The Black Spot

Daily writing prompt
How do you plan your goals?

Plans are known to fall apart because some unplanned items cludge the entire work. I had a friend who took this to heart and decided to live a disorderly life, just like a pirate! After this declaration, I just had to step in. 

A Pirate’s life was not anarchic, I explained. There was lots of planning involved; You had to know where and when the goods would be, how to offload them to convenient, safe storage until they could be sold, and you needed a good “fence” to sell them for you. After that, you needed a safe place to get down and boogie – like Port Royal ( before it sunk). Where you went had to be an inspired, and unwholesome equivalent of an 18th century Disneyland, friendly towards scallawags, reprobates, criminals, and neerdowells.

In short, a lot of planning went into being a successful pirate. But I maintained there remained good reasons why strict plans did not work, including word getting out to 18th-century law enforcement that you planned to be right off Cape Hatterous on the 30th of July.
My friend looked a bit murderous, upset, and peeved at this point. “How the hell do you know so much about this?” “Well,” I explained, “there was the ancestor who sailed with Henry Morgan to sack Panama.” I thought further, ” Then Captain Grey, another ancestor, hung for piracy. But they were not pirates! They were Privateers, Gentlemen of Fortune! Holders of certificates of marque and reprisal from the Crown. Not Pirates!!!” He sneered, “Pirates!”

The evening did not end well, and I am sorry that Brad is no longer a friend. I overstepped the boundaries of being a good host when I pulled my ancestor’s cutlass, threatened to maroon him, and gave him the black spot. 

Arrr, good mates be hard to find.”


One of the foundation myths for my mother’s family was that they are descended from a first mate on one of Henry Morgan’s ships. On the way home from the Sack of Panama, they stopped off in a small island paradise, and he jumped ship. Being a Gentleman of Fortune, a Privateer ( I’ll use my bloody cutlass on any that say the word pirate…that clear mate?) He was probably athirst for a tot of Kill Devil rum and a nice spot to watch the ebb and flow of the tide. While some might see his having swallowed the anchor as being demoted from first mate, I’ll bet he saw it as a chance to steer away from those endless Captain’s Conferences – “So where shall we pillage next? Barbados? Naw, been there, done that! What! Round the horn to the Spice Islands? Please! Foods too spicey!”

This is my favorite foundation story in the family. On my father’s side, they were all law-abiding mariners – boring!

Cruise Ship Puritan

We are are not who we appear. Amazingly, it was another anthropologist who forced the moment. He moonfaced asked me, “Who are your People?” In my less civilized incarnation in the ’60s, I’d have shown him by the tip of my boot. But I was now in the Ivy League. So, I made an honest attempt to explain. I was a typical New Yorker – a melding of peoples and cultures. In my case, a mix of Catalan Spanish, Hungarian, Irish, Scots, and Caribean all mixed in that beautiful stew pot we called New York City. “Well, yes, but who are your People?” 

Some people can’t deal with complexity.

Casting about for a way out of the discussion, I looked at him and did some creative confabulation.

” I’m Hispano-Yankee. It’s an obscure group. Our ancestors were blown off course from the Armada and eventually wound up on the coast of Maine, where we promptly started breeding with Native Americans and English fisher folk who preceded the Mayflower. My People preceded your People.” With a lift to my chin, I shifted my gaze over his right shoulder and ignored him. Five points for a correctly performed Ivy League Cut!

Little did I know at that juncture that part of the story was curiously close to the truth. I discovered that the same company that sent the Mayflower sent a second ship – the Seaflower. The Seaflower went south to the Caribean. The Mayflower crew were busy being Puritans and talking about Cities on a Hill. But, the Seaflower folks were opting for a good time on the beach, growing tobacco, and going buccaneering. Letters exist between the Providence Island “Puritans” ( snort, laugh!) and Governor Winthrop’s son inviting him down for a fun cruise raiding Spanish shipping, towns, and other fun mayhem. While the Colony on Massachusetts Bay became, well, the term Puritanical comes to mind, the cousins to the south began to reveal a casual cruise ship attitude towards life.

So. Yes. I am not as I appear. My ancestors originated the Caribbean holiday cruise for wayward northerners. Celebrate good times!

Pyrates and Emeralds

Family –

Seamen stand in ranks of generations behind me on both the paternal and maternal sides. My father’s maritime ancestors were all merchant mariners. But, growing up, nothing was said about my mother’s family, and the one time she slipped a reference to them, she rapidly put a cover on it and denied having ever told me that story. The story, said to me at about age five, was that an ancestor had hung for piracy. Kids of five don’t forget these things when they get raised on whole rafts of sea stories and pirate movies. But, my mother firmly stomped on any inquiry about her family, and it wasn’t until I was an adult that I dared to ask about it again. In the intervening years, her attitude had only hardened: “That never happened, and you stop poking around!”


My mother’s preferred family mythology was that she was an heiress to rich emerald mines in Colombia. As soon as the lawyers sorted things out, we’d all be wealthy beyond belief. This bit of fabulism regularly got trotted out at holidays and family gatherings. 

My father, the romantic pragmatist, knew the whole actual history of his father’s heart condition, the loss of wealth during the depression, and his first jobs as a longshoreman, and then as a merchant mariner. My father either didn’t know, didn’t care, or more likely was cowed by my mother into accepting the blank slate offered regarding her family. He tolerated the popular mythology of the emerald mines.

She had been orphaned at eight and brought to this country by her brother/ stepfather ( another merchant mariner). He rapidly stepped out of her life, leaving her with a string of non-relatives. The experience of being a poor orphan boarding with a strict landlady had not been pleasant. That was not the narrative mother wanted to discuss – End of discussion, let’s talk about the emeralds!

History –

That was where my mother’s story stood up until about ten years ago. Ten years ago, I got nosy. You know, the internet. The internet did not have much on the little speck of rock in the Caribbean that she was from. Just enough. ” You stop that!” I persisted.

Eventually, I found that there were two origin myths on the island regarding her family. Both have bits of tantalizingly historical detail. In the first, I found the original male progenitor had been a mate on one of Henry Morgan’s ships. Morgan left to give Panama a thorough sorting out, but his mate either stayed or returned to it later. He left a long line of descendants. 

OK, Morgan was a privateer on a technicality, but still a pyrate

In the second story, the stem ancestor descended from a Napoleonic War Privateer named Berelski. He deserted from Napoleon’s efforts to control the Caribbean. Knowing that someone named Berelski would stand out, he took an English name. Berelski was a technically a privateer, probably a Pyrate.

Mother’s reaction to this? “You stop this, now.”

So, for the time being, I have stopped. All my shipmates and classmates from school now have ample opportunity to say: ” Yup, the Dread Pyrate Wesley.”

%d bloggers like this: