The Boys In The Boat

Remember in “Captain Blood” how the pirate Errol Flynn ended up with Olivia de Haviland? Well, forget it. According to B. R. Burg, an associate professor of history at Arizona State University, Captain Blood and his colleagues would not have been interested in Olivia de Haviland, or any other woman for that matter. In a paper delivered before the Organization of American Historians, Professor Burg concluded that the Caribbean pirates of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries were homosexuals. (As for Errol Flynn, that’s another story.)

Although he admits that there are no detailed accounts of pirates’ sexual lives, Burg says that “fo’c’sle humor abounds with tales of below-deck encounters where salty bo’s’uns initiate tender cabin boys into the arcana of the sea, and even among the driest landlubbers there are few who ever assumed that tedious months aboard ship were whiled away only by carving scrimshaw and singing chanties.”

But the womanless shipboard life was only part of the reason. Another inducement was the structure of society in the English settlements of the West Indies, where the few white women went to planters and merchants, and heterosexuality among indentured servants was discouraged because it distracted the women from their duties.

Basing his findings on “situational analysis,” Burg states that the pirates did not adopt effeminate mannerisms, since such “were the distinguishing mark of the hated Spaniards who exemplified the unpirately characteristics of cowardice and passivity.” The professor, whose specialty is sexuality in Restoration England, is currently writing a book on the subject. We’re looking forward to situational analyses that he might prepare on other social groups: the Allied armies on the Western Front, monastic orders, the Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen.