Rateye

Religion during the GAoP

52 posts in this topic

“St. Pierre, 6th March 1694. We were busy all this morning confessing a crew of filibusters who had arrived at Les Mouillanges with two prizes that they had captured from the English. The Mass of the Virgin was celebrated with all solemnity, and I bless three large loaves which were presented by the captain and his officers, who arrived at the church accompanied by the drums and trumpets of their corvette. At the beginning of Mass the corvette fired a salute with all her cannons. At the Elevation of the Holy Sacrements she fired another salvo, at the Benediction a third, and finally a fourth when we sang the Te Deum after Mass. All the filibusters contributed 30 sols to the sacristy, and did so with much piety and modesty. This may surprise people in Europe where filibusters are not credited with much piety, but as a matter of fact they generally give a portion of their good fortunes to the churches. If church ornaments or church linen happen to be in the prizes they capture, the filibusters always present them to their parish church.” (Labat, p. 36)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Interesting that they mark Atheists among their number. Thank you for the great details!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

You might want to do some research into the life of Cotton Mather too.

since he had his hand in the hanging of pirates, as well as the burning of witches, and the slaughter of Indians.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

You might want to do some research into the life of Cotton Mather too.

since he had his hand in the hanging of pirates, as well as the burning of witches, and the slaughter of Indians.

Nobody under English law was hanged for being a witch - even at Salem.

On the subject of religion it is perhaps noteworthy that the articles of John Taylor's crew specifically forbade the discussion of religion.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

You might want to do some research into the life of Cotton Mather too.

since he had his hand in the hanging of pirates, as well as the burning of witches, and the slaughter of Indians.

Nobody under English law was hanged for being a witch - even at Salem.

Do you mean they technically weren't under English law? Because I'm pretty sure the folks at Salem were killed for witchcraft, except for Giles Corey.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

You might want to do some research into the life of Cotton Mather too.

since he had his hand in the hanging of pirates, as well as the burning of witches, and the slaughter of Indians.

Nobody under English law was hanged for being a witch - even at Salem.

On the subject of religion it is perhaps noteworthy that the articles of John Taylor's crew specifically forbade the discussion of religion.

Lots of people were hung for witchcraft in England. In Salem, 29 people were convicted of witchcraft and 19 hung for it.

You are probably thinking of witch burning. English law was unique in the way it handled witchcraft. In most of Europe, a conviction of witchcraft carried an automatic conviction of heresy and heretics were burned. English law did not consider witchcraft as heresy so no burnings - only hanging for the worst offenses and other punishments for lesser counts of witchcraft.

In Scotland witches were burned but they were usually strangled first.

Mark

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

You might want to do some research into the life of Cotton Mather too.

since he had his hand in the hanging of pirates, as well as the burning of witches, and the slaughter of Indians.

Nobody under English law was hanged for being a witch - even at Salem.

Do you mean they technically weren't under English law? Because I'm pretty sure the folks at Salem were killed for witchcraft, except for Giles Corey.

For those who never heard of him, Cory was accused of witchcraft and refused to enter a plea. If he plead guilty his land would have been seized. If he plead innocent and was found guilty (the most likely result) then his land would also be seized. In an effort to force him to enter a plea, a board was put across his chest and weighed down with rocks. In order to keep his family from being dispossessed he kept demanding more weight until he was crushed to death. It took him two full days to die.

Mark

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Perhaps Foxe

has been watching that terrible slasher movie Simon Says...where Crispin Glover states that it is "well documented fact that witches BURNED" in Salem emitted a long, low howl whilst they were burning...called "The Devil's Howl" gotta love Hollywood. :P

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I often wonder if the motivation for people was always spiritual... how much was motivated by money.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Ah, consider that an embarrassing and careless typo. What I meant to say (which makes more sense in the context of the post I was quoting), is that nobody was burned for being a witch under English law. Quite right, everyone, they were hanged.

There is, IIRC one example of a witch being burned in England, which is often seized upon, but she was burned for treason and the fact that she was allegedly a witch was coincidental.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
... In an effort to force him to enter a plea, a board was put across his chest and weighed down with rocks. In order to keep his family from being dispossessed he kept demanding more weight until he was crushed to death. It took him two full days to die.

'Pressing' was a fairly standard procedure for people who refused to enter a plea. Pirate John Gow was also pressed for the same reason, for example.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I often wonder if the motivation for people was always spiritual... how much was motivated by money.

Since it is just about impossible to accurately invoke the society of a time passed, I don't think we can truly know the motivation of a person who lived in a period and among a sub-culture that has been so poorly documented. Yes, poorly documented. Sure, we have a few first person accounts, much of which would be thrown out by a proper historian as actual evidence unless it were corroborated by two other sources. We also have the subtly-politically-biased and rather sensationally plotted General History. But we really don't have any unbiased accounts to give us insight. (Well, in fact, I think it is impossible for a human being to write an unbiased account, but that is a discussion for another topic.)

Still, in some ways I think people of the past were pretty much like people of the present. By this, I am referring to personality types. In every time and sociological group there are some folks more inclined to be motivated by money, others by spiritualism, still others by logic or order or disorder or idealism or whatever. I posit that humanity contains certain archetypal behaviors and tendencies and they are probably fairly constant among different groups and in different times. But that's only one part of personality - a key to motivation.

Another aspect of motivation - the broader society and all the beliefs that go with membership in it - appears to me to have had some marked differences from our time. One could hardly say that the church/religion has anywhere near the influence today that it had during GAoP. Heretical statements are today seen as marketing ploys where at that time they could be a death sentence. I suspect differences in behavior would reveal themselves there. If you are a person who has a strong inclination toward order, the church might have a certain appeal during the GAoP. If you were strongly inculcated into a national religion like many Englishmen were during that time, an idealist might focus on things associated with the spiritual aspects of that religion where today we have less spiritual forms that seem to appeal to many idealists.

This is where I think movies (an important part of our society) lead us so astray. Movie-makers usually "modernize" eras (intentionally and not) to make them more relatable to our society. If you watch a movie that has been made several times in different eras, you will notice not only facile differences like those of clothing, language and hairstyles, but deeper, more philosophical differences such attitudes towards religion, governance and personal responsibility. As an experiment to see how much things have changed in the last 100 years, it might be interesting to watch the various versions of a movie that has been remade many times in different eras and note the difference in attitudes, norms and memes. (Brewster's Millions or (more on topic) Mutiny on the Bounty (and all it's various incarnations) could provide good fodder for such an experiment if you are inclined to it.)

This 'Hollywood Modernizing Factor' is what I think makes us believe that pirates looked at religion the way our society (or its modern outlaws) look at it. It's why I think many folks come to ideas like: "All pirates would be irreligious" or "Pirates were mostly seeking freedom from oppression" along with other, similar modern concepts we try to impose upon them.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I often wonder if the motivation for people was always spiritual... how much was motivated by money?

Money was certainly a motivation. Estates were seized. Being a witchfinder could be lucrative.

In Salem, the community had had a disagreement about housing and pay for the new minister. The girls making the accusations were all from one faction. None of the accused were from their faction and many were from the other side.

Mark

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

This is a very interesting and though provoking post from Mission, so with the indulgence of the assembled company I'd like to add some thoughts of my own.

Since it is just about impossible to accurately invoke the society of a time passed,

I suspect that we could probably do as good a job of invoking the mores of an historical society than we could our own. The problem, IMHO, is not the amount of evidence (see below), but the methodology. It's such a mammoth task to try and have a 'complete' understanding of any society, as to be virtually impossible.

I don't think we can truly know the motivation of a person who lived in a period and among a sub-culture that has been so poorly documented. Yes, poorly documented.

No, we can't truly know, and in many cases we can't even guess. But I think you'd be pleasantly surprised at how much documentation is available for many eras and sub-cultures.

Sure, we have a few first person accounts, much of which would be thrown out by a proper historian as actual evidence unless it were corroborated by two other sources.

It's not so much that a source needs to be corroborated if it truly is a first-person account, more that one person's view is not necessarily the only one. Sure, some historical questions might be answered by reference to one source, but most (such as the question about pirates and religion for example) can only be answered by comparing multiple sources to form a broader picture. None of those source is necessarily better or worse than any of the others, but none of them alone can answer the question.

(Well, in fact, I think it is impossible for a human being to write an unbiased account, but that is a discussion for another topic.)

I would also argue that the bias of the intended reader must be taken into account. For example, if I were to write two letters describing what I did yesterday, one to my mother and one to my sister, they would both be accurate as far as their contents went, but the two letters would be very different. The things I chose to tell my mother about would be different to the things I think might interest my sister.

This 'Hollywood Modernizing Factor' is what I think makes us believe that pirates looked at religion the way our society (or its modern outlaws) look at it. It's why I think many folks come to ideas like: "All pirates would be irreligious" or "Pirates were mostly seeking freedom from oppression" along with other, similar modern concepts we try to impose upon them.

Yup, I think Hollywood can be blamed for a lot, but there's also the fact that most people find it very difficult to really put themselves in the position of an historical figure, taking on all of the changes in attitude and opinion that that entails.

Take the great cat massacre of Paris. In the late 1730s a bunch of Parisian apprentice printers went on a spree of torturing and killing cats. They put the cats on 'trial', beat them, and hanged them. They had various reasons for doing this, but underlying it is the fact that they found it funny. Now, there might be many reasons we could understand (even if we do not condone) for killing cats, but unless you can understand how torturing cats might be funny, you can never truly appreciate what was going through the minds of those apprentices.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I don't think we can truly know the motivation of a person who lived in a period and among a sub-culture that has been so poorly documented. Yes, poorly documented.

No, we can't truly know, and in many cases we can't even guess. But I think you'd be pleasantly surprised at how much documentation is available for many eras and sub-cultures.

Well I was referring specifically to the pirates here. I've been reading every account that might contain info on medicine (my personal research topic interest) and there really aren't that many GAoP first person pirate accounts.

(Well, in fact, I think it is impossible for a human being to write an unbiased account, but that is a discussion for another topic.)

I would also argue that the bias of the intended reader must be taken into account. For example, if I were to write two letters describing what I did yesterday, one to my mother and one to my sister, they would both be accurate as far as their contents went, but the two letters would be very different. The things I chose to tell my mother about would be different to the things I think might interest my sister.

That's a very good point.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Well I was referring specifically to the pirates here. I've been reading every account that might contain info on medicine (my personal research topic interest) and there really aren't that many GAoP first person pirate accounts.

Not too many published first person accounts of pirates, I'll grant, probably no more than ten or a dozen, if we don't count the books written by buccaneers. There's a whole lot more material than that though.

There are at least 18 printed accounts of pirate trials from 1673-1725, and about eight or ten only available in the original manuscript form, almost all of which contain first-hand testimony from both sides. Add to that all the depositions taken by the High Court of Admiralty and colonial Vice Admiralty Courts, and other colonial authorities - of which there are several hundred, and you've got an awful lot of first-person evidence from the legal system alone.

Then there are all the depositions that didn't relate to trials, probably several hundred more; numerous letters from colonial governors, local officials, and Royal Navy captains who encountered pirates; plus a whole raft of other first-person evidence not so easily categorised.

Oh, and Johnson* :P

[*and a hanful of other accounts written second-hand but based, to a greater or lesser extent, on interviews with firt-hand witnesses]

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

What?! Now if I were in the mother country, I could do something with that revelation. Of course I'm not so now you're just being cruel to the poor old ship's surgeon & GAoP medicine researcher.

If (probably when) I DO get back over there, I'll be far more interested in traipsing through the medical museums than poring over old trial manuscripts. Reading is an activity for leisure time, and not for when you're right in the middle of a trip to a place with multiple small museums... and hand-pulled ale in the pubs...

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

With sufficient time, internet access, and a local library that can handle unusual inter-library loan requests, there's quite a bit available on your side of the pond. The Calendars of State Papers Domestic and Colonial contain a fair number of depositions and letters from governors (unfortunately, many of them are summarised). The Calendars can be found online: http://british-history.ac.uk/catalogue.aspx?type=3&gid=191 and http://british-history.ac.uk/catalogue.aspx?type=3&gid=123. If you've got a large amount of disposable cash then you could do worse than sign up to Eighteenth Century Collections Online (http://gale.cengage.co.uk/product-highlights/history/eighteenth-century-collections-online.aspx) which now carries with it access to Early English Books Online. ECCO has a number of interesting books (including heaps of medical texts), and several of the printed trial accounts. The Burney Newspaper Collection (http://gale.cengage.co.uk/product-highlights/history/17th--18th-century-burney-collection-newspapers-.aspx) turns up 1,907 results for a search for 'pirate' between 1675 and 1730.

John Franklin Jameson's Privateering and Piracy in the Colonial Period used to be scarcer than rocking-horse turds, but has recently gone back into print (Amazon link) thanks to the digital printing revolution. There's also a link to it on Project Gutenberg kicking around somewhere in Twill.

More recently, Joel Baer has compiled a four volume set of books containing facsimiles of contemporary printed accounts, British Piracy in the Golden Age, which duplicates some of the texts available via ECCO.

For manuscript sources you really do need to visit the archives though, unfortunately.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

It's a very fine line. You can look at it from both sides and I feel it is safe to say that the phrase "a few bad apples" can come into play here. Personally, I have always looked at Pirates, Merchant Seamen, Navy Sailors and all other types that made their living onthe sea to have their own form of religion to a point. This is from all the superstitions and general practices that would occur on a ship that even if you were not a religious person you still followed because it was part of being a sailor.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Reading David Marley's Daily Life of Pirates (which is proving to have some questionable facts, but I am still committed to reading through it), I came across this, which I thought was worth throwing out there. He doesn't source it (again), so I don't know where he got the info.

"Fully cognizant of the irreligious nature of their piratical foes, the Spanish-Americans would even devise a system of passwords known as santa y seña or 'saint and countersign,' based on the Church calendar. If a vessel or fortress were approached by strangers after nightfall, they would be challenged by a sentry shouting out a saint's name at random, which was to be answered by correctly identifying the corresponding place associated with that particular saint - to a cry of 'Santa Rosa,' for instance, the proper reply would be 'Lima;' to 'San Francisco Javier,' the answer was 'Navarra;' and so on. This system had been introduced with heretical English or Dutch pirates in mind, as they would never have such pious answers ready on their lips. Moreover, such a flexible system permitted Spanish vessels to depart on protracted voyages without worrying about a specific password having been altered during their absence." (Marley, p. 170)

Note that in the beginning he says pirates were not religious. While true in some cases, it is not in others as has been shown here. Sweeping generalizations like this are part of the problem with this book IMO. He'd have been better to start by saying that pirates were generally not Catholic (although even that is not entirely true) rather than broadly labeling them. Still, Marley's primary focus is pretty clearly on buccaneers, so I suspect there is probably something in the code he talks about.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The saints are specific to Spanish places, (the patron saints of several cities) so I think not being Catholic was the main issue, and not being Spanish the second. (And yes, for Catholics, the protestants were heretics :P )

Edited by Elena

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Note that in the beginning he says pirates were not religious. While true in some cases, it is not in others as has been shown here. Sweeping generalizations like this are part of the problem with this book IMO. He'd have been better to start by saying that pirates were generally not Catholic (although even that is not entirely true) rather than broadly labeling them. Still, Marley's primary focus is pretty clearly on buccaneers, so I suspect there is probably something in the code he talks about.

Interesting.

Marcus Rederiker, while he has done some interesting study about it, has similar generalization of pirates and religion (thought he focused on the 1700s pirates and not buccaneers). Sure if you take all of the (indeed numerous) anti-religious acts of pirates it seems like all were not religious. For example while some pirates didn't repent (like William Fly, the favorite example of Rederiker) there were also those who would in the end repent and sing psalms with people like Cotton Mather (like some of Bellamy's men hanged in Boston and indeed some Bellamy's men were singing psalms during a violent storm) and Rederiker doesn't mention those in his main book "Villains of All Nations". Surely pirates were rarely religious, instead it seems some at least believed that they would go "merrily to Hell together". Still...

Edited by Swashbuckler 1700

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Rediker is a self-proclaimed historical activist so I tend to take anything he says with a grain of salt.

I agree that some pirates were irreligious, but my comment was that not all of them were and I provided links to some examples here on the Pub.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

As a pastor, this has been a great read. Some basic things I keep in mind.

1. Every man, or Pirate as the case may be, keeps God in his or her own way.

2. Everyone believes that their way is the only way.

Great read great history.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!


Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.


Sign In Now