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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 ~ History & Biography

The Pirate Next Door               The Pirate's Wife

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

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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 economic restrictions, such as the Navigation Acts, and cultural factors, such as downsizing in times of peace, sometimes 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 eighty married pirates, this book delves into the lives of four specific captains to prove how wrong our misconceptions are. In doing so,
Geanacopoulos 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 flip side of the pirate. Equally fascinating is Burgess’s chapter, not because he was a pirate – 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 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 is an invaluable resource that ably contradicts many misconceptions about pirates. It is a must read for anyone who wants to know the whole truth.

Review Copyright ©2017 Cindy Vallar

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Cover Art: The
                        Pirate's Wife
The Pirate’s Wife: The Remarkable True Story of Sarah Kidd
by Daphne Palmer Geanacopoulos
Hanover Square Press, 2022, ISBN 978-1-335-42984-2, US $27.99 / CAN $34.99

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She weds for love the third time, an enduring love that weathers unforeseen storms. But these events come later.

She begins life as Sarah Bradley in 1670. Fourteen years later, her mother has died and her father, a sea captain, wishes to start life anew and so he, Sarah, and her two brothers sail for Manhattan. Within a year, she marries a wealthy merchant named William Cox. According to law, she is now his property with no legal identity of her own. Nevertheless, she is clever and inquisitive and soon suggests a way that he can expand his business ventures to reap greater rewards. This retail venture takes advantage of her creativity and her sewing skills, as well as providing her the rare opportunity to be a “she-merchant” at the age of seventeen. Two years later, Cox is dead.

Sarah marries again in 1690. Through her second husband, she meets a confident and wealthy privateer. His name is William Kidd and he helps the new governor put down a Jacobite rebel and his followers, which gains Kidd much respectability within New York society. When Sarah’s spouse dies suddenly, she and William wed in 1691 after attending the rebel’s execution. They settle down and start a family, while William follows his trade as a sea captain. He eventually grows restless and, after consulting with Sarah, sets sail for England to secure a privateering commission. Circumstances, manipulations, and misadventures steer Kidd’s desired course from his chosen path and forever alter Sarah Kidd’s life.

The Pirate’s Wife is Sarah Kidd’s story, from respected member of society to disgraced wife of a convicted pirate. Although the historical record provides a decent amount of information about this dutiful, loyal, and religious woman, Geanacopoulos postulates the whys and wherefores behind some of Sarah’s thoughts and actions. She also introduces readers to Governor Benjamin Fletcher (a friend to pirates) and Lord Bellomont (an enemy of pirates), as well as taking time to discuss pirates and their way of life near the close of the 17th century. She provides overlooked information about Kidd’s agreement with Bellomont, Sarah’s arrest, and Sarah’s attempt to rescue her husband from a Boston jail.

The book includes endnotes, a bibliography, and an index. In addition, Geanacopoulos shares Kidd’s own 1699 account of what happened aboard the Adventure Galley.

Most authors present the lives of the Kidds from William’s perspective. Geanacopoulos, who has written before about the women in pirates’ lives, shines her spotlight on Sarah. This breathes new life into their story and shows this tenacious woman as she was, both as an individual and as a product of the time and circumstances fate dealt her.

Review Copyright ©2023 Cindy Vallar

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