Archive for the ‘Pirates and the Caribbean’ Category

December History: Key West

Tuesday, December 19th, 2017

This year everyone may be trying to find the perfect ugly Christmas sweater, but popular winter fashions certainly change with time.

Kate Dolan writes about Key West

In Key West’s early days, the biggest businesses involved shipwrecks and sponges. 

One winter about 150 years ago, instead of ugly Christmas sweaters or Santa hats, the women of Key West all wanted red shawls. At that time, one of the main businesses on the island was salvaging goods from ships that wrecked on the surrounding coral reefs. One year the wreckers brought in a shipment of red merino wool, which is a fine, light valuable type of wool originally developed for Spanish royalty. The salvaged fabric made its way into shops and quickly sold out as every women tried to purchase just enough to sew a fashionable shawl. The red shawl fashion became so popular on Key West that men began referring to clusters of women gathering to chat as “redshawling.”


Unlocking clues from a pile of stones: the shipwreck on Molasses Reef

Friday, January 11th, 2013

The Turks and Caicos National Museum looks like a little old house because that’s what it is. But the displays inside don’t have much to do with the building or the people who lived there or even life on the islands in general. Most of the museum is devoted to the wreck of an unknown ship.

Kate Dolan visits the Turks and Caicos National Museum

The view of Front Street from the upper porch of the Turks and Caicos National Museum

During the “age of Discovery” roughly 1492 to the 1520s, over 120 European ships are known to have wrecked in the waters of the Americas. The caravel discovered on Molasses Reef was not one of them. Its name, owner, crew and mission remain a mystery. The “mystery wreck” has actually answered a lot of questions, however, because it is the oldest excavated European shipwreck in the Western Hemisphere. It gives details about a type of ship that once roamed the world but then faded from record. (more…)

Talk like a what?

Monday, September 19th, 2011

A friend just wished everyone a “Happy Talk like a Pirate Day” on Facebook and since it’s too early to start on the rum (never a good idea before jump rope practice), I thought I’d write about this strange phenomenon that proves once again, just how much spare time we have on our hands in this society.Jack Rackam's Flag

When people say they mean to “talk like a pirate,” they presumably refer to the Anglo-American pirates from the so-called golden age in the early 18th Century. If they referred to the earlier buccaneers, the pirate-talkers would be speaking French and no one would laugh (except the real French who would be in hysterics over our bad accents). And if they referred to modern pirates, who seem to be enjoying their old golden age at the moment, the pirates would do all their talking with semi-automatic weapons and a few choice Somali curses. (more…)

Psychoanalysis of Blackbeard

Tuesday, May 31st, 2011

Blackbeard's flagI haven’t seen the new Pirates of the Caribbean movie yet but I understand that Blackbeard makes an appearance, so I decided to write a few words about that wild and crazy guy.

I do think he was crazy and very easily bored, so probably not a very happy guy at all. He wasn’t the most successful of the Anglo-American pirates by any stretch of the imagination but he is the best known and I think his questionable sanity is the reason.

Now by crazy I don’t mean that he was an idiot. On the contrary, he was pretty smart, accomplishing whatever he wanted in short order. But I don’t think he was ever happy with what he got.

Blackbeard called himself Edward Teach and he was probably born in the English sea town of Bristol, but other than that little is known about him until he joined Ben Hornigold’s pirate crew in the Bahamas around 1716.  He had enough education to read and write well and he mingled with governors as easily as with pirates, so there is reason to believe he was born into a family of education and means.

He knew how to behave in society –he just chose not to most of the time. (more…)

Pink prison

Tuesday, February 1st, 2011

Prisons are not usually housed in pink octagonal buildings, at least not anymore. But one of the oldest public buildings in Nassau, on New Providence Island in the Bahamas, is a three- story pink octagonal building that was built as a jail.  The building was authorized in 1797, but no one seems quite certain when it was actually finished.  It might not have been pink originally, either, but with its whimsical shape and small proportions, it was probably never a particularly imposing building.

Perhaps it did not need to be. (more…)

Blackbeard’s Un-Castle

Friday, November 5th, 2010

When I was in St. Thomas recently, I visited the historical complex of “Blackbeard’s Castle,” which is right in the middle of downtown Charlotte Amalie. There’s no castle and very little having to do with Blackbeard, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth visiting.

The “castle” is a lookout tower built in 1679 to spot invaders. You can climb to the top and enjoy a beautiful view of the harbor, but the experience is pretty much equivalent to visiting any lighthouse.

The real treasures of this site are found in the three historical houses nearby, which are filled with incredible collections of West Indian antiques AND a staff of knowledgable and enthusiastic guides. Unfortunately, during my tour, I scribbled so many notes all over my brochure that I can hardly read either the original text or my additions to it.

One highlight (one of the legible ones, anyway) was seeing a “planter’s chair” and a “ladies chair.” The planter’s chair was set low with long wide arms so that a gentleman could sit back, put up his feet, and cool off. It’s also sometimes called a “hammock chair.”

The ladies’ version featured arms that could swing in and out to make room for voluminous skirts.

The houses are all furnished to approximately the time of their construction, which was 1822, 1847 and 1860. Ladies’ skirts were just starting to grow in the early 1820s, and of course we know that by the middle of the century, a lady of fashion could take up as much room as a small bus with her layers of petticoats, crinolines and hoops. What was suprising in this prudish era is that women would be allowed to put up their feet. I assume this could only be done in private! (more…)