A Spanish Galleon. The Galleon was a tough fighting ship of its time. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
When I was a kid, my dad owned a bookcase filled with books he had received from his mother, an avid reader who had joined the ‘book of the month club’ in the 20s or 30s. I loved his books, and learned to read at an early age because they inspired me.
Included on the shelves were James Fenimore Cooper’s, Last of the Mohicans and The Deerslayer, books on Robin Hood and King Arthur and other heroes from the nineteenth century. The shelves also held Dad’s school books, and as he had studied Spanish before he joined the Border Patrol, a few of them were Spanish text books.
Mostly, I look back now and think my Dad was a romantic, or his mother who bought the books for him had a romantic streak.
One of the books, grandma sent Dad after he was married in 1941, was The Guadalcanal Diary, by a veteran of that battle. I had no idea where or what Guadalcanal was and never read the book, although it is considered a classic today.
Audubon House Key West (Photo credit: amanderson2)
Birds of America, filled with illustrations by Audubon, showed an eagle dismembering a rabbit for her nestlings. I began to learn about birds using this book, supplemented by grandparents and parents pointing out various species over the years.
There were many other books on his shelves, but my absolute favorite, The Book of Old Ships, filled with prints copied from paintings of ships, some famous some not lead me to sit for hours, imagining myself on a seventeenth century vessel. I recall the Spanish galleons were particularly ornate.
It might sound ridiculous to think of a girl being so entranced with ships, and the sea, but I lived near the sea most of my childhood and part of my adulthood, and I had many occasions to see various battle ships from the 1940s. I thought when I was 12 I would grow up and be a Navy nurse, like Nelly Forebush in Tales of the South Pacific or perhaps a pirate.
My belief in female pirates began with the film, The Buccaneer, starring Yul Brenner as Jean Laffite, Charlton Heston as Old Hickory (Jackson), Claire Bloom as the daughter of a rival pirate, and Charles Boyer, as Lafitte’s right-hand man. For those unfamiliar with this story, Laffite helped Jackson defeat the British in the Battle of 1812 (the last time the Americans and British opposed each other). Yul Brenner was a magnificent pirate.
So entranced with pirates was I by age 15, that once, when my Dad and I were in New Orléans, I persuaded him to spend the day helping me find Laffite’s grave. As a result, we visited dozens of cemeteries and had no luck until someone told us Laffite had been buried at sea in the Mississippi by his men.
As a historian, I rediscovered the female pirates of the seventeenth century in Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea: Merchant Seamen, Pirates and the Anglo-American Maritime World, 1700 – 1750. (Rediker is also the author of The Amestad Rebellion recently made into a film.)