Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Pirate Wednesday - Captain Mission


Here it is! Pirate Wednesday. I'm going to do something I didn't really want to do quite yet. Since last week's PW was so pathetic and it's already late in the day today, I'm going to post my very favourite entry from my dusty old pirate book. I wanted to hold off on this one for a while because its very long and also so cool... but what the hell. Without further ado, the entire entry on Captain Mission, the atheist, libertarian, pirate leader.

MISSON, CAPTAIN.

This unique pirate came of an ancient French family of Provence. He was the youngest of a large family, and received a good education. At the age of 15 he had already shown unusual distinction in the subjects of humanity and logic, and had passed quite tolerably in mathematics. Deciding to carve a fortune for himself with his sword, he was sent to the Academy at Angiers for a year, and at the conclusion of his military studies his father would have bought him a commission in a regiment of musketeers. But young Misson had been reading books of travel, and begged so earnestly to be allowed to go to sea that his father got him admitted as a volunteer on the French man-of-war _Victoire_, commanded by Monsieur Fourbin. Joining his ship at Marseilles, they cruised in the Mediterranean, and the young volunteer soon showed great keenness in his duties, and lost no opportunity of learning all he could about navigation and the construction of ships, even parting with his pocket-money to the boatswain and the carpenter to receive special instruction from them.

Arriving one day at Naples, Misson obtained permission from the captain to visit Rome, a visit that eventually changed his whole career.

It happened that while in Rome the young sailor met a priest, a Signor Caraccioli, a Dominican, who held most unclerical views about the priesthood; and, indeed, his ideas on life in general were, to say the least, unorthodox. A great friendship was struck up between these two, which at length led the priest to throw off his habit and join the crew of the _Victoire_. Two days out from port they met and fought a desperate hand-to-hand engagement with a Sallee pirate, in which the ex-priest and Misson both distinguished themselves by their bravery. Misson's next voyage was in a privateer, the _Triumph_, and, meeting one day an English ship, the _Mayflower_, between Guernsey and Start Point, the merchantman was defeated after a gallant resistance.

Rejoining the _Victoire_, Misson sailed from Rochelle to the West Indies, and Caraccioli lost no opportunity of preaching to young Misson the gospel of atheism and communism, and with such success that the willing convert soon held views as extreme as those of his teacher. These two apostles now began to talk to the crew, and their views, particularly on the rights of private property, were soon held by almost all on board. A fortunate event happened just then to help the new "cause." Meeting with an English man-of-war, the _Winchester_, off the island of Martinique, a smart engagement took place between the two ships, at the very commencement of which Captain Fourbin and three of the officers on the French ship were killed. The fight ended by the English ship blowing up, and an era of speech-making may be said to have now begun.

Firstly, Signor Caraccioli, stepping forward, made a long and eloquent address to Misson, inviting him to become captain of the _Victoire_, and calling upon him to follow the example of Alexander the Great with the Persians, and that of the Kings Henry IV. and VII. of England, reminding him how Mahomet, with but a few camel-drivers, founded the Ottoman Empire, also how Darius, with a handful of companions, got possession of Persia. Inflamed by this speech, young Misson showed what he could do, when, calling all hands up on deck, he made his first, but, as events proved, by far from last, speech. The result was a triumph of oratory, the excited French sailors crying out: "Vive le Capitaine Misson et son Lieutenant le Scavant Caraccioli!" Misson, returning thanks in a few graceful words, promised to do his utmost as their commander for their new marine republic. The newly elected officers retiring to the great cabin, a friendly discussion began as to their future arrangements. The first question that arose was to choose what colours they should sail under. The newly elected boatswain, Mathew le Tondu, a brave but simple mariner, advised a black one, as being the most terrifying. This brought down a full blast of eloquence from Caraccioli, the new lieutenant, who objected that "they were no pirates, but men who were resolved to affect the Liberty which God and Nature gave them," with a great deal about "guardians of the Peoples Rights and Liberties," etc., and, gradually becoming worked up, gave the wretched boatswain, who must have regretted his unfortunate remark, a heated lecture on the soul, on shaking "the Yoak of Tyranny" off their necks, on "Oppression and Poverty" and the miseries of life under these conditions as compared to those of "Pomp and Dignity." In the end he showed that their policy was not to be one of piracy, for pirates were men of no principle and led dissolute lives; but _their_ lives were to be brave, just, and innocent, and their cause the cause of Liberty; and therefore, instead of a black flag, they should live under a white ensign, with the motto "For God and Liberty" embroidered upon it.

The simple sailors, debarred from these councils, had gathered outside the cabin, but were able to overhear this speech, and at its conclusion, carried away by enthusiasm, loud cries went up of "Liberty! Liberty! We are free men! Vive the brave Captain Misson and the noble Lieutenant Caraccioli!" Alas! it is impossible in the space of this work to do justice to the perfectly wonderful and idealistic conditions of this pirate crew. Their speeches and their kind acts follow each other in fascinating profusion. We can only recommend those who feel disposed to follow more closely the history of these delightful pirates, to read the account printed in English in 1726, if they are fortunate enough to come by a copy.

The first prize taken by these pirates under the white flag was an English sloop commanded by one Captain Thomas Butler, only a day's sail out from St. Kitts. After helping themselves to a couple of puncheons of rum and a few other articles which the pirates needed, but without doing any unkindness to the crew, nor stripping them, as was the usual custom of pirates on such occasions, they let them go, greatly to the surprise of Captain Butler, who handsomely admitted that he had never before met with so much "candour" in any similar situation, and to further express his gratitude he ordered his crew to man ship, and at parting called for three rousing British cheers for the good pirate and his men, which were enthusiastically given.

Sailing to the coast of Africa, Misson took a Dutch ship, the _Nieuwstadt_, of Amsterdam. The cargo was found to consist of gold dust and seventeen slaves. In the latter Captain Misson recognized a good text for one of his little sermons to his crew, so, calling all hands on deck, he made the following observations on the vile trade of slavery, telling his men:

"That the Trading for those of our own Species, cou'd never be agreeable to the Eyes of divine Justice. That no Man had Power of the Liberty of another; and while those who profess a more enlightened Knowledge of the Deity, sold Men like Beasts; they prov'd that their Religion was no more than Grimace, and that they differ'd from the Barbarians in Name only, since their Practice was in nothing more humane. For his Part, and he hop'd he spoke the Sentiments of all his brave Companions, he had not exempted his Neck from the galling Yoak of Slavery, and asserted his own Liberty, to enslave others. That however, these Men, were distinguished from the Europeans by their Colour, Customs, or religious Rites, they were the Work of the same omnipotent Being, and endued with equal Reason. Wherefore, he desired they might be treated like Freemen (for he wou'd banish even the Name of Slavery from among them) and be divided into Messes among them, to the end they might the sooner learn their language, be sensible of the Obligations they had to them, and more capable and zealous to defend that Liberty they owed to their Justice and Humanity." This speech was met with general applause, and once again the good ship _Victoire_ rang with cries of "Vive le Capitaine Misson!" The negroes were freed of their irons, dressed up in the clothes of their late Dutch masters, and it is gratifying to read that "by their Gesticulations, they shew'd they were gratefully sensible of their being delivered from their Chains." But alas! a sad cloud was creeping insidiously over the fair reputation of these super-pirates. Out of the last slave ship they had taken, a number of Dutch sailors had volunteered to serve with Misson and had come aboard as members of his crew. Hitherto no swearword was ever heard, no loose or profane expression had pained the ears of Captain Misson or his ex-priestly lieutenant. But the Dutch mariners began to lead the crew into ways of swearing and drunkenness, which, coming to the captain's notice, he thought best to nip these weeds in the bud; so, calling both French and Dutch upon deck, and desiring the Dutch captain to translate his remarks into the Dutch language, he told them that--

"Before he had the Misfortune of having them on Board, his Ears were never grated with hearing the Name of the great Creator profaned, tho' he, to his Sorrow, had often since heard his own Men guilty of that Sin, which administer'd neither Profit nor Pleasure, and might draw upon them a severe Punishment: That if they had a just Idea of that great Being, they wou'd never mention him, but they wou'd immediately reflect on his Purity, and their own Vileness. That we so easily took Impression from our Company, that the Spanish Proverb says: 'Let a Hermit and a Thief live together, the Thief wou'd become Hermit, or the Hermit thief': That he saw this verified in his ship, for he cou'd attribute the Oaths and Curses he had heard among his brave Companions, to nothing but the odious Example of the Dutch: That this was not the only Vice they had introduced, for before they were on Board, his Men were Men, but he found by their beastly Pattern they were degenerated into Brutes, by drowning that only Faculty, which distinguishes between Man and Beast, Reason. That as he had the Honour to command them, he could not see them run into these odious Vices without a sincere Concern, as he had a paternal Affection for them, and he should reproach himself as neglectful of the common Good, if he did not admonish them; and as by the Post which they had honour'd him, he was obliged to have a watchful Eye over their general Interest; he was obliged to tell them his Sentiments were, that the Dutch allured them to a dissolute Way of Life, that they might take some Advantage over them: Wherefore, as his brave Companions, he was assured, wou'd be guided by reason, he gave the Dutch Notice, that the first whom he catch'd either with an Oath in his Mouth or Liquor in his Head, should be brought to the Geers, whipped and pickled, for an Example to the rest of his Nation: As to his Friends, his Companions, his Children, those gallant, those generous, noble and heroick Souls he had the Honour to command, he entreated them to allow a small Time for Reflection, and to consider how little Pleasure, and how much Danger, might flow from imitating the Vices of their Enemies; and that they would among themselves, make a Law for the Suppression of what would otherwise estrange them from the Source of Life, and consequently leave them destitute of his Protection."

This speech had the desired effect, and ever afterwards, when any one of the crew had reason to mention the name of his captain, he never failed to add the epithet "Good" before it.

These chaste pirates soon took and plundered many rich merchant ships, but always in the most gentlemanly manner, so that none failed to be "not a little surprised at the Regularity, Tranquillity and Humanity of these new-fashioned Pyrates." From out of one of these, an English vessel, they took a sum of £60,000, but during the engagement the captain was killed. Poor Captain Misson was broken-hearted over this unfortunate mishap, and to show as best he could his regret, he buried the body on shore, and, finding that one of his men was by trade a stonecutter, raised a monument over the grave with, engraved upon it, the words: "Here lies a gallant English-Man." And at the conclusion of a very moving burial service he paid a final tribute by "a triple Discharge of 50 small Arms and fired Minute Guns."

Misson now sailed to the Island of Johanna in the Indian Ocean, which became his future home. Misson married the sister of the local dusky queen, and his lieutenant led to the altar her niece, while many of the crew also were joined in holy wedlock to one or more ladies of more humble social standing.

Already Misson has received more space than he is entitled to in a work of reference of this kind, but his career is so full of charming incidents that one is tempted to continue to unseemly length. Let it suffice to say that for some years Misson made speeches, robbed ships, and now and again, when unavoidably driven to it, would reluctantly slaughter his enemies.

Finally, Misson took his followers to a sheltered bay in Madagascar, and on landing there made a little speech, telling them that here they could settle down, build a town, that here, in fact, "they might have some Place to call their own; and a Receptacle, when Age or Wounds had render'd them incapable of Hardship, where they might enjoy the Fruits of their Labour, and go to their Graves in Peace."

This ideal colony was called Libertatia, and was run on strictly Socialistic lines, for no one owned any individual property; all money was kept in a common treasury, and no hedges bounded any man's particular plot of land. Docks were made and fortifications set up. Soon Misson had two ships built, called the _Childhood_ and the _Liberty_, and these were sent for a voyage round the island, to map and chart the coast, and to train the released slaves to be efficient sailors. A Session House was built, and a form of Government arranged. At the first meeting Misson was elected Lord Conservator, as they called the President, for a term of three years, and during that period he was to have "all the Ensigns of Royalty to attend him." Captain Tew, the English pirate, was elected Admiral of the Fleet of Libertatia, Caraccioli became Secretary of State, while the Council was formed of the ablest amongst the pirates, without distinction of nation or colour. The difficulty of language, as French, English, Portuguese, and Dutch were equally spoken, was overcome by the invention of a new language, a kind of Esperanto, which was built up of words from all four. For many years this ideally successful and happy pirate Utopia flourished; but at length misfortunes came, one on top of the other, and a sudden and unexpected attack by the hitherto friendly natives finally drove Misson and a few other survivors to seek safety at sea, but, overtaken by a hurricane, their vessel foundered, and Misson and all his crew were drowned; and thus ended the era of what may be called "piracy without tears."

He was the mildest-manner'd man That ever scuttled ship or cut a throat. BYRON.

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