The Underclass, Underculture  & History From Below

The Jolly Roger.


Synonymous with pirates, its skull & crossbones motif was initially used in a sea captain's log book to indicate the death of a seaman. As many pirates were ex sailors, this reappropriated symbol of death gradually, along with many variants, became the logo for piracy in the early 18th century. It is suggested that the origin of the name 'Jolly Roger' is a corruption of the French 'la jolie rouge' referring to the red flags hoisted by maritime crews to commence battle. Another, is that 'Jolly Roger' is a variation of 'Old Roger', a common name for the devil. Electrical Tape On Bed Sheet. 2019.

A Scare Tactic Against Further Piracy.


Execution Dock at Wapping, London was symbolically located far enough offshore in the River Thames so as to be beyond the low-tide mark. This was because nautical crimes were dealt with by the Admiralty who held no territorial jurisdiction over the land, so maritime justice took place "on water" . Anybody who had committed crimes on the seas, either in home waters or abroad, would eventually be brought back to London and tried by the High Court of Admiralty. Piracy had originally been brought under the jurisdiction of the Admiralty court with Henry VIII’s law of 1536, although the High Court of Admiralty had actually been established the year before to suppress piracy, and their courts operated with juries. Hanging was done with a shortened rope. This meant a slow death from strangulation on the scaffold as the drop was insufficient to break the prisoner’s neck. It was called the "Marshal’s dance" because, firstly, most of the condemned men were kept at Marshalsea prison prior to hanging; and secondly, because their limbs would often be seen to 'dance' from slow asphyxiation. The bodies of the executed criminals were usually left hanging on the nooses, or were chained to the shoreline, until at least three tides had washed over their bodies. Some were then gibbeted for long periods of time along the river or coastline as a warning to others. Captain Kidd’s body was left exposed for three years in a cage following his execution at Wapping in 1701.

A Pirate Hung At Sea (After William Kidd, 1701). Ink, Fineliner, Electrical Tape & Masking Tape on Lining Paper. 2019.

Pirate Cuisine.


From 2 particular books I've read on pirates and their way of living: Gabriel Kuhn's 'Life Under The Jolly Roger' (a more recent analysis) and Alexander O Esquemelin's 'The Buccaneers Of America', (a contemporary account), the pirate's diet has been written about in some depth.

Kuhn writes about a pirate dish called 'salmagundi', which is: 'meat of any kind - including turtle, duck, or pigeon - was roasted, chopped into chunks, and marinated in spiced wine. Imported salted meat, herring, and anchovies also were added. When ready to serve, the smoked and salted meats were combined with hard-boiled eggs and whatever fresh or pickled vegetables were available, including palm hearts, cabbage, mangoes, onions, and olives. The result was stirred together with oil, vinegar, garlic, salt, pepper, mustard seed, and other seasonings.'

While that sounds appealing, 'crackerhash' does not. Broken up ship's biscuit shaken in a bag with the week's leftovers, eaten in times of scarcity. Esquemelin who writes from first hand experience, describes the food available and the cooking and preparation methods of the buccaneers on the islands of Hispaniola and Tortuga: 'They have sweet potatoes in the morning for breakfast, served with butter, lemon juice, lard and red peppers. Some of these sweet potatoes are put aside to make a drink. The planters cut them in slices in a crock and pour on hot water. The liquor is strained through a cloth into a cauldron, after two or three days it begins to ferment. It makes a very good and nourishing drink, with a sour taste which is not unpleasant. They call it 'maby', a name learned from the Indians. They cook two meals a day of this meat (pork or turtle), without rationing. When it is boiled, the fat is skimmed off the cauldron and put into little calabashes, for dipping the meat in. The meal consists of only one course, and often it tastes better than the food to be found on a gentleman's table.

Of course pirates are renowned for drinking, and a common concoction, 'Rumfustian' was a blend of raw eggs, sugar, sherry, gin, and beer.......with no rum.