I’ve always liked pirates, the ocean, travel, excitement, risk, history, and boats, but it wasn’t until I visited Key West , Florida in 1973 that I was able to live that life. At the time, the island of Key West was a sleepy and poor fishing town at the end of the Fla. Keys, 150 miles from the mainland. You had to cross 28 rickety bridges to get there and “anything goes” was the life. I quit my job in L.A. selling motorcycle parts as soon as I got back from that Key West vacation. I finally knew where I wanted to live.
In those days marijuana smuggling was prevalent. It was like almost everyone I knew had some kind of deal going. Nobody worked. It seemed either they had a check from some past life event or they were dealing pot. The town was totally corrupt. Many of the “town fathers” and police were later indicted for smuggling activities and a few prominent lawyers were disbarred. Everyone here was either wanted or unwanted.
A lot of the pirates had police scanners because when smugglers were about to be stopped by the Coast Guard or Marine Patrol “Water Nazis” the smugglers would throw the bales of marijuana overboard to get rid of the evidence before they got caught. We called that wet pot “sea weed” and a floating bale was called a “square grouper”. There was a lot of square grouper floating around, I mean TONS of it. The pirates would listen to the authorities on police scanners and wait for them to give the location of the drop. The pirates docked their fast boats next to their houses on the canals. Once they heard a location they wold zoom out and grab as many bales as they could before the Law could get organized enough to catch them. In those days the pirates had faster boats and knew the waters better than the Law. They knew all the small channels through the mangrove islands and many of their boats could run in very shallow water and the Law couldn’t.
Many of the corrupt politicians in Key West used to party at “The Top” of the La Concha, then a run down hotel on Duval Street. They had a good bar at the top of the tallest building in the Florida Keys, all seven floors. The view was terrific and overlooked Key West Harbor and its approaches and on the back side, you could look up and down the main street, Duval. The sunsets were spectacular from there. The Top was where everything happened and where politicians and pirates partied together. Duval St. was where everything else happened. The County Sheriff got in trouble for being drunk and dropping his gun on the floor.
You could do just about anything in Key West. The average cop didn’t know a thing. (I once walked down Duval St. from the Atlantic Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico two days before Xmas carrying twenty-two lbs. of sea weed my friend had just found floating out on the flats. I had it in my pillow case with a piece of plastic holly tied around the neck. I even passed a patrolman on the street and wished him a “Merry Christmas.”
Everyone was making lots of money smuggling pot. The former County Attorney was fired because he was at a party on a yacht flaunting a one pound bag of marijuana and handing out samples. The City Attorney, himself under federal incitement, was on his yacht somewhere in the Caribbean trying to hide. The Fire Chief disappeared and was never heard from again. The head of Key West’s Vice Department was taking bribes to look the other way. It was like the wild west.
One happy hour I was at The Top and the new County Attorney told me he had just petitioned Washington to get a Letter of Marque. I had heard the name Letters of Marque and Reprisals, but never knew what it was. He said it was a license to arm and operate a private warship. They have been issued since the 13th century. I thought he was kidding. I could just imagine my own private warship! He said under the Constitution, Congress can still issue these licenses. He wanted to get a Letter of Marque so he could arm a fast warship and become a privateer and capture drug smugglers and split the profits with the government. That was his offer to the Government. I thought it odd that he wanted to do that considering so many of his friends were involved in smuggling. He said it was purely for economic reasons (he was a lawyer, after all). At the time the government was paying a high percentage of the street value of drugs that were seized as reward for turning them in. He figured to make millions. Fortunately, he never did get a Letter of Marque. But it did get me thinking about them.
I was fascinated with the idea of a license to have your own private warship (privateer) and started to research and collect copies of these documents. Then I started experimenting with ways to make new paper look ancient. That was the tricky part. Then I started adding other old documents as I found them. This web site is the result of all that interest. True to form, I have researched, stolen, plagiarized and generally acted like a pirate to get all these documents on the site. Piratedocuments.com is now the largest collection of authentic Letters of Marque and Admiralty documents on the web because of that happy hour at The Top. And I’ve only posted about half of my collection. This has to be one of the most unique gifts going. Personalize an historic document. Wowee!