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Wars Upon All Nations - A Historiography of Piracy

Wars Upon All Nations - A Historiography of Piracy

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Published by Andrew S. Terrell
Views of Piracy in Historiography Pirates and their stories remain idolized by audiences of all ages, nationalities, backgrounds, and creeds. Cunning exploits and drama in the high seas instill values of independence, rebellion, and self determinism into successive generations. However entertaining such tales may be, fiction can only divulge half of the real story. Seventeenth and eighteenth century piracy focused.
Views of Piracy in Historiography Pirates and their stories remain idolized by audiences of all ages, nationalities, backgrounds, and creeds. Cunning exploits and drama in the high seas instill values of independence, rebellion, and self determinism into successive generations. However entertaining such tales may be, fiction can only divulge half of the real story. Seventeenth and eighteenth century piracy focused.

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Published by: Andrew S. Terrell on Dec 08, 2010
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Andrew S. Terrell
HIST 6393: Atlantic History to 1750Dr. Todd Romero - Fall 2010
Wars Upon All Nations:Views of Piracy in Historiography
Pirates and their stories remain idolized by audiences of all ages, nationalities, backgrounds, and creeds. Cunning exploits and drama in the high seas instill values of independence, rebellion, and self determinism into successive generations. However entertaining such tales may be, fiction can only divulge half of the real story. Historians haveapproached topics of piracy from several vantages in attempts to separate fact from fiction.Luckily, interest in piracy histories encourage debate and ongoing research. Because of theoverwhelming curiosity in the romanticized lifestyle of pirates, synthesis works in addition to a plethora of novels have been published in virtually every decade since the seventeenth century.Historical presentations of pirates changed over time, like most of history, but a large portion of original assertions by pioneers in the field has remained unchallenged. In the field of piracyhistory, then, one sees no large revisionist movement, but rather an expansionist tendency as newlevels of analysis were added that incorporated larger, more complete portrayals of pirates andthe world they inhabited. If any argument was to be made of a revisionist school in piracystudies, it would likely be found in cases where historical fact, centuries after initial first handnarratives were published, validated many seemingly unbelievable tales.In reviewing literature that focuses on seventeenth and eighteenth century piracy, oneinevitably encounters semantics and definitions that invariably lead to ongoing discoursedifferentiating between pirates and privateers. It is the view of this author that the two weredistinct and separate. However, as is the case of many pirates such as Captain Kidd, privateerscan easily cross the line from state endorsed piracy into outlawed practices. Robert Ritchie goes
Terrell - 1
 
so far to assert that the difference between pirates and privateers was more than just definitions;they each lived and worked in different environments.
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 In an effort to avoid overextending thecontent of this paper, it is the view of this author that in a majority of cases this is a fair assessment. That said, this paper aims to look at actions committed both by privateers and pirates, for whether sanctioned or not, said actions were habitually piracy in practice.The early modern writers, John Esquemeling and Daniel Defoe, were writing amid periods of state repression towards former privateers and buccaneers at large. Esquemeling’s
Buccaneers of America,
though first written in Dutch in 1678 was translated into Englishsix years later. Esquemeling documented the exploits of a pirate crew that disrupted shippingand unleashed terror upon Caribbean settlements. The journals of pirates writing under  pseudonyms in hopes of avoiding trial subpoenas--like Esquemeling--were embraced byaudiences in several countries as translations allowed. After all, though primary sources theymay be, they were written as popular literature. A year after its first publication, Esquemeling’s
Buccaneers
added a full-length journal of the crew’s move into the South Sea to attack lesser defended cities of the Pacific Coast of Spanish America. As it turned out, the Anglo pirateexpeditions into the Pacific at the end of the seventeenth century became the most famous anddocumented voyages of the age. In some cases their escapades were accepted as maritime featsof navigation and exploration, but they were always loved for the tales of adventure, violenceand debauchery. However, first hand accounts hardly tended to be without faults of embellishment as later historians would discover .
2
1
Robert C. Ritchie, “Government Measures against Piracy and Privateering in the Atlantic Area, 1750-1850,” in
Pirates And Privateers: New Perspectives on the War on Trade in the Eighteenth andNineteenth Centuries (University of Exeter Press - Exeter Maritime Studies)
, ed. J.A. de Moor,David J. Starkey and E.S. van Eyck van Heslinga (Exeter: University of Exeter Press, 1997), 10-28.
2
John Esquemeling,
De Americaensche Zee-Roovers: Comprising a Pertinent and TruthfulDescription of the Principal Acts of Depredation and Inhuman Cruelty Committed by theEnglish and French Buccaneers Against the Spaniards in America
[The Buccaneers of America],trans. Alexis Brown (Mineola, New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 2000), 26-32,120-134,Terrell - 2
 
Daniel Defoe, also originally writing under a pseudonym, published
A GeneralHistory of the Pyrates
in 1724 in an effort to capitalize on the commercial popularity of  pirate tales. His, however, was the first large synthesis meant to be non fiction and as such didnot receive immediate gratification by the public. However, it is now regarded as one of the pivotal syntheses over piracy history and is cited in just about every article and monograph thatdiscusses seventeenth and eighteenth century piracy. Defoe used several pirate trials during the period to compose
History
, but also collected stories told him by other sailors while he ownedhis own ship. Defoe was an early journalist-historian and had a tendency to take people at their word and he realized this weakness after the first publication of 
History
. He corrected storiesas he learned more and added content to biographies in each successive edition throughout the1720s. Defoe also had a tendency of interweaving political satire into his chapters sometimeslikening the pirate culture and society to the corruption of contemporary politicians such asCaptain Misson’s biographical chapter. The eventual embracing of Defoe’s
History
illustrateshow even documented, factual literature about pirates was popular early on. Because of their contemporary origins and sheer breadth of piracy history, the works of Esquemeling and Defoeremain the most often cited early accounts of Anglo piracy.
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These two early vantages of piracy marked the beginning of a culture within another; fansof piracy flocked to fictive stories and seeming factual narratives with desires to expandromanticized views of the high seas and learn much of the pirate culture that was different thansociety at home, on land. Other writers expanded on the story of pirates with their ownanecdotes and blended popular histories. Authors realized the enormous potential for capital and
http://www.loc.gov/flash/pagebypage/buccaneers(accessed November 11, 2010); Daniel Defoe,
A GeneralHistory of the Pyrates
, ed. Manuel Schonhorn (1724; repr., Mineola, N.Y.: Dover Publications, 1999), xvi-xx.
3
Defoe,
A General History of the Pyrates
, xxii-xl, 383-418; Marcus Rediker, “Under the Banner of KingDeath: The Social World of Anglo-American Pirates, 1716-1726,”
 The William and Mary Quarterly
38, no. 2(April, 1981): 203-27.Terrell - 3

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A fascinating piece! Thanks for illuminating an interesting thread of history. Well done, Andrew!
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