sunset from behind the wire

sunset from behind the wire

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Thar be Pirates

I posted a bit about my family history on this blog last month after discovering that I had pirates numbered among others in my historical family's past. Finding it interesting, I decided to embark on a historical novel set in the time and place with various and sundry rogues featured in it. After all, the research necessary to ferret out details of family history can be grist for a rousing good story.

Every story has a beginning and this one starts in early 1685 with a sharing of loot. And in 1685, Patrick Quidley, a young, adventurous man backed by family money has set out to be a privateer and pirate. Bouncing ahead, he will meet his demise at the hands of the British Admiralty as recorded in the book, "The Admiralty Sessions, 1536-1834: Maritime Crime and the Silver Oar".
"Dr. Fisher Littleton presided over the Admiralty court and took the view that those who adhered to James II were “not enemies, but rogues”. The prosecution proceeded at the Admiralty Sessions held at the Marshalsea in February 1694, even though the nine accused men asserted that they fought under a lawful commission issued by James II. At these hearings, Captain John Golden and Thomas Jones were convicted for treason and Patrick Quidley and Darby Collins for piracy. On March 5, 1694, they were hanged."
However, there will be a lot happening in the story between 1685 and 1694. For one, Quidley will transport members of his family to Hatteras Island, where a colony already exists primarily dedicated to providing support to pirates who raid the Carolina coast and into the Caribbean. Blackbeard prowled those waters and he will have a part to play later in the story. In 1685, Edward Teach (Blackbeard-the-Pirate) is a mere five years old...another year or two and he can be mustered as a ship's boy and serve with a crew, learning the ropes (literally)... and what better place to learn than on the Gull

Historically, Blackbeard fights his last battle on Ocracoke Island, near Hatteras, on the curtilage of Quidley's land.

Preview of the Pirate Story (working title)


The date is January 10, 1685 and the Quidley families of Orwaldstone, then still referred to as Old Rye, and Margate Limb of Dover, have gathered together in council at St. James Church, near Dover Castle. The steady decline in revenues and the increasing pressure of more taxation from King Charles II had been a vexing matter. As was explained at the time, “If you have a tormenting boil, you lance it as best you can.”

Lancing the boil has brought the sorts of issues that one inevitably faces in matters of cause-and-effect. For now, the downside to a tacit approbation of piracy on the high seas has been set aside in favor of its tangible rewards.

The private meeting is presided over by John Beaumont, Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports and Constable of Dover Castle. The forty-nine year old Beaumont will stand for election to Parliament later in the year and he will be raised to a lieutenant colonelcy in Our Holland Regiment (the 4th Regiment). Both of these achievements will require more money that he has on hand as of January 10th, which is why he agreed to meet with young, aggressive, impatient Captain Patrick Quidley and his uncle, Squire David Quidley, late in the season the preceding year of Our Lord, 1684 and in so doing, he became the third member of the conspiracy. Both Quidleys are high commoners and prominent men within the family that has prospered in building, drydockage and repairs to shipping in the ports that the Lord Warden oversees.

John Beaumont is the royal tax collector who sees to the franchises, liberties, customs and usages of the ports and gathers such as is owed to the crown, taking a salary for himself. Unfortunately, Beaumont’s taste for the gaming table and wooing other men’s wives has been his undoing and he took liberties with the Royal Exchequer. At the beginning of the new year, after the Feast of the Epiphany, he will be required to settle financial matters with the Charles II’s factotums. 

Though he does not know it today, Beaumont will be favored after the King dies in twenty-seven days by his successor James II, who will need all the friends he can get. But that is still a month in the future.

Outfitting the privateer Gull, a brigantine of ten guns and two swivels, required a significant investment. The funds have been raised by offering shares to interested members of the family with ten percent ownership gifted to the Lord Warden in exchange for a letter of marque of dubious legal standing.

Today the shareholders have gathered to count the return on the first voyage of the Gull.

The hum of conversation between two dozen Quidleys diminishes as the Lord Warden, flanked by four Hollanders in uniform, carrying snaphaunce muskets takes the dias.

“His honor, Constable John Beaumont.” The sergeant of the guard announces, quieting the meeting without threat of malice.

John Beaumont is a tall man with sly, dark, eyes who has grown soft in the middle. He’s chosen to wear his honorary Admiral’s uniform today, but still looks every bit the profiteer. He smiles broadly with his brown, rotting teeth and dismisses the guard, who follow Captain Patrick Quidley from St. James through a side door that leads to the graveyard.

“Captain Quidley and Squire David have called us all here, yes even me, to announce the success of our joint venture in commerce, which we shall all toast with rum!” As soon as he makes the announcement, servants begin to distribute mugs and then the toast is offered by the Lord Warden, himself, “King Charles, God save the King!”

No sooner is the toast downed by the thirsty Quidleys than Captain Patrick Quidley returns into the church, flanked by the musketeers and by seamen, also armed with muskets. A stout cart is wheeled in with a chest on it. The cart is pushed to the front of the church and is opened. It’s filled with gold and silver plate, gold dubloons, pieces of eight and religious articles of gold and precious stones.

The Quidley family are all aware of the haul from the Portuguese galleon, San Jose de Padre of twenty brass guns, which their most esteemed cousin, Patrick, took at sea in the Brigantine Gull.

San Jose de Padre enroute Lisbon, carrying His Eminence, Antonio Brandao, Archbishop of Goa on his way home following his term in office, blundered into the path of the Gull. God had clearly taken a holiday where the fate of the Archbishop was concerned.

Quidley lay in wait in the passage between the Canary Islands and the coast of Morocco, which was hardly an original place to ambush a slow, heavy ship beating up the coast against the wind. The lumbering Portuguese galleon, badly in need of careening, managed one broadside against the Gull only to have four of its brass guns explode due possibly to wear and poor handling. Looking at twenty dead and bleeding gunners took the fight out of the others, now concerned for themselves.  The Gull, with fresh canvas and a new, smooth hull, danced around her and swept her decks with grapeshot, killing the captain and the Archbishop. The first lieutenant raised the flag of the Holy See. Gull raised the black flag and the lieutenant struck his colors.

It would have been less of a problem if England and Portugal had been at war. As fate would have it, 1684 was one of the few years that England was not at war with anyone and neither was Portugal. In fact, they had been allied through the marriage of Catherine of Braganza and Charles II, and that made Quidley’s choice of a Portuguese galleon a dangerous one. In his defense, Captain Quidley said that he hadn’t known of a certainty that the ship was Portuguese until they boarded her, found the body of the Archbishop and confronted the terrified crew. 

Under other circumstances, the San Jose de Padre might have been taken as a prize of war. As it was, there wasn’t much to do but salvage what they could, maroon surviving members of the crew and half a dozen priests on La Gomera Island in the Canary Chain and scuttle the San Jose de Padre.

In addition to the Archbishop’s personal fortune, the ship’s cargo consisted of 230 bolts of silk fabric, 84 casks of saltpeter, 30 casks of opium, 45 casks of indigo, and 70 hogsheads of wine and 100 of brandy. 12 puncheons of a better grade of brandy bore the archbishop's seal.

The gold and silver delivered at the meeting in the church account for over half of the value of the take, estimated at £35,000.  Subtracting the £9,800 cost of the sturdy Gull, it left £24,800 to be distributed of which £3,000 went directly into the pocket of John Beaumont, the King’s Warden and associated bribes amounting to an additional £400.

The Quidleys were thrilled with their investment and Patrick was toasted until he couldn't not stand.

LL - back to writing
A lesser man, with command of a regiment of foot at his fingertips might have thought to seize the treasure in the Church of St. James that very day but the plain truth is that the pirate crew were better armed, more numerous, and there would have been a lot of explaining for the Warden to do.

Following the division of treasure including shares given to the crew of the Gull, there present to oversee the transaction, the Quidley family disburses back to their homes, the Warden takes his gold down a narrow, cobbled road, then across the courtyard to Dover Castle and the matter rests for the moment. Everyone is rich and content. What could go wrong?

22 comments:

  1. A good toast with rum helps with the brown, rotting smile!

    What could possibly go wrong? heh…

    Good stuff, LL! I’m looking forward to reading the book - now get cracking!

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    1. I'm trying to tie it in with family history, which makes it more challenging. There's always the danger of over-writing the characters. I'm trying to take these things in course.

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  2. Replies
    1. The proof of the pudding is in the eating. Let's see if I can pull it off.

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  3. Uchuck the TuchuckJanuary 10, 2018 at 5:54 AM

    All comments made in the spirit of constructive critique:

    I'm pretty sure there was no such thing as an admiral's uniform, honorary or otherwise, in the 1680s.

    Opium was generally shipped in chests, not casks.

    Why are the Portagees shipping wine and brandy in trade quantities from India, where neither was produced, to Portugal, where both are produced?

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    1. Royal Ship's captains and admirals often commissioned tailors to create uniforms for them. In this case, John Beaumont has several uniforms that he could wear - One as a captain in Our Holland Regiment (4th Regiment of Foot), one as the Admiral of the Cinque Ports and another as the constable of Dover Castle. They are not "uniform", but the clothing represents the various pedigrees bestowed by his sovereign.

      Yes, Opium is shipped in chests. My error.

      The wine is from South Africa, picked up on the return trip - not shipped from India.

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  4. I'm interested. I've always had a soft spot for that period in history. I'll look forward to the release.

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    1. It's tough to satisfy every reader. I've learned that through my various efforts. I'm just trying to create an interesting tale based on what facts I can ferret from the pages of arcane history.

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  5. Yay, good to see you writing again!

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    1. This will be a long term project. I'm outlining and working on characters now.

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  6. Very intriguing...I have blockade runners in my family. They ran rum and other supplies through New Orleans...makes for interesting reading. I ended up with all the histroical research and found a document from the a member of Parliament that one of my relatives signed the death warrant of King Charles the 1st. Your story sounds like great fun to research and write!

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    1. I do not doubt that you had pirates and brigands in your gene pool, Rural Nevada (if that's your real name...haha). You've hung around some sailors with questionable reputations (hardly officers and gentlemen). The puzzle clicks into place!!

      It's been fun researching family history and melding it into a coherent story is more of a challenge than you would suspect. But I never shy from a challenge (pirate blood bubbling to the surface again)

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  7. Replies
    1. Thank you, Old NFO. I'm enjoying on working this one up. There is the inherent difference between the way people spoke English in 1680 and 2018. The 350 year gap brought inevitable changes, and to keep it readable, I have to try and run that narrow line between modern absurd and unreadable ancient.

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  8. You've got a very good start to the tale, LL. Set a writing schedule and stick to it.

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    1. The guts of any good story is the creation of compelling characters. Introducing "young Blackbeard" might be the spark that creates more interest.

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  9. Replies
    1. These things take time to create. At the moment, I'm genuinely enjoying working on the story and that's a good thing. The outline of where I need to go with this is sound and it's not one of those 'series' stories at this point. It will stand on its own. That's not good for sales, but that's incidental to me. The amount of money that I've made on book sales in the past would allow me to buy a modest lunch in a good month.

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  10. Excellent. I'm looking forward to Blackbeard's appearance.

    I once ate some particularly tasty fresh tuna on Gomera.

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  11. Now y'er talking. I look forward to reading this. When is it due out?

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    1. I need to write it first. But it's coming along. I'm setting out time every day for it.

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