Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Episode 491 (9-23-19): “Samuel Mason,” by Andrew and Noah VanNorstrand, Recalls a Notorious, Virginia-born River Pirate

Click to listen to episode (4:17)

Sections below are the following:
Transcript of Audio
Audio Notes and Acknowledgments
Related Water Radio Episodes
For Virginia Teachers (Relevant SOLs, etc.).

Unless otherwise noted, all Web addresses mentioned were functional as of 9-20-19.


From the Cumberland Gap to the Atlantic Ocean, this is Virginia Water Radio for the week of September 23, 2019.

MUSIC – ~9 sec

This week, in a revised September 2014 episode, we feature a song about a Virginia-born river pirate who became infamous in 1790s and early 1800s.  Have a listen for about 60 more seconds. 

MUSIC - ~64 sec – “Samuel Mason, that is my name. I left Fort Henry seeking fortune and fame. I came from Virginia a long time ago, but now I am a pirate along the Ohio.” - (Instrumental break) - “Murder and robbery, those are my crimes. I’ll lure you in with women and wine. Hurricane Island seals your fate, for from this shore there is no escape.”

You’ve been listening to part of “Samuel Mason,” by Andrew and Noah VanNorstrand, from their 2010 album, “All the Good Summers,” on Great Bear Records.  Born in Norfolk in 1739, Samuel Mason was a Revolutionary War soldier and a farmer on the western Virginia frontier.  But he was known for criminal activities, and in the 1790s he became one of the most notorious pirates targeting riverside dwellers and flatboat traffic on the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers as well as land travelers along the Natchez Trace in Mississippi and Tennessee.

Mason’s killing in 1803—by fellow pirates seeking reward money—helped lead to the end of well-organized piracy on the Ohio and other waterways on the early-U.S. frontier.  But that by-gone era was, unfortunately, only a part of the long, tragic history of piracy that continues in the 21st Century on oceans and seas.  For example, in 2018 the International Maritime Organization received 223 reports worldwide of piracy and armed robbery against ships.

Thanks to Andrew and Noah VanNorstrand for permission to use this week’s music, and we close with about 20 more seconds of “Samuel Mason.”

MUSIC - ~21 sec – instrumental.


Virginia Water Radio is produced by the Virginia Water Resources Research Center, part of Virginia Tech’s College of Natural Resources and Environment.  For more Virginia water sounds, music, or information, visit us online at virginiawaterradio.org, or call the Water Center at (540) 231-5624.  Thanks to Ben Cosgrove for his version of “Shenandoah” to open and close the show.  In Blacksburg, I’m Alan Raflo, thanking you for listening, and wishing you health, wisdom, and good water.


This Virginia Water Radio episode revises and replaces Episode 232, 9-22-14.

“Samuel Mason” and “All the Good Summers” are copyright by Andrew and Noah VanNorstrand and Great Bear Records, used with permission.  This music is also featured in Virginia Water Radio Episode 422, 5-28-18, on Virginia connections to the Ohio River Valley.  More information about Andrew and Noah is available online at https://andrewandnoah.bandcamp.com/.

Click here if you’d like to hear the full version (2 min./22 sec.) of the “Shenandoah” arrangement/performance by Ben Cosgrove that opens and closes this episode.  More information about Mr. Cosgrove is available online at http://www.bencosgrove.com.


Map of Ohio River basin, showing the start of the main stem of the river (marked in bold blue) at Pittsburgh, Penn., and its confluence with the Mississippi River in southern Illinois.  Image from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers/Huntington, West Va., District, “Ohio River Basin,” online at https://www.lrh.usace.army.mil/Missions/ORBA/.\

Map of the area of the Natchez Trace.  Image from the cover of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Publication, “Mapping the Natchez Trace Parkway, 2011, Open-File Report 2011-1276, accessed online (as a PDF) at https://pubs.usgs.gov/of/2011/1276/OF11-1276.pdf.


Cave-in-Rock – A large cave in bluffs above the Ohio River in southern Illinois; now part of an Illinois state park.  The location was associated with pirates and other criminals who operated along the Ohio and Mississippi rivers in the late 1700s and early 1800s.  Samuel Mason may have operated out of this area for some period of time.

Hurricane Island – an Ohio River island located near Tower Rock (on the Illinois side of the Ohio).  Some authors claim that Samuel Mason used the island as part of hits piracy operations on the Ohio, as mentioned in the music excerpt in this week’s Virginia Water Radio episode.

Natchez Trace – An over 400-mile-long footpath running from Natchez, Mississippi, through that state, part of Alabama, and western Tennessee to Nashville.  It was particularly important in the 1700s and 1800s as a return route for return travelers after going downstream on the Ohio and Mississippi rivers to New Orleans.  Part of Samuel Mason’s operations targeted travelers on this route.  It’s now included in the Natchez Trace National Scenic Trail, managed by the National Park Service.

Red Banks, Ky. – A 17th- and 18th-Century village along the Ohio River, now the location of Henderson, Ky.  In the 1790s, Red Banks served as the center of Samuel Mason’s pirate operations on the Ohio River.


Sources marked with an asterisk were used for the Extra Information section directly above.

*Todd Carr, Cave-in-Rock Pirates and Outlaws, The History Press, Charleston, S.C., 2019.

*Illinois Department of Natural Resources, “Cave-in-Rock State Park,” online at https://www.dnr.illinois.gov/parks/pages/caveinrock.aspx.

International Maritime Organization, “Piracy and armed robbery against ships,” online at http://www.imo.org/OurWork/Security/PiracyArmedRobbery/Pages/Default.aspx.  The organization's April 2019 report on piracy and armed robbery against ships worldwide during 2018 is available online (as a PDF) at http://www.imo.org/en/OurWork/Security/PiracyArmedRobbery/Reports/Documents/271%20MSC.4-Circ.263%20Annual%202018.pdf.

Legends of America Web site, “Mississippi Legends: Samuel ‘Wolfman’ Mason Takes on the Natchez Trace,” online at http://www.legendsofamerica.com/we-samuelmason.html.

*Kate Lochte and Matt Markgra, “Samuel Mason: The Cave-In-Rock Pirate Who Prowled the Region's Waterways,” 6/18/15, WKMS-FM, Murray State University, Murray, Ky., online at https://www.wkms.org/post/samuel-mason-cave-rock-pirate-who-prowled-regions-waterways#stream/0.

*National Park Service, “Natchez Trace National Scenic Trail,” online at https://www.nps.gov/natt/index.htm; and “Natchez Trace Parkway,” online at https://www.nps.gov/natr/index.htm.  For maps of the Parkway, see https://www.nps.gov/natr/planyourvisit/maps.htm.

*U.S. Forest Service, “Shawnee National Forest/tower Rock Campground,” online at https://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/shawnee/recarea/?recid=10692.

*Mark J. Wagner and Mary R. McCorvie, “Going to See the Varmint: Piracy in Myth and Reality on the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, 1785-1830,” in X Marks the Spot: The Archeology of Piracy, Russell K. Skowronek and Charles R. Ewen, eds., University of Florida Press, 2006.


All Water Radio episodes are listed by category at the Index link above (http://www.virginiawaterradio.org/p/index.html).  See particularly the “History” subject category.

Following are links to some other episodes on Virginia’s connections to the Ohio River its watershed, including Virginia rivers in that watershed.

Episode 109, 5-7-12 – “Banks of New River” by Whitetop Mountain Band.
Episode 179, 9-16-13 – Twenty-two Miles along the New River Trail.
Episode 264, 5-4-15 – A Bird Day on the New River.
Episode 381, 8-14-17 – Midnight at the Water (including sounds from the New River).
Episode 419, 5-7-18 – Meet the Big Sandy Watershed with “Three Forks of Sandy” by Bobby Taylor.
Episode 420, 5-14-18 – Exploring Virginia’s Tennessee River Tributaries Through “Clinch Mountain Quickstep” by Timothy Seaman.
Episode 421, 5-21-18 – Connecting Southwestern Virginia Waters to the Ohio River Through “Ohio Valley Rain” by Cornerstone.
Episode 422, 5-28-18 – Virginia and the Ohio River Valley Connect Through Watersheds, Wars, and Western Migration.
Episode 425, 6-18-18 – Introducing the South Fork Holston River.
Episode 436, 9-3-18 – Labor Day, “Sandy Boys,” and the Big Sandy River.
Episode 442, 10-15-18 – New River High Water History at Radford, Va.


The episode—the audio, extra information, or sources—may help with the following Virginia Standards of Learning (SOLs).

2013 Music SOLs

SOLs at various grade levels that call for “examining the relationship of music to the other fine arts and other fields of knowledge.”

2010 Science SOLs

Grades K-6 Earth Resources Theme
4.9 – Va. natural resources, including watersheds, water resources, and organisms.

Grades K-6 Living Systems Theme
6.7 – natural processes and human interactions that affect watershed systems; Va. watersheds, water bodies, and wetlands; health and safety issues; and water monitoring.

2015 Social Studies SOLs

Virginia Studies Course
VS.1 – impact of geographic features on people, places, and events in Virginia history.
VS.6 – role of Virginia in establishment of the nation (including migration of Virginians into other states in 1800s).

United States History to 1865 Course
USI.2 – major land and water features of North America, including their importance in history.
USI.5 – factors that shaped colonial America and conditions in the colonies, including how people interacted with the environment to produce goods and service.
USI.8 – westward expansion and reform in America from 1801—1861.

World Geography Course
WG.5 – regions of United States and Canada.

Virginia’s SOLs are available from the Virginia Department of Education, online at http://www.doe.virginia.gov/testing/.

Following are links to Water Radio episodes (various topics) designed especially for certain K-12 grade levels.

Episode 250, 1-26-15 – on boiling, for kindergarten through 3rd grade.
Episode 255, 3-2-15 – on density, for 5th and 6th grade.
Episode 282, 9-21-15 – on living vs. non-living, for kindergarten.
Episode 309, 3-28-16 – on temperature regulation in animals, for kindergarten through 12th grade.
Episode 333, 9-12-16 – on dissolved gases, especially dissolved oxygen in aquatic habitats, for 5th grade.
Episode 403, 1-15-18 – on freezing and ice, for kindergarten through 3rd grade.
Episode 404, 1-22-18 – on ice on ponds and lakes, for 4th through 8th grade.
Episode 406, 2-5-18 – on ice on rivers, for middle school.
Episode 407, 2-12-18 – on snow chemistry and physics, for high school.
Episode 483, 7-29-19 – on buoyancy and drag, for middle school and high school.