Black Pirates and Sailors Influenced the Development of Sea Shanties
The history of songs that were sung on ships, called sea shanties, has a connection to black pirates and sailors. Sea shanties were common and used in work-related activities for as long as there have been vessels on the seas. Workers on board vessels used music to develop a rhythm to work, which would make them more efficient. In the eighteenth century, the sea shanties were just chants, but they grew in popularity as the maritime trade developed in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and black sailors and pirates directly influenced their development.
Sea shanties combined the chanting common on European merchant and slave vessels with African languages and popular music of the time, and they were modified to match the work that the sailors were doing on the ship. Considering that the songs have both European and African influences, we can assume that the mixed-race crews on ships created these songs together. The Royal Navy forbade the use of sea shanties because they believed that it would disrupt operations if the sailors were singing and not listening to commands, so they were only used on merchant, slave, and pirate ships.
Black Pirates Were Sold Into Slavery…If They Were Caught
Despite the freedom that black pirates found on the sea, they were treated differently if the authorities caught them. They had every reason to stay with pirate crews: captured black pirates were not usually hanged for their crimes. If they were escaped slaves, they were either returned to their masters. If they were free men, they were sold into slavery. Samuel Bellamy’s pilot on the Whydah, John Julian, quickly became one of the most esteemed members of Bellamy’s crew. After the pirate vessel sank, Julian was taken into custody and sold into slavery to John Quincy, John Quincy Adam’s grandfather.
In the seventeenth century, many of the judges who tried piracy cases looked for reasons not to put black pirates on trial because they believed that they were slaves. If there was no evidence that black pirates were slaves, then they were executed. In Blackbeard’s crew, which included the fearless Black Caesar, thirteen of the surviving members were arrested after Blackbeard’s death and brought to Virginia for their trial. Five of these thirteen were black, and they were put on trial with the rest of Blackbeard’s crew and executed in 1719.