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Opening Ceremonies

The Republic of Pirates -- and the book of the same name -- aims to provide accurate, thoughtful news, information, and scholarship on the true pirates of the Caribbean: the circle of pirates who occupied the capital of the Bahamas between 1714 and 1718 and included or spawned many of the most famous pirates in history: Blackbeard, Sam Bellamy, Charles Vane, Mary Read, Anne Bonny, Stede Bonnet, Calico Jack Rackham and many others.

Pirates have existed since ancient times, and remain with us today, attacking container ships in the Straits of Malacca. But this particular gang of pirates was different from the rest, both in terms of their motivations and the degree to which they disrupted the empires they preyed upon, albeit briefly.

At their zenith, the Bahamian pirate gang had not only largely severed the trans-Atlantic commerce of three empires, they had graduated to terrorizing naval warships and the colonies themselves. The Royal Navy went from being unable to catch the pirates (who initially favored swift sloops) to being afaid to encounter them at all (as their flagships grew larger and better-manned then the fifth- and sixth-rate frigates the Royal Navy had assigned to defend Britian's American empire.) They occupied colonial outposts like Virgin Gorda (then the seat of the Deputy Governor of the British Leeward islands), burned the important French settlement of Guadeloupe Town to ground, destroyed all shipping in St. Kitts under the guns of the king's fort, blockaded Charleston, South Carolina (one of the most important ports in British North America), and made credible threats to destroy Philadelphia and invade and occupy Bermuda.

Their motivations went beyond simple banditry; indeed, most were former sailors who saw themselves as engaged in a social revolt against the shipowners and ship captains who exploited them. On seizing their first ships, they turned the order of things upside down, electing and deposing their captains by popular vote and sharing plunder near-equally. Some called themselves "Robin Hood's men," and many ordinary people seem to have regarded them as heroes. Governors and other leading figures in the American colonies wrote letters to the superiors in London complaining of the pirates' popularity among their citizenry. Virginians, that colony's governor, Alexander Spotswood sniffed, have "an unaccountable inclinatiion to favor pyrates." Some pirates were also engaged in a political struggle to depose King George and restore the House of Stuart to the British throne. Others -- African and Indian slaves -- joined the pirates because they offered the possibility of freedom and, in some crews at least, equality with people of European ancestry.

My book, The Republic of Pirates, explores these pirates' story, and this blog is intended to continue that pursuit, exploring certain topics in more detail, providing a forum for discussion about their lives and legacy, and a source of up-to-date news on discoveries and scholarship related to them.

So raise the anchors and stand by to set sails; this cruise is now underway.

 

-- Colin Woodard

 

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