I generally write one article each month on a religious theme, but initially, I was stumped considering this monthâ€™s topic. What could I say about pirates and religion? Was there anything to say?
Surprisingly, an Internet search yielded a senior thesis called â€œEyes on God and Gold: The Importance of Religion during the Golden Age of Caribbean Piracyâ€� by Emily E. Collins of the University of Carolina at Asheville.
As Iâ€™ve worked on this month's website, Iâ€™ve been reading Rafael Sabatiniâ€™s classic pirate tale, Captain Blood: His Odyssey, and Iâ€™ve been surprised at how well the fictional Captain Blood illustrates some of Collinsâ€™ scholarly points.
1. Collins contends that such social causes as extreme poverty and injustice drove many men to piracy.
Such is the case with Peter Blood. The 1922 swashbuckler is the story of an Irish physician who is arrested and sentenced to hang for giving comfort to the enemy when he treats a rebel supporter of the Duke of Monmouth. His trial is a part of the Bloody Assizes before the infamous Judge Jeffreys. Before he can be executed, King James II commutes the sentence and ships him and other rebels to the Caribbean plantations to be sold as slaves.
Purchased by the brutal Colonel Bishop, Blood is first made to labor on his sugar plantations near Bridgetown on Barbados. Later, he is allowed to use his skills as a physician. When the town is attacked by the Spanish, Blood escapes with some other convict-slaves. They capture the Spanish ship and become pirates during the Golden Age of Piracy.
2. Collins points out that most pirate captains were good to their crews.
She gives the example of Captain John Halsey, who â€œrequested prayers and Bible passages at his burial.â€� Most pirates were just tossed overboard at sea, but â€œhis burial illustrates how strong his religious reverence must have been to insure that his men granted him such an elaborate burial.â€�
Captain Bloodâ€™s men were devoted to him, because he consistently consulted them on decisions and defended their rights to a percentage of any takings. â€œPirates could make 4,000 pounds on one expedition, while a common seaman made little more than one pound a month,â€� Collins explains.
3. According to Collins, â€œMany pirates were religiously motivated and thus religion played a significant role in their everyday lives.â€�
Captain Kidd â€œrepented with all his Heart, and Dyâ€™d in Christian Love and Charity,â€� Collins writes, quoting Rev. Paul Lorrain, minister to pirates at Newgate prison in London.
Stricken by her rash characterization of him as a â€œthief and pirate,â €� Captain Bloodâ€™s sense of sin kept him from his true love, Arabella Bishop, the niece of his former owner. He felt unworthy of her love.
4. Collins holds that â€œmany pirates of the Golden Age still held religious convictions and raided Caribbean ports in the name of country and God.â€� The religious division of the New World by the pope gave most of the land to Catholic Spain. When England and the Netherlands, Protestant countries, established colonies, pirates from one would raid colonies and ships of the other. However, Collins writes of one meeting of Catholics and Protestants in which the Catholics toasted the Popeâ €™s health and the English, that of the Archbishop of Canterbury.
Captain Blood was thrilled at the news of the Glorious Revolution. By overthrowing James II and bringing King William into power, it removed the charges against him. Blood becomes governor of Jamaica as a reward for saving it from the French.
The story of Captain Blood was made into movies in the U.S. in 1924, 1935, and 1950 and in the United Kingdom in 1952 and USSR/France in 1991. It became a full-cast audio production in 2006 and a five-issue sepia-toned comic adaptation in 2009.