Eighteenth Century Piracy Through a Wider Lens: Recasting the Image of Pirates to Include Their Wives, Families and Communities
Geanacopoulos, Daphne Palmer
The cultural image of pirates from the Golden Age of Piracy (1650-1730) is curiously one-dimensional. Whether they are portrayed as romantic outlaws who defied the conventions of their society or as hostes humani generis, the anti-social villains who were the “"enemies of the human race,"” the common assumption about pirates is that they were radically individualistic, scornful of the common ties that bound society together. Young, unmarried, unemployed deep-water sailors from the lowest rungs of society, poor and uneducated, pirates were social isolates with no connection to society beyond the confines of the pirate ship. Although this characterization may be true for some pirates, it is a gross over-generalization. My archival research has uncovered evidence showing that a sizeable body of men, about eighty or so, were married, had family ties and connections to a community on land, were educated to some extent and came from families who enjoyed some degree of status in their societies. This thesis will take something old — the subject of pirates — and make it new by adding in a new component that reflects the human aspect of pirates. This thesis will qualify the commonly held stereotypes about pirates by recovering and analyzing information about the wives, families and communities of four pirate captains who were active during the period 1695- 1720. Those men are Samuel Burgess of New York, William Kidd of New York, Samuel Bellamy of Cape Cod, Massachusetts, and Paulsgrave Williams of Rhode Island. In this thesis I propose that pirates' women in particular played a significantly larger part in their lives than has been acknowledged in pirate literature. This analytic and conceptual framework will allow me to reconsider these reputed “ enemies of the human race ” from a more ethical and human values perspective. My method of research is to reconstruct from primary sources the life patterns of the four pirate captains, focusing on their wives, families and communities. Because information on pirates is scanty and piecemeal, I cannot use a statistical research approach to analyze their lives. Instead, I have developed an original research method to study this sample of eighteenth century pirates. New England was a hub of pirate activity so I have chosen four pirates whose lives as pirate captains are well enough documented that I can reconstruct from primary source material significant features of their lives, and the lives of their wives, families and communities.Chapter 1 discusses the image of pirates in the eighteenth century. This chapter makes clear that there is another way of understanding pirates than the way the authorities portrayed them. Chapter 2 discusses the economic and cultural factors that influenced men to turn pirate. Chapter 3 gives an overview of the life of pirates, discussing the ship's articles and some of the artifacts recovered from the pirate ship Whydah. Chapter 4 explores the life of Samuel Burgess. Chapter 5 discusses the life of William Kidd. Chapter 6 explores the life of Samuel Bellamy, and Chapter 7 discusses Paulsgrave Williams. Chapter 8 explores the private life of Paulsgrave Williams, focusing on his extended family on Block Island, Rhode Island. Chapter 9 discusses women in pirate history whose names are recorded only briefly in a letter or legal document. Chapter 10 is the conclusion.
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