Pirates and Law and the Development of Chocolate

 

During the Golden Age of Piracy (the early eighteenth century) royal governors treated pirates as criminals, even though no established law of the seas existed. Pirates operated outside the law, and brought prosperity, and even chocolate. Pirates when caught on land could be held in jail for ransom or executed for crimes against the king’s justice.

Ship owners, to avoid being labeled pirates and hounded by tax collectors, could pay for a charter issued by the king’s bureaucracy. They could then sail their ships for the mother country and pillage whatever other ships they could find. A pirate with a charter complied with the law. He became a privateer, and on the seas he could break all of the laws that existed on land.

Pirate Ships at Work

Pirate Ships at Work

Who Became a Pirate under the Law?

The general public saw through this and didn’t think of pirates as criminals.  If ships brought needed goods to the ports of the new world and sold them at a fair price, the pirates who sailed them became popular. Blackbeard was popular during his lifetime and remains so to this day.

Of course, if pirates didn’t pay the ransom demanded by the law established by royal bureaucrats and governors for their charters, they could sell their goods at a competitive price. They could charge less for the same goods, compared to privateers who paid the price of the charters.

In the early 1700s only people appointed by the established monarchy could become governors and bureaucrats.  Civil service exams didn’t exist. In Virginia, the House of Burgesses exercised power over local taxation, but the bureaucrats in London decided the cost of a ship’s charter for ships crossing the ocean.

Pirates operated outside the law and freely. On the seas they could make their own laws. They elected their captains and adopted a system of sharing the profits from their voyages. In this environment, pirates could enlist whole crews of ships they seized at sea as volunteers. Sailors decided to join pirate fleets for the feeling of freedom and the hopes of sharing in the ship’s profits.

Pirate captains commanded large fleets. For example, historians estimate that Blackbeard commanded a fleet of more than forty ships when he blockaded Charleston harbor in 1718. For more on this, see my book, Blackbeard’s Legacy.

 

Pirates, the Law, Science, and the Development of Chocolate

Not only sailors on rival ships joined pirate fleets. Anyone with a skill that could be used on board a ship could try to join. For example, people who wanted to see the world volunteered. A ship needed navigators, doctors, and a variety of specialists. If a ship operator planned to load agricultural products and foodstuffs, he needed a specialist or botanist to help with the selection, loading and description of the cargo’s uses.

William Hughes, a serious botanist, served on ships that plundered the Caribbean in the 1630s. Hughes was interested in the characteristics of the New World’s plants. A low ranking sailor, he manned a long boat that took sailors to shore during various raids.

Hughes used his opportunities to explore unknown coasts. He met with native peoples and took detailed notes on his discoveries. After he returned to England he published a treatise on New World botany, The American Physitian (1672). In it he included notes on sugarcane which he described as “both pleasant and profitable”.  He described lime as “excellent good against the Scurvie.”

The longest entry in Hughes’ book addressed chocolate which he described as “the American Nectar.” He included a recipe and a long list of potential ingredients. His hot chocolate recipe is discussed by Marissa Nicosia of Cooking in the Archives in the Folger Shakespeare Library’s “First Chefs” exhibition.

 

Pirates and Law: Chocolate is Still with Us

When Hughes sailed, Spain and much of Europe already drank hot chocolate.  Columbus had brought the cacao bean to Europe more than a century earlier. Hot chocolate had already become a popular drink sold from street carts and chocolate houses.

Hughes didn’t say much about his experience as a buccaneer, but returned to his profession as botanist and gardener. He ended his life working at the country estate of a noblewoman, Viscountess Conway.  In his later years, he published a book on grapevines, and later his notes on the New World.

Here is Marissa Nicosia’s plate of ingredients for hot chocolate (cocoa nibs, chopped dark chocolate, cocoa powder, sugar, vanilla, breadcrumbs, chili flakes, and milk):

Ingredients for Hot Chocolate

Jokes about Chocolate

An elderly man lay dying in his bed.

In death’s agony, he suddenly smelled the aroma of his favorite chocolate chip cookies wafting up the stairs.

Gathering his strength, he lifted himself from his bed. He slowly made his way out of the bedroom, and, with even greater effort, forced himself down the stairs, gripping the railing with both hands. With labored breath, he leaned against the door, gazing into the kitchen.

Were it not for death’s agony, he would have thought himself already in heaven: there, spread out on the kitchen table, were hundreds of his favorite chocolate chip cookies.

Mustering one final effort, he threw himself toward the table. His aged and withered hand painstakingly made its way toward a cookie when it was suddenly smacked by a spatula.

“Stay out of those,” said his wife, “they’re for the funeral.”

 

If Bob has thirty chocolate bars, and eats 25, what does he have?

Diabetes.

 

Never eat more chocolate than you can lift.

Learning About History: The Place of Women

Why do people care about history? What do they think knowledge about the old days will tell them? Men and women look at history a little differently.  They imagine what the world might have been for each of them.

After several years as a docent at Jamestown Settlement and fielding questions from people from all age groups and parts of the country, I think I understand what we, both men and women, want to learn about history. Jamestown Settlement is a living history museum commemorating the arrival of three English ships in 1607.

Children learn the history: warfare, Pocahontas, starvation, lots of murky action.  Jamestown Settlement is a park, a fort, an Indian village, and a dock on the James River holding replicas of the three ships.   Children enjoy playing outside where chickens and wild turkeys roam and crafts are demonstrated in the Indian village.

But adults don’t come to Jamestown simply to entertain the children.  When they enter the museum they ask questions. They want to know where they fit into the mosaic that makes up American history.  Did their ancestors arrive in Virginia four hundred years ago?  Unlikely, in physical terms, for most people asking. But they still feel an affinity with the first settlers; somehow they feel a connection.

Susan Constant docked on James River

History and the Need for Women

The first settlers were young men and boys who spent a lot of time fighting with everyone, including themselves. After all, they came to fight, and thought they would fight the Spanish. Sometimes they succeeded in killing each other.  These people didn’t have descendants.

So when does American history begin? In my opinion, it happened when the first young settlers realized that to survive, they couldn’t rely on rescue ships from the mother country. To thrive in the new world, they needed to build more than a lonely fort.  They needed a place to live and begin families. For that, they needed women.

In the beginning, the only women around Jamestown came from the native tribes who lived in the area.  Archaeology tells us that native women did a lot of the cooking in Jamestown fort.  Historians estimate that about a third of the original settlers who arrived on the first ships married Indian women.

Indian Cooking Site outside Jamestown Fort

 

After a hundred years or so, with substantial intermarriage with the Indians and the arrival of some women from Europe, Virginia developed a family structure.  The wealthy landowners created plantations on which they raised and sold tobacco. There were very few towns; religion was observed in small parish churches paid for and controlled by local parishioners who lived on plantations. Though the colony received a charter to establish a university in 1622, Virginia didn’t get around to accepting that idea until 1693.

Virginia tobacco was highly prized in the mother country and all over Europe, and Virginia planters became wealthy.  From 1619 they were also self-governing by an elected House of Burgesses.  The mother country sent over governors who were advised by an appointed Governors Council; the more raucous elected House of Burgesses passed all legislation, including tax bills.

Women in Colonial Virginia

This is all basic stuff, but think.  What and who were represented in the Virginia House of Burgesses? After about a hundred years the colony numbered about fifty thousand people.  Two representatives were elected from each borough and they, all men, represented the plantations.

The plantation was Virginia’s basic unit of society. It contained everything that was necessary for life and the beginning of a family structure:  the plantation raised the food, prepared it, made the furniture and the tools necessary for the crops, and sold the product. It also provided security from bandits and incursions by foreign tribes. A representative of a plantation spoke for everyone living there: rich, poor, male, female, free, indentured or slave.

Tobacco brought wealth and nice houses located on the rivers from which tobacco was shipped. Tobacco traded internationally; Virginia credit purchased many products for the use and enjoyment of the plantation residents. It also paid for tutors for the children.

Because the men went out to the fields and served in the local militia, Virginia plantations often were run day-to-day by women. Women frequently outlived their husbands and powerful, wealthy women operated in international trade.  Women were important participants in deciding who their children should marry, and Virginia plantation society featured close family ties. Many members of the Governor’s Council and the House of Burgesses were closely related. It was a government of cousins who knew each other well.

History Continues: Women still Watch out for the Children

Is that so different from what we have today?  Women still write a lot of the checks and run most households.  They have the children and raise them.  They also run a lot of small businesses, as they did in colonial Virginia.  When a tourist visits Colonial Williamsburg he and his family can eat in a number of restaurants in the colonial area.  Historically, almost all of them were owned and operated by women.

Women exercised their property rights early, and generally they did so to protect their children. Jamestown Settlement’s museum displays a legal document from the 1650s which describes what today would be described as a prenuptial agreement.  In it, Mrs. Hannah Bennett Turner Tompkins Arnold states that she will marry her third husband, but that certain parts of her acreage will be set aside for her children. She buried three husbands and kept her farm and property together for her heirs by legal deed.

This is all detailed to a certain extent in my book, The Wealth of Jamestown. The star of that book is, of course, Sarah Harrison, daughter of a great planter, who in her marriage ceremony to the Rev. James Blair, clearly stated “No obey” when asked if she would love, honor and obey him.  From that, the plot thickened.

Women didn’t often get their names and dates recorded, but they were there. We’d have no history without them.