Pirates 9: Inexorable

Ellie Brigida: Welcome to Sweetbitter, where we explore the untold history of women and queer pirates. We’re your hosts, Ellie Brigida…

Alyse Knorr: …and Alyse Knorr, subbing for Leesa today.

EB: I’m so happy to be doing an episode with you, Alyse. It’s gonna be so fun.

AK: I know! I’m excited, too. Of course, I miss Leesa, but–

EB: It’s gonna be great.

AK: Yeah. It’s big shoes to fill.

EB: I know. But I think you can do it. I have faith in you.

AK: Thank you. I appreciate that. We’ll see.

EB: We’ll see, we’ll see. This episode, we’re talking some more about the subjects of our last episode, which is Anne Bonny and Mary Read. We’re focusing our whole episode on an interview we did with an amazing artist named Amanda Cotton, who created a statue of Anne and Mary.

AK: But before we get into that, Ellie, do you want to play some pirate Fact or Fiction?

EB: Oh, yes, I’m so ready for this. But I don’t have Leesa to fight with me, so like, what are we going to do?

AK: It’s just you versus the truth.

EB: Yeah, I think I’ll fight with myself. I’ll argue both sides of the coin. Let’s do it.

AK: Okay, so in the movies, you see a lot of pirates, you know, sword fighting. Did they actually sword fight? Okay, so I am going to do–let’s go back and forth. I’m going to go no first, because I actually think that’s the answer. Okay.

EB: And the reason that I think that is a few different reasons. Number one: I’ve been watching a lot of Once Upon a Time lately, and in Once Upon a Time, there is a character of Captain Hook.

AK: Okay.

EB: And one of the recent episodes that I watched he was challenged to a duel. And in that duel, it was like, a gun duel, right? So they, like, walk and then turn and shoot. And like, that’s a thing. So I feel like–because historically, we also have like, if you think of Hamilton, the musical–like the musical, but also the real life Hamilton–he died in a duel, same way. So I feel like that’s been happening for a really long time historically. So I do think they fought each other, but not with swords–with guns. That’s my official answer, but let me try to argue the yes. 

AK: Okay, let’s hear it.

EB: Because, going off of my no, if you switch from guns to swords, if you actually didn’t want to kill someone, I think you would do a sword fight.

AK: Mmm.

EB: Because, like with the sword fight, right, like you also see that in films, right, where if you have the sword fight, if you knock the sword out of someone’s hand, then you can like–you put the sword up to their throat, and you’re like, “Surrender.” So, it’s a little less like, okay, you’re definitely going to die if you get shot. Not definitely, but higher odds, you will die if you get shot.

AK: Yeah, yeah.

EB: So maybe it was like, they used sword fights to settle disputes between pirates on board that they didn’t actually want to kill. They just wanted to, like, settle something between the two of them, and still keep their crew members because they didn’t want to be, like, down a pirate. So those are my two answers. But if I will commit to one, I’ll commit to the no.

AK: Okay.

EB: Thoughts?

AK: I mean, like many of these, it’s complicated. But mostly yes, we think they would have dueled and we know they would have sword fought like when they were boarding ships or raiding other ships. So let’s talk about the dueling first. So during the 17th and 18th century, duels were like all the rage, just like you see in Hamilton. Everyone was dueling, mostly to protect their honor, and they would use pistols most commonly. So you’re 100% right about that. 

EB: Knew it.

AK: Before that, they would have swords, but then they would have pistols. Mostly it was like upper class people though and nobility. So like, yeah, maybe pirates caught hold of that. And like, surely, you know, they were drinking all the time, and they were aggressive people. So surely there must have been duels, right? But you’re on to something about how they wouldn’t have wanted to like risk any kind of, you know, cut or infection or something. So it could have just been like fistfights. We know that they had swords and carried swords in used swords when they were fighting because–I mean, have you heard of the cutlass?

EB: Yes.

AK: Like that is real. They have those huge swords that almost look like machetes. And those are really helpful on a pirate ship because they can cut through things like rope or canvas or wood. And you can use them in really close quarters when you’re boarding on a pirate ship. So they’re just easier to use and like, you don’t have to be well trained in sword fighting to use a cutlass, because you just like hack people with it and you hit them with the hilt in the face, and you do stuff like that. So they had really ugly, nasty sword fights when they did have sword fights. So it wasn’t like, you know, in the movies where they all have those like really long, thin swords and they’re doing like acrobatics. It was just much more like brutal and awful.

EB: Sounds exciting. I have a question for you.

AK: Yeah.

EB: In terms of timeline. So you said, what, 17th century is when they started doing pistol duels?

AK: Yeah.

EB: What’s the Golden Age of Piracy?

AK: The 17th century. 17th and 18th–well, like 18th century is the best time, like early 18th century.

EB: So it would have–they would have definitely like, you know they would have had pistols during that time to be.

AK: Oh, totally

EB: To have these duels.

AK: In fact–okay, Ellie, I’m gonna go on a weird video game tangent.

EB: Can’t wait.

AK: Because in video games, you’re always holding two guns at once, you know, because it’s so badass, to hold two guns, like one in each hand. And then everyone’s like, “That’s not realistic. Like, you wouldn’t want to have two guns in your hands because blah blah blah.” But like, during the Golden Age of Piracy, because it took so long to load your pistol, they were duel-wielding like crazy. They would have like loaded guns in their pockets and in their hands. And then they’d have their cutlass. So they had–they were just like–and sometimes they’d hold their cutlass in their teeth, so that’s where the phrase armed to the teeth comes from. So they literally had all these loaded pistols and all these knives. And yeah, they were just really, really scary. And a lot of it was for show, right? Because they didn’t want to use violence because that was risky for them. So a lot of it was just for intimidation.

EB: Well, yeah, and that’s what I was saying about like the yes and no, right. I’m like, I feel like even though pirates like–yeah, you’re right. Like they wanted to scare people, but like, they really did not want to die. 

AK: No, yeah.

EB: Like, I feel like they were not trying to like, mess with their lives.

AK: Right. They were just like, trying to try to make a living, you know. But I mean, yeah, the whole image of them climbing up onto another ship with a cutlass between their teeth is 1,000% true. Like that’s how they would have, you know, carried that, ’cause they would need their hands on their guns, just like you said. And then as soon as the gun–you don’t have time to reload the gun. That’s the big thing. Because this is like when you have to put the powder in and you have to, you know, it’s very, very complicated.

EB: So they just have like seven guns, right?

AK: Yeah.

EB: You know, there’s like a lot of animals that are not actually that scary, but they try to look as scary as they can.

AK: Oh, yeah.

EB: Right?

AK: Like moths, they have like eyes on their wings, right? A little bit, yeah.

EB: Like they’re trying to look scary, but like they actually can’t hurt you. I mean, to be fair, if you have 10 guns on you, you probably can hurt someone. But I feel like this is it. Like, they’re peacocking. Right? They’re like– Yeah, they’re campy. Like they’re–they’ve got their big, scary flag, and they’re like, “Oh,” I mean, but they would actually fuck you up, right? Unlike a moth, but– Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah. Thank you so much, Alyse, for telling me all these things about duels.

AK: Yeah.

EB: I’m like rearing and ready to start a duel right now, except it’s like not really in my personality. But maybe after this. I’ll let you know how it goes.

AK: Perfect.

EB: But for all of you listening, we will be back after a quick break. All right, we are back. Alyse, can you tell us a little bit more about what we’re talking about today?

AK: Yeah, absolutely. So we’ve got a slightly shorter episode today, because we’re focusing our entire episode on an artist named Amanda Cotton, who has been working on this absolutely breathtaking sculpture of Anne Bonny and Mary Read. And I want to start with a fun fact before you hear from Amanda, which is that, just like the pirates we’ve been talking about all season, Amanda lives on a boat.

EB: Very cool.

Amanda Cotton: I used to live kind of near the water when I was younger. And then when I moved to London, I kind of–I didn’t feel lost, but I just didn’t feel like I was at home. And so yeah, I decided to move onto a boat in the middle of London. And it’s kind of turned London around for me really, like the whole kind of–we live in a marina of lots of people, and it’s like a little community, and it’s not the London I think most people think of when you explain it. We will talk to each other–it’s a little bit like going camping, but we’re on water. I graduated about nine years ago, I think, if my math is right, but I guess, I mean, to study–I’ve been studying it years before that. I actually have a Master’s in it, so I was studying it for about 5, 10, about 11 years in total. But I guess the whole way through, when you’re studying art, you tend to kind of try all the different rings that are possible. So textiles, graphic design, all those kind of different avenues you can go down. When I went to university, I knew I wanted to do contemporary sculpture, but I didn’t want to study sculpture. I wanted to learn all the techniques and kind of the processes that went behind the making of it. So I could be as conceptual and kind of out there as I wanted, but still know that I’d technically done it right. So the statue itself is of two female pirates–Anne Bonny and Mary Read. They were kind of almost lost in history a little bit, not that many people seem to know about them, a lot like their male counterparts. Everyone knows Jack Sparrow and all the others, but Anne and Mary seem to have been kind of lost along the way. So I was commissioned by a company to design a sculpture based on the audiobook called Hellcats. It’s about their kind of adventure from when they were born, then kind of growing up, all the way through their love lives, until they’re kind of–when they were captured, and I’m not gonna tell you the rest of the story because, that’ll ruin it. Very much like all of my work, I like everything to be very methodical and have a reason and an answer. I don’t like anything to be left, kind of to chance or without reason, which was actually quite interesting with this one, because the two ladies were kind of very impulsive. So I was trying to leave some of it kind of as we were creating it, the actual process, to chance. But my research and how I went about it was meant to be quite methodical. So I started off reading the script, and I was really lucky to have a copy of the script before it went out live. And I sat and read through all of that, and then kind of picked out everything that I felt was relevant to go into the sculpture, kind of like their love for the sea, the idea that a lot of the book was kind of based on the fact that whenever they were on land, they were sad and kind of at points in their life that they didn’t necessarily want to be at. Whereas when they’re in the water, they were free and happy. And that’s where they felt most comfortable. So that was really important, as well as how kind of two individuals were very, very different, but then when they came together, they were incredibly powerful, and their love for one another. It suggested that they were lesbians and that they were lovers. But, I’m not 100% sure whether they were or they weren’t. I think they just had a very deep, meaningful love for women.

AK: Wow. Ellie, do you think anyone will ever make a sculpture of Sweetbitter, the podcast?

EB: I hope so. What’s it gonna be? All three of us, hair blowing in the wind, just like on a beach? That sounds great–on the Isle of Lesbos. Any island, really? We are a very water-based podcast.

AK: Yeah, I think Lesbos is the ideal. I just have to say–I think everything beautiful needs a sculpture to commemorate it. Everything from history and everything awesome and every podcast.

EB: Agreed. I also–I mean, this sculpture that Amanda created is absolutely incredible. So we want everyone, if you’re listening, Google the sculpture. Look it up, but we’re going to try to describe it to you. So do you want to describe the sculpture?

AK: Yeah.

EB: –to me, Alyse, and what it looks like? Paint a word picture for our podcast audience.

AK: Totally. So what’s on Amanda’s website, which is amandacotton.co.uk, is a mock up of the sculpture, which, the sculpture is called Inexorable. And the mock up, what you’re looking at is this eight foot tall–two abstract figures, like eight feet tall, united at the hip and the shoulder area. And they’re staring out at the sea, because the mock up of the sculpture is up, you know, on the shore. One of them–one of the figures has hair that’s just blowing wildly in the winds. And it looks like she has scars on her back. They’re just both very tall and proud and elegant. How would you describe it, Ellie?

EB: Oh my god, you did such a great description. But I will say I guess another thing is like, I do love how they are so connected.

AK: Yeah.

EB: Because it truly is–like you can’t ignore the fact that these two women are together.

AK: Yes, yes. Right.

EB: And I think like, if you look at the landscape, they’re right on the water. They’re also by, like, the gallows. Like there’s like a pole next to them with like a rope hanging.

AK: Right, right.

EB: Yeah, I feel like that’s also like indicative of their pirate life. Yeah, so it’s like the sculpture is there but also the scenery really lends to the feeling of the sculpture.

AK: You’re so right. You’re so right.

EB: It’s very cool.

AK: I’m gonna let Amanda describe the statue mock up, you know, a little bit more. Here she is.

AC: Originally, I wanted them to go in the water, so the water would flow through them, but where they were meant to go, even if the tide had gone through and was at high tide, you would still be able to kind of see from their shoulders up. So they–I didn’t want them to look like they drowned. I wanted them to still look kind of tall and proud in the water. So that’s why they had to be that high, to make sure. So yeah, so I guess when they’re just on land, they do seem quite tall, especially I’m only five foot, so they are really tall to me. They wanted to be at sea. So it was important to me that the sculpture has–it’s always looking out to the water, with their backs to the land. So they’re always looking outwards. I said, everything’s got a reason, even there in the shapes. So Mary is meant to kind of be like a flickering flame in her kind of–the way her body shape is. And Mary, again, is kind of meant to have kind of that mountain symbol. I tried to make it look like she’s almost got padded shoulders in that kind of mountain kind of vibe.

EB: So how did Amanda make all of these symbolic decisions?

AC: So yeah, obviously, going through the book, I was gathering big, big spider diagrams for each of them, picking out their differences and the things that kind of made them the same. And it kind of became very apparent that Anne was very kind of impulsive. She was described as having like fiery hair. And every time she went to do something, there wasn’t much thought behind it–she just went for it. And she also–although both of them grew up being told to dress as boys, as they got older, Anne decided that she wanted to be a female and dress as a female. So she wore lots of jewelry and luscious clothing and things like that. Whereas Mary was completely the opposite. Before she went into anything, she thought about it, she was methodical, she continued her lifestyle and dressing as a man to the point where she was actually struck I think it’s 35 times across her back, which meant that she had these incredible scars. But because she wanted to hide the fact she was female, she couldn’t have medical attention, which meant that she–yeah, throughout her whole entire life, had all these scars across her back, which showed kind of how controlled she actually was kind of in her personality. After I had all of this information, it kind of came out of the idea with the sea and air and I wanted the water to flow through them, because obviously the sea flows through the veins and that kind of vibe. So I was looking for some kind of symbolism and things that would go through the sculpture, which is where the kind of fire and earth came into it, with the elements of the air and the water as well. So, Anne has the symbol of fire. And Mary has the symbol of earth. So with Mary, like I said, she was struck across her back 35 times, and so that she could hide kind of who she was. So the reason the kind of mountain symbol is kind of across her back kind of represents that kind of striking. Actually all over her back where I’ve created it is really, really textured, but the rest of Mary is completely smooth. Whereas, Anne again, in complete comparison, she’s got the fire kind of symbol in the middle, to show that she had fire in her belly. And then her entire kind of form is all textured, to show her unpredictability, and that kind of coarseness that she had in her vibe. And then kind of we knew we wanted to try and show their love for one another. So they’re kind of slightly tilted inwards, kind of with their faces looking at each other slightly. And they’re connected by their arms in that kind of sense of hugging somebody. And then to show their kind of love and maybe kind of passion, they’re connected by the hips as well, to kind of give that idea. And it almost looks like they’re holding hands in that kind of sense. I guess as a youngster, like pirates are always really exciting, aren’t they? And I guess like doing this project made me realize, even more so than ever, how it’s always seen that like women are unlucky on ships. And to me, I never realized that this was a thing. I didn’t realize that pirates were or could be female, and run their own ship and be that powerful. So for me, it was just a huge eye opener and to realize, like, there’s all these children out there that potentially don’t know. And it’s not just about being pirates. The rest of it, like women play football, women can be electricians, women can be wherever they want to be. And if we’d known that Mary and Anne existed years ago, would we still be on the same path for today?

AK: I mean, Ellie, this is the coolest–this is exactly what our podcast is for, is to cause this ripple effect.

EB: Exactly. And I mean, I think it’s so incredible that we got to talk to Amanda, because I do feel like this sculpture itself is also like a huge part of that movement, right? In that like–because I had seen this sculpture before we started this podcast. Like it was online like, yeah, people were talking about it all over like Twitter and stuff. Like, it’s like one of those moments I feel like that brought Anne and Mary even more into the spotlight. And so I love that, like, we are a part of that, and that Amanda is a part of that. And we got to also like, speak to her in this like, larger context of like–

AK: That’s so cool.

EB: Yeah, just like non-men talking about the history that has been forgotten.

AK: Oh my god.

EB: It’s just so cool.

AK: It’s so beautiful. It’s so beautiful. So that–I mean, that leaves the question, where is this sculpture? Where do I need to book my plane tickets to go see it?

EB: Amanda’s gonna tell us.

AK: Here’s Amanda,

AC: So, last November, it was unveiled in London. And it went down really well, everyone seemed to really like it. But that wasn’t actually the final sculpture. That was a mock up of it. So although my approach and my design kind of process is very methodical, we were actually intending to cast the sculpture live in situation, which would have been incredibly unpredictable. Because if we’d cast it, say like in the water on the edge of a cliff, we’d only have one chance. So if it went well, amazing. If it didn’t, that was still going to be the sculpture, that’s what it was going to look like. So we were trying to kind of capture that unpredictability of them being pirates, and that kind of vibe. Because I mean the sculpture itself–unless you know who the sculpture is of, you wouldn’t necessarily know that they were pirates. Which is, for me, I felt was quite important when we were doing it. That was a huge thing that I didn’t want them to have weapons or pirate hats or that kind of style, I wanted them to be just two people, really, and they didn’t need to look feminine in any way. I just wanted them to look like people, like humans. Yeah, so that was kind of what we were aiming to do. But there was a little situation that happened, we’ve ended up–we’re creating sculpture at the moment, the official one, and it will be kind of revealed later on this year. It was originally going up in Devon in the UK. But some of the locals were a little bit concerned about pirates being in that area, they didn’t feel that that was part of their heritage. So they didn’t necessarily want this particular sculpture. They said that they very much liked it, but it wasn’t for their local area. So the company that obviously had commissioned me kind of took a back step. Nobody ideally wanted to put a sculpture somewhere where the locals weren’t going to–didn’t want it or weren’t happy with it. So we decided to kind of go on the journey of finding somewhere that they could belong and live happily. But in a turn of events, the people that commissioned me decided that they wanted to gift it to me instead. So we’ve now gone our separate ways. And I’ve been gifted the IP and the sculpture. So I’m now the official owner of Inexorable. So it’s really nice. So once it’s finished being made, which should be in the next month or two, which will be my final design. So what you saw in the pictures, I said, was like a mock up. There’s actually some small details that will run through the kind of concrete as it goes up. And different aggregates will be used to kind of portray each of them differently as well. So once it’s finished being made, we are going on a small tour around the UK to about two confirmed places. And the rest is–keep going.

EB: Do you think Amanda’s just gonna travel in her boat all around the UK with these like, pirate statues?

AK: Yeah, I mean, it sounds like an amazing, you know, tour and I want to go see it, like I want to–

EB: Oh, yeah.

AK: –I want to go check this out.

EB: Me, too.

AK: Soon as we know where it ends up. Right.

EB: Wherever it is, I am there. I also find like, it’s very interesting too, to hear from Amanda saying, right, it was intended to go up, but the locals were concerned about it, right. It’s just like, a sort of theme that comes up of like, censorship, I guess, in a way of this stuff, right? Where it’s like, even now, people are like, “Oh, we don’t really want pirates or women pirates in our town.” Right? You’re like, hmm. I’m sure they have, you know, interesting, nuanced reasons, but it is like, a bummer. And I would want this statue in my backyard, but I live in Denver, so I’m nowhere near the ocean. So I don’t think Anne and Mary would like it there very much. Yeah, exactly. They need to find the right place for them as well. So I like that like, Amanda is going on this journey to find this spot that really makes sense for the two of them. I can’t wait to see it.

AK: I know. Yeah, wherever they end up, they’re gonna be happy because they’ll be together. Anyway, here’s  some last thoughts from Amanda about, you know, what she learned from making the sculpture and where she hopes it ends up in the end.

AC: I’m not 100% sure. There’s no like, particular place I’m like, I want it to go there. There’s lots of places that I’d love it to go. But I guess it’s more about what I learned from creating the sculpture and how it educated me into looking at kind of life a little bit differently, making me be a bit more open minded, and wishing that I’d known their story when I was younger. So I want to be able to educate people into–these two people existed, especially in the world of kind of pirates. Like, we all know, like the Golden Hind, there’s four or five different replicas across the UK. Are they telling the story of female pilots as well as the story of their male counterparts? I don’t know. But things like that are really important to me. As well as, obviously I’ve designed it to go in the water. So if there’s somewhere in the UK that it can go in the water, that would be fantastic. With planning permission, that would be fantastic. Yeah, so really, it’s just about making sure my design is kind of followed through and that it educates people, and people will kind of benefit from it, really. Maybe a small community of people or a small town that can kind of feel honored that it’s there and can create tourism and things for them to kind of give back to them, really.

EB: I think this is one of my favorite episodes ever. I just find it so fascinating. Number one, to get to talk to just like one person through the episode, even though of course, I love the ones where we talk to a bunch of different people. But I just really feel like what Amanda said, right about like, she didn’t even know Anne and Mary before creating this sculpture. Yeah, like that’s a problem, right, that we’re trying to solve. And that plenty of other historians are trying to solve of like, here, we need to learn more about these untold stories in history that most frequently happen to be women or non-male people.

AK: Yeah.

EB: And so I just love that, like, we got to talk to Amanda after she had learned so much and really, like appreciated the story of Anne and Mary.

AK: I know. I find Amanda’s work and the way she talks about it so inspiring. I mean, it just gets me so excited about, you know, all of the stories that are out there that, you know, can still be told and that we can still find and do justice to and make beautiful, beautiful art out of. I just–I get so excited and I’m so glad we got the chance to talk to her.

EB: Me too. In the meantime, here’s a taste of what’s to come on Sweetbitter.

Laura Duncombe: Zheng Yi Sao, at the height of her game, had 1,200 ships and 40 to 60,000 pirates under her command, which is larger than most of the legitimate navies of her time. She made more money, she was active for longer, she came out on top and wasn’t caught or captured. There is no comparison to any pirates that ever lived to Zheng Yi Sao.

AK: Thanks for listening to Sweetbitter. Our next episode will be released one week from now on the 10th of February–surprise!

EB: If you enjoyed the podcast, please subscribe, rate, and review us. It really helps, especially written reviews on Apple podcasts. You can also support us on Patreon at patreon.com/sweetbitter. Sweetbitter is an independent production by me, Ellie Brigida, Alyse Knorr, and Leesa Charlotte, in partnership with Three Springs Media. Our audio engineering is by Sara Gabrielli. Our production assistant is Thea Smith and our artwork is by Istela Illustrated. Thank you to our guest this week, Amanda Cotton. You can read more about our guests and where to find them on our website.

AK: You can find us on Twitter and Instagram at @sweetbitterpod, or contact us on our website, sweetbitterpodcast.com.

EB: And the sea shanty for this week is called ‘Fight Me, Duel Me,’ written and performed by Alyse, with production by Joshua.