Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Fanny the pirate

One of my regular readers complained about how whiney I’ve been recently, and ask what happened to the educational stuff. So in penance, here’s some more pirate stuff, with an article on one of my favourite female pirates Fanny Campbell.
Fanny Campbell was from a rural community just outside of Boston, and was engaged to a local lad, a sailor, called William Lovell. Young William signed on to a merchant ship for a voyage to South America, but while sailing through the Caribbean his ship was attacked by pirates and the crew press ganged onto the pirate crew. William, however escaped when the ship docked in Cuba, but unfortunately the local authorities arrested him and some of his fellow escapees and he was imprisoned for piracy. After a year of imprisonment, one of William’s fellow convicts escaped and stowed away on a ship heading for Boston, and sent a message to Fanny telling her of her fiancé’s woes.
Now, this is where it gets good - Fanny decided to take things into her own hands. She disguised herself as a man joined the crew of a merchant ship (as a ship’s officer) sailing to England via Cuba. Fanny had been taught how to sail and navigate by her beau, and used this skills to get herself a position. En route to Cuba, Fanny started rumors that the Captain of the ship was going to encourage the Royal Navy to press gang the crew (for his own personal profit of course) , and that the First Officer was in on the deal. As neither were liked by the crew (the Captain was particularly harsh), they believed her and she effectively led a mutiny. The crew decided to “go pirate” and chose Fanny Campbell (still disguised as a man) as their Captain. She turned out to have a very tactical mind and on route to Cuba they sighted, boarded and captured a British gunship. The two ships sailed into Havana, and a small team of the crew snuck into the jail and rescued William and a number of other captives, largely Americans.
Despite having rescued her beau, Fanny kept up her manly disguise, and continued commanding her small squadron of pirate ships, and quickly captured another British vessel. In addition to the plunder from the merchantman, they also discovered that America had declared war on Great Britain. This meant that British ships were fair game to American vessels and instead of pirates, Fanny’s largely American crew became a band of patriot privateers raiding, looting and capturing enemy vessels.
However, technically in order to be bona fide privateers Fanny’s squadron of pirate ships needed official letters of marque from the American authorities, and so they sailed to Massachusetts and not only filed their piratical paperwork , but Fanny and William also got married. Her cover now blown, and also pregnant, Fanny decided to stay in Massachusetts and began to raise her new family, while William went back to sea, now a legally recognize privateer in the service of the newly minted United States of America.
Although there does seem to have been an actual Fanny Campbell, a lot of the legend associate with Captain Campbell was embellished thanks to the book “Fanny Campbell, the Female Pirate Captain; A Tale of the American Revolution” published in 1844 (by Maturin Murray Ballou), which is about as accurate to history as “Braveheart”. Despite being exaggerated, the published tales of Fanny actually inspired many young women to disguise themselves as men during the American Civil war, several of whom ultimately became as famous as the fearsome Fanny.

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