Takaom Universe

Takaom Universe
Save your planet!

Monday, May 31, 2010

The Henrietta Marie - slave ship of the triangular route

In the warm Gulf of Mexico waters 35 miles west of Key West a submerged concrete and bronze marker facing Africa bears these words:  "In memory and recognition of the courage, pain and suffering of enslaved African people. Speak her name and gently touch the souls of our ancestors."

With those words, the marker placed in 1993 by the National Association of Black SCUBA Divers commemorates the wreck of the Henrietta Marie, one of the earliest confirmed slave ship wrecks by name ever found in the New World. During the summer of 1700, just after delivering 190 slaves to Jamaica, the homeward bound Henrietta Marie  sank at latitude 24° 40.387’ N, longitude 82ยบ22.395’ W on New Ground Reef. No one knows for certain, but it is believed that the the ship and crew were the victims of foul weather in mid-July 1700.

The Henrietta Marie was accidentally discovered by salvors working for renowned treasure hunter Mel Fischer as they searched for the wreck of a Spanish treasure ship. In the Henrietta Marie's debris field lie the twisted remnants of its keel timbers and artifacts such as  over eighty sets of shackles for adults and children known as "the bilboes,"  two anchors, cast-iron cannon, Venetian glass trade beads, iron trade bars, ivory tusks, and a large collection of English made pewter tankards, basins, spoons and bottles. Cargo manifests recorded in Jamaica show the ship also carried 48 tons of sugar, log-wood, ginger, and leftover trade goods. Most important, salvors found the ship's bell positively identifying the wreck as the "Henrietta Marie 1699."

Considered a fast and sturdy vessel, the Henrietta Marie at 170 tons and eight cannon was a typical European merchantman with a square stern,  three masts, and multiple cargo decks. Ships of her type ran the "triangular route" taking British trade goods to Africa to barter for slaves, slaves from Africa to British colonies in the West Indies and North America, and tons of  raw materials like sugar and indigo from the colonies to England. 

Captured from the French by the Royal Navy, the ship was sold to merchants and christened  the Henrietta Marie. Before her voyage in 1699-1700, the Henrietta Marie had made an earlier trip during 1697-1698. Arriving back in England she was refurbished and given a new ship's bell inscribed with the date 1699.

Her master on the last voyage  had a crew of 18 to 20 men.  While a ship of this size could have been crewed by a dozen sailors if it was a merchantman, the extra hands were needed aboard a slaver to watch the captives. Men recruited for slavers came from the dregs of society. Sadly, they were often violent and alcoholic.  

The  Henrietta Marie left England, taking some three months to reach the stretch of West Africa coast between Gambia and Benin that was the trading territory of the British Royal Africa Company.  There the ship and crew spent months collecting slaves by offering trade goods to local kings who had turned slavery, which originally has been a cruel by-product of African warfare, into a primary business.

Scholarly estimates place the number of African slaves sent to the New World between 9 to 15 million persons with as many as three to five million souls perishing during the transit from Africa to the West Indies, which is called the "Middle Passage."  While some estimates place the fatalities to be as little as 1.4 million, these are still staggering numbers that almost numb the mind.

The number of slaves aboard the Henrietta Marie  may have been about 250 persons when the ship left Africa, possibly Nigeria.  From slaves sales records in Jamaica it is know that 190 persons survived the 14 week voyage of the Henrietta Marie from Africa to Jamaica.  Their ultimate fate is not known, but it's believed that they lived and died working in Jamaican sugar plantations within five to ten years after their arrival in the New World.

Among the Europeans, only the Quakers and the Moravians seemed to be genuinely concerned about the plight of  African slaves. It would been nearly a hundred years after the sinking of the Henrietta Marie before slavery would be abolished, largely due to efforts of English Quaker and evangelical Christians like William Wilberforce, John Newton, Hannah More, Charles Middleton, Thomas Clarkson, and Granville Sharp.  The first-hand accounts of Newton, Rev. James Ramsay, and  former slaves Ottobah Cugoano and Olaudah Equiano challenged public perceptions of slavery and helped fuel abolitionist sentiments.

In Black Flag, Black Ship,  I based the slave ship the Vanity on the real life  Henrietta Marie.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Ships of Black Flag, Black Ship - Part II: The Frigate

The HMS Surprise from Daniel Fritsche on Vimeo.

During the Age of Sail, one ship evolved from a Mediterranean coastal galley to a far-ranging, fast vessel that served both as the eyes of  the fleet and potent enough to take on ships larger than itself. The frigate served many missions, both as a scout, a convoy escort, and a commerce raider.  In the British Royal Navy the frigate was the first ship that captains, or post-captains as they were called, could command.

Frigates began  in the 15th century as fast, maneuverable galleys equipped with sails and oars. During the 80 years' War (1568–1648), when Spain tried to retrieve the rebellious Netherlands, privateers in the service of the Spanish crown known as Dunkirk Privateers, or Dunkirkers, developed a sail-only short-range raider that they called a frigate.

Based on their experience fighting the Dunkirker frigates the Dutch Navy developed  the first ocean-going frigate. This 300-ton, 40-gun ship proved to be a potent development. Under the brilliant leadership of Dutch Admiral Maartin Troomp, their stunning success during the 1639  Battle of the Downs against the Spanish fleet led many European sea-going powers to develop frigates of their own.

The term  "frigate-built" appeared in the 17th century to describe a fast, maneuverable ship.  Eventually the French used the word frigate as a verb and adjective to mean "built long and low." Vessels in that day were considered ships if they carried three masts with square-rigged sails and had at least 28 guns on one or two decks. In the British rating system that sorted ships from most powerful (first-rate) to least powerful (sixth rate), frigates weighed in as fifth or sixth rate ships. Vessels that carried fewer than 20 cannon, such as gun sloops and cutters, were considered unrated vessels.

Don't let the notion of size fool you.  The frigates could perform many tasks while the larger vessels, called ships or the line, were designed as huge gun platforms intended only to form into battle lines to attack other enemy fleets. While cost-saving measures during peacetime mothballed ships of the line, navies kept the frigates working hard. Some captains became so enamored of their frigates that they actually refused promotion in order to continue commanding frigates.

During the Napoleonic Wars, the 36-gun  HMS Phoenix which along with the 74-gun HMS Dragon may have saved England from a French invasion when the  two ships spooked French Admiral Villeneuve. Thinking the two ships were advance scouts of a much larger British fleet, Villeneuve abandoned his mission of sailing to Brest to escort the French invasion fleet across the English Channel.

Instead, he took the combined French and Spanish fleets to Cadiz, Spain, where the fleets were blockaded for a time by the British frigates until Villeneuve attempted to leave the harbor with his ships.  Villeneuve's flight was observed by the British frigates which took the word to the main fleet under Vice Admiral Horatio Lord Nelson.  The ensuing Battle of Trafalgar decisively ended French and Spanish naval threats.

The formidable nature of frigates have led many authors to make them their ship of choice.  These include C. S. Forrester and Patrick O'Brian. Set during the Napoleonic Wars, Patrick O'Brian's Jack Aubrey novels featured the frigate HMS Surprise under the command of Post-Captain Jack Aubrey. The video animation at the top of this post depicts the HMS Surprise as she would have been during Aubrey's command.

In my own novel,  Black Flag, Black Ship, a British vessel and a black frigate galley with a fearsome reputation encounter one another off the coast of Africa. What happens may astound you.  Read Black Flag, Black Ship to find out!

Friday, May 14, 2010

Review: Starfire (The Mending)

Starfire (The Mending) Starfire by Stuart Vaughn Stockton

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Wow!  Sentient dinosaurs, ancient prophecies, mysterious messengers, a demonic cabal, bone crunching military action, all with boldly visualized technologies and rich backstory reminiscent of Niven and Pournelle at their best in Mote in God’s Eye. Wow!

In Starfire (The Mending) the young warrior Rathe becomes the focus of a planetary battle on both the physical and spiritual planes. Before you think this is a lightsaber remix, author Stuart Vaughn Stockton presents a unique alien world in which the dominant sentient beings are not human nor even mammalian, but saurian.

What at first seems as if a straightforward story of a young warrior maturing under fire takes a number of unexpected twists.  Nothing is as it seems and assumptions upon which entire societies are based may be totally wrong. There were several points in the story where I literally did not know what would happen next or who the enemy actually was. The book proved to be quite a roller coaster ride.

Stockton's visualization of an immensely old saurian civilization proved to be intriguing and well conceived. His use of spiritual elements like prophecies and dreams are not contrived and are integral to the story. Stockton's use of alien languages for proper names and for common names of everyday items proved both intriguing and frustrating at at the same time.

The author has thoughtfully provided references and drawings to help readers understand the world in which Rathe lives. Be prepared to do some page flipping when encountering an unfamiliar term or species. I did find the need to check references diminished over time and the overall breakneck pace kept the story moving so quickly in places I abandoned page flipping and just pressed ahead.

I recommend this book to fans of Christian speculative fiction and to those who simply would like to read a good SF yarn.  This is a book when once completed you will want to read again.

View all my reviews >>

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Meeting at the Blue Coracle

Samuel Cohagan opened the battered door of the Blue Coracle and quickly entered the coffee house. The cool, dark interior contrasted with the bright sun and rank stickiness of Port Royal's tropical atmosphere. Six years after the great earthquake of 1694, Port Royal had returned to its boom days though on a much smaller scale, since the quake had swallowed up three quarters of its former size and isolated it from the mainland.

Inside, Samuel took off his tri-corner hat and mopped his brow with handkerchief taken from he left coat sleeve. Only 10 o'clock and already it had become so hot.

He congratulated himself for choosing not to wear the powdered wig. Instead he had pulled back his own auburn hair back into a short pony tail tied off with a simple black ribbon from one of his daughters.

As his eyes adjusted to muted light, he could hear the murmurs of the sea captains, shipping agents, and merchants who used the coffee house as neutral ground for their sometimes heated negotiations.

"Good day, Samuel!" proprietor Amos Johnston said as he moved  from behind the bar. Clasping his friend's hand, Amos said,  "Have you any news about your son?"

"I thank you Amos for your concern," Samuel Cohagan said, sighing heavily.  "No news since he was taken almost three months ago.  I came to see if there might be word of any new arrivals from Bristol."

"Aye!" Amos said. "There are a couple of new captains here.  I'll point them out.  See! There at the third table."

As Samuel started to edge forward past the first table in the narrow coffee house Jonah called out, "Samuel! I almost forgot!  The gentleman sitting by himself at the rear says he has business with you."

Samuel looked at the last table and saw a bespectacled older man with graying hair and beard laboring over what he took to be an account book. At first glance, Samuel thought him to be a purser balancing his accounts. The man looked up and smiled.  For a moment, Samuel thought he knew him. He stopped briefly at the third table to inquire if any of the new arrivals had come from Bristol.  He tried not to show his disappointment when he learned that they had come from Boston.

Then Samuel made his  way back to the rear table.  The man looked up from his bookkeeping, laid his quill pen down on a small piece of blotting paper and rose.  The bearded man smiled broadly and extended his right hand.

"Master Cohagan,"  the man said shaking Samuel's hand vigorously.  "At long last we meet.  Your papers in the Royal Academy Proceedings on metallurgy as it relates to firearms  have been a inspiration  to me. I feel as if  we are old friends."

"It's strange you should mention that," Samuel said as he sat down. "I had the oddest feeling that I should know you. It's almost as if we could have been childhood friends. Now sir, you have business with me?"

"Indeed I do sir," the man said. "But first I must inquire about your son.  I heard something of your conversation with our host.  My old ears ring from cannon fire, but I can still hear quite well."

"He was taken sir," Samuel said. "A star fell over the bay and it shattered in mid-air with many scattered pieces falling near Spanish Town. There are stories of smiths hammering the metal from falling stars into great swords. With that in mind, Nathan and I set out to find them."

"Yes," the man said nodding, "I've heard of such tales."

"We found where the stones fell to earth and began collecting them.  We separated to cover more ground and some time later I heard my son Nathan call out, 'Huzzah!'  But I grew worried he did not answer any of my replies.  When we found his shovel, it was spotted with blood -- his blood. I knew then that he had been taken."

Samuel's voice rose as he said, "I ran to the beach and saw a small boat making for the anchoring ground of Port Royal.  As my apprentices ran to find a boat,  I could make out the ship that the men in the boat boarded.  I could not get to the ship in time before she sailed. I learned later the name and the captain:  the slaver Vanity mastered by one Captain Billy Blue."

"Oh my!" the man said. "A slaver is a horrible berth. The things he might see and be forced to do. It's hell on earth for the slaves.  So that's why you came today, as you do every time you see a new ship arrive at Port Royal."

"Excuse me," said a short and stocky sea captain, who had entered the Blue Coracle a few moments earlier. "I couldn't help overhearing your tale and the name Billy Blue.  Now there's an evil, lying, cheating, malicious drunkard of a master for you.  He's turned many a good sailor away from the sea by his abusive treatment of his men. I shudder to learn that your son is among his crew."

At those words Samuel's shoulder's slumped. He felt a strong hand thump him on the back.

"Courage!" the man with the graying hair and beard said. "Is there a scripture you've used to encourage yourself?"

"Why yes, friend, there is!" Samuel said. "It's from Psalm 27. 'I had fainted, unless I had believed to see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living.' I thank you friend, you've reminded me to be strong in my faith, even if my eyes and ears tell you otherwise!"

Seeking to undo his ill-chosen remarks, the stocky captain said, "Mark you, even on that slaver there are a few good men among them. They'll watch out for him. Stand up sir so I can get a good look at you."

Samuel stood, turning so the man could get a better glimpse of his features.

"I thank you sir," the stocky captain said, "I did see the Vanity in Bristol as we sailed out. Her crew was careening her.  I saw a younger version of yourself, alive and doing the work of three men. My eye was drawn to him, in fact.  I take it to be an act of Providence.  He was dressed in rags, but he was hale and unbowed."

"I thank the LORD for this good news!"  Samuel shouted  My son is alive and well!"

Just then, a melodious tune chimed.

"Oh dear!"  said the man with the graying hair and beard as he looked at a large pocket watch that continued to chime. "Recall!  My ship, the Rodger Young,  is leaving.  I must go. Here!  Take this pouch and letter.  The contents of the pouch will pay for the commission outlined in the letter."

As the man scooped up his possessions and scurried toward the door, Samuel hefted the pouch and knew there was a generous amount of gold in it.

"Wait!" Samuel called.  "I didn't learn you name."

The man reached the door then turned back to Samuel and smiled broadly.

"It's in the letter!" he said as he opened the door and disappeared into the bright sunshine.

"That is very odd," said the stocky captain. "There's no ship in the harbor by that name. In fact, I've never heard of ship by that name. Rodger Young, was it?"

Samuel pocketed the pouch and read the letter:

Master Cohagan,

Spare no expense in making two braces of the finest, most accurate pistols you and your apprentices have ever made. The men for which they are intended will have great need of them.  Make out the presentation plate for each brace, one for Samuel Cohagan and one for Nathan Cohagan with the sentiment, "Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. Proverbs 3:5."

The LORD will see you and your family through.

Yours in prayer and danger, 

W. H. Hayes

Monday, May 10, 2010

Book mini-review

Starfire (The Mending) Starfire by Stuart Vaughn Stockton

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wow! Sentient dinosaurs, ancient prophecies, mysterious messengers, a demonic cabal, bone crunching military action, all with boldly visualized technologies and rich backstory reminiscent of Niven and Pournelle at their best in Mote in God’s Eye.  Stuart Vaughn Stockton has created a wonderful Christian speculative tale. Wow!

A full review will follow by Friday.

View all my reviews >>

Monday, May 3, 2010

That nick of time

 18 These men lie in wait for their own blood;
       they waylay only themselves!
 19 Such is the end of all who go after ill-gotten gain;
       it takes away the lives of those who get it.

Proverbs 1:18-19 

In writing about the miraculous in fictional battles, I often uncover events that are more amazing than I conceived for my stories. For instance, this year marks the 355th anniversary of a miraculous  sea battle, one which involved worship, pirates, and one of England's greatest admirals. 

In February 1655, General-at-sea Robert Blake led his task force of warships against the a fortified Barbary pirate city of Porto Farina (or Porto Ferino),  then known as "the arsenal of Tunis." Arrayed against his ships were some 120 heavy guns in fortified positions and two forts with two or more thousand infantry and cavalry waiting on the shore for the expected English invasion.

In the harbor floated nine Barbary galleys, each highly maneuverable and deadly. Acting on intelligence about a concentration of Barbary pirate ships, a few days previously, Blake  arrived on February 22 to try and reach an agreement with the pirates that they would no longer attack ships flying the British flag. He also demanded the return of English ships recently captured by the Barbary pirates and all English prisoners.

For centuries, the Barbary pirates raided Christian villages throughout the Mediterranean.  Long sections of coastline in Spain and Italy remained unpopulated until the mid-19th century when the last of the Barbary pirate strongholds had been eliminated. Gaining naval technology from a Dutch turncoat, Barbary pirate ships were able to raid as far west as Ireland and Iceland. In the worst of the raids, thousands of villagers were enslaved while the older villagers were killed. In Iceland, the pirates herded the old people into a church, locked them inside, and burned the church down.

European powers made matters worse by using the pirates as proxies to weaken their rivals. While some successes had been won against the Barbary pirates, there had been no concerted action against the pirate strongholds on the coast of North Africa.

Blake's fleet arrived as part of  Oliver Cromwell's  grand stratagem against the Spanish.  Cromwell dispatched two fleets, one to attack Spanish holdings in the West Indies, and the other to blockade Spanish ports once the English attacks were underway. In the meantime, they were to make friendly ports of call as shows of English force and to drive French and Barbary raiders back to their home ports.

In spite of Blake's serious wounds gained earlier during the first Dutch War, Cromwell ordered Blake to lead the blockade fleet A brilliant sailor and a pious man,  Blake obeyed.  Placing his faith in God, and believing that he would die before returning home, Blake arrived off the coast of Spain on October 30, 1654 with some 27 ships, 4,000 men, and 900 cannon.  Battered by winter seas, Blake led his fleet on patrols through the Mediterranean. No fair weather admiral, Blake turned his crews into accomplished all-weather sailors and expert gunners.

The Barbary pirates refused to comply with Blake's demands.  The admiral decided that before attacking the city, he needed to reprovision the fleet. Leaving a covering force of five frigates under Captain Stayner, Blake left to gather much needed food and water from a variety of ports.

On March 8, 1655 Blake again returned to Porto Farina. He again repeated his demands.   The Dey of Porto Farina looked at the storm-battered ships and rebuffed Blake, denying the fleet water and insulting the English.

Then the British again sailed off, seemingly for good. On April 3, the British fleet returned, riding on a favorable offshore breeze.Much to the surprise of the pirates, Blake's fleet came into the harbor and dropped anchor in front of the pirate guns, just within musket range.
Before dawn at a signal from the St. George, the crews assembled on deck to worship God. Once the worship services concluded, Blake gave the order to attack. The pirates opened fire from their fortified positions, confident of their fields of fire and stable gun positions would score more hits than the rocking ships would against them.

To their surprise, the smoke from their own guns and the smoke of the replying shots from the anchored fleet blew back into the pirate's positions and obscured their vision.  The British gunners had no problems picking out targets and every shot found its mark.

While the fleet bombarded Porto Farina, Blake sent Captain John Stoaks of the St. George  with boarding parties to set fire to the pirate galleys. Under heavy musket fire from the shore, Stoaks and his men accomplished their mission and returned. The fleet kept peppering the the pirate ships to ensure no one would board the ships and try to put out the fires.  By the time the bombardment of Porto Farina ceased, the pirate ships were completely fire-gutted, no longer useful as warships.

Blake lost 25 sailors with 40 more wounded.  Ashore nothing moved. The English could not assess the enemy's causalities, but they knew the shore fortifications seemed to be abandoned.

In his after action report, Blake wrote, "We entered with the fleet into the harbor, and anchored before their castles, the Lord being pleased to favor us with a light gale off the sea, which cast all the smoke upon them, and made our work more easy, for after some hours' dispute we set on fire all their ships, which were in number nine, and the same favourable gale still continuing, we retreated out again into the road."

Blake also knew that his fleet had no fought alone.  He wrote, "It is also remarkable by us that shortly after our going forth, the wind and weather changed and continued very stormy for many days, so that we could not have effected the business, had not the Lord appointed that nick of time in which is was to be done."

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Why I write this blog

I have a passion for Jesus. I am captivated by his love and must tell others about it.  I firmly believe that Jesus Christ appeared on the earth in order to destroy the works of evil fallen angels bent on destroying humanity. Through his suffering, death, and resurrection, he  not only disarmed this horrible enemy, he also became the way through which humanity's relationship with the Creator God is restored one person at a time in a tangible life-giving manner.

I also firmly believe that Christian speculative fiction is a way to engage readers with an entertaining story founded on writing excellence that suspends disbelief and introduces readers to new way at looking at the world. The world is infinitely more complex and troubling with dangerous hidden spiritual dimensions than we can perceive with our ordinary senses .  So Christian speculative fiction can not only tell the Gospel story, it can raise questions about the world that the readers are compelled to answer for themselves by seeking the living God.

I write this blog to serve as a subtle witness to the power of a loving God, revealed in his three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  As a writer of Christian speculative fiction, I want to share how God has shaped my writing, making my story telling subordinate to his desire to touch human lives with his love. I try to share incidents in my spiritual journey that have drawn me closer to the lover of my soul.

I love the fantasy and science fiction genres and I write in the sailpunk and steampunk sub-genres. While these are fairly dark realms, the central message that I must tell is that no matter how dark and perilous the adventure, there is One who rescues and restores.

I am not aware of any other Christian writer who is writing sailpunk and steampunk stories, though I can't believe I'm the only one.  So by way of encouragement, in this blog I am sharing the fruits of my research to draw others into writing similar stories.

I expend a good deal of time researching my novels' background material,  particularly the setting's history and geography, and technology, clothing, and manners of by the story's characters.  Not only do I research the historical issues, I also try to keep the fantastical elements: angels, demons, miracles, and divine appearances grounded in incidents recounted in the Bible and through reliable witnesses. Ultimately I hope sharing this preparatory work might be useful to other Christian writers who want to tell Christian sailpunk or steampunk stories.

Finally, I had a great time writing my current novel, Black Flag, Black Ship. Much of the information I'm sharing is featured in some way in this novel, though I am trying really hard not to introduce any spoilers.

So, please enjoy the blog and let me know if you have strong feelings about  a particular entry.

Reviews of Christian speculative novels

I will start reviewing Christian speculative fiction novels here, starting this month. I plan to do one per month. First up will offerings from Marcher Lord Press.  More on that later as I haven't yet received my review copy.