I have to admit that I was more than a little amused by the rum barrel debates over the placement of decorated rum barrels in the Historic District. However, I was also a little disappointed at the lack of historical knowledge of pirates and their presence on St. Croix. In essence, the Historical Commission or as some say, the Hysterical Commission, was opposed to embracing a pirate presence on the island. This is in direct conflict with historic reality.
Almost ever scholar of St. Croix makes note of the pirate presence on the island. Alfredo Figuerdo notes in a paper that French pirates were attempting to operate from the island as early 1522 only 30 years after the discovery and naming of Santa Cruz by Columbus. Florence Lewisohn notes in her book that these French Filibusters continued to use the island as a base for careening and maintaining their boats until the island was formally settled by Holland and England in 1625.
William Boyer, in his book, points out that the Pirate presence never ended under the Knights of Malta. So many people died from hunger and disease that the survivors stole the supply ship and left for a life of piracy off the Spanish Main. The island continued to be engaged in smuggling, piracy and privateering as a French Crown Colony and Boyer points out that the inability of the French Crown to control piracy and smuggling influenced the decision to abandon the island and move everybody to Haiti.
Fortunately for pirates and unfortunately for the European Powers this move made St. Croix the most attractive port of call in the Lesser Antilles for pirates. Hundreds of English settlers and farmers came to the island to live free and avoid trade restrictions and taxes while enjoying religious freedom. They traded freely with pirates, privateers and smugglers exchanging provisions for trade goods and tools. The island remained a popular location for repairing and maintaining pirate ships.
St. Croix as a Pirate Base is noted by scholars from China to America and it is on most Top Ten Pirate lists where it ranks about number four. It is simply the most important pirate island aside for those along the Spanish Main in the Greater Antilles. This importance was not missed on contemporary writers. A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the most notorious Pyrates was published in 1724, just at the end of the Golden age of Piracy and St. Croix is mentioned several times. Our image of pirates is mostly from this book as it has never been out of print from the year it was published.
The author had to be very careful with the contents and still used a pseudonym. In that era, books unfavorable to the crown could be viewed as seditious and the authors hung. Naturally, all pirates are depicted as villains who engaged in rape, murder, pillage and plundering. These despicable people were eliminated by a just King. Still, their was a great amount of sympathy shown in the book for the poor people driven to a life of piracy in order to survive despite the high risk of being hung. This book also presents the surviving copies of various pirate codes.
The Pirate Code proves that all pirates were not depraved. About half of the surviving codes address the issue of women in a favorable manner. One warns that any man found seducing a woman and carrying her to sea disguised as a man, shall suffer death. This was a fairly common prohibition among pirates. Another prohibits rape with a strong prohibition; “If at any time you meet with a prudent Woman, the Man that offers to meddle with her, without her Consent, shall suffer…Death.”
The importance of the Pirate Code, also called the Articles of Agreement, is because it is the first contractual Bill of Rights for commoners and seamen. Until the American Constitution and Bill of Rights there was no other guarantees of rights for ordinary people without land, title or wealth and that took a hundred years to evolve. It can be easily argued that pirates had more rights than Americans at the end of the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812.
All pirates were entitled to vote on all issues including the choice of leadership and the targets to be approached. Pirates also believed in the equality of all men regardless or race, religion or national origin.
History shows that the really disgusting pirates occupied the Greater Antilles along the Spanish Main and these men were vilified by all nations. The St. Croix Pirate History is blessed by the two most successful pirates from the Golden Era. Black Sam Bellamy, the Prince of Pirates, was a romantic man who needed to amass a fortune so he could marry the daughter of a rich Boston Merchant that would not let his daughter marry a poor man. As assessed by Forbes Magazine, the Prince of Pirates, managed to amass a fortune of $200 million while operating from Christiansted Harbor as his very secure home port.
Black Sam had a very mixed crew with a sixteen year old Native America pilot, people of all European nations and a third were Free Africans. He and his crew died off Cape Cod in a nor’easter while returning to Boston as wealthy men seeking the Kings Pardon so Sam could marry the woman of his dreams. He was committed to democracy and refused to harm anyone during his year of piracy unless absolutely necessary. The Captains of the ships he captured named him the Prince of Pirates and his pirates called themselves Robin Hood’s Merry Men.
Bellamy’s partner was well educated and born to a wealthy French Family. This is significant as there were no slaves in France during the Golden Age of Piracy and Aristocrats did not run plantations on the French Islands. Olivier Levasseur developed his skills as a privateer during the War for Spanish Succession. I don’t know how he failed to make the Forbes List of Wealthiest Pirates. As Sam’s partner, he was entitled to half of the St. Croix wealth for himself and his pirate crew. After Sam’s death, he moved to the Indian Ocean and amassed another fortune of equal size before being captured by the French and hung. Levasseur was in the habit of burring treasure where he worked so part of his treasure could still be on St. Croix.
With Christiansted being home to the two wealthiest and perhaps gentlemanly pirates of the Golden Age of Piracy, St. Croix should be in the forefront of Pirate Festivals, not a copycat pretender. But that’s not all.
In “Treasure Island: The Untold Story,” author John Amrhein, Jr. makes a direct connection between the story of John Lloyd and Owen Lloyd and the Treasure Island story. John Lloyd, who was peg-legged survived the event of the story and retired in North Carolina. Owen Lloyd survived the piracy, and lived as a free man until he was shot in a Christiansted Bar.
Treasure Island Day is emerging as a festival in the Outerbanks of North Carolina on November 13, which is Robert Louis Stevenson’s birthday. Robert Louis Stevenson Day is already celebrated in Edinburgh, Scotland. Christiansted is already connected to the two best pirates of the Caribbean so it would seem fitting to create a Pirate Festival in St. Croix stressing their positive attributes.