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The Pirate Surgeon's Quarters in the Golden Age of Piracy, Page 3

Pirate Vessels: Small Craft

"... they steered for the coast of Virginia, and in their way, met with a large New-England brigantine, laden with provisions, bound for Barbadoes. This they made prize of, and shifting their own guns on board her, sent the master away in the sloop, after forcing some of his men with them. They had now a vessel of ten guns, and a crew of 80 men, of whom one James was captain, and [Thomas] Howard quarter-master." (Captain Charles Johnson, The History of the Pirates, p. 144)

List of Small Pirate Ships
A Listing of Various Small Pirate Ships by Type, from Pirate Ship names list,
Pyracy.com Forum, posted 3/31/10 by The Island, gathered 11/7/12

While the large, three-masted ships were impressive, most pirates during the golden age of piracy operated from smaller, single- and double-masted ships. Even those in the larger ships started out in smaller ships. Angus Konstam tells us that "for the most part, pirates relied on smaller, less spectacular craft, such as sloops, brigantines and early schooners."1 A listing of various small pirate vessels sorted by type can be seen at left.

It is immediately apparent which type of vessel was the most popular among the pirates. Of the 46 small ships identified in this list, 70% of them were Sloops, 24% are Brigs or Brigantines, 4% of are Schooners and the remaining 2% Snows.2 As we shall see shortly, snows were basically brigs with a different sail configuration so the number of brigs may be lower and snows higher, although this doesn't affect the basic fact that the sloop was the most popular small pirate ship at this time.

Charles Vane and his sloop
Charles Vane in front of his Sloop Ranger
from The General History of the Pirates (1724)
The observant may note that the same pirates are sometimes listed for different ships. This is because they took ships when they captured a better one. As pirate captain William Fly explained to the master of a captured sloop, he must "make bold to try if Capt. Fulker's sloop was a better sailer than [his] snow. If she was, she would prove much fitter for their business, and they must have her."3

Smaller boats had several advantages - speed, maneuverability, ease of careening and a shallow draft which allowed them to sail in in places where larger ships could not. However the primary reasons they were so popular was because they were readily available in the areas where the pirates operated and were easier for a small crew of pirates to take than a larger ship. Smaller vessels required smaller crews and since merchants usually staffed their ships with the minimum number of men in an effort to save money, the pirates found less resistance in smaller craft.

A smaller boat would likely have much less space available to a surgeon. This doesn't mean the pirates wouldn't have surgeons on these vessels. Bartholomew Roberts had three different surgeons at one point including Peter Scudamore, who served on the Ranger sloop. Scudamore didn't remain there, however, because he was elected to be the Chief Surgeon "by the good Will of the Ranger's People, who, in general, voted for Scudamore, to get rid of him, (the chief Surgeon being always to remain with the Commodore [ on board Bartholomew Robert's ship the Royal Fortune].)"4

Cockpit of the Duyfken
Photographer: Michael Lamonica
Cockpit of the Duyfken Replica. Although this is a 1606 ship and larger than a sloop it gives
an idea of the surgeon's cramped quarters.
Pirates usually tried to put as many men on board a ship as they could to man the guns and make like a more imposing threat. Captain Lewis took a sloop of about 90 tons "and mounted her with 12 guns. His crew was... about 80 men, whites and blacks."5 All of these men on a smaller vessel probably produced some pretty cramped quarters aboard such a small pirate craft.

As with large ships, the surgeon's place on a sloop would typically be on the lowest deck. Like the men, he would probably find his quarters overcrowded, which would be exacerbated by having to share his space with everything required for the vessel's care and maintenance, the booty that the boat might be hauling and possibly even cannon if they were mounted there.

1 Angus Konstam, The Pirate Ship 1660 -1730, p. 3; 2 Calculated from data found at Pirate Ship names list, Pyracy.com Forum, posted 3/31/10 by The Island, gathered 11/7/12; 3 Captain Charles Johnson, The History of the Pirates, p. 137; 4 Captain Charles Johnson, The General History of the Most Notorious Pirates, p. 313-4; 5 Johnson, The History of the Pirates, p. 155

Pirate Vessels: Small Craft - Schooners

"[Low's pirates] mann'd and arm'd their Boat [a Brigantine], and took Possession of every one of them [13 ships in the Harbor of Port Rosemary], plundered them of what they thought fit, and converted one to their own Use, viz,, a Scooner of 80 Tuns, aboard of which they put 10 Carriage Guns, and 50 Men, and Low himself went Captain, and nam'd her the Fancy, making one Charles Harris... Captain of the Brigantine". (Captain Charles Johnson, General History of the Pyrates, p. 370)

Low clearly thought more of the schooner than he did his brigantine or the twelve other ships that he took that day, suggesting that at least that schooner was a superior vessel. This is probably because she was faster, a trait prized by pirates, as Johnson revealed later telling us that Low's "Scooner coming up first [to a target ship], attacked them"1. Of course, Johnson goes on to say that "there happening to be an Officer and some Soldiers on Board, who gave them a warm Reception, Low chose to stay till he should be joyned by the Brigantine"2. This highlights a downside of smaller vessels: they couldn't hold as many men and cannon, which was one of the pirates' primary advantages in a fight.

Schooner Anna B. Smith
Schooner Sails of the Anna B. Smith, photographed by the navy (1915)
Schooners are the least represented vessel in our list of small pirate vessels other than the snow, which is actually a type of brigantine. Schooners account for only 4% of the 46 ships in the list.3 David Cordingly suggests that this was because they didn't appear until near the end of the golden age of piracy, when they are "mentioned in two issues of the Boston News Letter."4

Schooners could have anywhere from one to three masts, although two-masted schooners were the most common.5 They could be rigged with several different sail configurations, although the most common is to gaff rig them - that is use four-corned sails with the top of the square being held taut by a spar (pole) which keeps it square.6 This gives the sail four-sides instead of three providing more area for the sail to catch the wind and allowing the vessel to travel faster. Bemuda-built vessels often have a mainstaysail between the two masts (not shown in the photo above left) and one or two forestaysails.7

Building a Schooner
Building a Schooner, from The Last Cruise of the Saginaw by
George H. Read, illustration by Lieutenant Commander Sicard (1912)
As mentioned previously, the naming of boat types at this time had more to do with the masts and sails than it did with the size or configuration of the body of the boat. So schooners would have been of a variety of different sizes. This is a something we will encounter repeatedly when trying to imagine how much space a surgeon might have aboard such a vessel.

A possible proxy for ship size was the number of guns she carried, with the idea being that the pirates would load as many guns as they possibly could onto the deck space they had. Thus the more guns the pirates put aboard, the larger the ship.

British Navy-rated schooners were recommended to have a single deck, 4-14 guns and a complement of 20-90 men.8 Of our two identified schooners, we only know that Low's ship had 14 guns, the maximum for which the navy rated them.9 Of course, this is based on data from a single vessel.

1,2 Calculated from data found at Pirate Ship names list, Pyracy.com Forum, posted 3/31/10 by The Island, gathered 11/7/12; 3,4 David Cordingly, Under the Black Flag, p. 168; 5 Schooner, wikipedia, gathered 11/11/12; 6 Gaff Rig, wikipedia, gathered 11/11/12; 7 Schooner; 8 Rating system of the Royal Navy, wikipedia, gathered 11/3/12, 1706 Establishment, wikipedia, gathered 11/14/12. and 1719 Establishment, wikipedia, gathered 11/14/12; 9 Pirate Ship names list

Pirate Vessels: Small Craft - Brigantines, Brigs and Snows

"...the Majority [of Charles Vane's pirate crew] was for boarding [a French Man-of-War - something Captain Vane opposed]... At length the Captain made use of his Power to determine this Dispute, which, in these Cases, is absolute and uncontroulable... so the [pirate's] Brigantine having the Heels... of the French Man [being faster], she came clear off." (Captain Charles Johnson, General History of the Pyrates, p. 146)

The ship in that account was Vane's brigantine Ranger. While Captain Vane won the argument over whether or not they should try to take the French man-of-war ship, he lost his fast-sailing Brigantine as a result. As A Brigantine
A Brigantine from Nouveau Voyage aux Isles de l'Amerique, Volume 2
by Jean Baptiste Labat (1722). This boat has the square rigged topsail &
foresail (left) and the fore-and-aft rigged spanker (right) raised.
Johnson explains, "the next Day, the Captain's Behaviour was obliged to stand the Test of a Vote, and a ResoIution passed against his Honour and Dignity, branding him with the Name of Coward, deposing him from the Command, and turning him out of the Company, with Marks of Infamy, and, with him, went all those who did not Vote for boarding the French Man of War."1

'Calico' Jack Rackham was made the new captain. There was some honor among these thieves, however, for they gave the cast-off crew a sloop before leaving them.

The characteristics of a brigantine during the golden age of piracy were that it was a) relatively small, b) two-masted, and c) rigged with square sails on the foremast and fore-and-aft rigging on the (rear) mainmast.2 The Ranger herself was "a fast, two-mast vessel that carried a square-rigged foresail and topsails, a fore-and-aft rigged spanker abaft [behind] her mainmast, a triangular main staysail between her masts, and a jib, secured to her bowsprit."3

There were two other types of vessels that were basically brigantines with slightly different sail configurations: the brig and the snow. A brig (a term derived by shortening 'brigantine') carried square sails on both masts with a small fore-and-aft sail on the mainmast.4 Snows looked like the other brigantine vessels with the addition of a small mast just behind the mainmast that carried a sail.5 The differences are slight on a ship as seen as seen below.

Brigantine, Brig and Snow Sail Plans
Fulling Rigged Brigantine, Brig and Snow Sail Plans

The British Navy used brigs because they were fast and maneuverable6, although they were too small to be assigned a class rating.7 Snows were mostly popular among merchants.8 Konstam suggests Snow Ship Rigging
Artist: Ray Brown
A Merchant Snow from American Merchant Ships
and Sailors by Willis J. Abbot, p. 29 (1902)
such ships "lacked the high proportion of sail area to displacement that characterised the sloop, and to a lesser extent the faster square-rigged ships of the period such as slavers"9. While pirates used them, they were much less popular than sloops as our listing of vessel types at the top of this page reveals.

For armament, the Navy recommended that Brigantines carry 4 - 14 guns and 20-90 men to man them.10 Our small pirate ship data from the golden age shows them carrying much more than that: between 14 - 32 guns based on the six ships for which we have data, with the average being 18 guns.11 Charles Vane's Ranger had 12 guns and crew of 80.12

Brigantines could also have oars or sweeps13 which could take up space on the lower deck where the surgeon plied his trade, as we learn when feisty Captain Tucker of a Bermuda brigantine targeted by Captain Lewis' pirates put "out his oars, [and] got in among them."14 If a brigantine had oars, the space available to the surgeon on a such a vessel might have to be shared with oarsmen at times, which would not be conducive to the establishment of a good surgery.

Brigs were sometimes created from other small vessels. John Bowen's pirate crew procured a sloop and converted her into a brig by adding a second mast15, the addition of which would have further limited the space belowdecks where the surgeon worked.

1 Captain Charles Johnson, General History of the Pyrates, p. 146; 2 Brigantine, wikipedia, gathered 11/4/12; 3 Angus Konstam, The Pirate Ship 1660 -1730, p. 44; 4 Brig, wikipedia, gathered 11/5/12; 5 Manuel Schonhorn, A General History of the Pyrates. Introduction to the Dover Edition, p. xlviii; 6 Brig; 7 Rating system of the Royal Navy, wikipedia, gathered 11/3/12, 1706 Establishment, wikipedia, gathered 11/14/12. and 1719 Establishment, wikipedia, gathered 11/14/12; 8 Snow (ship); 9 Konstam, p. 21; 10 Rating system of the Royal Navy; 11 Calculated from data found at Pirate Ship names list, Pyracy.com Forum, posted 3/31/10 by The Island, gathered 11/7/12; 12 Konstam, p. 34; 13 Captain Charles Johnson, History of the Pirates, p. 494; 14 Johnson, History of the Pirates, p. 154; 15 Johnson, History of the Pirates, p. 49

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