“The Republic of Pirates: Being the True and Story of the Caribbean Pirates and the Man Who Brought Them Down” by Colin Woodard (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2007)

Republic of Piratesstarstarstar

Welcome to the Golden Age of Piracy, at least that’s what it can be considered from the pirates’ point of view.  The ten years between 1715 and 1725 was the time when pirates ruled the high seas of the Caribbean.  This is their story during those ten years when they had the times of their lives, and had it all brought to a halt by one man.

Woodard starts at the beginning, giving a brief history lesson from the seventeenth century, setting the scene and explaining the rise of piracy in this area of the world consisting of colonies controlled by countries on the other side of the world.  It was a time when a captain with a faithful crew and a good ship could do whatever he wanted.  Woodard explains in the prologue the distinction between three key terms that often are applied to those conducting themselves in piratical ways.  Privateers: these were people who in wartime plundered enemy ships under instruction and allowance from their respective governments, and would then share the plunder between themselves and their governments.  Pirates: naturally these people are similar to privateers, except they operated under no governmental control or order, and always kept the plunder for themselves.  Buccaneers: these were pirates and privateers mostly from the seventeenth century operating out of the West Indies, were mostly French, and hunted cattle on the island of Hispaniola; the meat was dried on a bouccan.  

Woodard then goes on to create the setting of the Caribbean at the beginning of this ten year period, explaining the democratic nature of pirates in dividing plunder, giving captured slaves the option to remain slaves or become pirates.  He dedicates a chapter to each of the important pirate captains, including Captain Bellamy, Captain Bonnet, and Captain Blackbeard, whose actual name was Edward Thatch, but because of his decision to never shave or trim his beard, letting it grow freely and wild, was given this epithet.  At the same time Woodard discusses the history of Woodes Rogers who, after gaining acceptance from King George, put together his own flotilla of ships and mounted a campaign to stop these pirates and chase them down one by one.  In the waning days of this golden age, we learn of the pirate women Mary Read and Anne Bonny, who would disguise herself in men’s clothing.  When they were to be executed, they pleaded that they were with child and under law could not be executed and so were able to live out their lives.

The Republic of Pirates is a sobering piece of nonfiction after the successful Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy as the reader learns it was rarely as fun and swashbuckling as Johnny Depp depicts it.  Ultimately these people were breaking the law and many lost their lives; it was a harsh reality that is revealing and informative.  It ultimately leaves one in contemplation over what life must have truly been like during this time in the deadly Caribbean.

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Originally written on July 8th 2007 ©Alex C. Telander.