Andrew S. Terrell HIST 6393: Atlantic History to 1750 Dr.
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 have approached 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 the overwhelming 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 piracy history, then, one sees no large revisionist movement, but rather an expansionist tendency as new levels of analysis were added that incorporated larger, more complete portrayals of pirates and the world they inhabited. If any argument was to be made of a revisionist school in piracy studies, it would likely be found in cases where historical fact, centuries after initial first hand narratives were published, validated many seemingly unbelievable tales. In reviewing literature that focuses on seventeenth and eighteenth century piracy, one inevitably encounters semantics and definitions that invariably lead to ongoing discourse differentiating between pirates and privateers. It is the view of this author that the two were distinct and separate. However, as is the case of many pirates such as Captain Kidd, privateers can easily cross the line from state endorsed piracy into outlawed practices. Robert Ritchie goes
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so far to assert that the difference between pirates and privateers was more than just definitions; they each lived and worked in different environments.1 In an effort to avoid overextending the content 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 English six years later. Esquemeling documented the exploits of a pirate crew that disrupted shipping and unleashed terror upon Caribbean settlements. The journals of pirates writing under pseudonyms in hopes of avoiding trial subpoenas--like Esquemeling--were embraced by audiences in several countries as translations allowed. After all, though primary sources they may 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 pirate expeditions into the Pacific at the end of the seventeenth century became the most famous and documented voyages of the age. In some cases their escapades were accepted as maritime feats of navigation and exploration, but they were always loved for the tales of adventure, violence and 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 and Nineteenth 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 Truthful Description of the Principal Acts of Depredation and Inhuman Cruelty Committed by the English 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 General History 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 did not 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 that discusses 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 owned his 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 stories as he learned more and added content to biographies in each successive edition throughout the 1720s. Defoe also had a tendency of interweaving political satire into his chapters sometimes likening the pirate culture and society to the corruption of contemporary politicians such as Captain Misson’s biographical chapter. The eventual embracing of Defoe’s History illustrates how 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 Defoe remain the most often cited early accounts of Anglo piracy.3 These two early vantages of piracy marked the beginning of a culture within another; fans of piracy flocked to fictive stories and seeming factual narratives with desires to expand romanticized views of the high seas and learn much of the pirate culture that was different than society at home, on land. Other writers expanded on the story of pirates with their own anecdotes 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 General History 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 King Death: The Social World of Anglo-American Pirates, 1716-1726,” The William and Mary Quarterly 38, no. 2 (April, 1981): 203-27. Terrell - 3
sincere intrigue surrounding the counterculture of pirates and turned out hundreds of literary works and historical monographs for centuries. Though condemned by state governments of most European countries in maritime, literature on piracy allowed imaginations to expand as man took to the sea in the colonial period. In defense of allowing piracy literature to expand as it did was the scientific perception that pirates were navigators and explorers. Thus, stories on piracy not only included cruelty, but sincerely embraced the romanticized image of the undiscovered regions and uncharted seas of the world.4 In the early twentieth century, historians began to seek out evidence to defend or disrupt traditional narratives or piracy in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. An early study by George Francis Dow and John Henry Edmonds in their 1923 The Pirates of the New England Coast 1630-1730 substantiated many of the early tales from the contemporary era of piracy. They began their monograph by stating “With so much corroborative evidence at hand it is only fair to concede the probability that other portions of his [Defoe] History, not verified at this time, are also based upon fact.”5 For historical merit, scholars tend to assess sources even before evaluating content, to this end Dow and Edmonds use largely primary sources from the Massachusetts State Archives, Vice-Admiralty Court, Courts of Assistants and the Quarterly Courts, and the Massachusetts Historical Society library and archives. The authors did more than confirm early narratives, however, they began a trend for twentieth century piracy
4 Peter Kemp and Christopher Lloyd, The Brethren of the Coast: the British and French Buccaneers in the South Seas, 1st ed ed. (London: Heinemann, 1960), 238-40; Though a study of Pacific escapades, Willliams alludes to similar instances in the Atlantic Basin and similar reactions in Britain to exploration, Glyndwr Williams, ed., Buccaneers, Explorers, and Settlers: British Enterprise and Encounters in the Pacific, 1670-1800 (Variorum Collected Studies) (Burlington, Vermont: Ashgate Publishing, 2005)Larger studies of piracy and the era included surveys, chronicles, edited journals, examinations of differing facets of pirate life and fantasy legends based on famous actors. Aside from Defoe and Esquemeling were William Dampier’s A New Voyage ‘Round the World, 1729, Raveneau de Lussan’s Voyage to the South Seas 1856, Robert Drury’s Madagascar 1890, Pere Labat’s Memoirs 1693-1705, 1970 print release of a Jesuit minister who spent time among buccaneers and recorded his experiences, and Woodes Rogers’s A Cruising Voyage Round the World, 1712. 5 George Francis Dow and John Henry Edmonds, The Pirates of the New England Coast 1630-1730 (New York, N.Y.: Dover Publications, 1996), v-vi. Terrell - 4
historians: looking at the lives of common pirates. They saw populations of pirate vessels as a commonwealth where everything was held in common and all had input in decisions great and small. The Pirates made a well grounded assertion that the pirate commonwealth was a wellordered government and as such elected leaders. However, the authors also noted the existence of a checks-and-balance system between the crew and its leaders, largely the captain of the boat.6 The captain of a pirate vessel “was generally chosen for his daring and dominating character.”7 Below the captain, there usually existed a council composed of other officers and veteran sailors. This balance system gave the captain supreme authority when in battle, but legislative control to the council who represented the crew in a more egalitarian sense. Dow and Edmonds found articles that acted as a code of law sometimes referred to as the Jamaica Discipline. In essence, the commonwealth aboard pirate ships and haunts had executive, legislative, and judicial aspects all used in maintaining some sense of order which was quite different than previous condemnations and demonizations from European governments. The articles stated that each man had a vote in all affairs including provisions, listed reprimands for fighting aboard and other disorderly conduct, outlined requirements for the upkeep of personal weapons, outlawed women on ship, and set up a distribution system of loot. This is where pirate ships differed from merchant vessels and military man-of-wars: the captain and quartermaster received two shares; the master, gunner, and boatswain, a share and a half, and other lower officers a share and a quarter; all other men were given a share each.8 The findings from Dow and Edmonds also appeared outside of New England pirates suggesting the reasonably defined egalitarian system was part of all pirate vessels.9
6 Ibid, 353. 7 Ibid, 354. 8 Ibid, 354-358. 9 See Marcus Rediker, “Hydrarchy and Libertalia: The Utopian Dimensions of Atlantic Piracy in the Early Eighteenth Century,” in Pirates and Privateers, 29-46. Terrell - 5
A popular view that extended the idea that pirates existed in a largely egalitarian culture was pioneered by Marcus Rediker from his works in graduate school well into published works later in life as a tenured professor. By far, Rediker published more work on pirate life than any other historian in recent times. In 1975, the International Commission of Maritime History organized a conference specifically on topics of piracy and privateering. The common thread in submitted papers there called for “further research on the important, but neglected dimensions of trade, shipping and naval history.”10 Rediker added a new layer to the traditional historiography of pirate culture in 1987 with Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea where he asserted the ideas of individualism and adventures were hiding struggles at the bottom that were cooperative and collective. He saw piracy as also as an egalitarian utopia, but added that the sailors had to work together to survive conflict from the elements, themselves, and the landed society they were opposed to. He maintained that pirates were an early proletariat and their ships were vanguards of factories. In doing so, Rediker began the trend toward looking at pirates on a more localized level giving agency to the common sailor. When dealing with mutinies, he noted how only half of documented mutinies succeeded in seizing control of a ship and that the mutineers were usually a determined minority dependent upon neutrality from the majority. He uses examples such as drinking, gambling and other activities as means to calm the greed of both individuals and collective unrest.11 However, pirate crews frequently separated despite oaths to each other so one has to question how strong a collective conscious was at times. Nevertheless, Rediker’s early works including his famous article, “Under the Banner of King Death,” in 1981 created a new strand of piracy studies.
10 David J. Starkey, “Introduction,” in Pirates and Privateers, 1-2. 11 Marcus Rediker, Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea: Merchant Seamen, Pirates and the Anglo-American Maritime World, 1700 - 1750 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), 1-5, 41-44, 155, 259, 255-269. Terrell - 6
Rediker again refined his thesis in 2004 with Villains of All Nations. He looks particularly at the decade-long “golden age of piracy” where he splits the years into three distinct eras. After the War of Spanish Succession, and the Peace of Utrecht, former privateers found employment hard to come by. Former sailors of European navies also could not find suitable work and those that remained in the service during maritime were not paid well. By 1717, pirate populations began attacking vessels of all nations. For five years, piracy expanded and Rediker saw this as “a moment when common men of the deep gained control of the enterprise of piracy and used it for their own purposes.” However, in 1722, European governments began extensive operations aimed at ending pirate’s supremacy of the seas. The strategies, however, backfired and instead of cutting down on pirate populations by fear, large pirate fleets moved toward even more violent actions. Rediker’s sees a direct correlation in escalation by the state and escalation of brutality of pirate forces. This built on his earlier theses that largely agree with the traditional historiography of pirates: an egalitarian social order rejected hierarchy and the growing mercantilist capitalism of the colonial era. There is no deviation, even into twenty-first century publications, from early exemplifying narratives of a collective pirate crew and counterculture.12 Localized studies of piracy have allowed historians to utilize geography and climate as another level of analysis for piracy studies. In Pirates, Privateers, and Rebel Raiders of the Carolina Coast, Lindley S. Butler reaffirms traditional views of egalitarian structures and concedes that pirates were “all skilled seamen and decisive, imaginative leaders who possessed a deep thirst for adventure, at time pursuing danger with a reckless abandon.” However, the bulk of her study focuses on how different pirate leaders were connected by their strategic use of geography. They all used “rivers, estuaries, tidal marshes, great sounds, barrier islands, and
12 Marcus Rediker, Villains of All Nations: Atlantic Pirates in the Golden Age (Boston: Beacon Press, 2004), 34-38, 170-176. Terrell - 7
offshort Outer Banks” throughout North Carolina. They knew how to hide their ships, where to offload loot, and how to use geological and geographic situations to benefit them in battle and chases.13 Butler described the migration of pirate populations from the Caribbean to Carolina as rigorous retreat from British naval efforts in the opening decades of the eighteenth century. Along the coasts of Carolina the pirates found temporary refuge in the “labyrinth of tidal streams and obscure inlets.”14 The lack of government control throughout Carolina at this time allowed the infamous Blackbeard to roam the waters freely molesting the public. As incidents multiplied across the region, merchants and farmers realized their governor was powerless to police Blackbeard and other pirates. A group of frustrated settlers sent representatives then to the Governor of Virginia, Alexander Spotswood, who had two Royal Navy ships and a personal history with Blackbeard himself. Based on the reports of the concerned settlers, Spotswood became convinced that Blackbeard had fortified Ocracoke Inlet, Blackbeard’s camp, and was setting it up to be a pirate rendezvous. Ocracoke Inlet was the entrance through the Outer Banks to North Carolina’s interior sounds and ports of Bath and New Bern. If a pirate base was established there it would give control of trade to the pirates. Spotswood conceived a plan to invade the pirates base but had to negotiate the shallow waters by luring Blackbeard out. To acoomplish this, a land force would attack Ocracoke and the pirates were expected to run to the open seas where two sloops would be waiting for Blackbeard. The plan succeeded and so ensued “the bloodiest six minute fight in Carolina.” Though Blackbeard was a strategic leader as
13 Lindley S. Butler, Pirates, Privateers, and Rebel Raiders of the Carolina Coast (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2000),xiii-3, 43-48. 14 Ibid, 6. Terrell - 8
demonstrated by his fortification and maneuvering through the waters of Carolina, the British in this instance were able to overcome geographic and geological barriers.15 Peter Galvin released a Geographic study of pirates operating in the Caribbean from 1536 to 1718 around the same time as Butler’s monograph. Pattern of Pillage, guides readers through the impact geography had to play in pirates’ decisions for land bases and shore time. He divides popular locations for haunts and other strongholds into three categories. The first were small, remote islands and archipelagos teeming with fruits, fish, game, wood and water that largely served as refuges. Such places became favored spots for “careening, making rendezvous, dividing the spoils, or marooning prisoners and dissenters.” A second favored spot consisted of swampy, serpentine shorelines that worked as hideouts along Caribbean waterways and Gulf coasts. These were good spots for safety and provisions and oftentimes were the sites for logging that fed into the lucrative dye trade. The final place was the fortified port that tended to secure a small island outpost. These were few and far between, the most of which was Tortuga. Along with the geographic strategy for pirate outposts came a reiteration of earlier work that concluded pirates were prime agents in the processes of “discovery, exploration, and the advancement of geographic knowledge.” Maps and charts ended up being more useful to future generations, and Galvin goes so far as to contend that these maps were the real treasures of the Caribbean pirates.16 Amid the new layer of analysis remains biographical sketches that acquiesce to a popular demand for pirate stories. In the case of Blackbeard, his short history is vague and constantly changing. Even stories of his early years in Defoe’s several editions of A General History of
15 Ibid, 42-49. 16 Peter R. Galvin, Patterns of Pillage: A Geography of Caribbean-Based Piracy in Spanish America, 1536-1718 (American University Studies Series Xxv, Geography) (New York: Peter Lang Publishing, 1998), 8-19, 75-108. Terrell - 9
Pyrates changed with each revision. What we do know is that he was real and quite celebrated in his day. Aside from the traditional stories of his plundering, rape, and molestation of the Carolina settlers, there are also cases of him trading extensively. Legends of Blackbeard were so widespread even a young Benjamin Franklin in Boston was noted as singing the ballad of a Sailor Song on the Taking of Teach. Well into the turn of the twenty-first century, Blackbeard’s story pushed an excavation team that found the wreckage of Blackbeard’s beloved ship, Queen Anne’s Revenge off the coast of Beaufort, North Carolina in 1996. Renewed interest and intrigue over Blackbeard spurned many popular histories that brought back the mystery behind one of the most infamous pirates of the modern era.17 In attempts to remove fantastical stories from pirate lore, historians have largely found evidence in support of narratives; the obvious imaginative works notwithstanding. What has been lacking in a readable forum for public--perhaps popular--history was a synthesis that delved equally into the facts and folklore of piracy concluding what was indeed accurate. David Cordingly accomplished this in 1996 with the publication of Under the Black Flag. He guided his readers through several aspects of the fantasy pirate world including minute topics such as treasure maps, walking the plank, peg legs, and again reaffirms the traditional image of the captain not as a ruthless despot, but a representative leader of his ship. He bridged the gap between academia and the public for piracy studies which was an achievement on its own. He stated openly how pirates have become a romantic, idolized fantasy in today’s world, much like the contemporary era of classic piracy. Cortingly was also made famous with his exhibition, “Pirates: Fact and Fiction” at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, England. His
17 Lindley S. Butler, Pirates, Privateers, and Rebel Raiders of the Carolina Coast, 25-29, A list of some of the publications since the discovery of Queen Anne’s Revenge include: Jean Day, Blackbeard And The Queen Anne's Revenge (Newport, NC.: Golden Age Press, 2007; Dan Perry, Blackbeard: The Real Pirate of the Caribbean (New York: Basic Books, 2006); Angus Konstam, Blackbeard: America's Most Notorious Pirate, (Hoboken, N.J.: Wiley, 2007) among many others. Terrell - 10
monograph is a testament to public history as a field and its core value of reaching out to the public who need history just as much as academics.18 In the latest major release of a historical monograph, Colin Woodard also reaffirmed the notion that pirates were afforded a surprising amount of democracy, especially when compared to their British navy counterparts. Though not an academic historian, Woodward is part of the popular journalist-historian trade that, like Cortingly, actively seeks to publish popular history. Woodard contended the popular imagery of pirates falls to the Caribbean pirates between 1715 and 1725. The Republic of the Pirates was more than a title, it was Woodards image of the egalitarianism explored at many levels throughout piracy historiography. He showed how the deemed “Golden Age of Piracy” was a decade where a handful of pirate commodores knew and associated with each other actively. Woodard also expressed interest in the geographic strategies employed by many pirates. However, when it comes to Blackbeard he adds a more apologetic view of the fierce brute noting that Blackbeard was actively seeking an alliance with the governor of North Carolina which explains the lack of action against him from Carolina. He spends time in secondary literature as a journalist by trade, perhaps too much time, but many of his sources have been vetted by academic studies so it remains difficult to fault public, popular historians in their choices for sources. Primary sources for his monograph extend to a few choice archives in Britain and the United States and are largely letters or legal testimonies; nothing new to the academic studies.19 These newer public histories of piracies serve their purpose, but surprisingly reiterate academic findings.
18 David Cordingly, Under the Black Flag: The Romance and the Reality of Life Among the Pirates (1996; repr., New York: Random House, 2006), 3-41, 125-140, 241-244. 19 Colin Woodard, The Republic of Pirates: Being the True and Surprising Story of the Caribbean Pirates and the Man Who Brought Them Down, Reprint ed. (Orlando, FL: Harcourt Books, 2007), 7-9, 268-272, 291-296. Terrell - 11
In the research of this brief survey of materials pertaining to the historiography of pirates, one does not see a definite revisionist version of tales documented amid the active years of Atlantic piracy in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Piracy history seems to remain steady aside from obvious fantasy epics that now are spread in youth stories. The trend toward adding onto the consensus evoked by Defoe, Esquemeling and their contemporaries has, however, allowed factual history to become as entertaining as the fictive adventure tales. The historiography of pirates lends historians a curious case where new findings expanded original beliefs and contentions of the pioneering scholars. Ultimately, pirates engaged in wars upon all nations, and they did so as a largely egalitarian counterculture with a legitimate sense of collective well being.
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Bibliography Butler, Lindley S. Pirates, Privateers, and Rebel Raiders of the Carolina Coast. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2000. Cordingly, David. Under the Black Flag: The Romance and the Reality of Life Among the Pirates. 1996. Reprint, New York: Random House, 2006. Defoe, Daniel. A General History of the Pyrates. 1724. Reprint, Edited by Manuel Schonhorn. Mineola, N.Y.: Dover Publications, 1999. Dow, George Francis, and John Henry Edmonds. The Pirates of the New England Coast 1630-1730. New York, N.Y.: Dover Publications, 1996. Esquemeling, John. De Americaensche Zee-Roovers: Comprising a Pertinent and Truthful Description of the Principal Acts of Depredation and Inhuman Cruelty Committed by the English and French Buccaneers Against the Spaniards in America [The Buccaneers of America]. Translated by Alexis Brown. Mineola, New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 2000. http://www.loc.gov/flash/pagebypage/buccaneers (accessed November 11, 2010). Galvin, Peter R. Patterns of Pillage: A Geography of Caribbean-Based Piracy in Spanish America, 1536-1718 (American University Studies Series Xxv, Geography). New York: Peter Lang Publishing, 1998. Kemp, Peter, and Christopher Lloyd. The Brethren of the Coast: the British and French Buccaneers in the South Seas. 1st ed ed. London: Heinemann, 1960. Rediker, Marcus. “Under the Banner of King Death: The Social World of Anglo-American Pirates, 1716-1726.” The William and Mary Quarterly 38, no. 2 (April, 1981): 203-27. _____. Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea: Merchant Seamen, Pirates and the Anglo-American Maritime World, 1700 - 1750. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987. _____. Villains of All Nations: Atlantic Pirates in the Golden Age. Boston: Beacon Press, 2004. Starkey, David J., ed. Pirates And Privateers: New Perspectives on the War on Trade in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries (University of Exeter Press - Exeter Maritime Studies). Edited by J.A. de Moor, David J. Starkey and E.S. van Eyck van Heslinga. Exeter: University of Exeter Press, 1997.
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Williams, Glyndwr, ed. Buccaneers, Explorers, and Settlers: British Enterprise and Encounters in the Pacific, 1670-1800 (Variorum Collected Studies). Burlington, Vermont: Ashgate Publishing, 2005. Woodard, Colin. The Republic of Pirates: Being the True and Surprising Story of the Caribbean Pirates and the Man Who Brought Them Down. Reprint ed. Orlando, FL: Harcourt Books, 2007.
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