ENCORE - A History of Queer Pirates w/ Rebecca Simon

Episode · 1 year ago

ENCORE - A History of Queer Pirates w/ Rebecca Simon


In honor of LGBTQ History Month, we are revisiting some of our favorite episodes of the podcast. Enjoy our return to A History of Gay Pirates!

How do pirates know they’re pirates? They think… therefore they ARRR. Sorry for that terrible joke. But I want us all to get into the space of pirates. The open sea, violence, stealing, run-ins with the law, and above all, freedom -- from the social burdens of the Early Modern Era and -- freedom to love who they loved. Pirates have been around forever. From the Vikings in the 8th century to Somali pirates in recent years, there is something undeniably exciting about sailing the ocean and taking what you want. My guest today is pirate scholar and aficionado, Rebecca Simon. The pirates we’ll meet today were way more exciting than eye patches and wooden legs. Get ready for a crash course on the Golden Age of piracy -- the time of Blackbeard and the real Pirates of the Carribean. We’ll meet famous queer pirates like John Swann, Robert Culliford, Ann Bonnie, and Mary Read. And maybe we’ll go home with a few pirate-inspired tips on how to use your style to intimidate. Be sure to follow Becka on Twitter Your host is Levi Chambers, co-founder of Gayety. Follow the show and keep up with the conversation @Pride. Want more great shows from Straw Hut Media? Check out or website at strawhutmedia.com. Your producers are Levi Chambers, Maggie Boles, Ryan Tillotson and Edited by Silvana Alcala Have an interesting LGBTQ+ story to share? We might feature U! Email us at lgbtq@strawhutmedia.com. *This podcast is not affiliated with Pride Media. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices

Straw media. When I think of pirates, a few ideas come to mind. There's violence, arson, ships, parrots, treasure, eye patches and, of course, a lot of booths drink up the arties. Yoho, am I right? But did you know Queer people used to sailed the open sea? I'm not talking about Johnny Depp's queer coded character in the Disney films, though I think there's an argument there somewhere. I'm talking about real pirates in the early modern era. Now this might sound a little familiar to you. That's because, in honor of LGBTQ history money, we will revisit some of our favorite episodes of the podcast, and what better way to do that than to go back in time nearly four hundred years to the golden age of piracy and meet some of history's Queerest swashbuckling buccaneers? Pirate aficionado Rebecca Simon will be our captain for the episode as she steers us through some thrilling tales like that of Anne Bonnie and Mary read, two Badass women who conquered the Caribbean. One more thing you should know about Rebecca. She recently published a book called why we love pirates. All about the history of piracy and why the executions of these people were treated like the highest form of entertainment. So if you also have a fascination for the pirate's life, you're in the place all right. As the pirates say, gotten down the hatches because something big is on the horizon. I'm lead by chambers, and this is pride. To say Rebecca Simon is into pirates would kind of be an understatement. Over the years, she's provided her pirate expertise while working as a consultant and media researcher for Lego, Netflix, the history channel and BBC. She's traveled throughout the US and UK giving speeches on the history of pirates, and she's written articles for history today and the gazette, as well as academic articles in the Journal of Maritime Research and the International Journal of Interdisciplinary Social Sciences. Oh and she teaches middle school and Community College. My name is Rebecca Simon and I am an expert on all things pirates. I did a PhD in the history of pirates and their public executions at King's College London. So what element? How did you get involved? Like what me? What do you two pirates? Growing up, I always really did love pirates of the Caribbean. I loved the ride and then when the first film came out, I was in high school, the one with Johnny Depp, and I thought the movie it was just so awesome, so much fun. I didn't know much about maritime life or the sea or anything like that when I saw it, so I just found it really interesting. But then I didn't do much with it until I started researching history. When I started studying in history in college, I found exploration and colonization of the American colonies really interesting and about these people who would travel on sea over land just really kind of brave, who had to be a scary thing to do. And then when I was doing my master's degree, we read a book called Villains of all nations about pirates during the golden age of piracy, and I found it so interesting because in my mind, like I think so many people, I found pirates to be cool and fun and interesting and fascinating. And here I was reading a book about these people and how terrifying they were and how they brutalized people and how they kept the, you know, the end, all the American colonies under shivering fear and everything, and so I just got to wondering. I said, if this is the view that this historian is trying to tell me, then how did it change from that to Captain Jack Sparrow over time? And so I began researching that topic a lot more because I was just really I like to know how people think. I like to know it gets people interested in something.

So I wanted to know why people began to find pirates so exciting, and so as my research grew, I began researching. I began finding that their public executions were really widely attended. All public executions in the early modern period were known to be attended fun days out, but the ones for pirates were done very differently, in a much more ceremonial fashion. They had these big like silver oars kind of shining in the light. That way people knew exactly where they were. Their speeches were published, their tras were published and sold out within just a day. Pirates were popular then and they're popular now. In one thousand seven hundred and twenty four, a book called a General History of the pirates was published under the pseudonym Captain Charles Johnson, and it's still in print today. The book was a series of biographies of famous pirates, including two pirates were going to talk about in a few moments, and Bonnie and Mary read. In fact, their stories were used to advertise the books. Then, about a hundred and fifty years later, Robert Lewis Stevenson published treasure island, which popularized the general perception of pirates as we think of them now. Treasure Island introduced us to treasure maps, x marks the spot and peg leg, marauders with eye patches and parrots on their shoulders. But that's how I got into it. If it's really curious to know how these villainized people who are known as these criminals of the time period became these really romanticized heroes, and in my research I came to find it's very much balls in the middle. Most pirates weren't these villains out to plunder and kill and everything like that. Most were sailors who are trying to get wealthy quickly and then go back home or because they couldn't get work on another ship or in any other fashion of any sort. So I just found them to be really interesting people that we just don't know much about, and so I just want to explore that. A lot more, the golden age of piracy is what we call the time period in which there were three major spikes in maritime piracy during the seventeenth and eighteen centuries. It lasted just about seventy five years and during this time it's estimated that there were more than five thou pirates at sea, so about sixteen fifty, ashanti, about seventeen thirty, which is where there was huge bands of organized pirates, former privateers legally sanctioned to attack enemy ships, or former merchants, other former people from the Royal Navy who decided to strike out on their own and get rich quick. So they kind of sort of terrorized the Caribbean and the North American coast by Robbing Merchant ships and other navy ships pretty much at will, and they also had their own sort of safe haven strongholds in Jamaica, Tortuga, and then later in the Bahamas, a place called Nassau, after the World Navy became stronger in the Caribbean. And now let's get to the good stuff. Queer pirates. This is widely debated among historians because relationships weren't really recorded at that time. Still, many suggest that same sex coupling was the norm. Think about it. Even the straightest pirate would be at sea for long, long periods of time on ships full of men with their shirts unbuttoned. Pirates already lived outside of social norms and were generally subversive. So even those same sex relationships were illegal and punishable by death at that time. So was piracy. I know there is a lot of debate saying oh no, that definitely wouldn't have happened, etc. Etc. I think homosexual relationships and pirate ships would have been much, much more likely to happen on pirate ships than it would, say, on Navy ships and merchant ships, where the rules were much stricter, more supervision and they just had very, very strict laws back them. Homosexual relationships, which in which the use the term sodomy, was considered a crime punishable by death. So they had to keep it so even though it still happened all the time, people had to keep it very secret. But pirates were people who sailed outside the law regardless and against all social norms. So if there were homosexual relationships on pirate ships, they most likely would have been treated, you know, not too differently than other relationships. In fact, it was more preferable. If there were going to be relationships on a pirate ship, let...

...it be between two men versus a man and a woman. There were pirate ships, pirate captains such as Blackbeard, that didn't allow women on ships because they felt they could be a distraction. The idea was if it was two men, that's fine, it wouldn't cause as much of a conflict. And also, when you're sailing together for a very long time and you're amongst men who you get to know very well, very intimately and very close proximity. Some people would call this situational homosexuality, where you might develop a relationship in close quarters which then separates once you're on land. But I'm pirate ships. There were many cases of these metal lags, same sex unions, and not very many pirates had families off the on land anyways, or if they did, they were very much separated from them. So creating these relationships on pirates, pirate ships absolutely would have been, I would say, pretty common. It just wasn't really spoken about. So it was on the DL. Yeah, exactly back then. Same Sex relationships were not uncommon during this time period at all, but it was very much a look away and we won't say anything. During the golden age of piracy, same sex relationships weren't restricted to pirates and they weren't just happening at sea. And even though there was a general awareness, people and governments did periodically try to intervene. This was kind of starting to become a bit of an issue in the Caribbean as people were settling, settling plantation colonies, and basically there were people are moving to the Caribbean to colonize, to create goods you could sell. Well, there weren't enough women for the most part, for a long time so, and it got to the point where some governors felt that too many men were engaging in relationships with each other. So on the island of Tortuga, for example, the French governor, Jean Lavasseur, reportedly sent overs one thousand, six hundred and fifty French prostitutes to the plantation just to get the men to stop sleeping with each other, kind of as an attempt and to start kind of populating the island more. So these are some measures people would take. Like prostitution was technically illegal, but they were at this time. There were some cases where they were deliberately brought over in order to discourage same sex relationships. Have you ever wondered why pirates called each other mate or Madeii making how? It originally came from the word metal, though, which means sailor. In French. The word metal attage is from that same word and though it carries many different meanings, one accepted definition is a civil union between two sailors or pirates. So these same sex relationships were common nonetheless, both sexual and non sexual. This is basically kind of a form of a union where two pirates on a ship, or male sailors in general, but here on a pirate ship, they engage kind of into a relationship with each other, almost as if they are a married couple. Civil Unions like these often came with the same benefits of marriage. If one person died, their partner could inherit all of their belongings, almost like a life insurance policy. Pirate captains could legally perform marriage ceremonies on ships, so this would happen and they would be considered life partners. They often started out as friends and became very close working companions. This happened a lot between more senior pirates and then kind of younger newer pirates sort of as like a mentor Menteeship, but oftentimes also people of similar rank and similar experience who had just known it, known each other for quite a long time and had sailed with each other for quite a long time. If the sort of student teacher partnership between the older and younger men on pirate ships sounds familiar to you, it did to me too. In Ancient Greece and Rome this kind of relationship was also very common. So this mentor Mentor mentee situation would usually be among younger pirates who probably about early teens, and then their mentors were probably maybe about in their S. Max early s pirate ships weren't populated by old men on it was a dangerous way of life, and...

...so most pirates were actually young, like forty year younger for the most part. So the age difference wouldn't have been for the time, wouldn't have been too scandalous. But yeah, you would have these kind of like older pirates who really took a younger pirate under their winging and help them out and train them, essentially to help them become even better sailors and better fighters, which was the most important part. And so through that you could have a lot of relationship starting quite similar to what you were saying in the Greek and Roman relationships, especially those who were kind of training to become fighters, etc. Just as a note, it's important to keep in mind that these relationships were not all romance and hot hookups. Just like many heterosexual relationships and marriages throughout history, there were abusive relationships too, but today we're talking about the consensual ones. It's would kind of depend. There were some like I know in the case of a pirate named John Swan who was rumored to be in a relationship with another pirate named Robert Culliford. When they went on land. They didn't live together, but they were neighbors, so they lived kind of next to each other or they lived just literally down the street from each other. This is most likely it would have happened because during the time period of the sixteen and seventeen hundreds it was more acceptable for single women to live together, but it wasn't really quite as known for single men to live together. They were expected to be either already living, either already married or probably still living with their families if they were unmarried. So if they were in a relationship. They likely would have been living just in close proximity to each other, next store neighbors. So they like not to Rosini suspicions, but he lives at my house. Yeah, okay, got it. John Swan was active in the Indian Ocean and was honestly kind of a minor player in terms of activity during the golden age of piracy. His major claim to fame and the reason we still talk about him today, is his relationship with Robert Culiford. The two of them met because they're both captured in the mid S. I don't know the exact date, but they were imprisoned together and while they're in prison together they both became very close friends and they ended up escaping together in sixteen ninety six. And after they'd escaped they both ended up sailing with a pirate named Captain William Kidd, who became really famous because when he was accused being a pirate, he was the first pirate in which there was an actual man hunt for. So Robert Collyford, he's the one who actually thought Captain Kidd was getting to Brash in his actions, so he staged a mutiny and took over. And so after they got rid of Captain Kid on the ship, Robert Couliford and John Swan took over the ship together and then in about sixteen ninety nine, they both went to Madagascar where they did live together, or at least they lived like right next door to each other. Essentially they lived there for a period of time until they begin sailing again later in sixteen ninety nine. But then something happened, we don't know what, but they decided to part ways. John Swan went to Barbados in the Caribbeum and unfortunately, Robert Colliford was actually captured, sent to London and executed for crimes of Piracy Act. ACCUTION was a common end for pirates, but two pirates that managed to avoid the gallows were and Bonnie and Mary read, and will learn all about them in just a minute. And Bonnie and Mary read were probably the most famous same sex couple in pirate history. And not only were they queer, they were women and they were Badass. And Bonnie was born in Ireland. She was in County Cork. She was an illegitimate daughter of an attorney and his servant and Bonnie's mother dies in childbirth and the attorney who her father, who already had a very strange relationship with his wife, took her to England to raise as an illegitimate child, but had her disguise as a boy because it would so would be source more socially acceptable to have an illegitimate son versus a daughter. But this was eventually discovered and so to get rid...

...of scandal, he he and and Bonnie moved to the American colonies in the Carolinas. And after they moved there, he didn't have her disguised herself as a boy anymore. Tried to hire her out as a servant girl, as was normal for a girl of her age and early teens. And Bonnie didn't last long as a servant girl. She was difficult to control, she talked back, she got into fights and she even stabbed a guy. I think he tempted to kiss her or something like that. And so yes, she reportedly did stab him. She didn't, can't kill him or really even may maim him. But you know, it was a big scandal of the time and this really reflected badly on her father who, you know, was working as an attorney and trying to raise them as an honorable fashion, as fashion as possible. So after that, after that is when he took her out of working as a servant because she was known to get in fights and possibly yet even did stop someone. She was very fiery. She's known to have fiery red hair, which matts her personality. And so, against her father's wishes, she marries a sailor named James Bonnie when she's about sixteen, and he does so so she's disowned. So the two of them go into the Caribbean. She actually sails with him for a while until they settle in Nassau, which is in the Bahamas, where pirates were known to hang out, and this is where the relationship became quite strained. And Bonnie wanted to continue sailing, but her husband didn't, and in fact he started to work as a pirate hunter under the governor's command, would rodgers, who, oddly enough, was a pirate, later turned pirate hunter and now governor, and so and Bonnie didn't like that. She began hanging out with lots of pirates and then she fell in love with a pirate named Jack Rackham and the two of them ran away together and she sailed on a ship. She dressed in men's clothes but she didn't hide the fact that she was a woman at the same time. This is a big subject of wonder. Man What like, why would she wear men's clothes and yet have people no her gender? I would say most likely it's just easier to work on a ship in wearing pants than address. But this has been a big topic. Well, while they were sailing they had recruited a new crew and crew including a man named mark read, and Bonnie fell in love with mark read, even though she was married to Jack Rackham, now on the ship at least, and so she decided to seduce him. She kind of cornered mark read in a store room took off her shirt to reveal her breast, saying I'm a woman and I'm in love with you. But then, in a sort of twist of events, mark read then took off his shirt. Low and behold, Mark Reed is also a woman. They Mary read. Mary read was born in England, also an illegitimate child of a servant, and then she was kind of disguised as a boy and then eventually was even hired into service as a boy. But then she ran away from England and joined the British Army in Flanders. which actually served as a as a soldier for years under male identity. She even, in secret, married another soldier who did know that she was actually a woman, but then when he died, she was discharged because her performance dipped. She was grieving but couldn't show it. So after that she descried herself as a man again and became a sailor and went to the Caribbean, and this is where Anne and Mary met at sea, and they were even despite the fact they were both women. They were both so impressed with each other's abilities. They were both really brave, excellent fighters, known to be fiercer than any of the men on ship, and so they were enamored with each other and did strike up this relationship. Now, Jack Rackham, and Bonnie's husband on the ship, did not know that mark read was actually a woman and became very jealous when you saw how close the two of them were together, the way they would kind of talk intimately, intimately with each other, seeen laughing on the ship even like you know, some touches that sort of thing. So one night he goes to Mary read's Hammock with a knife at her throat threatens to kill her until she reveals that she's a woman and then he backs off, saying, Oh, okay, you're a woman. That's fine then, but then realizes that they're still in a relationship and he gets so jealous that he says you have to include me into this relationship or else I'll kill you both. And so they kind of essentially became a threesome. And so they were all captured and put on trial, and Bonnie and...

Mary read, they were both revealed that they were pregnant at their trial and so, as a result, in either one of them were actually executed for their crimes. WHO's the father? They're both their children Jack Rackum on the ship. Tragically, the two of them, though, they were separated in prison. Mary read died child bed fever, whereas am Bonnie survived. We don't quite know what happened what we believe that she eventually went back to the Carolina's, but the two of them never saw each other again after they were imprisoned. Even though travel by ship is slow, a pirate's life and relationships were pretty short lived, and Bonnie and Mary read only sailed together with Jack Rackham for about two months, from August seventeen twenty until October, seventeen twenty. But during those two months their crew became known as some of the most frightening and notorious pirates of the oceans, mostly because of Ann Bonnie and Mary read so. They were described as being very masculine. I don't know about off the ship, but in their trial testimony, some witnesses who had survived attacks by them said that they were really fierce fighters, very masculine in fact, they said, even more so than their male counterparts. They swore more than any of the men did. They fought more fiercely and more bravely. It was almost as if they didn't care about any danger that might come to them. They would have, were said to carried pistols and swords and cutlasses. They wore trousers, they wore jackets, but was interesting is that their jackets and tops were open, so you could see their breast full on display, which actually did quite intimidate people. They literally didn't know what to do in the presence of these women who were dressing, acting and speaking like men. They wore their hair long and flowing to give them even a more kind of distinctive presence. So they kind of use their femininity, not like almost in a way to make them seem more powerful in that sense, because it shocked people to their absolute core and help them win some fights or actually be fiercer in battle because of that, because it was like unexpected, very much so, despite the total Badassery of Mary read and and Bonnie, they were, like many pirates, eventually captured, but it wasn't exactly their fault and they didn't go down without a fight. Jack Rackham was known to start becoming a bit too cocky, to the point where even Anne and Mary were cautioning him, like hate, we need to slow down because we're going to get caught at some point. And then one night they were the Jack Rackman's men were celebrating. They just robbed a ship and stolen a whole bunch of really expensive wine, and so they were essentially partying really, really hard and they got very, very drunk, not knowing that they were being per sued by our pirate hunter named Captain John Barnett, who had figured out where they were and was sign of lying in wait waiting to ambush them. And Bonnie and Mary read noticed that there was another ship that Barnett hailed them and Jack Rackham basically Said said, you know, will give no quarters if you attack, which means we're not going to have any mercy. And Bonnie Mary read were basically incur counter encouraged him, you know, stop doing this. was try to make this as simple as possible. But then Jack Rackham called Captain Barnett and his men to fight. Unfortunately, they realized how outnumbered they were and so and Bonnie and Mary read said we need to fight. Okay, everyone get ready. Jack Rackham, the captain says no and has everyone lock themselves down below blowdeck because they're too drunk. And now suddenly they're too frightened to fight. So this whole fight between were Captain Barnett and his men were going to capture these pirates. They fought against just a Bonnie and Mary read and they were and despite the fact they were two women and was just two of them fighting, it was noted that they were some of the fiercest fighters that Captain Barnett and his fellow sailors had ever seen in their lives. Of course, they were captured, because two against a whole ship, but that's how bravely they fought. They were all sentenced to be hanged except for and and Mary, who got to stay of execution for being pregnant. But on the morning Jack Rackham was going to be executed in November of one thousand seven hundred and twenty, he really wanted some like comforting words from Ann Bonnie, his...

...his wife, and they brought her down to go see him and he pleaded with her, saying please, you know, I'm so sorry about what's happened. Please, I just want some comforting words before I die. And all she said to him was if you had fought like a man, you need not have hanged like a dog. Because she was a Badass, because she was a total badass. By now we've established that there was a lot of violence, a lot of sex, a lot of drinking and a lot of excitement. But there was also fashion, because they stole everything, they had access to all kinds of clothing. They often dressed flambuoyantly as a way of intimidating people. So Jack Sparrow and the pirates of the Caribbean movies maybe not as far from reality as you might think. If you look at the pirate black beard, who was a real pirate. His name's Edward teach and he was only a pirate for about two years, but he was really notorious because the way he dressed, in the way he looked kind of similar to how Captain Jack Sparrow Looks. He had really long beard, he had really long hair and he would put split sparklers in his beard during battle, so smoke was literally rising from his face, along with fire and everything, to look like the double himself. And he dressed in really really fast, flashy clothes with as much color and as much jewels as possible to make himself really stand out and look intimidating and to really kind of in still, I fear and other people, and some people would, I think, did use that, did use the word flamboyant to describe him, just because of how outlandish he looked and it was a way to really kind of intimidate people. Then you did have the pirate Jack Rackham, who was married to Anne Bonnie. He was known as Calico Jack because he was very well dressed. He liked to wear fine clothes. He was really fond of the fabric CALICO, which was which is hence the nickname, because it was, you know, it was more expensive, it was softer, it was nicer. So he was very known for how he dressed, and then there was another pirate known as the which pirate was it? Think? Bartholow me Roberts, known as the gentleman? Oh No, Steed Bonnet. There's Steed Bonnet, known as the gentleman pirate because he was educated and he came from a plantation and then decided just to become a pirate. And he was described to be very foppish, the term that they use back then to kind of describe as flamboyantly gay, the way we use today, just because of how well spoken he was. And you know, I'm sorry to stay like I'm very negative connotations. He wasn't a brave fighter, he wasn't a good fighter, he dressed very well but didn't know how to do his job at all, so he didn't get respect. He was there for kind of described as being, like I said, thoughtpish for a lot of lack of better words that they would use back then. And oddly enough, he did say with black beard, and black beard found him to be too showy in so many ways and too much of a bad pirate. So he actually sort of of kidnapped the rest of the not kidnapped, he basically a kind of abandoned steed. Want it in his crew and took his crew back secretly and at night one night. So, but those are some examples of like kind of really, you know, well dressed, sort of flamboyantly presenting pirates of the time period to make themselves really stand out. But the fashion, was the fashion of pirates in general, was flash here. It was especially because a lot of them were able to get new clothes constantly because of ships that they would rob. They were able to keep a lot of the finer clothes, silks, jewels, fine fabrics, Muslims, Calicos, and because they're a will to get new clothes more often. They were cleaner than many other sailors. They were able to get fresh food and water and goods a lot more often, so they looked healthier and so this alone made them look a lot more flamboyant, colorful, kind of outlandish and standing out amongst other sailors. The history of piracy is so many things. It's gruesome and it's horrifying, it's exciting and it's feminist, it's...

...fashion forward and it's definitely queer. If you're interested in learning more about pirates, Rebecca has some really exciting things coming down the pipeline. So I'm writing an article about and Bonnie and may read kind of what I've been talking about just a few minutes ago. Can't go into too much detail about it because of an NDA class, unfortunately, but yeah, it's going to be it's going to come out online at some point in the near future. Rebecca also as a book in the works, so make sure to follow her on twitter so you don't miss out on any Queer Pirate Hot Goss Yeah, I'm on twitter. So my handle on twitter is BECCALEX. It's spelled B E K A L X, and that's where you find me, it feels. got a link to my website on there as well for all things pirate related. That's right, all things pirates. Thank you very much. Thank you for having me. Pride is a production of Straw hut media. If you like to show leave us a rating and review on Apple, podcast, spotify or wherever you listen to podcast, then follow us on Instagram, facebook and twitter at pride and tune in weekly for new episodes. Be Sure to share this episode with your friends and subscribe for more stories from Amazing Queer people. If you'd like to connect with me, you can follow me everywhere at lead by chambers. Pride is produced by me. The by Chambers Maggie Bowls, Ryan Tillotson, Caitlyn mcdaniel and Brandon Marlow, edited by Silvana. I'll Calla and Daniel Ferrara. Sound mixing by Sylvana. I'll call up some gay pirate Hot Goss, the gay pirate hot goths from four hundred years ago, before Hundred Years Agot, Oh gosh,.

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