6 Famous Pirate Ships

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iStock

Somali pirates, who wield automatic weapons and attack unsuspecting victims from speedboats, are changing the way we think about pirates and pirate ships. While the most successful captains in pirate lore commanded ships that were smaller, faster, and less ornate than Disney's fictitious Black Pearl, Blackbeard didn't make his fortune in a rowboat either. Here's a look at six of the more famous pirate ships in history.

1. Adventure Galley

Captained by Scottish sailor William Kidd, the 287-ton, three-mast Adventure Galley was launched along the Thames River in 1695. As part of a venture planned by New York Colonel Robert Livingston to curb attacks against British ships in the East Indies, Kidd was instructed to hunt down pirates and enemy French ships and steal their treasure and goods. To facilitate the mission, which was funded primarily by prominent English noblemen, the Adventure Galley was outfitted with 34 guns and 23 oars for maneuvering the ship in calm winds. Pirate hunting, it turned out, wasn't easy. Kidd had agreed to pay back the investment if he didn't return any treasure, and when finding pirates proved too difficult, he resorted to attacking allied ships. Kidd abandoned the Adventure Galley, which had developed a rotten hull, off the coast of Madagascar in 1698. He hoped to receive a pardon from Livingston in New York, but was returned to London, found guilty of piracy, and executed in 1701.

2. Queen Anne's Revenge

English pirate Edward Teach, more commonly known as Blackbeard, captured the Concorde, a French-owned slave ship, in the West Indies in 1717 and made the vessel his flagship. Slave ships, which often featured a central partition to protect the crew against a slave uprising, made good pirate ships because they were built for speed. Blackbeard added 26 guns to the vessel, which already boasted 14, making the renamed Queen Anne's Revenge one of the most powerful ships in American waters. In May 1718, Blackbeard blockaded the port of Charleston. After looting five merchant vessels, he ran the Queen Anne's Revenge ashore on Topsail Inlet, and the ship suffered extensive damage when it slammed into the submerged sandbar. Given that Blackbeard knew the area well "he had sailed off the same coast the year before "many historians believe he wrecked the Queen Anne's Revenge deliberately in hopes of killing off some of his crew and increasing his share of the fortune. The ship was discovered in 1997 off the coast of Beaufort, North Carolina, and marine archaeologists have been bringing up treasure from its remains ever since.

3. Fancy

In May 1694, while stationed aboard the privateer Charles II off the coast of Spain, Henry Avery plotted a mutiny that would launch his new and short-lived career as a pirate. Following the successful takeover, Avery, who was a former Royal Navy midshipman, renamed the ship the Fancy and set out with his newly liberated crew to seek a fortune. Avery steered the Fancy, which boasted nearly 50 guns and a crew of 150, to the island of Johanna off the Cape of Good Hope. There, the ship was cleaned and restructured to increase her speed. Avery and his crew terrorized ships in the Indian Ocean until late 1695, when they set sail for the Bahamas, enormous fortune in tow, for an early retirement. Governor Nicholas Trott offered refuge in exchange for treasure, including 1,000 pounds of ivory tusks, and Avery also presented Trott with the Fancy. While several of his men were later captured and sentenced to death, Avery vanished and died a free and wealthy man.

4. Whydah

The Whydah was believed to hold treasure from more than 50 ships when it sank in a storm off the coast of Cape Cod on April 26, 1717. Professional treasure hunter Barry Clifford discovered the ship in 1984 and has since recovered more than 100,000 artifacts from the site. The Whydah was originally launched from London as a slave ship in 1715; the name was derived from the West African port of Ouidah in present day Benin. While navigating the Windward Passage between Cuba and Hispaniola on its second voyage, the Whydah was overrun by pirates led by "Black Sam" Bellamy, who claimed the vessel as his flagship. Bellamy and his crew sailed north along the eastern coastline of the American colonies when they ran into a Nor'easter. The boat slammed into a sandbar, split, and sank. Of the ship's 146-man crew, only two survived.

5. Royal Fortune(s)

If Bartholomew Roberts fathered any children during his adventures on the high seas, he may or may not have named all of them Royal Fortune. In July 1720, Roberts captured a French brigantine off the coast of Newfoundland. He outfitted the naval frigate with 26 cannons, renamed her the Good Fortune and headed south for the Caribbean, where the ship was repaired and renamed the Royal Fortune. Soon after, Roberts captured a French warship operated by the Governor of Martinique, renamed her the Royal Fortune and made the ship his new flagship. Roberts then set sail for West Africa, where he captured the Onslow, renamed her the Royal Fortune, and, well, you know the rest. Roberts died, and the final Royal Fortune sank, on February 10, 1722, in an attack by the British warship HMS Swallow.

6. CSS Alabama

Though technically a warship, the most destructive Confederate raider in history is worthy of a mention here. According to Stephen Fox's biography of the Alabama's captain, Ralph Semmes, the ship's destructive reputation once led the New York Herald to refer to Semmes as "A Pirate on the High Seas." Built in 1862 by Henry Laird, whose family's company also built 40 ships for the Royal Navy, the Alabama was designed for speed and deception. The ship was 220 feet long and 32 feet wide with room for 350 tons of coal. The Alabama's forward pivot gun fired 100-pound shells and the wheel of the ship was inscribed with a Confederate motto: "Help Yourself and God Will Help You." Semmes, who sailed under the veil of a Union or British flag, helped himself to any enemy ship that came into view. When Semmes seized control of another ship, he would lower his camouflage flag and raise a Confederate one. At its most destructive, the Alabama was burning an average of one Union ship every three days. The Alabama was sunk by the Union ship Kearsarge off the Normandy coast on June 19, 1864, and discovered by a French sonar ship in 1984.

The Fascinating History Behind Why Jewish Families Eat Chinese Food on Christmas

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For Jewish New Yorkers, scoring a seat at one of veteran restaurateur Ed Schoenfeld’s Chinese eateries on Christmas Day could be compared to a holiday miracle. “I think on that day we do more business than many restaurants do in three months,” Schoenfeld tells Mental Floss. “We serve all day long, we stay open all day long.”

Schoenfeld is the Jewish owner-operator of RedFarm, an Asian-fusion dim sum restaurant with two locations in New York (plus one in London), and Decoy, a West Village shrine to traditional Peking duck. While his expertise lies in Far Eastern cuisine, Schoenfeld grew up in Brooklyn and learned to cook from his Eastern European grandmother. And just like his customers, Schoenfeld and his family sometimes craved Chinese food on Christmas, eschewing homemade fare for heaping plates of chow mein and egg foo yung. The future restaurateur's grandmother kept a kosher kitchen, but outside the home all dietary laws flew out the window with the single spin of a Lazy Susan. Suddenly, egg rolls with pork were fair game, transfigured into permissible delicacies through hunger and willful ignorance.

As Gentiles feast on turkey and roast beef during the Yuletide season, why do many Jews opt for chop suey? For starters, it's convenient: Chinese restaurants are open on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. But as historians and culinary experts tell Mental Floss, other ingredients play a part in this delicious story.

Jews developed their love for all things steamed, stir-fried, and soy-sauced after leaving the Old Country. Between the mid-1800s and the 1930s, waves of Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe, Germany, and Greece began settling in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, a gritty, inexpensive neighborhood teeming with tenements, docks, and factories—and filled with synagogues and kosher butcher shops. “You started here, and then moved on," Sarah Lohman, author of Eight Flavors: The Untold Story of American Cuisine, says.

While Jewish immigrants found community on the Lower East Side, "there was a lot of discrimination against Jews at the turn of the century,” Lohman adds. "They were often criticized not only for not dressing like Americans and not speaking the language, but also for not converting to an 'American' religion."

Right next door to the burgeoning Jewish community on the Lower East Side was the city's nascent Chinatown. Many Chinese immigrants had initially come to the U.S. to work on the Transcontinental Railroad. After its completion in 1869, these laborers faced violence and discrimination in the western states. They came to New York City seeking new business opportunities, and some opened restaurants.

By and large, Chinese restaurateurs didn’t discriminate against Jewish customers. Joshua Eli Plaut writes in his book A Kosher Christmas: 'Tis the Season to be Jewish that the Chinese, as non-Christians, didn't perceive any difference between Anglo-Saxon New Yorkers and Jewish immigrants; they accepted all non-Chinese customers with open arms.

Jewish customers embraced Chinese food in return. The restaurants were conveniently located and inexpensive, yet were also urbane in their eyes. Jews saw dining out as an American custom that they wanted to try, largely because they sought upward mobility among other Americans. According to Yong Chen, a history professor and author of Chop Suey, USA: The Story of Chinese Food in America, "[Diners] were attracted to Chinese food because, in their mind, it represented American cosmopolitanism and middle class status." And they weren't deterred by the fact that food in Chinese restaurants wasn't kosher. But they could easily pretend it was.

Dairy wasn’t a big part of Chinese meals, so Jewish diners didn’t have to worry about mixing meat and milk (a no-no in kosher diets). And non-kosher ingredients like pork or seafood were often finely chopped, drowned in sauces, or mixed with other ingredients, like rice. These elements were well disguised enough that they could pass for more permissible forms of meat. “You could kind of willfully ignore that there might be pork in there," Lohman says. "It’s like a vegetarian eating a soup that has chicken stock. If you’re a little flexible about your Judaism, you would just ‘not notice’ the pork in your fried rice.”

Chinese food was exotic and new, filled with surprising flavors, ingredients, and textures [PDF]. But for some Eastern European Jews, it also had familiar elements. Both Eastern European and Chinese cuisines shared an affinity for sweet and sour flavors and egg-based dishes. "[Chinese restaurants] had these pancakes, which were like blintzes,” says Joan Nathan, author of King Solomon's Table: A Culinary Exploration of Jewish Cooking from Around the World, and the wontons resembled kreplach (both are meat-filled soup dumplings).

The fact that the Chinese and Jews were America’s two largest non-Christian immigrant populations brought them together, Jennifer 8. Lee, author of The Fortune Cookie Chronicles: Adventures in the World of Chinese Food, tells Mental Floss. Unlike, say, Italian restaurants, Chinese restaurants were open on Sundays and on Christian holidays. They also lacked religious imagery, which may have made them appear more welcoming for Jews.

Combined, these factors caused the number of Chinese restaurants in urban East Coast cities to skyrocket during the early 20th century. Jews soon accounted for 60 percent of the white clientele in New York City's and Philadelphia’s Chinese restaurants, Chen writes, and Chinese restaurants would often go out of their way to cater to these clients. The eateries delivered their food to Jewish neighborhoods and to individual customers.

Yet an unwavering affection for Chinese food wasn't shared by all Jews. In an example cited by Chen and Lee, a reporter for Der Tog (The Day), a Yiddish daily newspaper in New York City, noted in 1928 that Jewish diners were in danger of drowning their culinary roots in soy sauce. To take back their taste buds, Jewish-Americans should hoist protest signs reading “Down with chop suey! Long live gefilte fish!” the journalist joked.

But Jewish cookbooks had already begun including Americanized dishes like chop suey and egg foo yung, which Chinese chefs had specially created to appeal to homegrown appetites. And as Lower East Side Jews moved to different neighborhoods, boroughs, and suburbs, Chinese restaurants followed them.

By the mid-20th century, Nathan says, Chinese restaurants had become de facto social clubs in Jewish communities. Familiar faces were always present, children were always welcome, and eating with your hands wasn’t just encouraged—it was required. Everyone left filled with food and gossip, whether it was Christmas or an ordinary Sunday evening.

Thanks to immigration patterns, nostalgia, and convenient hours of operation, this culinary custom has stuck around. “Jewish guests want to go out and eat Chinese food on Christmas,” Schoenfeld, the Manhattan restaurateur, says. “It’s become a tradition, and it’s extraordinary how it’s really grown.”

This story originally ran in 2017.

You Can Gift Your Favorite Nerd a Subscription to Famous Letters From History

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Letterjoy

Letter writing may be a lost art at this point, but you can still give someone the gift of getting a great letter in the mail, without ever picking up a pen yourself. Letterjoy, a subscription service for historical letters, sends out a different archival letter each week, giving subscribers the opportunity to dig through their mail and find a work of great writing rather than a pile of junk advertisements.

As part of the service, Letterjoy sends out one authenticated historical letter or telegraph each week, according to monthly themes. The letters are largely drawn from the last 400-plus years of American history, sourced by Letterjoy founder Michael Sitver from historical archives and private collections. Previous monthly themes have included "presidents and the press," "the right to vote," "Civil War spies," and "the birth of aviation." The letters often come from famous figures like Abraham Lincoln, Albert Einstein, Winston Churchill, Clara Barton, and the Wright brothers.

Recipients don't just get a photocopy of an archival letter. Each letter is custom-designed by Letterjoy, either typed up on a Smith-Corona typewriter (for more modern missives) or handwritten by designers and enhanced with software. The goal is to make each letter look and feel as authentic as possible while maintaining readability—since the whole point is to read the letters, not just look at them.

Every letter comes with a context section that explains what the letter is and why it matters, including who the letter-writer and recipient were and the historical events surrounding its writing.

You can buy someone (or yourself) a yearly plan for $160 ($13.33 a month), a six-month plan for $100 ($16.66 a month), or a three-month plan for $50 (also $16.66 a month). Discounts are available for educators who want to use the letters in their classrooms.

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