Saturday, April 12, 2008 4/10/08-Pirates!

In today's encore excerpt--the Golden Age of Piracy in the Caribbean, 1715 to 1725, which was led by a clique of twenty to thirty pirate commodores and a few thousand crewmen:

"Engaging as their legends are--particularly as enhanced by Robert Louis Stevenson and Walt Disney--the true story of the pirates of the Caribbean is even more captivating: a long lost tale of tyranny and resistance, a maritime revolt that shook the very foundations of the newly formed British Empire, bringing transatlantic commerce to a standstill and fueling the democratic sentiments that would later drive the American revolution. At its center was a pirate republic, a zone of freedom in the midst of an authoritarian age. ...

"They ran their ships democratically, electing and deposing their captains by popular vote, sharing plunder equally, and making important decisions in an open council--all in sharp contrast to the dictatorial regimes in place aboard other ships. At a time when ordinary sailors received no social protections of any kind, the Bahamian pirates provided disability benefits for their crews. ...

"They were sailors, indentured servants, and runaway slaves rebelling against their oppressors: captains, ship owners, and the autocrats of the great slave plantations of America and the West Indies. ... At the height of the Golden Age, it was not unusual for escaped slaves to account for a quarter or more of a pirate vessel's crew, and several mulattos rose to become full-fledged pirate captains. ... The authorities made pirates out to be cruel and dangerous monsters, rapists and murderers who killed men on a whim and tortured children for pleasure, and indeed some were. Many of these tales were intentionally exaggerated, however, to sway a skeptical public. ... In the voluminous descriptions of [Samuel 'Black Sam'] Bellamy's and Blackbeard 's [Edward Thatch's] attacks on shipping--nearly 300 vessels in all--there is not one recorded instance of them killing a captive. More often than not, their victims would later report having been treated fairly by these pirates, who typically returned ships and cargo that did not serve their purposes. ... At the height of their careers, each commanded a small fleet of pirate vessels, a company consisting of hundreds of men, and ... a flagship capable of challenging any man-of-war in the Americas."

Colin Woodard, The Republic of Pirates, Harcourt, 2007, pp. 1-8.


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