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Sunday, August 26, 2018

What was a Piece of Eight?

Someone mentioned last week that I didn’t include pieces of eight in my examples of coins from around 1700, so this week I thought I would look around for some definitions of what a piece of eight was.
I missed getting the URL of one web site, but you’ll get the idea from these others!


Pieces of eight were the world's first global currency. As the coins of Spain they were used across the vast Spanish Empire, stretching from South America to the Philippines, but were also used outside the empire as well. In 1600 one coin would have been worth the equivalent of a modern £50 note. The front of the coin is decorated with the coat of arms of the Habsburgs, the rulers of Spain and the most powerful family in Europe.
Where did the silver for pieces of eight come from?

The inscription on this coin - King of the Spains and the Indies - refers to European Spain and the great new Spanish Empire in the Americas. The silver used to create the coins and finance Spain's armies and armadas came, above all, from the 'silver mountain' of Potosi in Bolivia. This wealth came at a terrible cost to human life. Thousands of indigenous American Indians and African slaves died in the brutal conditions of the mines to support Spain's thirst for silver.
Pieces of eight were legal tender in the USA until 1857

piece of eight
n. pl. pieces of eight
An old Spanish silver coin.

[From its original value of eight reals.]

Definition of piece of eight
: an old Spanish peso of eight reales

piece of eight in British

nounWord forms: plural pieces of eight
a former Spanish coin worth eight reals; peso
the obsolete Spanish and Spanish-American dollar, equal to eight reals

You can even go indulge yourself and acquire this Piece of Eight:

Friday, August 10, 2018

Some common coins found in 1700

During the 1700’s and 1800’s, gold coins and silver coins became very popular in nearly all parts of the world as trading grew. Coins were used as “commodity money”. This means that the value of a coin was dependent on the amount of silver or gold it contained. Below is a list of brief descriptions of various gold coins and silver coins that were used in the 1700’s and 1800’s.



For over eight hundred years, the Maravedis was Spain’s standard gold coin. It’s value and weight dramatically changed according to who ruled Spain at the time. Over time, the Maravedis became available in copper and silver varieties, particularly in Spanish colonies. The faces of several kings, including Philip V, Philip IV, Philip III, Ferdinand VII, Ferdinand VI, Joseph Bonaparte, Charles III and Charles IV were etched into the Maravedis. Queen Isabel II, made it onto the Maravedis from 1843 to 1868, when she was dethroned.


In the 1300s, King Pedro 1 of Castile introduced the Reales, which is a silver coin that means “royal.” The Reales remained in circulation until the Escudo was introduced in 1864. The weight and value of Reales changed over time, according to the ruler at the time.


Escudos are divided into silver and gold categories. The original Gold Escudo was introduced in 1566 was minted in one-half, one, two, four, and eight escudos. It was the official currency of Spain from 1864 to 1869. Most Escudos were minted in either Seville or Madrid. An Escudo coin from Seville is marked with an S and one from Madrid will have an M.


Special two piece Escudos were known as the Doubloon, which means “double” in Spanish. They were manufactured in Nueva Granada, Spain, Mexico, and Peru. The Doubloon featured the a coat of arms or cross that was known as Hapsburg Shield on one side and the busts of Isabel or Ferdinand on the other. The Doubloon was last minted in 1849. 



The Guinea was first introduced in 1663 and remained the main gold coin in Britain until 1816. Its name was derived from the British colony of Guinea, which had rich gold reserves that were imported into Britain. Most of the Guinea gold coins bear a small elephant in their design, to commemorate their African origins.


The Sovereign was first created in 1489. After a break of more than two hundred years (1604 to 1816), this gold coin was given a new lease of life under the reign of George III. Large numbers of Sovereigns were produced using the steam-driven minting machines of Matthew Boulton.

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Louis Guittar and a Governor from Virginia

Governor Nicholson of Virginia vs the pirate Louis Guittar

A daring governor shows his mettle in a bloody April 29, 1700 pirate battle

Gov. Francis Nicholson was nothing if not a man of action.
Long before coming to Virginia in 1698, he'd shown his mettle time and time again, fighting Moors in North Africa, English rebels at the battle of Sedgemoor and hostile Indians in New York and New England.
Still, no one would have raised an eyebrow had he hesitated on the afternoon of April 28, 1700 - when a Royal Navy officer interrupted him at a prominent Hampton home with news of pirates.
Even the other navy captain in the room - who'd stopped to pay his respects - had no doubts about leaving the protesting governor behind as he rushed to the King Street docks and readied his ship for battle.
By 10 p.m, however, Nicholson had not only alerted the militia on the south side of the James but made his way across the dark waters on a rowboat to board the HMS Shoreham.
By 7 a.m. the next day, he was standing on the Shoreham's quarterdeck, firing his pistols at close range in a bloody, 10-hour clash that defined him as one of the era's great pirate hunters.
"I can't think of any other battle like it," says Mark G. Hanna, a University of California-San Diego historian who studied colonial piracy at the College of William and Mary's Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture.
"Nicholson went toe to toe with the pirates - and ended up being a huge story in London. He was a hero." 
Nicholson's daring and resolve may have been born of frustration.
Just nine months earlier, the small, inadequately armed HMS Essex Prize had been outgunned and outsailed in a humiliating Chesapeake Bay clash with a pirate pretending to be the dreaded Capt. William Kidd.
And while the newly arrived Shoreham - with its 32 guns - introduced a larger, far more potent warship as the sentinel of the Chesapeake - Capt. William Passenger had been forced to make do with a short-handed crew weakened still more by inexperienced and underage sailors.
Still, the captives scooped up by French pirate Louis Guittar as he bore down on the Virginia capes from the West Indies knew nothing about this recent change of guard.
Not until his ship had overwhelmed eight rich merchant vessels - including one carrying an intoxicating cargo of strong beer and red wine - did a tortured carpenter finally reveal the potential challenge waiting on the other side of Hampton Roads.
Emboldened by their successes and the alcohol, however, Guittar and the 150-man crew of the 20-gun La Paix scoffed at the threat and focused instead on plundering the small fleet of prizes they'd anchored off Lynnhaven Inlet.
They were still groggy from drink when the Shoreham sent a shot across their bow just after dawn, setting the stage for what would become a murderous battle.
"It was a tough, close fight with severe casualties. Peter Heyman - the Hampton customs collector - was killed by a volley from the La Paix as he stood next to Nicholson firing from the Shoreham's deck," Colonial Williamsburg historian Carson Hudson says.
"At times, they were blasting away at each other from pistol range - only 20 to 30 yards - and the pirate ship was shot to pieces."
Knowing they would be hanged if taken, Guittar and his crew fought for their lives, firing broadside after broadside as they attempted to maneuver in and board their outnumbered foe for a more favorable fight at close quarters.
But time after time, Passenger rallied his crew of boys in a heroic display of courage and seamanship, maintaining his distance and his advantage on the windward side of the clash even as his short-handed gunners struggled to answer the pirates' volleys.
Spectators watched from the shore as the grisly fight wore on, felling so many pirates they clogged the decks and had to be thrown overboard. Others looked on from Old Point Comfort as the Shoreham's mainmast fell in the thunderous cannon fire and gunpowder smoke filled the approach to Hampton Roads.
Not until late afternoon did the Royal Navy's slow but superior fire finally prevail. Consuming nearly 30 barrels of powder, its guns fired 1,671 rounds in a determined attack that "shot all his masts, yards, sailes, rigging all to shatters, unmounted several guns and hull almost beaten to pieces," an observer reported.\
The end came soon after the Shoreham's guns blasted the La Paix's rudder, leaving the floating wreck helplessly grounded. But as the pirates lowered their blood-red flag, their captain played one last gambit.
Priming 30 barrels of explosives with a trail of gunpowder, Guittar vowed to blow up his ship and 50 captives if not given quarter. Nicholson replied with the pirates' threats of "Broil! Broil! Broil!" ringing in his ears, scrawling a note that promised to "referr him and his men to the mercy of my Royal Master King William the third ..."
Of the 124 buccaneers who surrendered, 111 were manacled and transported from Hampton to London, where they were tried and condemned to death.
Three others were convicted in an admiralty court at Hampton and hanged on the beaches overlooking the scene of the battle.
Customs officer Peter Heyman was buried in the yard at Hampton's third St. John's Church, where his grave is still marked by a stone Nicholson commissioned.
"(He) went voluntarily aboard ye king's Shippe Shoreham in pursuit of a pyrate who greatly infested this coast," it reads.
"After he had behaved himself seven hours with undaunted courage (he) was killed with small shot ...(as) he stood next ye Govenour upon the quarter deck ..."
For more on the history of Hampton Roads during the Golden Age of Piracy, click here.
-- Mark St. John Erickson
Copyright © 2018, Daily Press