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‘Alcatraces’
Pirate Narratives #5: Chapter 3
Pages 69-75
Speaking of the interior of Hispaniola of the town of Also the author described the mongrel people as being the products of Spanish men liking the company of “negro women” and “tawny” Indian women better than “their own white European race,” as the non-Christian women were more willing to have casual sex. This is one of the first usages of the term “white” to describe European races and sensibly aligns with the fact that the author was of Dutch extraction, which appears to be the linkage that brought the usage of the term “white” as a racial noun into English from the Spanish, from whence it came from North Africa as did the term mulatto, which meant “the children” and ultimately had an Arabic root.
He describes the three “mongrel sort of people” of Hispaniola as:
European and Indian = mesticos
European and Negro = mulattoes
Negroes and Indians = Alcatraces
All of these folks are described as involved in hunting feral cattle, horse, dogs and boar in the interior with the Europeans planting, hunting and practicing piracy.
The north side of the island is said to have been “ruined by the Hollanders” or Dutch, who fought the Spanish often in the 1600s.
The packs of wild dogs range up to 50 and 60 strong and are ravenous, so fierce that they attacked herds of wild boar. The author observed this while hunting with domesticated dogs and servants. So common was slavery, that John, almost as soon as he becomes free, acquires at least one servant. One boar fought a huge pack of dogs for hours, killing three, until one brave dog jumped on his back and ripped off the boar’s testicles. The other dogs waited for that dog to eat his fill before feasting.
These dogs were wild “mastiffs” having been left over from the man-eating war dogs of the conquistadors. They were so dominant that they threatened to deplete the boar population on the island of Tortuga and were poisoned by order the French governor in 1668. These dogs, though poisoned in great numbers, continued to thrive. The author himself saw caves filed with many human bones from the days when these dogs had been used by the Spanish to exterminate the Indians, who starved in caves rather than be eaten alive by the war dogs and quartered by their masters.
Of the three professions, planting, hunting or piracy, the hunters who specialized in feral cattle instead of boars, numbering between 300 and 600, were called Bucaniers. The buccaneers were cruel binge drinkers and brutal masters to their servants, moving the author to say that a servant was better off as “a galley-slave or sawing Brazil wood in the rasphouses of Holland,” indicating that workhouse prisons were in use in Holland as well as England. Workhouses would become a common feature of Maryland, New York and Pennsylvania plantation life in the 1700s.
The other kind of hunter sells salted pork to planters, who send out armed servants to these men. These servants are said to bind themselves to three year terms of service. John differentiates them from slaves who are also negroes, “…but their masters, having no consciences, often traffic their bodies, as with horses at a fair, selling them to other masters as they sell negroes. Yeah, to advance this trade, some persons go purposefully to France (and likewise to England an other countries) to pick up young men or boys, whom they inveigle [1] and transport [2]; and having once got them into these islands, they work them like horses, the toil imposed upon them being much harder than what they enjoin the negroes, their slaves; for these they endeavor to preserve, being their perpetual bondmen [3]: but for their white servants they care not if they live or die, seeing they are to serve them no longer than three years. These miserable kidnaped people are frequently subject to a disease, which in these arts is called coma, being a complete privation of the senses. This privation is judged to proceed from their hard usage [4]…”
“Besides the hard usage in their diet, apparel and rest, many times they beat them so cruelly, that they fall down dead under the hands of their masters. Of the many instances, I shall now give you the following, it being remarkable in its circumstances.”
So, the author has seen “many instances” in which a servant was beaten to death. I will summarize the account. A servant ran from a cruel master and was retrieved. The servant was then tied to a tree and lashed until bloody, then anointed with lemon juice, salt and pepper on his wounds, hung for 24 hours and then beaten to death. He cursed his master to suffer the same torment just before he died at his hand and sure enough the master latter went insane within four days and beat himself to death.
The author continues, “The planters of the Caribee [5] islands are rather worse and more cruel to their servants than the former. Below are some notes on this tour of hell, where the cruel French seem to be the kindest to their white slaves:
-Saint Christopher Island, a Dutch master [6] named Battessa had killed over a hundred of his servants with “blows and stripes.”
-The English, who bind servants for 7 years rather than 3 years as do the Dutch and French, beat their servants to death in their sixth year lest they beg to be sold to another for another 7 years.
-The English sell any person who owes 25 shillings or more, that is 25 days’ pay, for eight months of torment and toil.
“I have known many who have thus served fifteen or twenty years before they could obtain their freedom.”
The author assures that he could relate many more servant murders but “I omit them.” He then departs from those brutal, numbing accounts of why people runaway and become pirates and promises to relate tales of famous pirates from his own memory and as an eye witness.
Now, then, suppose John Esquemeling had not gotten lucky to become the servant of a kind surgeon—keeping in mind that he had become a servant despite being literate, meaning he was not of the lower classes. That is what has happened to so many accounts of white slaves, the stories died with these children, youth and wretched men in the coma of heat stroke or when their heart failed while strapped to a tree enduring their beating.
Notes
-1. To persuade through deception or flattery
-2. Forcibly shipped to a plantation
-3. Unlike under the English, the French Slave code encouraged perpetual African slavery.
-4. The French term for use would have been “employ,” the root word for our term employee or useful person
-5. The cruelest plantations in English North America were run by the scions of Carribee slave cartels in South Carolina
-6. One wonders about the origin of the cigar brand Dutch Masters, as this nation provided most of the shipping for the tobacco and slave trade
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RubenDecember 11, 2020 3:51 PM UTC

Fascinating stuff James. A lot of my favorite time period of HIStory.
responds:December 12, 2020 4:18 PM UTC

We were surly pirates once.