Saturday, August 15, 2009

Pirates of New York City

Pirates today are generally associated with Captain Morgan, Jack Sparrow, or for the more serious, the Horn of Africa.

The fascinating blog Ephemeral New York tells us of a time when it could be associated with the rivers of New York City. This should be early history-- maybe the 1600s -- but it's long after my usual dividing line, the invention and use of railways:

That’s one type of criminal New Yorkers don’t worry about these days: river pirates. But from the city’s beginning through the 19th century, ships loaded with valuables were constantly coming in and out of New York Harbor—easy prey for river pirates.

Police were unable, or unwilling, to stop the piracy, reports an 1876 New York Times article.

A detective added: “River thieves are the men who have not the brains to be burglars, but who do not hesitate to murder in order to steal a coil of rope.”

Most notorious of the river pirates in the 1860s and 1870s was the Patsy Conroy gang. Conroy helmed a band of lowlifes who trolled the dockyards of the East River.

Another murderous group known for hijacking and robbing ships was the Hook Gang, named for Corlears’ Hook on the East River waterfront.

Finally law enforcement got serious about ridding the rivers of pirates. The NYPD formed the “Steamboat Squad” in the 1870s, which drove out most of the gangs by the 20th century.

Plenty more good stuff where that came from

Labels: ,

Friday, November 21, 2008


John at Dymaxion World points us to an interesting observation at Talking Points Memo, and declines to comment further:

Josh Marshall:
I don't want to draw over-broad interpretations. But historically, the rising incidence of piracy has frequently, if not always, been a sign of the receding reach of whatever great power has taken on responsibility for policing the sea lanes. The decline of the Hellenistic monarchies in the Mediterranean before the rise of Rome. Caribbean piracy during Spain's long slide into decrepitude and before England decided she lost more than she gained from it. There are many examples. I note too that the Russians just announced that they're sending a few more warships to try to get things under control off the coast of East Africa.
The EU is sending an armada as well. Man, there's so much to talk about with this kind of issue. Do I blog about how the combined forces of the industrialized world don't have the necessary assets to put down piracy off the coast of east Africa? Do I blog about how this is a good example of why it's probably a bad idea to go around creating failed states in places like this? Or do we talk about the possible signal of the EU finally emerging as a global military actor in it's own right?

Well, lucky for you I don't have the time to write about any of those things so you're spared a few hundred words of my prose. Ha-ha!
I won't comment, either, except to say that if you fire up Google Earth and search the Google Earth Community for "Somali pirates" you find a variety of downloadable maps on the subject.

Labels: , , ,

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Jarbel Rodriguez's Captives and their Saviors in the Medieval Crown of Aragon

At the Medieval Studies congress in Kalamazoo last month, this book caught my eye and I picked it up. Even paid for it! My interest grows out of my current study of Charny's Questions
on War, which include many on capture and ransom of legitimate combatants ("men at arms") and their rights of the two parties. Rodriguez here talks about something different here: how common it was for Christians and Muslims to enslave each other along the religious frontier in Spain and the Mediterranean, how cruel conditions were, how expensive and unlikely ransom was, yet how important the relief of captives was as a policy for important institutions like town governments, religious institutions, and royal government. Rodriguez talks primarily on the basis of documents from one Christian kingdom, the Aragonese confederacy, but makes it clear that these things worked both ways and capturing and ransoming affected all parts of the society he studied. There is a lot more written on this subject, but this was a good introduction to a big topic.

Both literary works and documents make it clear that in many medieval wars, even when there was no difference of religion to justify enslaving, non-combatants were taken for the purpose of ransoming them back.

Labels: , , , , , ,