Jaykizh

Pirates were bloodthirsty criminals...

5 posts in this topic

Hello, again!

Having been researching my A-level coursework, I noticed that many historians encourage the romanticisation of piracy and show them as being liberal, egalitarian types. However, I know this mustn't be the case for every pirate.

I have been trying to find a historian who believes that pirates were bloodthirsty criminals but I have fallen short in my endeavours, and this is where I ask for your assistance. I need to find an article or book written by a historian who does not believe in the liberal nature of pirates.

Thank you!

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Might I suggest that if you can't find what you want to be true, that it may not be true. I'm not one for the egalitarian aspect, but I certainly do not believe that pirates were predominantly bloodthirsty criminals. They were primarily businessmen. Profit was the main goal for the majority... not serial murder and torture, like Edward Low.

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Yes, there's a wide gulf between liberal teddy-bear at one end and psychopath at the other. Pirates came in at various points on the scale in between, from Edward Low who was renowned for his brutality and Charles Vane who tortured children, to Howell Davis who was well-spoken of by his contemporaries but quite definitely in it for the profit. Somewhere in the middle were men like Richard Taylor who inspired good opinions, but could also fly off the handle and beat people on little provocation.

I think you'd be hard-pressed to find a serious historian who thought pirates were all bloodthirsty murderers, but since you asked for 'a historian who does not believe in the liberal nature of pirates,' the fullest rebuttal of the egalitarian pirate model is probably my own doctoral thesis, which can be found HERE. If you want something shorter then Crystal Williams, 'Nascent Socialists or Resourceful Criminals? A Reconsideration of Transatlantic Piracy, 1690-1726' in  Paul A. Gilje and William Pencak (eds), Pirates, Jack Tar, and Memory: New Directions in American Maritime History (Mystic, 2007) would be a good start.

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You could read the original source material and give your own account of it. (I much prefer this to interpreted accounts, although they certainly have their place as well.)  The easiest book to follow is A General History of the Pirates. It contains is a certain amount of artistic license in the way the accounts are presented along with some embedded political philosophizing, but it is still mostly based on the facts and contains the easiest narrative to follow. I recommend Manuel Schornhorn's version which includes decent endnotes that will help to understand where the original source material came from. Plus it can be bought fairly inexpensively. (If you want to remain free from some of the most blatant pirate romanticization, skip the chapter on the pirate philosopher Captain Misson, an almost entirely fictional, politically-motivated account by the book's author. The accounts of Captains Lewis and Cornelius are also considered fictional, although they're not quite so blatant in their biases.)

Or if you want to read the original source material on which much of that book was based, get hold of Joel Baer's four volumes of reprinted source documents called Pirates of the British Isles. That contains a lot of the court trials and quite a few period newpaper accounts. I got that one through inter-library loan because it's expensive (and apparently out of print.) It doesn't give much of a narrative sense of things, however. There are also some other good sources of original documents, such as Dr. Foxe's annotated Pirates in Their Own Words and John F. Jameson's Privateering and Piracy in the Colonial Period Illustrative Documents.

To add to the list of barbarous pirates, the court accounts of Francis Spriggs show him torturing prisoners pretty regularly.

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Quite a few have actually taken that pirates were cruel "murderers". Especially of the buccaneers of 1600s which are often still grouped with the later ones of 1700s. These texts like to use the cruelties to make a romantic bloodthirsty image. Of the 1700s pirates less this exists, however, I have noticed. 

 

But yes generally there seems to be a lot of understanding towards pirates. If anyone studies history of anything really one will find out that pirates are not the worst villains that existed, not in their own period. As one book that I cannot recall said it something like this of the pirates of the early modern period, "But in the whole the pirates were not much crueller than the members of armies and navies or other such persons of the time. They were the children of their own age."  

 

My point in this is not the clearest possible, but anyway.

Edited by Swashbuckler 1700

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