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Stone Wall Freedom
Pirates, kidnapping, buried treasure, slave ships, and freedom won by building a stone wall. Author David Tucker masterfully weaves each separate part into one compelling tapestry called Stone Wall Freedom—Part I: The Pirate.
In the year 1749, Captain Giddy Gilcox and the crew of the Rogue Flattery—pirates all—commandeer a sleek Spanish galley, fully intent on plundering its precious cargo, killing all aboard, and then scuttling the ship. Gilcox soon discovers, however, that the ship’s hold is not filled with silver and gold but a human cargo—African tribal people, enslaved to work the mines and plantations of Spanish America. Gilcox’s crew bristles—there’s a sense of foreboding about the ship that makes them anxious; they’ve heard stories of other pirates meeting their deaths after overtaking a slave ship.
But Gilcox, a student of the great pirates before him, berates his men: “Many a superstitious pirate has attributed the ship’s demise to the slave trade she had once carried. Don’t be fools … these animals on this ship will soon be resting at the bottom of the sea!”
Later, in another act of piracy, Gilcox captures not only a fortune in gold but also a woman, Helen Tanner, and her young son, William, whom he takes as hostages. Upon reaching Block Island, located south of Rhode Island, the pirates anchor the Rogue Flattery and bury their treasure. Gilcox marks the treasure with the gold cross he has snatched from Helen’s neck. But the strange feeling from the Spanish slave ship continues to haunt Gilcox. Is it possible that the spirit of the slave ship is responsible for the severe nor’easter that suddenly blows in—just as Gilcox and his crew are preparing to leave the island—and sinks the ship? And what of the young Mrs. Tanner and her son?
Rich in history, filled with intrigue, and brimming with colorful characters, David Tucker’s Stone Wall Freedom—Part I: The Pirate offers an enthralling look at a time long past. Block Island, Tucker tells us, “has a history filled with pirate lore and legend.” He has built on such legends and has artfully created a story that is at once thrilling and poignant, vivid in its evocative language, and equally as mystical and magical as Block Island itself.
Lashed together, the Rogue Flattery and the Spanish galley danced with the roll of the sea—one ship following the lead of the other, step by step. Captain Giddy Gilcox returned to his mistress ship and stood alone on the quarterdeck to watch over the transfer of the provisions and the small booty.
Most of the pirates, except for Blackbury and a half-dozen crew, had also already returned to the pirate ship to prepare for departure. The captain watched his first mate and boarding party struggle to open the heavy hatch to the Spanish ship’s central hold.
As soon as they pulled the hatch open, the eerie, previously muffled cries from the cargo below escaped, sending a chill through Giddy’s spine. He was surrounded by a cacophony like he had never heard before. Beyond the human wails and groans came the flap- ping of wings and shrieking howls from unknown beasts. The sound overwhelmed him, and he wondered, Am I the only one hearing this madness?
As he overcame the first wave of shock, he looked down at Black- bury. As hard and tough as any buccaneer Gilcox had ever encoun- tered, Blackbury had stepped back from the din and hunched down as
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though he were being threatened by a loaded flintlock. Surveying his crew, Gilcox saw each of his men step back in horror from the sound. Some ducked away, while others grabbed for their weapons.
Blackbury snuck a look at his captain.
To keep up appearances, Giddy would not acknowledge what he was experiencing and did not respond to his first mate’s silent ques- tion. “Send the Spaniards below and return to the ship, Mr. Black- bury.”
Blackbury straightened up, pulled out his cutlass, and shouted to the rest of the boarding party, “All right, let’s show dese Spanish their new accommodations!”
He stabbed at the first Spanish sailor, forcing him to drop into the hold. The rest of the boarding party followed suit, stabbing and pushing the Spaniards toward the opening to a drop of some twelve feet. The captured sailors clutched at each other in fear, causing them to topple over the twelve-foot drop, one by one, like links of a big sea chain. The Spaniards’ cries of pain and horror swelled with those of the Africans as they landed on top of their former cargo. Those at the bottom were likely to be crushed to death.
Watching others endure pain and suffering would normally be a source of great entertainment for the pirates, but Gilcox noticed that many of them were cringing and looking away, as if experiencing the horror themselves. This brutality was nothing new to these pirates. These men, who had committed some of the cruelest and most brutal crimes against humanity, were now trembling at the sounds of horror coming from below the Spanish ship’s deck.
Gilcox turned away, feigning disinterest. Was this indeed some evil spirit they had had the bad fortune to stumble upon? Why was it such a struggle for him and his crew?
At the sound of the heavy hatch slamming shut, Gilcox turned back to Blackbury. “Mr. Blackbury, return to the ship, cut the lines, and push off. Let us be finished with this business.”
Blackbury and the boarding party leapt back aboard the Rogue Flattery. The two ships were untied, and the pirates eagerly pushed off
from the Spanish galley.
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As the ship drifted away, Stroppy Newsome called out, “Next gunner forward!”
The crew simultaneously stepped back from a cannon located on the starboard rail, and one man stepped forward. “Aye, ’at would be me, Stroppy,” the man said nervously.
Newsome smiled and said, “Tinsdale, is it? I’ll enjoy takin’ da cat- o-nine ta ya back. Give it a go, ya poor sod.”
Tinsdale went to the cannon and prepared the charge.
The Greek moved next to Newsome, who stood just below Gilcox. Giddy listened in on their conversation. The Greek asked, “Why you want to sink that ship? She worth much. What is this captain doing?”
Newsome glared at the Greek. “Ya better learn quick wid dis cap’n and crew. Cap’n Gilcox don’t want ta leave no clues. Each sailor is given a turn ta take one shot ta scuttle da ships we capture. He’s either scourged fa failure or rewarded wid gold fa success. Gilcox demands dat any ship sunk must go under evenly—water rising equally up port, starboard, bow, and stern, wid da very tip of da main mast being da last point ta drop below da surface.”
The Greek shook his head. “What is purpose of this? It is impos- sible.”
“Well, let me tell ya, ya muddy-mouth animal. I don’t like ya, and I don’t like da way ya talk. If it was up ta me, ya’d be trapped wid da rest of those animals preparing ta meet Davy Jones. But da cap’n made ya crew, and dis crew gots a couple o’ teachers. Der names are Mistah Fear and Mistah Pain. Dese schoolmasters will teach ya how ta do things like da way da cap’n wants ’em done.”
Stroppy paused but then felt the need to emphasize his point. “Cap’n wants certain things done like he wants ’em. Ya don’t asks no questions. Ya just do it. Scuttling ships is one of dose things. I swears da only thing ’at touches Gilcox’s cold heart is seeing a sinking
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ship’s bow or stern lift out of da water. Da cap’n turns into a bloody demon, and ya doesn’t want ta be on da receivin’ end of his unearthly wrath.”
It was true; there was nothing that caused Giddy Gilcox to become more emotional than the sight of a great ship raising its bow or stern up out of the water and revealing her wound like a large, dying mammal to be swallowed by the sea. He hated the feeling, and his only relief for it was violence.
The ship had fallen quiet, and all attention turned to the gunner. Visibly nervous, Tinsdale took aim and lit the fuse. With a great explo- sion, the ball burst open a large hole at the galley’s waterline. Water immediately gushed in and dispersed throughout, filling the ship. She rocked port to starboard and bow to stern, but then settled steadily— amongst the cries of the Spaniards and the African cargo—as the great vessel began to slowly submerge.
Blackbury joined his captain, and the two silently watched from the quarterdeck.
The first mate broke the silence. “One more Spanish ship deliva’d ta a wat’ry grave for king an’ country.”
“Yes, indeed,” Gilcox solemnly answered.
There was a time when his countrymen took pride in the pirate’s privateering successes of sinking ship after ship of the once-great Spanish treasure fleet, though the pirate rogues never had any true loyalty to the crown.
The names of the famous pirate captains who had come before him flashed in Gilcox’s mind—Kidd, Vaine, Morgan, Bellamy, and Blackbeard. He had held a grudging respect for them, but when they started plundering the English colonies and the king’s own ships, he felt they became too interested in making names for themselves.
The pirate captain wondered aloud, “If those who came before us
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hadn’t been so greedy and so bloody sloppy, we might not have had to take such precautions as we do today.” He stared at the sinking ship. “Such a waste of so fine a vessel. Yet the king had no choice but to put an end to those fools. We pay the price for it today.”
For over twenty years, Horacio “Giddy” Gilcox, the son of a ship- builder and outfitter, had plied his pirate trade. Unlike those other, inept pirate captains, he was a brilliant sailor who commanded a unique respect and devotion to duty from his crew. His ability to capture, plunder, and sink ship after ship was unparalleled. Giddy’s fearless confidence grew from his proven ability to outwit any adversary.
He and his crew of salty dogs quietly watched the Spanish ship submerge. Giddy knew that these simple-minded buccaneers needed a sharp mind to do the thinking for them, and for his money, there was unquestionably none keener than his own.
Blackbury looked away from the sinking ship and over to his captain. “No, dem pirates made a name fa demselves awright. Dey wasn’t da smartest ship cap’ns, but dey sure wasn’t afraid a nothin’ on earth, nor heaven nor hell. No, sir.”
“Now keep in mind, Mr. Blackbury,” Gilcox said sternly, “what makes us different from all those who went before us—our ability to stay in the watery shadows. This is the greatest reason for our success.”
While Blackbeard and the other pirates had paraded about shame- lessly, flying their own flags and flaunting their exploits to the Crown’s embarrassment, Gilcox and his men quietly and efficiently went about their business, leaving few traces. Ships they pirated and scuttled were assumed lost to stormy seas or other pirates.
Even their anchorage, Albatross Island, provided them with not only a hidden port but, because of its inhabitants’ notoriety for luring ships into their coast to be shipwrecked and then plundered, also provided them with a clever cover.
Gilcox continued, “The other pirates were too damn greedy and enjoyed their notoriety too much. It led them all—each and every one of them—to finish their piracy with a dangle at the end of a rope...or something even worse.”
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Blackbury weighed his words cautiously, aware that he was dancing along the edge of frank conversation and insubordination. “Even wid all dese precautions we’ve taken, I’m afraid da evidence of our existence is beginning ta surface like the loose debris of dat dere ship sinking afore us. All it takes is an unguarded tongue ’ere or a survivah dere. We certainly know dey’s on ta us. I’m afraid we gots dere attention. Word is dat da papers back in England are printin’ articles ’bout ya, Cap’n.”
Giddy had come across several such articles, which he had kept from his men. Though he espoused notoriety as deplorable, he secretly relished the recognition that he was certain he deserved. In much the same way as his predecessors, he wanted the world to know of his brilliance.
One of his most treasured possessions was a recent scrap from an English newspaper. The article contained doggerel that Giddy himself had since heard sailors and landlubbers alike recite.
A scurvy dog, this Giddy Gilcox While others drink rum, he prefers his gin The look from his twisted face Enough to make one feel worms crawl up their skin And don’t be disarmed by his jolly name For if so unfortunate as to see Giddy grin It’s only when he’s about to taste blood And do some poor soul in!
That same article spoke of a royal order to put an end to the colo- nial piracy and to roust Giddy and his crew. It mentioned a young and aspiring British commander, Leslie Christian, who received orders bearing His Majesty’s seal. As far as Giddy knew, Christian’s ship, the HMS Sovereign, was hunting him down at this very moment. This was of little concern to Giddy, for he was confident he could outwit any officer in the king’s navy.
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For now, his real concern focused on the strange, unsettling feeling that seemed to have followed them from the Spanish ship back to the Rogue Flattery. He felt some relief when the waters crested over the main deck to silence the wretched cries of the cargo. He hoped that once this cursed ship and its cargo disappeared below the water’s surface, the haunting feeling would be taken with it.
Giddy and the crew were silent as the tall masts swiftly and quietly vanished, leaving a circle of floating debris as a grave marker. The buccaneers stood by quietly as their ship rocked to the wake left by the sunken craft, staring at the spot that a moment before had been occupied by the sleek Spanish vessel.
Giddy took a deep breath and exhaled. Rubbing his hands together, he felt with mild surprise the clammy sweat in his palms. There was no doubt he was relieved that the ship was gone. He wondered if the crew felt the same relief sweep over them. Giddy decided he and his pirates had actually done a good deed in sending the evil spirit aboard the ship to a watery grave.
The buccaneers had all solemnly—almost reverently—watched the Spanish ship disappear to her final rest at the bottom of the sea, and it occurred to Giddy that for this pirate crew, watching a ship buried at sea was as close to a remorseful funeral service as they would ever attend.
The silence aboard ship was suddenly broken with Bosun Stroppy Newsome’s call to quarters. He cracked his leather club on the cap rail, and the crew immediately scrambled as he hollered, “Ta ya stations, ya no-good landlubbers! Ya’re as worthless as seagull spray! Let’s put some distance betwixt us and that foul Spanish odor we just sent ta hell!”
Gilcox shook his head in disgust at the filthy bosun, but he couldn’t help but agree with his sentiment.