The astonishing story of Mary Read, soldier and pirate

If you don’t know it, clock the story of Mary Read, who spent much of her life passing as a boy or a man – and had careers in soldiering and two spells of piracy, one of which was as crew with pirate captain John ‘Calico Jack’ Rackham.

She became friendly with Calico Jack’s lover, pirate Anne Bonny. The pirate captain became suspicious that they were lovers, and had to be let into the secret of Mary’s true gender.

Then Mary fell in love with a captured sailor, saved him from probable death in a feud, then got captured and tried, and finally died of fever in jail…

It’s scarcely credible, particularly when you think of the sleeping and toileting arrangements on ships in the old days, but it must be true…

My thanks to Museum Ship Fountain for pointing this out.

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 is 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.

Barbary piracy in the West Country and more from the NMMC

NMMC Barbary Pirates

Are you sitting comfortably? If so I have got some serious reading for you this morning, published on its website by the National Maritime Museum Cornwall.

The first item on the agenda is a fascinating account of how the famous period of Barbary piracy in the South West during the 17th century worked.

It seems that the captives were often ransomed, that both Catholic and Anglican churches had a large part to play in negotiating and paying ransomes, but would not play any part in returning captive slaves who had converted to Islam. More, it seems that returned captive slaves were often regarded with some suspicion on their return, and some women among them ‘turned Turk’ in order to stay with their children.

The second item is In search of the Queen Transport, a thorough investigation of the historical sources regarding the wrecking two centuries ago of the ship Queen Transport in Falmouth Harbour with the loss of 200 lives, most of them soldiers returning from from fighting in the Peninsular War under Wellington. There’s a remarkable monument to the victims in Mylor churchyard – see it here.

The consensus seems to be that although the ship was in a harbour generally regarded as safe, there were serious questions over how much effort had been made to moor her securely.