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The History of Maritime Piracy

Cindy Vallar, Editor & Reviewer
P.O. Box 425, Keller, TX  76244-0425

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Books for Adults - Nonfiction

Cover Art: The Pirate Next Door
The Pirate Next Door: The Untold Story of Eighteenth Century Pirates’ Wives, Families and Communities
By Daphne Palmer Geanacopoulos
Carolina Academic Press, 2017, ISBN 978-1-61163-875-2, $20.00

Also available in e-book format

Video and print provide readers with a one-dimensional view of pirates. They are portrayed as single, idle, uneducated, and poor seamen who distanced themselves from society. They cared only for themselves and their ill-gotten gains. Geanacopoulos’s research, however, shows the opposite is true. They possessed strong family ties and some degree of education; they also came from families with varying degrees of status. They were criminals, but sometimes economic restrictions, such as the Navigation Acts, and cultural factors, such as downsizing in times of peace, provided greater impetus to go on the account than simply to plunder. In digging deeper for the truth, she discovered that government propaganda and dubious sources have led us to believe in this one-dimensional portrayal.

Of the eighty married pirates, this book delves into the lives of four specific captains to prove how wrong our misconceptions are. In doing so, she shows how women played far greater roles in their lives than originally thought. She focuses on men whose exploits occurred between 1695 and 1720 and who were connected to New England, a region with close ties to piracy. While each chapter discusses their personal lives, their ties to community (both in society and among the brethren of the coast), and the women they loved, each one also focuses on a specific aspect that the women in their lives best demonstrates.

Samuel Bellamy – “Black Sam” and His Lady on the Shore
Paulsgrave Williams – Deep Roots and Family Ties
William Kidd – The Woman Behind the Pirate
Samuel Burgess – Window into the Private Lives of Pirates
Maps and illustrations are included, as are end notes, a bibliography, and an index. The book begins with a summary of Caribbean piracy and the time period, but contains one misstatement pertaining to Bellamy’s marital status. He never married Maria Hallett, but the desire to do so was a motivating factor in his leaving Cape Cod. In spite of this, Geanacopoulos’s introduction is easy to read and quite interesting in its own right. Her explanation on how she reconstructed the pirates’ lives is equally enlightening and fascinating since historical documents provide far more information than we’ve been led to believe.

Recent research into Maria Hallett hints that there may be more truth than fiction in the enduring legend – delightful news for romantics. Equally compelling is the bewildered stranger who stopped at a tavern soon after the wreck of the Whydah, a tidbit often omitted in histories on Bellamy. The chapter on Williams is a welcome addition to pirate lore, since his story is often eclipsed by Bellamy and the shipwreck. Sarah Kidd’s story perhaps best demonstrates the flipside of the pirate. Equally fascinating is Burgess’s chapter, not because he was a pirate – which he once was – but because he rendered an invaluable service to pirates and their families. The letters shared within these pages provide strong evidence that at least some “enemies of all mankind” were really human beings who cared about loved ones left behind.

At no time, however, does Geanacopoulos romanticize these men’s chosen profession. She merely shows that, as with any criminal, there is more to them than just their nefarious deeds. The Pirate Next Door is an engaging and compelling window into four real pirates. This work also an invaluable resource that ably contradicts many misconceptions we have about pirates. It is a must read for anyone who wants to know the whole truth.
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Review Copyrighted ©2017 Cindy Vallar

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