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Pirates and the Biscayne Bay Socks

Want to visit Biscayne National Park?  Well, leave your hiking boots at home and put on your swim fins because over 95% of the park is underwater.  The park features jeweled coral reefs, mangrove forests, tropical beaches ... and pirate legends!

Pirate Black Caesar

The Pirate Black Caesar*

One of the best known pirates of Biscayne was Black Caesar ... or should we say two of best known pirates were named Black Caesar.  It's hard to separate pirate legends from the facts.  It is likely the legend began with the first Black Caesar and continued when a second pirate adopted the same name to could capitalize on the fear that the name inspired.

The legend of Black Caesar starts around 1700.  He was said to be an African tribal chief of immense size and extreme intelligence.  ​He was captured by Spanish slave traders and put aboard a ship South America.  According to legend Black Caesar and a friend escaped from the ship and began a life of piracy before they ever reached shore.  In their stolen lifeboat they would wave their arms and pose as shipwrecked sailors.  When a rescuing ship welcomed them on-board they would attack, stealing money and provisions.  

Eventually Black Caesar and his partner travelled up the coast to the waters of Florida.  At some point he and his partner had an argument and Black Caesar killed his pirate-partner ... supposedly the fight was over a woman.  He took on additional pirates and Caesar's Rock, a small island in the Biscayne National Park, was said to be his secret lair.  According to legend he kept a harem of stolen women there, along with his provisions and money. 

Black Caesar had a clever approach to piracy ... he would tie a rope to a rock on an island and use it to lean his ship over so that it was sideways on the water, half submerged.  This would hide the sails and masts so that the ship was nearly invisible.  When the ropes were released the ship would pop up and make its attack.  Surprised victims often said that Black Caesar's ship seemed to appear out of nowhere!

Then the stories stopped.  One legend says that Black Caesar joined Captain Blackbeard's crew and was hanged along with Blackbeard in 1718.  But no one really knows if he died, or retired, or just moved on to another occupation. 

A 100 years later, Henri Caesar was a Haitian slave owned by a wealthy French planter.  As a child he was a "houseboy," performing general household tasks for the French family.  Like the pirate Black Caesar, young Henri Caesar was said to be an extremely large man.  Because he was so big and strong he was moved to work in the lumberyard.  Life as a lumberyard slave was much more difficult than that of a houseboy.  When the Haitian Revolution began in 1791 Caesar joined other former slaves in attacking French soldiers, then moved to attacking French boats on the coast.  He eventually traveled north and was pirating in the same general area as the first Black Caesar.  Henri was also called Black Caesar, but it is not known if he named himself Black Caesar of if others chose the moniker for him.  Either way, he took advantage of the fear invoked by the first Black Caesar!

Colin O'Donoghue as Captain Hook in Once Upon a Time

Colin O'Donoghue as Captain Hook
in the ABC TV series "Once Upon a Time."
... nothing to do with Black Caesar
or the Biscayne Bay socks, it just seemed fun to
post a picture of my favorite pirate hottie.  🙂

And then ... nothing.  Some say he joined the legendary pirate Jose Gaspar (who may or may not have existed) and continued pirating for several decades until Gaspar's death in the 1820s.  But no one really knows.

FiberWild! Biscayne Bay Socks featuring HiKoo's CoBaSi yarn!

The Biscayne Socks

The legend of Black Caesar leaves us with more questions than answers, like, Did pirates wear socks?  Well, they would have had some pretty awful blisters from wearing their black leather boots if they didn't!  We can assume that Black Caesar's favorites would have been the Biscayne Bay socks, named in honor of Biscayne National Park and the latest sock in our Park Your Socks sock of the month series.  The sample socks are knit in CoBaSi's Deep Turquoise, Seafoam and Indigo ... the sea-inspired colors are the favorite of any pirate!  The leg of the socks have sea turtles all the way around ... even the fiercest of pirates must love cute little sea turtles!

So knit the new Biscayne Bay Socks ... or walk the plank! gggrrrrr!

Happy Knitting! ... Scout

* I found this sketch all over the internet, but no where was there any mention of the artist.  If you know who he/she is please let us know so we can properly credit the artist for this awesome sketch!

Crochet: Potatoes and a Cowl

Ermine Portrait of Elizabeth I of England by William Segar, 1585

Ermine Portrait of Elizabeth I of England,
by William Segar, 1585.
Note the huge lace collar and lace cuffs!

Just how old is the art of Crochet?  ... there is some debate ... Some of the huge lace neck ruff collars ​popular in the 1500s and 1600s may have been crochet . . . or they may not have been.  It's a controversial topic among textile historians ...

The main difference between true lace and crochet is that lace is made with multiple threads while crochet is made by connecting loops of a single thread.  ​Making lace is a slow task, whereas crocheting is much quicker ... and crocheted lace can look so similar to true lace that they can be difficult to tell apart.

Some textile historians argue that crochet was developed as a poor-man's lace, a faster and easier way to copy court fashion. When the fashion for lace ruff collars disappeared, so did crochet ... and no patterns or instructions were left behind.

The first known crochet pattern was printed by the Dutch in 1824, but crochet didn't become popular until the 1840s and 1850s ... and the reason has to do with potatoes, yes, potatoes!

Between 1845 and 1852 the Irish Potato Famine killed about one million people in Ireland. Desperate for survival, many Irish turned to crochet (which they called Shepherd’s Knitting), with men, women and children all selling their beautiful crochet work to support their families. Fortunately for the Irish (or perhaps because of the Irish), lace collars and cuffs were very fashionable in the 1840s and 1850s and since crochet was so much faster than making lace, crocheted lace-like collars were a popular substitute. 

Crochet was treated as a trim, rarely was an entire garment made from crochet in the 19th century.  You could make crochet collars, cuffs or lace trim to sew onto your dress, handkerchief or tablecloth, or knit a shawl and then use crochet to create a fancy lace border.  Many knitters want to learn crochet for the same reason today!  Knowing crochet opens the door to an endless adventure of lacy trims and edgings. 

Like knitting, when learning to crochet you should make a swatch ... (pardon me here ... while I YAWN!)  I hate making swatches!  Apparently, Amanda Mannas (you can call her Mandobug) agrees.  Why make a practice swatch when you can make a cowl?  You can learn crochet along with Mandobug in her "Easy as 1-2-3" CAT (Crochet Along Together).

The project is designed for absolute beginners who want to learn how to crochet.  Crochet along with Amanda on Ravelry and watch her videos to learn the three most commonly used crochet stitches. When you're done you won't have a useless swatch - you'll have an awesome, stylish cowl!

Want some more crochet history?  Check out our "History of Crochet" blog from March 11, 2016 for more details on crochet's fascinating history - and the controversy behind it!

Happy Crocheting! ... Scout

Saint Ursula and the Tortola Sweater

St Ursula by Hans Holbein the Younger, 1523

Saint Ursula by Hans Holbein
the Younger, 1523

It's time to gather your yarn for Patty Lyons' Tortola knit-along!  The Tortola is a breezy summer sweater named after Tortola, the largest and most populated island in the British Virgin Island​s.

People have lived on the islands since about 1500 BC, but the first European to see the islands was Christopher Columbus in 1493 on his second voyage to the Americas.  He named them "Santa Ursula las Once Mil Virgens (Saint Ursula and Her 11,000 Virgins)," which was shortened to the "Virgin Islands"So, where did the name "Virgin Islands" come from ...?

Saint Ursula is one of the lesser known of the Catholic saints.  Very little is known about her and her legendary virgins, and there is no solid proof that she ever existed at all! 

The legend of Ursula is based on a 4th or 5th century inscription in the Church of St. Ursula in Ursulaplatz, Cologne (Germany), that claims the church was built on the site where the holy virgins were killed.  ​

She was born a princess early in the first millennia after Christ, probably in the 300s.  At a young age she decided that she would never marry, and would instead devote herself to Christ.

She was beautiful and wise beyond her years, and always cheerful and good.  She was such a delight that word of her reached a heathen king in England.  He wanted Ursula to marry his son and live in his home, so that he could always be with her.

The heathen king sent his ambassadors with gifts to entice Princess Ursula to marry his son, but he also told his ambassadors that if she refused they should threaten to return with soldiers to kill Ursula's father, destroy his kingdom and steal away Ursula.  Either way, he was going to have that princess!

Ursula's father did not want her to marry a heathen, so he refused their gifts.  Then they made their threats, and said he had three days to decide.  Ursula prayed all night, and in the morning an angel appeared to her in a dream and told her to marry the heathen king's son.

The next day she went to the heathen king's ambassadors, dressed in splendor and accompanied by 100 virgin handmaidens, and told them she would marry the king's son, but she asked for three favors:  She wanted the king's family to be baptized before she would marry into it, she wanted permission to delay the marriage for three years while she went on a pilgrimage to visit the holy Christian sites, and she wanted to be accompanied on her journey by 10,000 maidens from the heathen king's best families. 

The king sent 10,000 virgins to accompany Ursula, and she also took 1,000 virgins from her own kingdom, so together Ursula and her 11,000 virgins set sail in 11 ships.  It was quite a sight to see - so much so that when they arrived in Rome the pope himself greeted them and prayed with them.

A figure of St Ursula on her ship, about 1500

A figure of St. Ursula on her ship,
created around 1500

They arrived in Cologne and met a group of soldiers.  Their leader asked what their journey was, and Ursula explained that they were Christians on a pilgrimage.  The lead soldier asked them to denounce their god or be killed by the sword, and they refused.  The virgins were each killed, until Ursula was the only one standing.  The lead soldier said that he would spare her if she married him, she refused, and he killed her with an arrow. 

The story has inspired numerous works of art, usually showing Ursula holding an arrow or about to be killed by the arrow. The Order of Ursulines, founded in 1535 and devoted to the education of young girls, was named in her honor, as well as a number of churches, schools and streets.  Ursula is the patron saint of orphans and female students. 

St Ursula by Jean Bourdichon, 1503-1508

St. Ursula's demise
by John Bourdichon, 1503-1508

Is the story true?  Well, no one knows.  Traveling with 11,000 virgins in 11 ships, for three years, seems like a stretch.  Whether true or not, it's an inspiring story of a young girl's devotion.

So what does this have to do with the Tortola sweater and Patty Lyons' latest Knit-Along?  Nothing.  We suspect Patty was on a cruise to the Virgin Islands when she knit the summery Tortola sweater ... and well, we are history buffs.  Anyway, we are sure you will love the Tortola sweater ... Patty is an amazing instructor! 

Happy Knitting! ... Scout