Wednesday, October 22, 2014


A review of Collin Woodard’s The Republic of Pirates: Being the True and Surprising Story of the Caribbean Pirates and the Man Who Brought Them Down (2007)

(Rating 5 of 5)

A small disclaimer: I actually had the opportunity to meet Mr. Woodard at the Maine Festival of the Book a few years back.  While there, I ran into him as he was on the way out.  I would have missed him entirely if he hadn’t noticed the fact that one of the two books I was carrying was one of his.  Woodard then stopped me and asked me if I was looking to get those signed.  When I told I was, he then told me that ‘Tony’ (author of a book I will be reviewing next) had left but he would gladly sign the other one.  It was an interesting forty seconds to say the least.  So if you think this is a biased review it might be.  However if you read it for yourself I think you will agree that it is an interesting book.

            What this book covers is the Golden Age of Pirates that took place in the first half of the eighteenth century.  During this time a group of pirates gained enough power in the Caribbean after the colonial governments there practically collapsed and pirate ships roamed almost unopposed.  They had been inspired by the example of Henry Avery, the first modern pirate who helped establish the principals that the pirates would come to live by.  What Avery started was the idea of ‘sailor reform’ where the shares of profit was more evenly distributed, decisions made more democratically, and leaders could be held accountable to their crews.
Blackbeard's Flag

            Pirates have been glorified in our culture.  Reading this book it is easy to see why.  The pirates did some nasty things but the people fighting them were hardly any better.  The European navies and merchants sold slaves, had crew that were literally kidnap victims who were treated as slaves, and acted in ways that were not honorable.  The situation with the British Navy of this time period kind of reminds me of problems with prohibition agents in the 20s and drug enforcement officers in present time.

            Avery disappeared from historical record and is believed to have lived a reasonable long—for late seventeenth-early eighteenth century standards—and comfortable retirement.  Most of his imitators who followed in his footsteps would not be so fortunate.  They would die young by hanging or going out in battle. 

            The book covers many of the post-Avery pirates, such as the ruthless Charles Vane, Sam Bellamy an early pirate commodore, and of course Edward Thatch more popularly known as ‘Blackbeard.’ Blackbeard is by far the most famous of all the pirates of anytime period.  The funny thing was prior to reading this book the only exposure I had to Blackbeard was in that silly Disney movie about his ghost and Ian McShane’s portrayal of him in the last Pirates of the Caribbean movie.  The later film shows Blackbeard still alive in 1750 sailing in the Queen Anne’s Revenge, which was decades after his ship was wrecked and Blackbeard himself had died.  The real one was more impressive despite the lack of superpowers that he displayed in the movies.  

           What I found the most surprising while reading this book was the politics of the pirates themselves.  These pirates not only tried to change how ships were run, but they had very strong opinions on who the King of England was supposed to be.  Almost every single pirate was an outright Jacobite, who regarded the present king, George I, as impostor who needed to be over thrown.

            Speaking on Jacobitism, there was one little passage in this book that I took a point with:

“Queen Anne had died, childless, in August of 1714.  Under normal circumstances, the crown would have passed to her half-brother, James Stuart, the next in the line of dynastic succession, a situation that, to thinking of many at the time, was ordained by God himself.” (pg. 101)

            Okay ‘under normal circumstances’ King James III would have received notice of the death of his sister, the Princess Anne, and would have been very sad that in twelfth year of his reign he was now devoid of siblings.  To Jacobites, Queen Anne may have been a Stuart but she and her sister Mary were just as much usurpers as William III and the Hanoverians who followed Anne.  I am sure Woodard was trying to simplify a complicated topic and did not have the space to go into things like the Glorious Revolution, but still false is false. 

            This is great a tale the sea of the sea.  I am so glad that I had finished it in time for the new Starz series Black Sails.  Reading this book before hand made the series more enjoyable.  This is a book I would highly recommend to anyone who wanted to know about the real pirates of the Caribbean.

{Video is from a Smithsonian Documentary}


No comments:

Post a Comment

Please feel free to leave a comment on any article at anytime, regardless how long ago I posted it. I will most likely respond.