Slavery, piracy and a hanging: the unforgettable tale of The Flying Cloud

This mighty and horrifying ballad is packed with journeys: first, the butcher’s boy runs away to sea and sails to Bermuda; second the young lad joins a brutal get rich quick slaving voyage to Africa and Cuba; third he becomes a merciless pirate and sails for the Spanish Main; and fourth he is captured and taken to London to be tried and hung on the gallows.

And I suppose the fifth is a mental and spiritual journey in which this adventurer becomes contrite, and bitterly wishes he’d never done any of it.

I guess all of this may well have happened in some genuine cases, but I suspect this ballad was written in a later era, and packed with adventure in order to sell printed ballad sheetsy. The earliest date it was collected as a song was in 1906.

Captain Ward – Faversham’s famous pirate who changed the course of history

The ballad Captain Ward sung by Gavin Atkin – who learned it from the singing of Roy Harris.

This is a striking if historically inaccurate short ballad about an amazing character – a Faversham fisherman who became a pirate in the period following the Armada, then returned to fishing, was then pressed into the Navy, led a group of rebels who stole a ship and sailed to the Mediterranean, and after a series of battles and acts of villainous piracy accepted Islam along with his entire crew, and at the same time changed his name to Yusuf Reis.

Now, my history is pretty ropey – I make no claim to that discipline – but some say he taught the Moors how to be successful pirates.

If that’s true, there are some remarkable ramifications to consider, for nothwithstanding that there are various other people involved along the way, it would make Ward at least partly responsible for the extensive piracy and taking of slaves by Moorish pirates seen along the coast of South West England during the following decades. Anger over the Navy’s failure to deal with this issue contributed to turbulence of 17th and 18th century England, including the English Civil War, the Restoration and the Glorious Revolution that brought the Prince William of Orange to the English throne.

If that┬áis all true, then our own Royals have old Captain Jack Ward to thank for their position today – or should we refer to him by his Islamic name, Yusuf Reis?

But that is not all. Should the rest of us also thank him for the bright colour of our carrots – which, we’re told are orange in homage to William of Orange?

Well – what do you think folks of Faversham and elsewhere?

I have to say, I’m reminded that there’s a house in Faversham’s Abbey Street that bears a plaque in memory of an earlier resident, Michael Greenwood, mariner, who lived from 1731/2 to 1812. Greenwood, it seems, was shipwrecked off Morrocco in 1758, and then enslaved and ransomed by Moors. See his plaque here.

PS – I’ve just found Roy Harris’s original 1975 recording on the Topic label here.