Puritans and Pirates

Three hundred years ago Pirates troubled the waters of the high seas. These real life pirates, like Captain Kidd, Henry Morgan, Edward Teach , and Jack Rackham have spawned legends of popular culture. From Robert Lewis Stephenson’s Treasure Island to the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, fact and fiction blur into a fantasy world that has mesmerized the imagination. Speaking of his childhood, Mark Twain famously said, “Now and then we had a hope that if we lived and were good, God would permit us to be pirates.”

Many people may not realize that “The Golden Age of Piracy” overlaps with the time period of the Puritans. In fact, several puritans would have rubbed shoulders with and ministered to both real life pirates and their victims. One of my favorites, John Flavel (1630-1691), for example, pastoring in the port city of Dartmouth intentionally directed much of his ministry to those who spent their lives on the water. His works include, “A Faithful and Succinct Narrative of Some Late and Wonderful Sea-Deliverances,” “A Seaman’s Catachism,” “Navigation Spiritualized (or, A New Compass for Seamen),” and “The Seaman’s Companion” which consists of six sermons for seafaring men: “The Seaman’s Farewell – Acts 21:5-6,” “The Seaman in a Storm – Psalm 107:23-28,” “The Seaman’s Preservative in Foreign Countries – Psalm 139:9-10,” “The Successful Seaman – Deuteronomy 8:17-18,” “The Disappointed Seaman – Luke 5:5,” and “The Seaman’s Return – Deuteronomy 33:19.” He also had some sermons that seemed to be directly addressed to pirates, like “A pathetic and serious Dissuasive from the horrid and detestable Sins of Drunkenness, Swearing, Uncleanness, Forgetfulness of Mercies, Violation of Promises, and Atheistical Contempt of Death.”

Others, such as Cotton Mather, son of Increase Mather, made a point of ministering directly to pirates. An entire preaching genre, called “Execution Sermons” came from puritans giving the gospel to pirates in a final plea for their souls before meeting the hangman’s noose. Cotton Mather wrote in his journal of 1699

“After the other public Services of the Day were over I visited the Prison. A great Number of Pyrates being there committed, besides other Malefactors, I went and pray’d with them, and preach’d to them. The Text, in which the Lord helped mee to Discourse, was Jer 2. 26. The Thief is ashamed, when hee is found. I hope, I shall have some good Fruit of these Endeavours.”

The Mississippi Gulf Coast saw its fair share of pirate activity. Most notable is the infamous Jean Lafitte and the legends of the Pirate House, destroyed by Hurricane Camille in 1969. I do not know of any puritans in the area that would have preached the gospel to anyone back then, much less the pirates of the 18th century gulf coast. Its high time we correct that deficiency.

We have intercepted a communiqué that a band of pirates plan to storm the Bay St. Louis harbor, on June 25, kidnap the mayor, raise the Jolly Roger flag over city hall and declare “Pirate Day in the Bay.” The street festival will include carnival rides, food vendors, live music, games for the kids and more.

On the eve of landfall, Friday night, June 24th at 6:30 pm Lakeshore Baptist Church will host a lecture on the puritans. Dr. Chris King, pastor of Bayou View Baptist Church of Gulfport MS, will be our guest speaker. We invite you to come hear an “Introduction to the Puritans,” as you discover who they were and why they are important for us to continue reading today. Pastor Tony Hicks, of Clifton Baptist Church, Franklinton, LA, will review and recommend several puritan pamphlets provided by our friends at the Chapel Library, Pensacola FL. Pastor Don Elbourne will salt the event with tales of puritans and pirates. Make plans to attend with the whole family. The event is FREE and open to the public.

On Saturday, we plan to attend the “Pirate Day in the Bay” event, and in the tradition of the puritans, distribute gospel literature to those gathering at the harbor for the festivities.

We also want to invite our friends from out of town to come and join us. The Rebuild Lakeshore Bunk House will be available for those wanting to spend the entire weekend with us. When we built the Bunk House, back in 2009, remember we said that after we completed Hurricane Katrina rebuilding that the bunk house would continue to serve non-Katrina related mission trips, camps, conferences, retreats, and special events. This is one of those kind of events we envisioned. We would love to see you again. First come, first serve, so let us know if you would like us to reserve you a bunk.

Check out our Facebook page “Puritans and Pirates” and make plans to attend the event.

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