Like most people, I was aware of the folklore surrounding Pirates and their tendency to say “ARRRGHHH Matey!”… and I’ve both rode the ride and seen the movie Pirates of the Caribbean… I even read Michael Crichton’s latest book Pirates: Latitudes earlier this year…so I figured I knew pretty much all I needed to know when it came to pirate history… Apparently I was wrong.
In this book Colin Woodward takes the reader back in time to the golden age of Piracy in the early 1700s. Though the book is specifically focused on how the pirates of the Caribbean rose and fell, I found it to be a very interesting snapshot of world history at the time. Along the way you see the tension and wars between the English, French, and Spanish as they all seek to expand their empire in the new world, as well as the impact of the slave trade around the world at the time.
The book principally follows a few of history’s most notorious Pirates such as Samuel (“Black Sam”) Bellamy, Edward (“Blackbeard”) Thatch, and Charles Vane.
In that day, the aforementioned governments often hired privateers to plunder and cut off the trade routes of their rivals. Aboard these ships, as well as the official government military ships, conditions were brutal. Many young men were ‘pressed’ into serving aboard the ships, where they suffered from a variety of diseases and malnutrition, as well as much abuse from the captain and officers of the ship.
Not suprisingly, many of these forced workers rebelled and turned to piracy. In fact, on board the pirate ships, conditions were much better for the men and the freed slaves. Each of the men were able to vote on decisions, and the plunder was almost evenly distributed amongst all the pirates (as opposed to the very heavily weighted dispersal of the privateers and government ships for the king and the captain).
For about 12 years, the prirates were able to find refuge and establish a ‘pirate republic’ in the Bahamas. Back in England, the legend of the pirates began to grow and receive much support from the general public. The pirates were seen as men (and in a few cases, women) who stood up against the tyranny of the Monarchy.
I did enjoy the book… though it was probably too much detail and too long of a read for my interest level in Pirates.