Barbary pirates

Old Dogs and Salty Dogs

I recently spoke on “Old Dogs, New Tricks” at Charlestown Retirement Village in Catonsville, MD. The talk was about my book, The 90s Club & the Hidden Staircase, set in a place like Charlestown. I was interested in how the audience would receive my collection of articles about people 90 and over who are active, alert, some even working. I describe these “old dogs” from time to time in this blog, like the 100-year-old woman who wins the canoe races in her community or the 100-year old man who ran the 26-mile Toronto marathon.

The response at Charlestown was positive. Of course, I couldn’t help mentioning my first book, Shadow of the Rock, a historical novel about the Morocco-Florida connection, which describes the Barbary pirates, salty dogs of North Africa. Since some people scoff at the idea of pirates, I gave the audience the latest piracy statistics from the International Marine Bureau. As of May 7, 2013, four hijackings and 93 pirate attacks have occured this year. Somali pirates currently hold five ships and 71 hostages.  

Speaking of pirates, in April we toured the Pirates Museum in St. Augustine (Florida) on the way to the Amelia Island Book Festival. The museum offers facts, artifacts and sometimes gruesome exhibits for all ages with emphasis on the “golden age of piracy” of the 1500-1700s. The museum is across the street from the Castillo de San Marcos in the old town, and I recommend dropping by if you’re in town.

Tip for authors:  Erika Liodice, vice president of the MidAtlantic Book Publishers Association, (MBPA) offered suggestions at its spring meeting for increasing sales at book shows. We exhibited our books at the Amelia Island (FL) Book Festival, and following Erika’s suggestion, I held my book and stood in front of our table. As people passed by, I greeted them and asked if I could tell them about my book. I sold books while most of the other exhibitors languished, unsung, unsold, and bored, sitting behind their tables.

MBPA and similar associations around the country provide resources, information, and cooperative marketing opportunities for their members. Now that so many authors are turning publisher, it’s time to consider learning more about the field of publishing as a business.




The research behind my novel “The Shadow of the Rock”: Part 1

Part 1: The Pirates

Like most obsessions, I suppose, it started small.  I read a tidbit in a Florida history book about the grandmother of Florida’s first senator. She was captured by Barbary pirates, sold to the vizier of the king of Morocco and later escaped to Gibraltar.

 Was that it? I asked myself. What happened then? Did she ever return to her family? Would they have accepted her if she did? How did she survive such devastating circumstances? And was such a bizarre story true?

 I was hooked, and began a 10-year journey to find out what actually happened. The library and the Internet were the first stops.  I quickly learned that piracy was an economic mainstay of the maghreb, the Arabic term for northwest Africa (Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria).  The capture, ransom, and enslavement of the pirates’ victims was a profitable enterprise. It still is in Somalia, Indonesia and other parts of the world.

From a community college class on piracy, I learned that the Barbary pirates were often descendants of the Moors cast out of Spain along with the Jews in 1492 . Stripped of property and possessions, the Moors turned to piracy—especially against Christian nations–while the Jews found refuge and other vocations in Morocco and other countries.  

PBS’ Antiques Roadshow added another interesting bit of information. Someone brought in an antique pistol that had belonged to a Barbary pirate. I wrote down the appraiser’s description and used it in the book.

Of course, research for this book included reading about U.S. naval history. European countries, including England, paid a high tribute to the Maghreb kings as a bribe to protect their ships from pirate attack. When the United States declared its independence, Great Britain no longer paid the bribes to protect American ships. As a result, the new country became embroiled in debates about whether to pay tributes to protect its ships, pay ransoms when ships were captured, or to establish a strong navy.

Although the U.S. Navy considers Oct. 13, 1775 as the official date of its establishment in a resolution of the Continental Congress, the Continental Navy was disbanded soon after the end of the Revolutionary War.  When conflicts between American merchant shipping and the Barbary pirates intensified, Congress passed the Naval Act of 1794, which created the U.S. Navy to protect American shipping.

Side Note:  In 1803, the naval hero Stephen Decatur was given command of the brig Argus. He took it to the Mediterranean for service in the First Barbary War against Tripoli. Once in the combat zone, Lieutenant Decatur took over command of the schooner Enterprise. On Dec. 23,   1803, he captured the enemy ship Mastico, which was taken over by the U.S. Navy and named Intrepid. Decatur used the Intrepid on Feb. 16, 1804, in a night raid on Tripoli harbor to dstroy the U.S. frigate Philadelphia. This ship had been captured after running aground. .This daring and successful operation made Lieutenant Decatur an immediate national hero, a status that was enhanced by his courageous conduct during 3 August 1804 bombardment of Tripoli. In that action, he led his men in hand-to-hand fighting while boarding and capturing an enemy gunboat.

The Research: Part 2 will cover Morocco and its history.

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