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December 17, 2016

A Pirate's Christmas Ship

The Pirates' Christmas; Harper's Weekly (Christmas 1893)

Were pirates into Christmas? Evidence points to a resounding Yes! Pirates came in all colors and nationalities, so we know many of them had Christian backgrounds. During the Golden Age of Piracy in the early 18th century, Christmas was being celebrated around the world; even in the Caribbean. In fact, there was once a pirate ship named the Merry Christmas, much to this pirate-loving writer's delight.

Evidence of the Merry Christmas and her buccaneers is recorded in Captured by Pirates: Two Diaries of 1724-1725 by Robert Francis Seybolt. He edits the adventure (or nightmare, if one considers the point of view) of one Jonathan Barlow of Rhode Island. Barlow was captured by the pirates of the pirate ship, Merry Christmas, commanded by a Captain Edward Low in 1724.

Barlow recorded in a diary:

"…on the Coast of Guiny having got within about fifty Leagues of Port we were taken by the Ship Merry Christmas a Pirate Comanded by one Capt Edwd Low and I being Carried on Board they used me very Barbarously & I having on my Fingar a Ring they were a going to Cut of my Fingar because I did not offer it to them the Capt of Pirate taking his Pistol out beat out one of my Teeth and thretned to shoot me down the Throat because I would not Consent to his proposal which was to Sign the Articles which I did not…"

Like most pirate captives, it wasn't a good time for Barlow. He became ill and was sick for three months until the captain sent him away in a schooner. His pirate experiences were not over, however. Barlow came into contact with pirates several times again, shortly later off the coast of Barbados, in other parts south of Florida, and in the West Indies. His story was witnessed by a companion, one Nicholas Simmons.

Christmas traditions at that time included decorating the home with holly, ivy, mistletoe; and also rose petals, lavender, and herbs to freshen the air. The holiday was filled with music, wonderful food, desserts like plum pudding, and of course, gift giving.

These traditions would have been carried to the West Indies by colonists, but Caribbean traditions evolved to suit the diet like pork, peppers, and rum. They also included carnivals and masquerade bands, after the Masquerade. The Masquerade was a parade of masked performers dressed like cows, horses, women, or the Devil. We can certainly imagine a band of pirates getting into those festivities!

The honest, reputable sailor celebrated Christmas, too, but it was at the whim of his captain. In New England, if he was lucky, the Captain might gift each crewman a piece of cheese or mincemeat pie.

It makes one wonder what the pirate, Captain Low of the Merry Christmas, gave his men for Christmas or how the crew celebrated the holiday. I think we now have a pretty good idea…

I wish you a wonderful holiday season with your beloved family and friends. If you're looking for a book to read or to give as a gift, check out my pirate adventures, By Heart and Compass, The Privateer, or the short novella available as an ebook, Proper Attire.

Stay balanced!
~Danielle Thorne

Sources
Seybolt, Robert Francis. Captured by Pirates: Two Diaries of 
            1724-1725. The New England Quarterly. Vol. 2, No. 4 
            (Oct., 1929), pp. 658-669. Web. 13 December 2016.
http://www.history.org/almanack/life/christmas/hist_anotherlook.cfm
http://www.silvertorch.com/c-christmas.html
https://www.whalingmuseum.org/learn/research-topics/overview-
            of-north-american-whaling/life-aboard