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HAHN: Important find brings back pirate adventures

May 10, 2011

When I was a kid, I loved to play pirate. And like all my favorite games, I had to have all the accouterments for it — a costume, props and whatever I could round up for a set.
For our neighborhood pirate game I had a wooden sword my father made for me, a red kerchief to tie around my head, a long polka dot sash to stick it in when I wasn’t involved in hand-to-hand combat, and a pair of old rubber boots (too big of course). My most prized piece was the black eye patch my mother made me from real black leather and an elastic band.
My father found an old wooden box somewhere. It had rope handles and a wooden piece that made a lid. In short a treasure chest. Next door neighbor Jimmy Tombes and I stocked it with treasure from our mothers’ jewelry boxes. Sometimes they objected and we’d have to give some of our treasure back.
We also borrowed the family “silver,” i.e. the spoons from the kitchen. These were really good for burying in a nearby vacant lot. Some of them are probably still there.
So, what brought all this to mind? A friend of mine sent me an article about the finding of Capt. Henry Morgan’s cannons in waters off the coast of Panama. Sir Henry Morgan was one of the most colorful pirates of all time. (He’s the one you see depicted in the rum commercials on TV.)
Legend is filled with adventures of Morgan and his plundering of the Caribbean, but facts of his adventures have been hard to come by. Recently a team of researchers from Texas State University discovered six cannons lying in the mud at the mouth of the Chagres River near Panama City in Panama.
The cannons are an important find because, while legend is ripe with the adventures of the famous pirate, these are the only physical evidence which actually tie the pirate captain to the area some 300 years ago.
Morgan was a privateer for seeking to protect the lucrative trade routes to the Americas. A privateer was a person authorized by a government to attack shipping from other countries during wartime. This is was a popular way for a government to disrupt commerce without spending a lot of money.
Morgan was attempting a raid on Panama City (known then as Panama Viejo) in 1671. His flagship, the Satisfaction, hit a reef and sank. Three other ships followed suit. They all went down to Davy Jones’s locker. Undaunted, Morgan took his remaining ships and sacked the city as planned.
The wreckage was discovered last year and are an important find. Interesting though they are, but more important, they offer tangible proof of historical events.
The group originally found eight cannons buried in the rock and sand on the ocean floor, but when they returned to retrieve them two were gone. They believe the strong ocean currents may have moved them elsewhere.
Naval cannons of the period were meant to sink ships, but pirate’s cannons were meant to disable ships so the crew would surrender them. When they are retrieved and cleaned up, they will be displayed in a museum in Panama. Future expeditions will hopefully turn up more artifacts.
Morgan lived a colorful life, operating on both sides of the law. Space does not permit an account of his life, but he died rich and respectable in 1688.
He is a popular subject in the entertainment world. There are long lists of books and films about him. Among them are “Captain Blood,” the movie that made a star of Errol Flynn in 1935.
Then there was “Forever Amber“ by Kathleen Windsor. It was a money-making “bodice ripper” that my mother snatched from my grasp and returned immediately to the library with orders I could not check it out again. In 2004 the video game Sid Meier’s “Pirates” was also based on the pirate’s adventures.

Alma Joyce Hahn taught in the Benton schools for more than 30 years. Her column appears each Monday.
beajhahn@sbcglobal.net

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