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Pirates and Music
By Cindy Vallar

Thus for some time we liv’d, and Reign’d
 as masters of the Sea,
Every Merchant we detain’d
 and us’d most cruelly,
The Treasures took, we sunk the Ship,
with those that in it were,
That would not unto us submit,
let Pirates then take care.

Thus Wickedly we e’ery day
 liv’d upon others good,
The which, alas! we must repay
 now with our dearest blood,
For we on no one mercy took,
 nor any did we spare,
How can we then for mercy look,
let Pirates then take care.

We thus did live most cruelly,
 and of no danger thought,
But we at last, as you may see,
 are unto Justice brought,
For Outrages of Villainy,
 of which we Guilty are,
And now this very day must dye,
 let Pirates then take care.

Villany Rewarded; or the Pirate’s Last Farewell to the World”
printed for Charles Barnes, 1696

Pirate on the gallows

On 25 November 1696, five pirates who had sailed with Captain Henry Every (also spelled Avery) – William May, John Sparks, Edward Forseith, William Bishop, and James Lewis – were hanged at Execution Dock in London.1 A short while later news of this event appeared in the form of a broadside ballad sung to the tune of “Russell’s Farewell,” of which stanzas five, six, and seven opened this article. A ballad told a story rooted in history, but laced with legend or myth.
Prior to the invention of movable type, only the rich could afford to purchase the few handwritten books available. Most news that reached the common person did so via word of mouth, oftentimes at church or in taverns. Moveable type made it easier to print in greater volume, and in Tudor England people began to receive their news via proclamations, pamphlets, and broadsides – single sheets of folio paper, printed only on one side and sometimes accompanied by illustrations – that sold for a penny a paper. Since the ballads printed prior to the eighteenth century were printed in black ink with Gothic lettering, they became known as black-letter ballads.2
While Every himself sailed from the Caribbean to County Donegal, Ireland aboard the Sea Flower in 1696, any trace of him vanished soon after he landed. Sometime prior to 1713, another broadside ballad appeared based on The Trial of Joseph Dawson &c. for several Piracies and Robberies by them committed in company of Every the Grand Pirate (London, 1696). Thirteen verses comprised “A Copy of Verses Composed by Captain Henry Every, Lately Gone to Sea to seek his Fortune,” which was printed for Theophilus Lewis and sung to the tune “The Two English Travellers,” a popular tune of the day for which no music has survived. Although it purports to be from his own hand, Every probably wasn’t the author of this ballad.

Come all you brave Boys, whose Courage is bold,
Will you venture with me, I’ll glut you with Gold?
Make haste unto Corona, a Ship you will find,
That’s called the Fancy, will pleasure your mind.

Captain Every is in her, and calls her his own;
He will box her about, Boys, before he has done:
French, Spaniard and Portuguese, the Heathen likewise,
He has made a War with them until that he dies.

Her Model’s like Wax, and she sails like the Wind,
She is rigged and fitted and curiously trimm’d,
And all things convenient has for his design;
God bless his poor Fancy, she’s bound for the Mine.

Farewel, fair Plimouth, and Cat-down be damn’d,
I once was Part-owner of most of that Land;
But as I am disown’d, so I’ll abdicate
My Person from England to attend on my Fate. . . .
Come all you brave Boys, whose Courage is bold,
Will you venture with me, I’ll glut you with Gold?
Make haste unto Corona, a Ship you will find,
That’s called the Fancy, will pleasure your mind.

Captain Every is in her, and calls her his own;
He will box her about, Boys, before he has done:
French, Spaniard and Portuguese, the Heathen likewise,
He has made a War with them until that he dies.

Her Model’s like Wax, and she sails like the Wind,
She is rigged and fitted and curiously trimm’d,
And all things convenient has for his design;
God bless his poor Fancy, she’s bound for the Mine.

Farewel, fair Plimouth, and Cat-down be damn’d,
I once was Part-owner of most of that Land;
But as I am disown’d, so I’ll abdicate
My Person from England to attend on my Fate. . . .

Our Names shall be blazed and spread in the Sky,
And many brave Places I hope to descry,
Where never a French man e’er yet has been,
Nor any proud Dut[c]h man can say he has seen. . . .

I Honour St. George, and his Colours I were,
Good Quarters I give, but no Nation I spare,
The World must assist me with what I do want,
I’ll give them my Bill, why my Money is scant.

Now this I do say and solemnly swear,
He that strikes to St. George the better shall fare;
But he that refuses, shall suddenly spy
Strange Colours abroad of my Fancy to fly. . . .

Now this is the Course I intend to steer;
My false-hearted Nation, to you I declare,
I have done thee no wrong, thou must me forgive,
The Sword shall main me as long as I live.

Barbary CorsairAn older ballad (circa 1658-1664) concerned John Ward, a notorious English pirate who converted to Islam and became a Barbary corsair named Yusuf Rais. His career in piracy began around 1604. He eventually sought a pardon from King James I, but was denied, and lived in Tunis until he died from the plague around 1622. “The Seamans Song of Captain Ward the famous Pyrate of the world, and an English man born” provides “a few insights about piracy and a few bits of accurate information about Ward . . . its most distinctive features are its mention of sodomy, rarely encountered in any literature of seafaring; and its brief but explicit catalogue of corporeal horrors, unaccountably rare in pirate ballads, if not in ballads generally.” (Frank, 26)

Printed on the same broadsheet was a ballad about one of Ward’s cohorts, Simon Danziker.  Danziker, also known as Danser and Dali Capitan (Captain Devil), initially sailed out of Marseilles, but transferred his base of operations to Algiers. He repeatedly refused to become a renegado, and eventually tried to negotiate a return to his native France. In 1611 he sailed to Tunis to ransom several captured ships. There he was arrested and hanged. Father Dan, who wrote a history of the Barbary states in the 1630s, attributed the introduction of the European “round ship” to Danziker, and once the Barbary corsairs obtained these vessels, they were able to sail greater distances in rougher seas, which was why they successfully raided England, Ireland, and Iceland. “The Seamans Song of Dansiker the Duchman, his robberies done at Sea” first appeared in print in 1609.

Sing we (Seamen) now and than
Of Dansekar the Duchman,
whose gallant mind hath won him great re-nown
To live on land he counts it base
But seeks to puochase greater grace,
by Roving on the Ocean up and down.

His heart is so aspiring
That now his chief desiring,
is for to win himself a worthy name
The Land hath far too little ground,
The Sea is of a larger bound,
and of a greater dignity and same.

Now many a worthy Gallant
Of courage now most valiant,
with him hath put their fortunes to the Sea,
All the world about have heard
Of Dansekar and English Ward,
and of their proud adventures every day

There is not a Kingdom
In Turkey or in Christendom,
but by these Pyrates have received loss
Merchant men of every Land,
Do daily in great danger stand
and fear do much the Ocean main to cross. . . .

According to the song, the two corsairs fall out over the division of booty and go their separate ways. It also contains a list of English vessels they captured – Elizabeth, Pearl, Charity, Trojan, and Bonaventer.

In 1765 a chapbook entitled The Worcestershire Garland was published in Newcastle-on-Tyne. Included in its pages were “three excellent New Songs,” one of which was about Blackbeard. While the author was often listed as anonymous, “The Downfall of Piracy” has been attributed to Benjamin Franklin, written when he was thirteen. Ellen Cohn, editor-in-chief of the series The Papers of Bejamin Franklin, wrote “Not a single one of Franklin’s broadsides has been located, but it is now generally believed that . . . the text is just crude enough to suggest a young author, and the details follow almost exactly the accounts published in The Boston News-Letter.” (Frank, 45) That newspaper was the only one in Boston when Franklin worked as an apprentice to his brother, a printer, and Franklin did base other broadsides he wrote on accounts taken from that paper.

“The Downfall of Piracy” tells the story of how Lieutenant Robert Maynard and his men brought down the infamous Blackbeard.

Will you hear of a bloody battle, lately fought upon the seas?
It will make your ears to rattle and your admiration cease:
Have you heard of Teach the rover, and his knavery on the main;
How of gold he was a lover, how he lov’d ill gotten gain?

When the Acts of Grace appeared, Captain Teach and all his men
Unto Carolina steered, where they us’d him kindly then;
There he marry’d to a lady, and gave her five hundred pound,
But to her he prov’d unsteady, for he soon march’d off the ground.

And returned, as I tell you, to his robbery as before:
Burning, sinking ships of value, filling them with purple gore.
When he was in Carolina, there the Governor did send
To the Governor of Virginia, that he might assistance lend.

Then our man-of-war’s commander, two small sloops he fitted out;
Fifty men he put on board, sir, who resolv’d to stand it out.
The lieutenant he commanded both the sloops, and you shall hear
How before he landed he suppress’d them without fear.

Valiant Maynard as he sail’d soon the pirate did espy;
With his trumpet then he hailed, and to him they did reply:
“Captain Teach is our commander.”Maynard said, “He is the man
Whom I am resolved to hand, sir, let him do the best he can.”

Capture of Blackbeard by J. L. G.

Capture of Blackbeard
by J. L. G. Ferris
Teach replied unto Maynard, “You no quarter here shall see,
But be hanged on the mainyard, you and all your company.”
Maynard said, “I none desire of such knaves as thee and thine.”
“None I’ll give,” Teach then replied; “My boys, give me a glass of wine.”

He took the glass and drank damnation unto Maynard and his crew,
To himself and generation, then a glass away he threw.
Brave Maynard was resolved to have him, tho’ he’d cannons nine or ten:
Teach a broadside quickly gave him, killing sixteen valiant men.

Maynard boarded him and to it they fell with sword and pistol too;
They had courage, and did show it, killing of the pirate’s crew.
Teach and Maynard on the quarter fought it out most manfully;
Maynard’s sword did cut him shorter, losing his head he did there die.

Every sailor fought while he, sir, power had to wield his sword,
Not a coward could you see, sir, fear was driven from aboard;
Wounded men on both sides fell, sir, ’twas a doleful sight to see,
Nothing could their courage quell, sir; O they fought courageously.

When the bloody fight was over we’re informed by letter writ,
Teach’s head was made a cover to the jack-staff of the ship;
Thus they sailed to Virginia, and when they the story told
How they killed the pirates many, they’d applause from young and old.

Governor Alexander Spotswood of Virginia did organize the expedition to hunt down Blackbeard, but not at the behest of North Carolina’s governor. He did so after receiving numerous complaints from North Carolinian traders whom the pirates had attacked. Lieutenant Robert Maynard, described as “an experienced officer and a gentleman of great bravery and resolution,” was chosen to lead the expedition, which consisted of two sloops and sixty-one men. Neither vessel carried any guns, though, which meant the hunters were armed only with pistols and swords. The account of the fight, which appeared in the Boston News-Letter, credited one of Maynard’s men with dealing the final blow:

. . . a Highlander, engaged Teach with his broad sword, who gave Teach a cut on the neck, Teach saying well done lad; the Highlander replied, If it be not well done, I’ll do it better. With that he gave him a second stroke, which cut off his head, laying it flat on his shoulder. (Cordingly, Under, 198)

As in the ballad, though, the pirate’s head was hung from the bowsprit as a gruesome trophy of what happened to men who became pirates.

In England, ballads appeared for nearly five hundred years. Those that concerned pirates fell into several categories:

a) criticisms of pirates and their legendary cruelty;
b) confessions warning others not to follow in their wake;
c) recitations of narrow escapes from pirates or fierce sea battles that ended with the subjugation of the pirates; and
d) romantic accounts of pirate adventures.

The older ballads tended to be heroic accounts of the Sea Dogs and Buccaneers of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, when such men fought for their countries against a common enemy – Spain. One of the earliest surviving ballads, “John Dory”, dates to Chaucer’s time. Although first mentioned in 1575, Richard Carew, who wrote ballads himself, said it was old when he referred to “John Dory” in 1602. It wasn’t actually published in print until seven years later.

While ballads were meant to entertain, report, and instruct, only a few historical accounts pertain to pirates and music. The earliest appeared in Ancient Greece and Rome. Both Herodotus and Ovid included a piratical tale about Arion, a noted musician, who won a contest playing the lyre. He sailed home to Corinth aboard a merchant ship, but those aboard were actually pirates who wanted his silver. They were about to slay him, when the musician pleaded for permission to play one last song. When he finished, he jumped overboard, and the pirates sailed away. But Arion didn’t drown. A dolphin had heard his music and came to his rescue. When the pirates arrived in Corinth, they were summoned to appear before the king, who demanded to know what happened to Arion. The captain said the musician had claimed to be better at playing the harp than Apollo and at singing than Orpheus. That declaration angered the gods, who swept Arion off the ship, and he drowned because his silver dragged him under the water. At this point, Arion appeared and the king sent men to search the pirate ship, where they found Arion’s money. Thereafter, stones were tied to the pirates’ feet and they were thrown into the sea.

While Arion’s tale is a myth, what historical evidence links music and pirates? Prior to becoming pirates, these men (and women) were seamen and music played a role in their lives. Aside from what they heard and sang in taverns while ashore, sailors entertained themselves during their free time with song, dance, and musical instruments. Some naval and merchant ships even had small bands or orchestras. It would be only natural for such men to carry on this tradition once they went on the account.

Laurens-Cornille Baldran, better known as Laurens de Graff, often went ashore with fiddlers and trumpeters. Bartholomew Roberts also enjoyed music and had a small band that played the popular songs of the day. Many of these men came from slave ships, where their musical talent was employed in “dancing the slaves.3 His Articles of Agreement gave the musicians one day off a week:

XI. The Musicians to have Rest on the Sabbath Day, but the other six Days and Nights, none without special Favour. (Defoe, 212)

When Roberts attacked Newfoundland in 1720, the Boston News-Letter reported he entered Trepassy’s harbor with “drums beating, trumpets sounding, and other instruments of music, English colours flying, the pirate flag at the topmast head with death’s head and cutlass.” (Pringle, 240)

When HMS Swallow captured Roberts’ Royal Fortune in 1722, there were two musicians aboard. Nicholas Brattler, who played the fiddle, had been pressed off the Cornwall Galley at Calabar. James White was also forced to join the pirates. He was described as “decrepit and ill-shapen, unfit for any purpose . . . but music.”4 (Sanders, 118) During the trial, testimony said that Brattler “was only made use of, as music, which he dared not refuse,” while White played “upon the poop in time of action.” (Cordingly, Under, 94-95) Both men were acquitted. James Barrow testified, during his cross-examination at the same trial, that his mates killed his chickens to have a feast, and while they ate, they sang “Spanish and French songs out of a Dutch Prayer Book.” (Cordingly, Under, 95)

Howell Davis, Thomas Cocklyn, and Olivier “la Buse” Levasseur fell in together to capture ships. Afterward, the three captains split up the treasure, then took their crews’ portions back to their individual vessels. Aboard Davis’ Royal Jane, quartermaster John Taylor gave one pirate a cittern, a pear-shaped stringed instrument similar to a mandolin, which he played while his fellow pirates sang. Captain William Snelgrave, who later published an account as a captive of pirates, wrote of his last night aboard Captain Davis’ ship.

Supper was brought up about eight o’clock in the evening, and the music was ordered to play, amongst which was a trumpeter that had been forced to enter out of one of the prizes. (Pringle, 259)

What other instruments were popular? Fiddles, bagpipes, drums, concertinas, lyres, and penny whistles. Roberts’ band included an oboe. While music entertained pirates, it also bolstered their courage before an attack and while fighting hand-to-hand aboard the enemy ship, while the combination of music and vaporing terrified their prey.5 Aboard one ship, a captive said the pirates practiced using their weapons “while their musicians play divers airs so that the days pass agreeably.” (Sanders, 118) One of their means of torture also employed music. When pirates captured a captain, they sometimes made him run around a mast while they jeered and prodded him with the tips of their swords and knives, and a fiddler played lively music. This torment was known as sweating, which continued until either the inflictors became bored or the exhausted captain collapsed.

While the historical record is fragmentary, we do know music played a role in the lives of pirates. How much it do so, however, remains a matter of conjecture.

Morgan Recruits Men for
            His Attack on the Spanish-held City of Panama by Howard
Morgan Recruits Men for His Attack on the Spanish-held City of Panama by Howard Pyle
1. Some accounts list a sixth man as being hanged, but Joseph Dawson admitted his guilt and was imprisoned in Newgate for a time. A number of people arranged for his bail – including William Dampier who contributed £20 – and eventually Dawson requested a pardon, which he received. He was also provided protection from naval impressments.

2. The earliest collector of these ballads was Samuel Pepys, which is why so many are known today. Pepys’ fame came from his diaries and his work as an administrator in the British Admiralty.

3. A captain of a slaver in the last decade of the seventeenth century described this. “We often at sea, in the evenings, would let the slaves come up into the sun to air themselves, and make them jump and dance for an hour or two to our bag-pipes, harp and fiddle, by which exercise to preserve them in health.” (Sanders, 118)

4. Some accounts mention that this deformity was a hunched back.

5. Vaporing involved shouts, jeers, and other loud noises while the pirates brandished their weapons in an attempt to intimidate their prey before they actually attacked.

For more information, I recommend the following resources:
Brundige, Ellen. “The Myth of Arion and the Dolphin,” Mythphile 1 November 2010.
Bulfinch, Thomas. “Arion – Ibycus – Simonides – Sappho,” The Age of Fable or Stories of Gods and Heroes, 1855.
Burl, Audrey. Black Barty: The Real Pirate of the Caribbean. Sutton, 2006.

Clayton, Paul. “Spanish Ladies,” Whaling and Sailing Songs from the Days of Moby Dick, 1956.
Cordingly, David, and John Falconer. Pirates: Fact & Fiction. Cross River Press, 1992.
Cordingly, David. Under the Black Flag: The Romance and the Reality of Life Among the Pirates. Random House, 1995.

Defoe, Daniel. A General History of the Pyrates edited by Manuel Schonhorn. Dover, 1999.
Draskóy, Andrew. Shanties & Sea Songs. [visited 8/12/2013]

Fox, E. T. King of the Pirates: The Swashbuckling Life of Henry Every. The History Press, 2008.
Frank, Stuart M. “Ballads & Chanteys,” Oxford Encyclopedia of Maritime History 1:243-249. Oxford, 2007.
Frank, Stuart M. The Book of Pirate Songs. The Kendall Whaling Museum, 1998.

In Search of Sea Shanties, Work Songs of the Sea,” The Parlor Songs Academy, March 2001.

Konstam, Angus. Blackbeard. John Wiley & Sons, 2006.
Konstam, A., and D. Rickman. Pirate: The Golden Age. Osprey, 2011.

Little, Benerson. The Buccaneer’s Realm: Pirate Life on the Spanish Main, 1674-1688. Potomac Books, 2007.

Nelson, Lesley. Popular Songs in American History, 20 January 2009.
Nelson-Burns, Lesley. Songs of the Sea: Tunes, Lyrics and Information. [visited 8/12/2013]
The No Quarter Given Pirate Song Book second edition. No Quarter Given, 2000.

Ossian, Rob. “Pirate Music and Sea Shanties,” Pirate’s Cove. [visited 8/12/2013]
Oxford Companion to Ships and the Sea edited by Peter Kemp. Oxford, 1976.

Pirates” English Broadside Ballad Archive [visited 8/14/2013]
Pringle, Patrick. Jolly Roger: The Story of the Great Age of Piracy. Dover, 2001.

Redwulf, Rhiannon. “History of Broadside Ballads,” www.redwulf.info.  [visited 8/14/2013]
Sanders, Richard. If a Pirate I Must Be . . . : The True Story of “Black Bart,” King of the Caribbean Pirates. Skyhorse, 2007.
Sea Shanties,” h2g2, 14 October 2005.
Sea Shanties,” Naval Marine Archive: The Canadian Collection. [visited 8/12/2013]
Sea Shanties in Moby Dick (1956)
Sea Songs,” On the Water, Smithsonian National Museum of American History. [visited 8/12/2013]
Selinger, Gail. The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Pirates. Alpha, 2006.
Shanties from the Seven Seas collected by Stan Hugill. Mystic Seaport, 2003.
Shanty Jack. Songs of the Sea. The Music Well. [visited 8/12/2013; website no longer active 9/18/2013]
The Shay Book: Part I, Sailor Shanties collected and edited by Richard Runciman Terry. J. Curwen & Sons, 1921.
Ward, John. Shanties and Sea Songs, 3 February 2013.
Webb, Robert Lloyd. “Seafarer’s Music,” Oxford Encyclopedia of Maritime History 2:600-604. Oxford, 2007.
Whall, W. B. and R. H. Ships, Sea Songs and Shanties. J. Brown & Son, 1913.

Copyright © 2013 Cindy Vallar

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