A Pirate “Takes” a Wife

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Marmalakè, Pirate of Micone. Watercolor portrait by Joseph Partridge, 1827-1828. (Accession#1940.687.01/QW160)

As promised, here is the rip-roaring story of how Manolis Mermelechas, a pirate of Mykonos, Greece, “took” his wife (and I mean “took” literally, not figuratively!).  Pay attention Hollywood…there’s a great plot for a pirate movie here!

Just in case you didn’t read my last post (which is too bad because Kevin Foster described it as a “ripping great yarn!”), Manolis Mermelechas was a native of the Greek island of Psara who fought against the Turks during the Greek War of Independence.  After the Turks invaded and captured Psara in 1824, Mermelechas and his men shifted their base of operations to the pirate haven of Mykonos and continued their attacks on Turkish merchant vessels (and the ships of other countries, hence the designation as pirates!).  On one cruise, Mermelechas and his men seized a Turkish merchant ship off the town of Mytilene on the Greek island of Lesbos. It ended up being a capture that changed Mermemlechas’ life forever.    Read more

A ‘Bucko’ No More

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On ‘Talk Like A Pirate’ day in September 2019, we posted a message on Twitter showing a watercolor portrait of an ornately dressed man named “Marmalakè.” The artist had identified him as the “Pirate of Micone.” Our team had some fun with the image and described Marmalakè as a “bucko” and “a meditating pirate.”  That odd tweet caught the attention of Antonis Kotsonas, an assistant professor of Mediterranean History and Archaeology at New York University. Antonis was researching the activities of the United States Mediterranean Squadron during the latter years of the Greek War of Independence and believed the portrait might depict a Greek pirate named Manolis Mermelechas.

Along with the portrait, Antonis was interested in a group of watercolor landscapes of Greek islands painted by artist Joseph Partridge.  The images had been painted between 1827 and 1830 while Partridge was serving as a marine aboard the sloop of war USS Warren.  Those years corresponded with the final years of Greece’s War of Independence against the Ottoman Empire.  The war had been raging since 1821 and by 1826 had wrought such economic hardship that many Greek seamen had turned to piracy as a form of survival–not just for themselves, but for the communities they lived in as well.  In early 1827 Warren, captained by Master Commandant Lawrence Kearny, a man with extensive experience combating piracy, was sent to the Aegean to help protect American merchant ships and conduct antipiracy operations.    Read more

A Tour Through the Mediterranean with Joseph Partridge

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USS Warren, Act of Bearing Up in the Archipelago. The Archipelago referred to in the title is most likely the area between Cape Matapan and the western end of Crete. In a letter dated April 3, 1828 Kearny states about the voyage from Smyrna to Mahon: “We have had a long passage of 63 days, experiencing a succession of heavy gales of wind from the N.W. and squalls, rendering it not only tedious, but very dangerous to the safety of the vessel being light and badly provided with rigging.” Painted by Joseph Partridge. (Accession#: 1947.0851.000001)

Click on the map to tour the Mediterranean with the USS Warren!

A recent inquiry from the Assistant Professor of Mediterranean History and Archaeology at New York University’s Institute for the Study of the Ancient World brought a really cool assemblage of watercolors in our collection to my attention. The images were painted by Joseph Partridge, an artist turned Marine stationed aboard USS Warren between 1827 and 1830.   Read more

The UN Security Council Addresses Piracy

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This service medal, issued during the Korean War, shows the insignia of the United Nations. From The Mariners’ Museum Library collection.

Hello readers, and welcome back to the Library blog. In response to the continual threat of piracy, the United Nations Security Council recently held its first ever debate on the subject. Lead by Indian ambassador Hardeep Singh Puri, the council debated the need for better information sharing techniques, whether or not to continue using armed guards on merchant vessels, and the need for more powerful international laws and punishments for pirates. The full article is available HERE.

The fact that this is the first time piracy has ever been directly discussed and debated in the United Nations Security Council is an indication that, sadly, piracy is not on the decline. Rather, the debate reinforces the notion that piracy still is, and will continue to be, a powerful hostile force that the nations of the world need to unite against. Although many recent steps taken off the Somali coast have given us hope that piracy can eventually be defeated, it will likely be a long, hard journey to reach that conclusion. Perhaps the nations of the world can unite and crush this scourge in the near future. However, until that happens our maritime workers must live under an ever-present threat of harm and death from piracy, and consumers around the world will have to pay a little extra for many of the products we take for granted.   Read more

Pirates in Anglo-American Culture

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A Jolly Roger flag flown by the USS Ranger. From The Mariners’ Museum collection.

Hello again, readers, and welcome back to the Library blog. A quick look at modern popular culture will make it clear even to the most casual of observers that the Caribbean Pirates of the 17th and 18th century are icons in family entertainment. Disney’s “Pirates of the Caribbean” series has been immensely successful, and the 20th century is full of films about swashbuckling heroes and adventures at sea. And yet, a sampling of our news headlines paints a very different picture of piracy: container ships are ransacked, crews held for ransoms, and tourists are kidnapped or killed. Indeed, the world recognizes this problem and has deployed dozens of warships to counter the pirate threat to commerce and personal safety. Why is there such a dichotomy on the subject of piracy?

As a historian, it seems to me that the issue of piracy meets its natural response in the modern headlines: piracy has been reviled and combated since time immemorial, as it should be. The catch is that people also like stories of adventure, romance and rooting for the underdog. English (and by extension, American) culture especially has always had a bit of a rebellious streak, with heroes like Robin Hood robbing the superfluously rich and thumbing their noses at a corruption. For the Anglo-American world, pirates served as an excellent source of rebellious fun once they had faded into the past a bit, and books like Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island capitalized on this fun in the late 1800s. About two centuries had passed since the buccaneers had last prowled the Caribbean, and it seemed safe to feature pirates as a source of adventure.   Read more