State-Organized Crime Part 2
William J. Chambliss
State-Organized Crime Part 2
Sun Feb 20, 2005 00:09

The pirate culture condoned violence on a scale seldom seen. There was no mercy for the victims of the piratesí attacks. Borgnefesse, a French pirate who wrote his memoirs after retiring to a gentlemanís life in rural France, was an articulate chronicler of these traits. He wrote, for example, of how he once saved a young girl "not yet into puberty" from being raped by two "beastly filibusters" who were chasing her out of a house in a village that he and his men had attacked (LeGolif, 1680). Borgnefesse wrote of being embarrassed that on that occasion he felt "pity " for the young girl and violated one of the ironclad laws of the pirateís world: that women were prizes for whoever found them in the course of a raid. The would-be rapists resisted his effort to save the girl and "told me I was interfering in a matter which was none of my business, that pillage was permitted in the forcing of the women as well as the coffers."

It was commonplace among pirates to "take no prisoners" unless, of course, they could be useful to the victors. Borgnefesse described how he cut off the heads of everyone on board a Spanish "prize" because the enemy angered him by injuring his arm during the battle. Another time he and his men took all the people on a captured ship, tied them up in the mainsail, threw them in the water, and then drank rum while listening to the screams of the slowly drowning men. For all his criminal exploits, however, Borgnefesse was well protected by French ships and French colonies.

England and Holland were quick to join the French. Sir Richard Hawkins and his apprentice, Sir Francis Drake, were issued "letters of marque" from the admiralty directing governors of British colonies and captains of British warships to give safe passage and every possible assistance to Hawkins and Drake as they were acting "under orders of the Crown" (British Museum, 1977). Their "orders" were to engage in piracy against Spanish and Portuguese ships. Thus, the state specifically instructed selected individuals to engage in criminal acts. The law, it must be emphasized, did not change. Piracy remained a crime punishable by death, but some pirates were given license to murder, rape, plunder, destroy, and steal.

The stateís complicity in piracy was more successful, one suspects, than even the most avaricious monarchs expected. On one voyage (between 1572 and 1573), Drake returned to England with enough gold and silver to support the government and all its expenses for a period of 7 years (Corbett, 1898a, 1898b). Most of this wealth came from Drakeís attack on the town of Nombre de Dios, which was a storage depot for Spanish gold and silver. In this venture Drake joined forces with some French pirates and ambushed a treasure train.

Drake was knighted for his efforts, but the Spanish were not silent. They formally challenged Britainís policies, but the queen of England denied that Drake was operating with her blessing (after, of course, taking the gold and silver that he brought home) and Drake was tried as a criminal. He was publicly exiled, but privately he was sent to Ireland, where he reemerged several years later (in 1575) serving under the first Earl of Essex in Ireland.

Borgnefesse and Sir Francis Drake are only two of hundreds of pirates who plied their trade between 1400 and 1800 (Senior, 1976), Their crimes were supported by, and their proceeds shared with, whatever nation-state offered them protection and supplies. In theory, each nation-state only protected its own pirates, but in practice, they all protected and pirates willing to share their gains.

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