Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Captain Mission. The Amazing True Story of an Anarchist Pirate

Here are some photo's which are completely unrelated to the following pirate story. Spring is here and with it birdsong and green things coming up everywhere. A keen eyed observer spotted the very first bluebell in the woods the other day, and here is a photo of it for you.

I first read the story of Captain Mission in the preface to Cities of the Red Night by William Burroughs and was unsure whether the book that he refers to actually existed, but it does.

Captain Mission was French and was quite normal until he met a wayward priest and got to talking. He was up around the coast here chasing ships back in the 1690s. Daniel Defoe wrote about him in a book about pirates, but here are the bare bones of the story of an alternative present that didn't quite happen and a search for freedom about one hundred years before the french revolution.

Here is a quote form Under the Black Flag by Don C. Seitz:

Captain Mission was one of the forbears of the French Revolution. He was one hundred years in advance of his time, for his career was based upon an initial desire to better adjust the affairs of mankind, which ended as is quite usual in the more liberal adjustment of his own fortunes. It is related how Captain Mission, having led his ship to victory against an English man-of-war, called a meeting of the crew. Those who wished to follow him he would welcome and treat as brothers; those who did not would be safely set ashore. One and all embraced the New Freedom. Some were for hoisting the Black Flag at once but Mission demurred, saying that they were not pirates but liberty lovers, fighting for equal rights against all nations subject to the tyranny of government, and bespoke a white flag as the more fitting emblem. The ship’s money was put in a chest to be used as common property. Clothes were now distributed to all in need and the republic of the sea was in full operation.

Mission bespoke them to live in strict harmony among themselves; that a misplaced society would adjudge them still as pirates. Self-preservation, therefore, and not a cruel disposition, compelled them to declare war on all nations who should close their ports to them. “I declare such war and at the same time recommend to you a humane and generous behavior towards your prisoners, which will appear by so much more the effects of a noble soul as we are satisfied we should not meet the same treatment should our ill fortune or want of courage give us up to their mercy…” The Nieustadt of Amsterdam was made prize, giving up two thousand pounds and gold dust and seventeen slaves. The slaves were added to the crew and clothed in the Dutchman’s spare garments; Mission made an address denouncing slavery, holding that men who sold others like beasts proved their religion to be no more than a grimace as no man had power of liberty over another…

Mission explored the Madagascar coast and found a bay ten leagues north of Diego-Suarez. It was resolved to establish here the shore quarters of the Republic — erect a town, build docks, and have a place they might call their own. The colony was called Libertatia and was placed under Articles drawn up by Captain Mission. The Articles state, among other things: all decisions with regard to the colony to be submitted to vote by the colonists; the abolition of slavery for any reason including debt; the abolition of the death penalty; and freedom to follow any religious beliefs or practices without sanction or molestation.

Captain Mission’s colony, which numbered about three hundred was wiped out by a surprise attack from the natives, and Captain Mission was killed shortly afterwards in a sea battle. There were other such colonies in the West Indies and in Central and South America, but they were not able to maintain themselves since they were not sufficiently populous to withstand attack. Had they been able to do so, the history of the world could have been altered. Imagine a number of such fortified positions all through South America and the West Indies, stretching from Africa and Madagascar and Malaya and the East Indies, all offering refuge to fugitives from slavery and oppression: “Come to us and live under the Articles.”


the Silverfish said...

Ahh yes but the best layed plans o mice an men.

nobody said...

John, that was brilliant. I've read a ton of stuff about the age of sail and particularly pirates and never heard of him. Go figure. Anyway off I go now to chase trails.

And I'm pleased your weather has turned. Wait a minute. No I'm not. That means our Summer is over. Bugger.

john said...

Cheers Silverfish

At least they had a go which has got to be worth something I suppose. The Daniel Defoe version is good and is written in such nice old language. Nice humming birds by the way, lovely colours. I'd love to see them fly.

Hi nobody

Yes plenty of trails all over the internet, this was just a small taste of the whole story due to space and stuff but there are lots of tasty details out there. Around here smuggling was more popular and some of the old folk can still remember relatives that used to use the caves along the coast at Beer to bring stuff in. Maybe it still goes on, who knows?

nobody said...

Jamaica Inn!

Or did she go of her own accord?

Wait. That doesn't work...

I'll go out and come back in again shall I?

john said...

Cheers nobody

No I didn't make her in.. Hang on that doesn't work either.

We had proper rain here last night, about time too and now everything in the garden will be twice the size it was yesterday.

No haiku for me so far. I was a bit tempted to let johns haiku pass without comment but then I thought that they might start posting naughty ones and folks would think it was me.

We had a lovely G20 as I expect you all saw, marred as usual by the heavy police tactics. It also looks like they had their agents in the crowd again.

nobody said...

Hey John. Happily I've sussed out the new John as being from Florida. Really I just wanted one word from him so I could differentiate you. So it's all good.

And since I'm in an agreeable mood, I arbitrarily wave my hand in the air and declare that you may remain as John. It's marvellous to have such power. You should try it.

Do post us a haiku. I always like yours. And now that I think about it, when I read the other John's effort (and I'm not making this up) I mentally commented that it was a curious phrasing for you. It was the word 'secret' or something, can't quite remember. But I merely thought you were being a bit different.

I've started on Mythago Wood. Yes, not the greatest writer, but not too dreadful neither. Regardless, the curiosity value is high. I also wondered about the constant sense of menace and whether it was really necessary, but decided it makes perfect sense. The forest is menacing. And it always was, particularly in myth. Anyway, I'm doing twenty pages or so a night, taking it easy.

john said...

Ah a florida john! I thought it might have been a bit of mischief so it's nice to be wrong again. I shall try and wear my blue suit in future to avoid confusion.

Sometimes I am the bus station loony and can be seen there late at night counting syllables on my fingers. I have no idea what people think I must be doing and I doubt that they would ever guess.

For such an interesting subject the ancient forests seem to be a bit rare in fiction. I think that the first time The Lord of the Rings encounters some proper strangeness is at Tom Bombadils house shortly after they enter the forest and though my memory is a bit hazy on the subject it is a part of the book that I enjoyed.

There was another called Greenmantle by an american author but I didn't get on well with that one. I expect there are others that I don't know about as I haven't read much recent fiction. It's a bit like there is this great mythology connected to the ancient woods but it hasn't been explored very much, so I was interested to see what Robert Holdstock was bringing out.

Another author who writes about the old england is Paul Devereux who has done some interesting work on the Spirit Roads. I had a brief correspondance with him a few years ago when I noticed the alignment of some local ancient structures and the natural geography of Dartmoor. I always think that there is a pattern to the land that we can't quite see.

Oh and there is John Michell whose work I very much like though I have to take his maths on trust, being a bit number blind. A set of compasses was a revelation to me as a boy though when I suddenly realised all the things that could be drawn from them, but I am at least bisecting now, so will end it here.

nobody said...

Ha! I am the internet cafe loony doing precisely the same thing with my fingers. Ha ha ha.

And mate, just between you and me, do you know who the painting is of, over at the haiku page? Or are you just too bloody spooky? If it's the latter then something extraordinary just happened. Surely you know his name?

But don't say it here! Someone might pop in. We'll leave that to the end of the week. Anyway I'm all weirded out.

john said...

Ha ha! Don't be too weirded out nobody, I am not that spooky and yes I do know who he is. Mondeken toe..

Skye said...

Ah, John, lovely pictures as usual! And the story, oh my, that was interesting! Indeed, to think of what the world might have been had those colonies survived, but alas, the greed of humankind would have destroyed the original values eventually anyway!

nobody said...

I do love an unfamiliar phrase. Thanks for that. Um, I looked it up sure enough. It reminded me of a thing I've pondered for a long time, that being the finger to the side of the nose. Is there a name for that? And where does it come from. Oh hell, why don't I just hit google again? Thanks John.

Oh! I finished Mythago Wood. My easy twenty pages lasted three nights and then I had to nail it in a single morning session. Very good. Anyway my head is spinning and I'll drop you a line. And off for Lavondyss now.

john said...

Cheers Skye

I like the stories of possible change. Things go wrong but it is good that people attempt alternatives. Even though it only worked for a short time, how exciting and liberating it must have been to be making up the rules for a change.

Big storm here tonight, so I can hear the sea from the front door. Talking of storms Cyclone Lyn missed my friends island near Tonga recently by 150km but it flattened one of the buildings they had made, bugger!

Nice one nobody

I don't know the finger/nose name, did you find it out? Do you know the finger/eyebrow one?

Lavondyss was a good one I seem to remember, as I probably said before I also liked Merlins Wood, that was spooky.

nobody said...

I had a look. A curious result. All I found was Americans asking what it meant. I wanted the earliest mention and all I could find was this. Which was not particularly satisfying what with it being an American reference. Given that Americans seem unfamiliar with it and Anglo people perfectly familiar with it, it was a bit pointless. I wonder if it's in Shakespeare anywhere? I'll go look that up too. I have his complete works on my hard drive. It's marvellous being able to do word searches on the entire works. Saves a lot of reading, ha ha.

john said...

I wonder if there is such a thing as a dictionary of gestures? that would be handy.

I like a bit of Shakespeare. I'm quite fond of The Tempest, it must be all that sea air. It's a good place to look though.

john said...

There is this;

Finger to nose. This gesture involves bringing the index finger to the side of the nose and is used in the USA, Canada and the UK to indicate that something secret is being told. It is often accompanied by a conspiratorial wink. Placing the finger beside the nose is often used by storytellers to signal that they are stretching the truth. As a variant, sometimes the finger is tapped next to the nose.

It is similarly used as a response to a question to indicate to the questioner that their interlocutor cannot divulge the information sought.

In New York City, when referring to someone and making this symbol it means they are 'connected', or in the mafia.
Clement Moore's version of the Santa Claus story first used the now familiar phrase, "...laying his finger aside of his nose...," in which Santa, upon discovery, made this gesture and winked before vanishing up the chimney. Another interesting reference from the Urdu poem "The Fourth Era of Āb-e ḥayāt:Part Three" is as follows: "When the Navab's gaze fell on him, he placed a finger beside his nose [as women do] and recited."

nobody said...

Yeah, I have a feeling it's an ancient thing. Hell, just think of the history of secrets, secret societies, all of that. Think Masonic handshakes...

Otherwise wikipedia has a very full listing under 'hand gestures' but magically leaves this one out. MInd you they do have this -

"Simultaneously bringing the index finger of one hand to the point of your nose, and pointing at someone with the index finger of the other hand means 'you've got it' or 'you've hit it on the nose'. For example, if you are explaining something, and the other person suddenly makes a statement which demonstrates complete understanding - 'you've got it'. Used in Charades. Also used to some degree by Alan Partridge."

But 'point of the nose' isn't quite it, is it? It's definitely the side of the nose.

Hmm... I wonder if we're not in amongst some huge conspiracy mate? It could be that knowledge of the name of the finger-to-nose gesture could unravel all the wickedness in the world! Or not.

Probably not, now that I think about it...

john said...

Slightly off topic... hang on can I be off topic on my own blog?

Anyway I've been meaning to say for a while that I have been looking at the photo's and if anybody would like a nice big mb version of any of them to let me know and I will pass them on, I've never made much of a bean so it makes no difference to me. The close up images, for example the snowy fircone one is so much nicer with all the sharp detail in there. It's just a thought anyhow.

I went back to statcounter the other day and it looks like I am still the geezer for atomic bomb explosions and Michael Maiers' Atalanta Fugiens, 'tis a funny old world f'sure. The Green Man is turning up a lot now though which is interesting.

Oh and if there are any generous rich people out there (do such people exist?) all the pictures are still for sale folks, I'm still after a ticket to visit me friends in Tonga, no? oh well never mind, no harm in askin.

And to all those people in Southampton who keep coming silently by, I know your out there! but I don't know who you are me old chums, you can 'fess up if you want to.