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Avast! It’s International Pirate Month!

Some of you may be familiar with one of the big holidays next month, International Talk Like a Pirate Day, on September 19. But avast me hearties! This month is International Pirate Month, which I discovered in our Library’s copy of Chase’s Calendar of Events (both in Reference and Nonfiction, 529.3 CHA).

This celebration is in its 6th year, and is sponsored by Rogues’ Armada, a loosely-organized group of performers who dress as pirates. While the holiday states “international” the organization caters specifically to the Northeast; the groups in the directory operating predominantly in the New England area. There is one “South West” group, catering to the interesting geographic locations of Northern Texas, Southern Oklahoma, and Southern New Hampshire. Migrating scallywags, perhaps?

So, in the spirt of both holidays, let’s take a quick dive into some common pirate lore, the stereotypes, and misconceptions. For further reading, the branches of the Mercer County Library System keep most of this swashbuckling information in the nonfiction area under 910.45, in both the Adult and Juvenile collections.

How about the very first word of our title? “Avast” could mean stop, but actually is a derivation of “hold fast” which means holding tight, especially during stormy weather. It’s originally Dutch “houd vast” which, when spoken quickly, contracts to “hou’ vast” and there you go.

If someone says “pirate,” frequently you’ll hear right after that someone uttering “arrr!” That one isn’t historically accurate like the former. We can credit the popularity of that magic word to Robert Newton, who played Long John Silver in the 1950 Disney version of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island. Newton grew up in what’s known as the West Country of England, and he exaggerated that accent to give Silver more character. While we use it today as a form of exclamation, it was likely meant more as a simple affirmative, a variation of “aye.” Use it however you wish!

What’s the typical means of punishment on a pirate ship? If you said “walk the plank,” alas no. That’s one you’ll only see in movies or read in stories. More likely would be a beating or flogging, rarely lethal. A worse punishment is “keelhauling” which involved dragging the guilty under the ship. If the ship hasn’t been careened in a while (beaching the vessel to clean the underside of the hull) then the unfortunate would be lacerated by numerous barnacles. That, plus the risk of drowning, made this one you would try to avoid! The worst would be simple execution, or being marooned – left behind on a spit of land in the middle of nowhere, perhaps with a little food and water, and most of the time a pistol with at least one shot (and powder), if not more. After all, if things got really bad, it was expected you’d save that last shot for yourself.

It wasn’t all mayhem and anarchy as a pirate, frequently there was a code onboard, stating not only the basic rules (no smoking a pipe in the hold – hey, there be gunpowder down there!) but also the division of plunder, and remuneration if severely injured. Lose your right arm while crewing with Henry Morgan? 600 pieces of eight coming your way. An eye? Here’s one hundred (and all things in between).

While some ships could have a despotic captain, more commonly the captain was an elected position. Make a lot of bad calls, no good targets or plunder? Voted out! Whether or not he could stick around or was marooned, that depended on the crew (and level of incompetence).

Hmm, feeling thirsty. Bring on the grog! Well, pirates would drink just about anything as you expect, all depends what’s been looted, or if a source of fresh water is known. “Grog” is historically accurate as a choice, being a rather simple beverage: rum, diluted with water. These days, it can be whatever you wish. Add a splash of citrus or seltzer, mix rums, have at it! Don’t want the alcohol? My “dry” grog is simply apple cider mixed with ginger beer.

Chase’s tells us August is also “Read-A-Romance Month.” Pirates need love, too! Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve some roguish reading to do . . . .

Do you have a favorite pirate? Grog recipe? Questions in general? Leave something in the comments below! Thanks ya scurvy dogs, fair winds and following seas to you all!

- by Dennis B., West Windsor Branch

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