A Socialist Pirate
By A. HYATT VERRILL
From ‘Plain Talk’, 1927, Volume 1 Number1, digital capture by Doug Frizzle September 2007
Honor among thieves, perhaps; religion among rogues; virtue among hangmen, but a softhearted pirate—never! Well, seldom ever, for here is one. Mr. Verrill, writer, explorer, naturalist, archaeologist, tells of Captain Misson who, if he were alive today, would be looked upon for fine material as a kindergarten teacher—save for his dreadful Socialism. On the other hand, he would be a handy man to have along if one got between two opposing
THESE are strange words for a pirate, surely: "And I do now declare war and at the same time recommend you a humane and generous behavior towards your prisoners, which will appear by so much more the effects of a noble soul, as we are satisfied we should not meet the same treatment should our ill fortune or want of courage give us up to their mercy."
But Captain Misson, who thus expressed his sentiments, was a strange man, a pirate with an ideal, who robbed and scuttled ships, not for personal gain, but with the altruistic purpose of benefiting the human race, of helping his fellow men to greater happiness and freedom. Unquestionably he was sincere, and having conceived the idea of a Utopia, he was convinced that any means was justified by the end and proceeded to work out his ideas of liberty upon any and all at point of sword or pistol muzzle. And, strangest of all, he succeeded. He actually established his piratical republic, his Utopia for sea rovers, and had it not been for unforeseen and unavoidable factors, in the form of savages, who held very definite ideas on the subject, Misson might today be lauded as one of the greatest benefactors of the human race instead of an almost forgotten pirate.
The story of the pirates' Utopia is one of the most fascinating bits in all the annals of freebooters, and it reads like a romance. Moreover, it had a tremendous influence upon the settlement, commerce and development of the Orient, as well as upon the
The son of a prominent and wealthy man of
This man, a renegade priest named Caraccioli took a great fancy to the apprentice and Misson in turn was strangely fascinated by the ex-priest's socialistic and revolutionary beliefs. Indeed, he was so attracted to him that he induced Caraccioli to return to Victoire with him, and coaxed and wheedled Captain Fourbin into accepting the unfrocked cleric as a member of the frigate's company.
Regardless of his ideas Caraccioli was a born fighter and in various battles between the Victoire and Moorish and British ships, both he and young Misson won distinction by their bravery and were soon promoted to the ranks of petty officers. During the lulls between engagements, however, the Italian devoted most of his time to propounding his views of politics, religion and freedom, and being a most eloquent and convincing talker, converted Misson and most of the other members of the frigate's crew to his beliefs. None, however, dreamed of putting his convictions into practice by either fair means or foul, until fate took a hand in their destiny and paved the way. In an engagement with a British ship off
Thus by the fortunes of war and by perfectly legitimate means Misson found himself in possession of a splendid armed ship and with a loyal and brave crew to command. It was the opportunity of a lifetime—to him a direct dispensation of
His purposes, however, were truly lofty and humane, and although his lieutenant or "Seconde Lord" was a confessed atheist, he assured his men that he himself believed implicitly in a Supreme Being, but not in any established religion; that he felt convinced men were not born to be slaves, and that while doubtless the rest of the world would brand himself and his brave-hearted and generous crew as pirates pure and simple, it would be due solely to ignorance and selfishness and hence no ill will or enmity should be cherished. "Rather," he said, "they should be the more magnanimous towards those who fall into their hands and should use kindness and persuasion to win them over to their own beliefs and higher ideals."
"However," he said, "self preservation is essential if we are to succeed and for that reason and not because of a cruel disposition I am compelled to declare war against all such as refuse us entry into their ports or who do not at once surrender unto us and give up whatever necessities we require." Then, his soul evidently not having been completely purged of inborn racial hatreds and life-long enmities, he added: "But in a more particular manner against all European ships, especially those of
Then he expounded the humane principles upon which he intended to conduct his warfare, as quoted above, and with his crew of two hundred and thirty men set sail for the northern coast of
Unquestionably, honest Thomas Butler, the sloop's skipper, must have pinched himself to see if he were dreaming, for this was an entirely new form of piracy, and although he declined Misson's invitation to become a member of the Utopian expedition, he vowed he "had never met so candid an enemy as these Frenchmen".
Within a few days Misson and his men secured a second sloop south of
None of the survivors found anything attractive in Misson's Utopian schemes, and after a fatherly lecture the altruistic pirate set the captives free and with his prize sailed to
Misson, however, was no fool. Indeed, throughout his remarkable career he proved himself a most accomplished diplomat, and he quite forgot to mention his purposes or beliefs to Senor Zerda, but allowed His Excellency to delude himself with the idea that the Victoire was still a French war vessel whose young commander was a loyal French officer. He must have been a most engaging youth, for he made friends everywhere, and Governor Zerda took a great fancy to him. He supplied Misson with provisions, entertained him and Caraccioli royally, and ended by requesting the Frenchman to convoy a Spanish plate ship from Porto Bello to
Luck, however, was not with Misson this time. The
Evidently Misson realized that word of the supposed French frigate's doings might soon reach the ears of his compatriots and an investigation would be in order. At any time he might meet a real French war vessel much to his embarrassment, and so, deserting the Caribbean, he headed for
Here, off the
To relate all of Misson's exploits that followed would be monotonous. Finally, when near the
So impressed and delighted with the magnanimous pirate were the vanquished British, and so fascinated were they by his lofty purposes, that thirty of their number voluntarily joined Misson's forces. After impressing upon them that they "need not expect an immoral or dissolute life", and having read to them the articles of agreement and other papers—one of which was a "Guide to Conduct and Laws", including among other things the prohibition of gaming by "cards, money or other devices of Satan"—he swore them on, and dividing his company, placed Caraccioli in command of the prize. The ex-priest took every advantage of his situation and within a few days had won over every member of the British crew with the exception of some of the officers.
Being now in possession of the nucleus of a fleet; with enough gold to rouse the envy of many a king, and with over four hundred colonists for his Utopia, not to mention vast quantities of provisions and supplies, Misson decided the time was ripe for putting his long cherished dreams into practice, and headed for the island of Madagascar.
Here indeed, was the strangest, most bizarre expedition that ever sailed the seas. An argosy of merchant sailors, marines and bluejackets; French, English, Italian, Spanish and what not, with a visionary Frenchman and an unfrocked priest in command, and all filled with enthusiastic ideas of liberty, independence and unity, albeit the wherewithal to fulfil their plans had been won by fire and sword. Never in fiction or comic opera has there been a more Quixotic or paradoxical crew of pirates: humane, gallant, moral cutthroats ready to loot a ship or send her to the bottom, to cut down men-of-war'smen or merchant seamen, to act as courteous hosts or sympathetic friends, or to succor those in distress with perfect impartiality.
Soon after leaving the Cape of Good Hope astern, Misson sighted a large ship, an East Indiaman, in a sinking condition, and at great risk rescued her crew and went out of his way to set them safely ashore at Johanna, even providing the shipwrecked manners with funds and clothing.
Here the Utopians were warmly welcomed by the native queen-regent and her brother, and before they again set forth on their wanderings Misson married the queen's sister and Caraccioli, not to be outdone, became the husband of the prince's daughter. Indeed, there was a real marrying bee and a number of the Victoire's company, deciding that Johanna was as near a Utopia as they could hope to find, took native brides, deserted Misson and settled upon the island. Much as he regretted the loss of these men, Misson did not resent their actions and kept perfect faith with them, presenting them with their full share of the booty and wishing them every blessing and happy lives.
At the time of his visit the islanders were in the throes of a war with a savage tribe on a neighboring island, and feeling that they were now allied to the Johannans, Misson and his men took command of the queen's forces, advanced on the enemy and inflicted such a crushing defeat that Johanna was assured of peace for years to come. Then, feeling that he had done his bit for the cause of humanity and liberty in the land of his blushing bride, he hoisted anchor, spread sails and continued on his quest for a suitable spot to found his colony.
His adventures as he sailed the
At last, after the passing incident of taking a Portuguese ship with gold and diamonds valued at more than three million dollars—and the loss of a leg by Caraccioli during the battle—the Victoire and her prizes came to anchor off Madagascar.
Here was the land exactly to Misson's liking. A vast, rich, fertile island, good harbors, and far from the dominion of European powers, while in addition, there were friendly brave natives who could be counted upon to aid their new friends in case of need.
Here, then, Misson and his fellows landed and on the shores of
Side by side they toiled—officers and seamen, ex-priest and ex-pirates, merchants and gentlemen, slaves and freemen, servants and masters—and on equal fooling, with no man better, wealthier, than another, erected houses and forts and public buildings. They cleared the land, tilled the soil and planted crops. They purchased cattle and live stock from the natives and reared herds, and soon the luxuriant, fertile land rewarded them. Fruits and vegetables, grain and corn were theirs in abundance; there was no necessity, no comfort or luxury wanting, and Libertatia grew and prospered most amazingly. The men who had not brought wives from Johanna found helpmates among the neighboring tribes and the population increased. From time to time, outsiders, too, joined the colony.
Many a hoary pirate, his hands hardly dry of blood, his ship groaning with its cargo of evilly won booty, sailed into the
Among the out-and-out pirates who had joined the colony was the notorious, nefarious Captain Tew, and soon afterwards, for the first time, dissensions arose. Tew's men were a bad lot and Tew had been as bad as the worst, and though he had vowed to abide by the Liberi's laws and had foresworn piracy for piracy's sake, he and his men soon wanted to run things. As a result trouble occurred between the original settlers and the new arrivals and to settle the matter Misson and Tew decided to fight a duel.
This, however, met with strong opposition on the part of the more sensible and cool headed Caraccioli. He pointed out that the death of either leader would be an irreparable loss and suggested that to prevent any farther trouble or misunderstandings Libertatia should elect rulers and officials and frame a set of laws and a proper constitution, the colony having undeniably outgrown the crude articles of agreement and "guide to conduct" which had served on shipboard.
This met with everyone's approval; a council was held and Misson was unanimously elected "Lord Conservator" with the official title of "Supreme Excellence", while Tew was appointed "Admiral" and Caraccioli was made "Secretary of State". Also, a house of representatives or "Council House" was chosen, the members being elected without distinction or discrimination because of color or wealth. Excellent laws were also framed. These and all other rules were registered in a "State Book" and finally it was agreed, and duly provided by law, that the "Council House" was to meet annually—or oftener if necessity arose—and that nothing of any importance could be done except with the approval of the State.
Misson and Caraccioli had at last carried their ideals to complete fruition. Here in this strange settlement, this socialistic state, founded and ruled by pirates, equality, humanity and liberty were supreme. All slaves captured were instantly given freedom and were presented with land or provided with occupations. Schools were built and maintained and the children of the Liberi as well as the ignorant natives and the freed blacks were taught English, French, arithmetic and other things. All loot taken from prizes was divided equally and impartially among those who went to sea and those who remained ashore. There was no chance for envy, for poverty, for undue wealth, for graft. No prisons, no police, no capital punishment, no distinctions of color, race or anything else. There were no gambling, no drunkenness, no immorality—and no churches. It was in fact a perfect Utopia, the only successful Utopia the world has ever known, and never has there been a more promising colony or one conducted more honestly, humanely and fairly. Had it continued it might well have revolutionized civilization. Through the very humanity and liberality of its people it met with disaster, but while it eadured its fame spread far, and great was its influence upon the lands bordering the South Seas and even upon the politics of
And as Misson and Caraccioli carried on their administration of Libertatia ashore and held to their avowed ideals and pledges, so the Liberi admiral, Tew, carried the cause of the pirates’ Utopia far and wide upon the seas and adhered strictly to the laws governing his conduct upon the ocean. No British or French frigate bristling with guns and swarming with uniformed men could have gained greater respect or fear from mariners and nations. So far and wide had the story of Misson and his Liberi spread, so well known was the reputation of the Libertatian admiral and his ships, that vessels attacked by him seldom offered resistance.
Instead, knowing that their crews were safe from harm, that their vessels would not be sunk without cause, the captains surrendered whatever the Liberi desired.
Indeed, many a peaceful merchant ship and trader sailed boldly into the
Never had any spot upon the globe been such a meeting place; never had townsfolk been so accustomed to seeing famous or infamous pirates: never had there been a spot where these maritime outlaws could parade in perfect safety amid their more honest and law abiding fellow men.
Even Port Royal in its heydey, even St. Barts, St. Martins or
The Libertatian ideals appealed to few of them. They had no desire to become temperate, law abiding, peaceful men for long. But they were keen observers; they saw the advantages that accrued from having fixed settlements and abodes and here and there about the shores of
And crowned heads rested most uncomfortably upon royal pillows. Not only were ships in constant jeopardy, but the pirates and Liberi were having it pretty much their own way in the trade and commerce of the South Seas and the West Indies. Even in
Many a pirate took advantage of this, but the Liberi still maintained their own and continued to prosper and thrive and to prove to a skeptical world that a veritable Utopia was a practicable thing. Even rough old Tew had become a most humane and gentle character under the influence of Misson and his people, and when a number of his men tired of worthy life and started a rival colony of their own, Tew set sail, visited them and did his best to induce them to return to Libertatia. But his arguments fell upon deaf ears. The men were contented and happy; they could see no advantages in returning to the mother colony, but they declared that they would gladly come under the flag of any European power that would send a governor to take control of their settlement.
Long and eloquently the old ex-pirate talked, and as he did so the sky grew dark, the cocoanut palms thrashed their long leaves, the birds flew screeching inland. Before the Liberi admiral or his obdurate fellows realized it, a terrific storm burst on them. When the hurricane had passed Tew's ship was found an utter wreck. With no means of returning to Libertatia he was forced to remain among his former shipmates.
Then one day, into the little harbor sailed a ship, and Tew's eyes opened wide in astonishment for at her masthead flew the Libertarian flag and he recognized her as the Bijoux with Misson in command.
Sad, indeed, was the news that Misson brought. A native tribe, savages who had refused to be civilized or aided by the Liberi, although they had ever been treated most kindly and were regarded as friendly, had repaid humanity by terrible atrocities. Without warning, without the slightest provocation, they had crept upon Libertatia at dead of night, had burned the place to the ground and had butchered men, women and children without mercy. Caraccioli had died fighting against overwhelming odds, and Misson and forty-five men alone had managed to escape and put to sea in the Bijoux.
Despite the excitement, the terror, the desperate fighting, Misson had managed to save something from the disaster. He had hurriedly secured a quantity of uncut diamonds, some bars of gold and other valuables. It was enough to enable all the survivors to start life anew, and Tew besought Misson and the others to return with him to
Misson was broken hearted, utterly discouraged. At one blow all his ideals, all his life work, all his beloved people, his friend Caraccioli, his wife and children had been destroyed. He had no further ambition, no desires, no hope. He insisted upon dividing his little hoard of treasure with Tew and the men, and declared he was through with future settlements and desired only to pass the rest of his days wandering about and striving to wipe bitter memories from his mind. He asked that a small vessel might be given him, called for volunteers, and with fifteen men set sail. But, Tew was not a man to desert an old comrade and friend in time of adversity. With thirty-four men he, too, set sail, swearing with many a quaint piratical oath that he'd accompany his Supreme Excellency to the uttermost ends of the earth or ocean.
For a time the two sloops sailed together, cruising aimlessly, until off
Saddened, Tew, when the storm was over, headed for the West Indies and from the
No one but his old shipmates suspected Tew's identity and for many years the Admiral of Libertatia dwelt quietly in the
His last venture was brief. In an attack upon a ship belonging to the Great Mogul he fell mortally wounded. "A shot carried away the rim of Tew's belly who held his bowels with his hands for some space." states a contemporaneous writer, adding. "When he dropped, it struck such terror to his men that they suffered themselves to be taken without further resistance."
Tew, Misson, Caraccioli, have long passed into oblivion: names preserved only in the annals of piracy. The story of Libertatia is known to but few, the pirates' Utopia is a chapter of history never mentioned in text books and yet its influence, its effects live on. Today, the visitor to the