incursions. Le Vasseur also erected a house, which he named “Dove-cote,” and the only way visitors could reach it was to climb the stairs cut into the rock then ascend iron ladders. During his twelve years as governor, he issued letters of marque and collected a share of the privateers’ booty. He also implemented numerous fees and taxes, especially on hides and tobacco. In 1653 his heirs, young men named Martin and Thibault, murdered him during a quarrel over a mistress.
But this was not the only Levasseur in pirate history. Olivier le Vasseur hunted in the Indian Ocean in the early eighteenth century. Nicknamed La Buse (The Buzzard), he often sailed in consort with two other pirates, John Taylor and Edward England. When England showed leniency toward captives, La Buse and Taylor abandoned him on Réunion Island. Among the treasures La Buse captured was the Fiery Cross of Goa, a gold cross encrusted with rubies, diamonds, and emeralds. Its weight required three men to transport the object. After being shipwrecked on the Île Sainte Marie, La Buse assumed another name and worked as a pilot until someone recognized him in 1728. Thereafter, he resumed the sweet trade until a French warship, captained by a man named L’Ermitte, captured him. Le Vasseur was convicted at St. Denis on Réunion Island and hanged on 17 July 1730. Before he danced the hempen jig, he tossed papers containing a cryptic message to the gathered crowd and dared them to find the Fiery Cross of Goa, saying, “My treasures to those who will understand!” (The treasure remains unfound.)
At the time of Peter Blood’s arrival at Tortuga, the governor is a man named d’Ogeron. Exquemelin describes Bertrand d’Ogeron, Sieur de la Bouère, as “a man of good intellect though he feigned to be a fool….” (Exquemelin, 228) The fourth to hold this position, he arrives on the island to assume his duties in 1665. He comes as the representative of the Compagnie des Indes Occidentales, or French West India Company, an organization the buccaneers detested. As a result, he wasn’t well received. In 1770 they staged a revolt to unseat him, but the Governor General of the Windward Islands sent ships and men to help d’Ogeron put down the revolt. This, combined with the amnesty the French king offered, brought the buccaneers and the governor into coexistence. During the Franco-Dutch War, Spaniards captured and imprisoned him on Hispaniola for several months before he escaped. In 1773 he led five hundred buccaneers on a raid of Puerto Rico that ended in disaster. He eventually returned to France and died on 31 January 1776, “afflicted by an incurable diarrhea.”
That Blood and Levasseur joined forces wasn’t unusual. Many buccaneers, as well some pirates of the next century, sailed in consort. In 1669 Henry Morgan sent word for the buccaneers to gather at Cow Island off Hispaniola, with the intent to attack Cartagena. Why this particular target?[I]t was the biggest port in Spain’s vast empire; here was collected the treasure from all of Peru. … the center of trade and culture. But it was also a fortress. After Drake and his English and French peers had ransacked the city in the late 1500s, the Spanish Crown had begun a massive building program that studded the lagoons that led to the city with castles and forts, which were now manned by 400 soldiers and fifty cannon. (Talty, 142-3)This was why such a large force was needed, for without enough men and firepower, the pirates would face defeat.
Cartagena was a real power center on the Main, but its defenses were awesome… twice as many soldiers in its garrison as Panama and Portobelo combined, underground tunnels, fifty cannon, a large population of 6,000 free men and slaves to draw on for reinforcements.” (Talty, 203)In all twelve ships arrived with nine hundred men, but an unfortunate explosion aboard Morgan’s flagship, the Oxford, killed two hundred men. Morgan was one of the lucky survivors, but he no longer possessed a sufficient force to strike Cartagena. They chose Maracaibo as their target, but they weren’t the first buccaneers to attack that place.
When L’Olonnais decided to strike Maracaibo, he did so with 660 buccaneers in eight ships. En route, they took a Spanish prize laden with 40,000 pieces of eight, jewels, and a rich cargo of cacao. Sabatini’s Levasseur was one of the men who followed L’Olonnais, but who was this infamous buccaneer cruelty knew few bounds?
Born Jean David Nau in Olonne, France, he arrived at Saint-Dominigue as an engagé, or indentured servant. He eventually became a buccaneer in the 1660s, and as was true of many of his comrades, he had a deep hatred for Spaniards and showed them little mercy. After taking one Spanish ship, L’Olonnais imprisoned the seamen belowdecks. Then he directed his men to “let them come up one after the other, and as they came through the hatch, struck off their heads. When he had finished off a number of them, there came the turn of the Negro who was to have been the rovers’ executioner.” (Exquemelin, 91) L’Olonnais spared his life, but sent him to tell Havana’s governor that no quarter would be shown toward any Spaniard L’Olonnais and his men captured.
He remained true to his word. Exquemelin wrote, “When l’Olonnais had a victim on the rack, if the wretch did not instantly answer his questions he would hack the man to pieces with his cutlass and lick the blood from the blade with his tongue. . . .” Another time he “. . . ripped open one of the prisoners with his cutlass, tore the living heart out of his body, gnawed at it, and then hurled it in the face of one of the others, saying, ‘Show me another way, or I will do the same to you.’” (Exquemelin, 106 and 107) In the end, l’Olonnais met an equally gruesome, but perhaps fitting, death.On arrival in the Gulf of Darien, he and his men fell into the hands of those savages the Spaniards called Indios Bravos. According to one of his companions, who only saved himself from a like fate by running away, l’Olonnais was hacked to pieces and roasted limb by limb. (Exquemelin, 117)Levasseur shows an equally cruel streak, but Blood “could not deny that the fellow’s proposals displayed boldness, imagination, and resource…” – all essential traits of a successful pirate captain. (Sabatini, 125) Peter soon comes to regret his agreement to join with Levasseur, something he only does at the behest of his men. The first ship they attack is a Dutch brig, although Peter does so only to prevent Levasseur from wreaking violence. They become separated during the night, but when they meet up again on the coast of La Virgen Magra, Blood has acquired a second ship laden with “a hundred and twenty thousand weight of cacao, forty thousand pieces of eight, and the value of ten thousand more in jewels.” This treasure is reminiscent of what L’Olonnais acquired on his way to raid Maracaibo. All were common aboard Spanish vessels, for the wealth of the Spanish Main was transported to the mother country to fill the king’s coffers. The English referred to the peso de ocho reales as a piece of eight, a silver coin minted in large quantities in Mexico City and Lima, Peru. This translation comes from the fact that the peso could be divided into eight sections to make change. It was so widely circulated it was accepted throughout English colonies and was equivalent to four and a half shillings.
Once again the two pirate captains separate, which is when Levasseur decides to ransom the captives he had concealed from Blood. In a confrontation with one, he threatens to use the “rosary of pain.”His fingers had been busy tying knots in a length of whipcord. …He flung the length of knotted cord to one of the Negroes, who in an instant made it fast about the prisoner’s brows. Then between cord and cranium the black inserted a short length of metal, round and slender as a pipe-stem. (Sabatini, 138)Pirates used this simple device to inflict pain because the tools were readily at hand. Once the cord was wrapped around a person’s head, the torturer inserted a stick or other long, thin object at the back of the head, then twisted it to tighten the cord. If the victim opted to keep silent, the rosary could cause his eyes to “burst out the skull.” (Cordingly, 131) This technique was called “woodling.”
In chapter sixteen, Blood and his men, in consort with those who had followed Levasseur until his death on Peter’s sword, decide to raid Maracaibo in August 1687. Exquemlin described the region thusly:[Maracaibo] bay lies on the mainland coast of New Venezuela, about latitude 12° north; it is some twenty leagues deep and twelve leagues across. To seaward of the bay lie the islands of Onega and Monges; the eastern headland of the bay is called Cabo San Roman, and the westerm Cabo Coquibacoa. This bay generally goes by the name of the Gulf of Venezuela, but the buccaneers call it Maracaibo Bay.Twenty years before Blood’s raid, L’Olonnais attacked both cities after quickly subduing the battery “of sixteen cannon surrounded by several gabions or earth-filled wicker cylinders, with a ramp of earth thrown against them to shelter the men inside” that guarded the guarded the entrance to the lake. (Marley, 287) L’Olonnais and his men proceeded to Maracaibo, but the citizenry had fled the city. Not finding the booty they desired, the invaders crossed the lake to Gibraltar where they fought a heated battle with Spanish soldiers. This city, too, fell, but with heavy losses. Forty pirates died and another thirty were wounded, but these losses were minimal compared to the hundreds of Spaniards who succumbed. The buccaneers heaved the dead into two boats, towed them a mile from shore, then sank the boats. Afterward, they ransacked Gibraltar for a month. L’Olonnais warned the people that if they failed to pay him a ransom of 10,000 pesos, he would torch the city. Once the buccaneers pocketed that hefty sum, they returned to Maracaibo and demanded another 20,000 pesos plus five hundred cattle.
In the strait giving access to the interior part of the bay are two islets. The easterly one is called Isla de la Vigia, or Lookout Island, because on a high hill in the middle stands a watchtower, with a sentinel on duty day and night. The other is called Isla de las Palomas, or Pigeon Island. Beyond these islets, deeper inland, is a lake of sweet water, sixty leagues by thirty. This lake flows through the strait into the Gulf of Venezuela and the open sea. The entrance for shipping between the two islets is no wider than the range of an eight-pounder. On Pigeon Island stands a fort guarding the strait, as any ship wishing to enter the lake must pass close to the island. For at the mouth is a bar, or sandbank, in fourteen feet of water, and about a league inwards is another sandbank called El Tablazo, where there is only ten feet of water. Thereafter, as far as Rio de las Espinas (about forty leagues along the lake) the water is six, seven and eight fathoms deep.
“Some six leagues along the lake shore, on the western side, lies Maracaibo, a very handsome city with fine-looking houses along the waterfront…on the other side of the lake, some thirty leagues south of Maracaibo… a big village called Gibraltar.” (94-5, Exquemelin)
After the explosion that destroyed the Oxford in 1669, Henry Morgan and the remaining buccaneers decided to attack Maracaibo. The fort on Lookout Island was far different from the one L’Olonnais had attacked. “The Spaniards had built a new fort, from which they welcomed Morgan with the heavy artillery they had installed.” (Exquemelin, 146) Even so, the soldiers decided to abandon the fort, but left behind them a surprise.The Spaniards too were busy with their preparations at the fort. They burned down several near-by houses to give them a clear field of fire, and kept up a heavy cannonade all day long.As happened to his predecessor, Morgan found Maracaibo abandoned. The pirates went in search of the townspeople and “returned next evening with about fifty mules laden with various goods, and thirty prisoners…. The prisoners were promptly tortured in the usual manner to make them say where the fugitive citizens were hiding. One was strappado’d and beaten, another was spread-eagled with burning fuses between his fingers and toes, another had a cord twisted so tight round his head his eyes protruded like eggs. If they still would not tell they were put to death, when there were no further torments that could be inflicted on them.” (Exquemelin,147)
It was dusk when Morgan and his men reached the fort. They found nobody inside, for when they saw the buccaneers close by the walls the Spaniards had let off some gunpowder and made for the woods under cover of the smoke. …They found a cellar full of gunpowder, much of it scattered about – and a length of burning match about an inch away from the powder, so that the buccaneers narrowly missed being blown up with the fort and all. (Exquemelin, 146)
Morgan and his men also attacked Gibraltar, but when they returned to Maracaibo, an informant told them “three Spanish men-of-war in the mouth of the lake, lying in wait for him, and the fort had again been well equipped with artillery and soldiers.” (Exquemelin, 153)The warships were full of troops, and the biggest carried at least forty guns, the next thirty, and the smallest twenty-four. The fort also was well defended.Rather than quake with fear, Morgan exchanged several messages with the Spanish commander, Don Alonzo del Campo y Espinosa. The pirates refused to submit peacefully and decided to use a fire ship to destroy the enemy ships.
These forces were disproportionately greater than Morgan’s, for his heaviest ship only carried fourteen guns. (Exquemlein, 153)They collected all the tar, pitch, brimstone and other combustibles that could be found in the city...filled the hold with palm leaves dipped in a mixture of pitch, tar and brimstone, covered the counterfeit cannon on deck with the same stuff and laid six pots of gunpowder under each, and sawed up half the woodwork inside the ship so that it could blow up and burn with greater force. They also made new portholes through which they stuck the long hollow logs… in place of artillery. Along the deck they set wooden props, each fitted with a cap or hat to look like a man, and then hoisted the admiral’s flag. (Exquemelin,155-6)The buccaneers managed to sail the fire ship close enough to tie her to the enemy ship, and despite a valiant effort by the Spanish, the general and his men were forced to abandon their vessel. This act only made the Spaniards more determined to capture Morgan and his men, while the crafty buccaneer devised another plan to thwart them and make his escape.
Many of the men embarked in canoes, as if intending to land, and came ashore under the shelter of the trees. But most of them in fact lay flat on their bellies at the bottom of the canoes and so returned to the ships, without more than three or four men being visible on the return journey. Various trips like this were made from all the ships, so that the Spaniards became convinced the rovers intended a night attack on the fort with scaling-ladders. In consequence, they made great preparations for defending the fort from the landward side, bringing all the artillery to bear in that direction.In Captain Blood, Peter faces his nemesis Don Miguel de Espinosa. He uses both of Morgan’s ploys to effect his escape. Sabatini’s narrator says this of Blood’s attack on Maracaibo: “The affair…is to be considered as Captain Blood’s buccaneering masterpiece. …his genius for naval tactics…. The fame which he had enjoyed before this, great as it already was, is dwarfed into insignificance by the fame that followed. It was a fame such as no buccaneer – not even Morgan – has ever boasted, before or since.” (Sabatini, 175)
Night came, and the moon shone bright. The buccaneers…slipped anchor and let the ships drift with the tide until they came level with the fort – then they clapped on all sail and sped with the land wind behind them beyond the bar…. (Exquemelin,162)
Part 6: Cartagena, Port Royal, and War
In 1494 Pope Alexander VI divided the New World between Spain and Portugal in a document known as the Treaty of Tordesillas. Rumors of the wealth of this new region spread throughout Europe, but a French privateer named Jean Fleury exposed the truth behind the rumors in 1523. France and Spain were at war, and that year he encountered three Spanish carvels off the coast of Portugal. Although one vessel escaped, he subdued the other two. When the corsairs checked the ships’ holds, they uncovered golden “Aztec statues and religious artefacts...exquisite jewellery…an emerald the size of a fist, discs and ingots of gold and silver, bejeweled cloaks and headdresses…even a live jaguar.” (Konstam, 2008)
Such riches led other European countries to claim lands in the New World, but the navies of these countries were unable to defend those territories. The Caribbean governors licensed the buccaneers to protect their islands against Spain. In times of peace, though, these privateers continued their raids. This often led to problems back home, especially if the English monarch wished to placate Spain. Such was the case when Charles II demanded Henry Morgan’s arrest and return to London. The buccaneer arrived there in 1672, but once again political factions shifted and he soon found himself appointed Lieutenant-Governor of Jamaica.
The sands of time, however, were slowly passing and with this passage went people’s tolerance for the buccaneers. Sir Thomas Lynch, the Jamaican governor who had arrested Morgan, wrote:People have not married, built, or settled as they would in peace; some for fear of being destroyed, others have got much and suddenly by privateers’ bargains are gone. War carries away all freemen, labourers, and planters of provisions, which makes work and victuals dear and scarce. Privateering encourages all manner of disorder and dissoluteness, and if it succeed, does but enrich the worst sort of people, and provoke and alarm the Spaniards, constraining them to arm and fortify…. (Talty, 262-3)At this point, privateers were both cursed and touted as heroes, but almost two decades later things were not nearly so clear cut. England and Spain were once again at peace, and James II issued “A Royal Proclamation for the more effectual reducing and suppressing of Pirates and Privateers in America” in January 1688. It no longer mattered whether a buccaneer had a commission or not; he was an outlaw who should be brought to justice.
To that end, Colonel Bishop is appointed Lieutenant-Governor of Jamaica. (In actuality two other gentlemen serve in that position in 1688: Christopher Monck, Duke of Albemarle, and Hender Molesworth.) While Bishop makes inroads in suppressing piracy, one pirate continues to elude him – Peter Blood. Lord Sunderland, England’s Secretary of State, decides to use another means to turn this buccaneer away from the sweet trade.He turned to the consideration of extraordinary [means], and bethought him of the plan adopted with Morgan, who had been enlisted into the King’s service under Charles II. …His lordship did not omit the consideration that Blood’s present outlawry might well have been undertaken not from inclination, but under stress of sheer necessity; that he had been forced into it by the circumstances of his transportation, and that he would welcome the opportunity of emerging from it. (Sabatini, 178)After Peter Blood rescues Arabella Bishop and Lord Julian Wade from the hands of Don Miguel, Wade offers Blood James’ commission. To which Peter replies:
…I’ll not be telling you what I think of you for daring to bring me this offer, or of my Lord Sunderland…for having the impudence to send it. But it does not surprise me at all that one who is a minister of James Stuart’s should conceive that every man is to be seduced by bribes into betraying those who trust him. …Are there not even notions of honour left in England? …D’ye think I could take a commission of King James’s? I tell you I wouldn’t be soiling my hands with it – thief and pirate’s hands though they be. Thief and pirate is what you heard Miss Bishop call me to-day – a thing of scorn, an outcast. And who made me that? Who made me thief and pirate? (Sabatini, 207)Regardless of his thoughts on the matter, or his eventual acceptance of the commission, Peter gives the order for the Arabella to put in at Port Royal’s harbor.
Between 1655 and 1692 Port Royal was the fastest growing town within England’s colonies. Unlike Boston, her principal rival, this port’s citizenry incorporated people from all walks of life and diverse religions. The buccaneers found Port Royal appealing because of its close proximity to trade routes that allowed them easy access to prey. The large harbor accommodated their ships and provided them a place to careen and repair these vessels. Port Royal was also ideally situated for launching raids on Spanish settlements. By the 1660s, the town had gained a reputation as “the Sodom of the New World.” When Charles Leslie wrote his history of Jamaica, he included this description of the pirates of Port Royal.Wine and women drained their wealth to such a degree that…some of them became reduced to beggary. They have been known to spend 2 or 3,000 pieces of eight in one night; and one gave a strumpet 500 to see her naked. They used to buy a pipe of wine, place it in the street, and oblige everyone that passed to drink.”Port Royal grew to be one of the two largest towns and the most economically important port in the English colonies. At the height of its popularity, the city had one drinking house for every ten residents. In July 1661 alone, forty new licenses were granted to taverns. During a twenty-year period that ended in 1692, nearly 6,500 people lived in Port Royal. In addition to prostitutes and buccaneers, there were four goldsmiths, forty-four tavern keepers, and a variety of artisans and merchants who lived in two hundred buildings crammed into fifty-one acres of real estate. Two hundred thirteen ships visited the seaport in 1688.
Colonel Bishop does manage to arrest Peter Blood, but not for piracy. Since he possesses the king’s commission and he permitted Wolverstone and others to depart Port Royal, the lieutenant-governor will court-martial Blood. This buccaneer eventually escapes, taking Bishop as hostage until the Arabella is safely beyond the reach of the fort’s cannons.
At this point, the situation in Europe once again intrudes. Louis XIV of France, also known as the Sun King, invades German territory and captures Heidelberg. The German Elector’s ally is Spain, so that nation declares war on France. In England, Queen Mary gives birth to a son. Normally this would be cause for rejoicing, but this son, who would become known later as the Old Pretender for his attempts to regain the British thrones for the Royal House of Stuart, upset the line of succession. England and Parliament has tolerated the Catholicism of the king and queen because until 1688, James II’s heir is Mary Stuart, his older daughter by his first wife, Anne Hyde. If Mary dies, her younger sister, Anne, succeeds to the throne. Both girls have been raised in the Anglican Church by order of King Charles following his brother’s secret conversion to the Catholic faith. Now, however, James’ son will inherit the crown, which means a continuation of popish monarchs ruling England. Since the queen is fifty-two and has failed to produce an heir before this, rumors surface about the legitimacy of this baby. Unwilling to allow another Catholic king to come to power, English lords and bishops secretly invite Mary Stuart and her husband, William of Orange, to cross from the Netherlands and become Queen and King of England. This period in English history becomes known as the Glorious Revolution, a bloodless war that sees James II flee to France. Parliament confirms his abdication and proclaims William and Mary monarchs until their deaths. In 1689 Louis XIV declares war on England.
After his hasty departure from Jamaica, Peter Blood joins his comrades in Tortuga. News arrives several months later of the war between France and Spain, and Governor d’Ogeron brings a stranger aboard the Arabella to meet with Peter. This gentleman is Monsieur de Cussy, the Governor of French Hispaniola. He proposes the buccaneers join forces under Baron de Rivarol, commander of the French fleet, to wage war in the Caribbean against the Spaniards. The first objective of this combined force of buccaneers and the French Navy is Cartagena.
Pierre-Paul Tarin de Cussy was indeed Governor of Saint-Dominigue. Following the lead of those who had ruled before him, he considered the buccaneers essential for the island’s defense. The War of the League of Augsburg, also known as King William’s War pitted France against England, the Netherlands, and Spain. Two years before, in 1687, France had forced him to grant amnesty to all buccaneers “on conditions that they return into ports and cease their piratical acts and become inhabitants, or give themselves over to the business of the sea.” (Marley, 96) When war broke out, endangering the well being and safety of Saint-Domingue, he wrote, “I destroyed privateering here because the court so willed it….” Had he not done so “there would be ten or twelve stout ships on this coast, with many brave people aboard to preserve this colony and its commerce.” (Marley, 96)
While de Cussy was a real personage, Baron de Rivarol was merely a fictional character, although a French admiral did arrive in the Caribbean to lead a joint expedition of naval personnel and buccaneers against Cartagena, but not until 1696. This gentleman’s name was Bernard-Jean-Louis de Saint Jean, Baron de Pointis. He joined the navy as a midshipman in 1672. Five years later he served as a lieutenant when Admiral Comte d’Estrée attempted to capture Tobago. In 1696 the baron took command of the Sceptre, a man o’ war armed with eighty-four guns, and led a fleet of ships carrying 2,800 soldiers to the West Indies. The Crown had supplied the ships, crews, and soldiers, but bankruptcy forced de Pointis to rely on the wealth of benefactors to finance the operation and provide supplies. When he arrived at Saint-Domingue, he ordered Governor Jean-Baptiste Ducasse – de Cussy had died in battle five years earlier – to gather as many buccaneers as possible to supplement his forces.
When Peter meets Baron de Rivarol, the admiral does little to disguise his feelings toward the buccaneers. “His manner implied plainly that he despised them and that he desired them at once to understand it.” (Sabatini, 267) His real life counterpart had an equal disdain for these men. He considered them to be “the refuse of all the kingdom, without honor, without virtue.” (Marx, J., 132) Still both barons tolerated the buccaneers, for without them the mission was doomed.
In the novel, Wolverstone comes ashore “in the picturesque garb that he affected, his head swathed in a coloured handkerchief.” A French officer makes a snide comment; Wolverstone returns the favor. The Frenchman insults the buccaneer, who in turn knocks the officer senseless. When de Rivarol learns of this, he arrests Wolverstone. This incident is based on fact. When one buccaneer causes a ruckus, an officer throws the man in jail. As a result, a riot ensues and two or three people die. The mob disperses only after Governor Ducasse intervenes.
Another instance of fiction mirroring fact is Blood’s disagreement with Baron de Rivarol over the shares the buccaneers will receive once Cartagena is taken. Baron de Pointis agrees these men will receive the same amount of shares as he and his men. Once the day of departure arrives, Sabatini’s fleet consists of the admiral’s flagship, four additional French ships, the Arabella, and at least fifteen other vessels of varying sizes. De Pointis’s fleet was a similar concoction: seven ships carrying seven hundred buccaneers and thirteen royal warships.
The only man to successfully take Cartagena – or more properly, Cartagena de Indias – so far had been Sir Francis Drake in 1573. Cartagena was one of the ports of the Tierra Firme Flota. Once the treasure galleons collected Peruvian silver at Nombre de Diós, they sailed to Cartagena to collect gold, emeralds, and pearls. This was why the city was such an appealing target to the buccaneers. But the Cartagena Drake raided was not the same as the one that either the fictional French fleet or the real one attacked. Walls and bastions were erected in the seventeenth century while the forts protecting the harbor entrance were reinforced or built anew. At the time the fleets arrive, San Luis de Bocachica, a bastioned fort, guarded the southern entrance while San Felipe de Barajas, a citadel atop a hill northeast of the city, protected the northern entrance.
In spite of these defenses, Baron de Pointis succeeded in capturing the city. The buccaneers suggested attacking from the land, but dangerous reefs forced the admiral to select another plan of attack. The target instead would be to attack Bocachica. Twelve hundred men captured the fort, but not without six soldiers and seven buccaneers dead and another twenty-two men wounded, including Ducasse.
Next the admiral ordered the buccaneers to take the high ground while he and the army marched overland to the city. This plan was not received well among the buccaneers, and when one man dared to stop the commander of the buccaneer contingent – Joseph d’Honon de Gallifet, Ducasse’s second in command – de Pointis ordered the man bound to a tree and blindfolded. His musketeers prepared to fire, but Gallifet intervened and the man’s life was spared. Afterward, the buccaneers took the objective as ordered, while the French army laid siege to Cartagena.
Guns from the ships bombarded the city, and four days later, on 2 May, the Spaniards raised a white flag to signal their surrender after two days of bloody battle. While terms were negotiated, word arrived that more then 1,000 Spanish soldiers were marching on Cartagena. De Pointis sent the buccaneers to thwart their attempt to relieve the city. This warning turned out to be a rumor, so the buccaneers returned to Cartagena, only to find the city’s gates closed to them. They were forced to find a place to rest and food to eat in a poor area already devastated by the fighting. De Pointis took these measures to insure his allies didn’t upset the terms of surrender he had negotiated with the Spaniards.
The total amount de Pointis and his soldiers plundered came to 8,000,000 French crowns. According to the articles under which they sailed, the buccaneers expected to receive one fourth of this, but de Pointis gave them only 40,000 crowns. That equaled the percentage his own men had earned, which was what he meant when he had agreed to share equally. He just failed to include this kernel of information at the time he “offered them shares ‘man for man’.” (Marley, 128)
Ducasse sided with the buccaneers and demanded the admiral abide by the articles. Unknown to him or his followers, the booty was no longer in Cartagena. It had been taken aboard the French warships. Once all the Frenchmen were aboard, de Pointis set sail for France. Angered at being duped, the buccaneers hunted the streets and houses until all the Spaniards were captured and taken to the church. Once inside, their captors dusted them with gunpowder and threatened to ignite it unless the citizens paid them 5,000,000 livres. They failed to raise that much, but each buccaneer received 1,000 crowns. On 3 June, they left Cartagena.
Sabatini bases de Rivarol’s and Blood’s attack on this real event. The French General of the Armies of France by Sea and Land in America reneges on the articles he had promised the buccaneers. True to character, de Rivarol and his men make a soft farewell – depart under cover of darkness – while the buccaneers are asleep. When the trickery is discovered the next morning, these fictional characters are as angry as their real counterparts, but whether they induce the Spaniards to hand over additional plunder is left to the reader’s imagination.
Peter and his men opt to go after de Rivarol, but as they pass Jamaica, they hear gunfire. They assume Port Royal fires on a ship, but soon discover the fiery remains of an English ship and boats loaded with the survivors. One is a gentleman by the name of Lord Willoughby. It is from him that Peter and his comrades learn “they’ve roused themselves at home, and kicked out that scoundrel James and his gang of ruffians.” (Sabatini, 296)
This Lord Willoughby is Governor-General of the West Indies, but he is fictional. Perhaps Sabatini chose this name for this character because there was a real Lord Willoughby associated with the Caribbean. Francis Willoughby of Parham served as Governor of Barbados during Charles II’s reign from 1650 to 1652. He successfully defended Barbados from a Dutch attack in 1665. The following year, he participated in an attack against the French on Saint Kitts, but was lost at sea.
In 1689 William and Mary pardoned all the rebels whom James’s government had transported to the colonies. The fictional Lord Willoughby reveals this fact while aboard the Arabella, but since England is at war with France, perhaps Peter would prefer to serve theses monarchs since he has a wealth of knowledge about the Caribbean and their colonies need good men to protect them from intruders. When he learns Colonel Bishop has left Port Royal defenseless, Peter decides he must protect the city, which at present is under fire from the French commanded by Baron de Rivarol.
This, too, is based on fact. In June 1694 during the Nine Years’ War, Jean-Baptiste Ducasse attacked Jamaica with twenty-two ships. He and his men burned fifty sugar plantations and seized more than 1,000 slaves on the island’s southern coast before departing.
With the element of surprise to his advantage, Peter executes a daring maneuver. The Arabella and the Elizabeth, the consort that sails with him, unleash devastating broadsides as they sail past in turns. Then they come round while confusion reigns aboard the enemy ships and unleash a second broadside.
A real buccaneer executed a similar move, but whether Sabatini used this incident as the basis for Blood’s maneuver is unknown.Novelist Rafael Sabatini admitted to appropriating Henry Morgan’s tactics for his eponymous pirate hero, Captain Blood. But in character, Peter Blood was more akin to a taciturn, sardonic Laurens de Graff, and without doubt Sabatini appropriated Laurens’s tactic of sailing between two Spanish men-of-war and engaging them simultaneously, and lent it to his hero. (216, Little, Buccaneer’s)Laurens Cornelius Boudewijn de Graaf was a tall Dutchman with blonde hair and moustache.
He always carries violins and trumpets aboard with which to entertain himself and amuse others, who derive pleasure from this. He is further distinguished amongst filibusters by his courtesy and good taste. Overall he had won fame that when it is known he has arrived at some place, many come from all around to see with their own eyes whether ‘Lorenzo’ is made like other men. (Marley, 105)In the fall of 1685, his forty-eight-gun vessel, christened Neptune, sighted the Nuestra Señora del Honbón and an eight-gun patache. The buccaneers decide to pursue these vessels, but soon after two additional Spanish ships show up, the Santo Cristo de Burgos and the Nuestra Señora de la Concepción. Their total number of guns combined equaled 108, far more than de Graaf had at his disposal. Outnumbered and outmanned, he knew his only chance to escape was to engage the enemy. At one point in the battle, he sailed Neptune between the Burgos and Concepción. As he did so, he unleashed the guns on both sides of the ship, delivering two broadsides at the same time. Although wounded, de Graaf and the Neptune survived the confrontation.
With the saving of Port Royal, Peter Blood’s fortunes finally change. He becomes Deputy-Governor of Jamaica, and Lord Willoughby suggests that Peter hang Colonel Bishop “from his own yardarm.” What fate Blood decides to mete out isn’t disclosed, but he does show leniency. After all, he plans to marry Arabella Bishop.
When a reader first asked me to write an article about one of Sabatini’s pirate novel two years ago, I thought immediately of Captain Blood, even though I’ve read many of his works. The reason for this request was because of the gentlemen’s experience as he read them as a boy.…they showed me a manner of practical chivalry between men and women that young people in our society today desperately need. The pirating aspects actually held my attention long enough for me to see the manners and noble behavior in the undercurrents of the story lines.I agree, although I stress we’re talking about fictional pirates portrayed in a romantic vein, rather than the reality of those who went on the account. Part of the reason for this is the buccaneers played vital roles in defense of the colonies in the West Indies. Many walked the line between legitimacy and outlawry, unlike the pirates who followed them in the next century – where they claimed no nationality and considered everyone their enemy.
One thing sets Captain Blood apart from other novels involving pirates; Sabatini made Peter Blood a romantic hero. Wrongly imprisoned and forced into slavery, he sometimes falls into despair for a variety of reasons, but the goodness in him always shines through. He didn’t treat his captives with cruelty, even though such kindness would have gotten him ousted by his men had they been real historical pirates. He protects women, sometimes at the risk of his own life, rather than ravishing them as many pirates did. Although he amasses great wealth, he doesn’t go on the account to become rich. He does so because he feels he has no other option, yet when the chance presents itself to serve king and country, he takes it and once again becomes a respectable citizen of the realm. This is what the reader meant when he spoke of chivalry and noble behavior, and such conduct is sometimes lacking in our society today.
For twenty years, I worked as a school librarian. Of all the books I read during that time, the ones with downtrodden characters who persevere and never give up hope no matter what fate forces them to endure, are the books I included in the collections for my students. Peter Blood is one such character, and his story is one I recommend whenever I’m asked about my favorite pirate novels. Having written this article, I now realize how much research Sabatini did to create his characters and tale. As a novelist, I know how difficult it is to craft a story that allows the reader to be transported back in time to witness events as they unfold. Captain Blood is one such historical novel, which makes it even more of a treasure for me than the first time I read it.
You’ll find online copies of Captain Blood by Rafael Sabatini here:
For additional information, I recommend the following resources:
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