A “Horrid Massacre” by Pirates!

   Posted by: rring   in Uncategorized

[Posted by Marc DiBenedetto (’13), a student in Zak Sitter’s English course, “1816: A Romantic Microcosm”]

The Pirates.  A Brief Account of the HORRID MASSACRE of the Captain, Mate, and Supercargo of the Schooner Plattsburg of Baltimore was printed in Boston by H. Trumbull.  The author and publisher are not specified but it is clear that the purpose of the text is as an address to the public to inform them of the “Horrid Massacre on the High Seas.”  The date of publication is also not specified although the account in which the text addresses took place in July of 1816 as several dates are referenced throughout the story-like description of the account.

The writer goes into detail on the mutinous actions of the crew of a ship led by a man known as John Williams.  In short, the vessel departs from Baltimore early in July of 1816 with a cargo of nearly $42,000.  The crew of only fourteen men, led by John Williams, successfully takes over the vessel by beating the captain and first mate and then proceeding to toss them overboard the ship.  They also brutally beat Baynard (the supercargo) to death on the deck of the ship and after seriously injuring the second mate with an ax, John Williams elects to spare his life.  This proves to be a costly mistake when Onion (the second mate) turns the mutineers over to authorities after arriving in Copenhagen.  The proceeding trial and decision of execution caught the attention of many as the courtroom was filled to capacity during every day of the trial as well as thousands being present at the hangings.  The mutineers were found guilty of murder and piracy.  The popularity of the trial no doubt led to the inspiration and decision to make a specific detailed account of the events of the mutiny in the very book I am reporting on.

The book itself is clearly very fragile and I used extreme caution when handling it.  There are stains of different kinds of every page of the text as well as dozens of smudged and/or faded words that were particularly difficult to read and required some deciphering of sorts.  I decided to choose this specific book because of its title and subject matter.  I have personally always loved pirate stories and adventures and to read about an event that actually took place was very interesting for me, and even more so that I got to read about the account from an original text.

I was also surprised to find this type of text as its own independent book.  It seems like something that would likely be found as a newspaper story and not something that received its own book and binding.  It would be interesting to find out how often these types of pieces, going into great detail on specific stories, were published and printed.  It could be compared to a sort of modern day TV special on a contemporary topic.  Such as a news station going into greater detail on an injured soldier returning home after war or a child rising from poverty to prosperity.  While the book I selected is clearly meant to inform the public it is clear that it also has an entertainment value that motivated the story to have its own independent text.

I guess this could be considered a modern day news special for 1816.

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