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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

Pirates & Privateers from Long Island Sound to Delaware Bay                    Pirates of the Chesapeake Bay

                    Art: Pirates & Privateers from Long Island Sound
                    to Delaware Bay
Pirates & Privateers from Long Island Sound to Delaware Bay
by Jamie L. H. Goodall
History Press, 2022, ISBN 978-1-4671-4827-6, US $21.99

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In the late seventeenth century, if a pirate needed protection, one official was happy to oblige. His name was Colonel Benjamin Fletcher, and he was the governor of New York. One pirate who sought his assistance was Samuel Burgess, who originally served under Captain William Kidd until William Mason absconded with the Blessed William and turned to piracy. Burgess went along for the ride, but circumstances didn’t turn out exactly as he hoped, so he jumped ship in Madagascar, where he stayed until sailing to New York in 1693 to seek Fletcher’s help. And the governor willingly complied, but Burgess eventually returned to pirating.

One might think that Fletcher’s collaboration with pirates was unusual. The fact is, as Goodall shows, the opposite was true. A number of governors and colonists associated with these scoundrels, because they supplied necessities and luxuries that lined pockets and coffers with money. As a result, piracy became a major element in the colonies’ economy during the golden age of piracy. This is what Goodall examines in the first half of this book. She discusses New York history, Kidd’s ties to the colony, his association with Frederick Philipse (the richest man in New York and a prominent merchant), Adam Baldridge (Philipse’s storekeeper in Madagascar who bartered with pirates), the slave trade, Fletcher’s collusion with pirates as well as that of Governor Markham of Pennsylvania, the antipiracy efforts of the Earl of Bellomont and Jeremiah Basse, and colonial ties with Blackbeard and Thomas Tew, as well as supposed associations with Bartholomew Roberts.

As piracy declined and wars erupted in Europe, privateers take center stage in the second half of the book. Of particular interest here are those associated with King George’s War (1744-48) and the French and Indian War (1754-1763). Privateering successes bring abundance to the colonies, especially New York. As a result, the booming economy leads to job growth. Among the topics Goodall covers in this section are what happened to the privateers who were captured, effects on maritime insurance rates and prices of imports, and the impact on Black privateers. Two privateers whom she highlights are the audacious William Reen and persevering Patrick Dennis, who was captured and enslaved, but escaped only to sign aboard another privateering venture.

Corruption, of course, is a main theme throughout the book, and while some information can be found elsewhere, much of it is not only particular to the regions of Long Island Sound and Delaware Bay, but is also rarely discussed in other volumes. For example, one place where pirated goods were resold in legitimate markets was Hamburg, Germany. In the six years in which Governor Fletcher served, his income amounted to £30,000, an amount far beyond his yearly salary. Also, the great influx of money brought to the colonies by the pirates resulted in silversmiths being more plentiful than lawyers, in part because the silversmiths served as the sea marauders’ fences. In addition to notes, a bibliography, and an index, Goodall includes maps and illustrations as well as quotes from period documents. This is a worthwhile addition to pirate history and incorporates a lot of information in a small volume at a reasonable price.

Review Copyright ©2022 Cindy Vallar

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Cover Art: Pirates of the Chesapeake Bay
Pirates of the Chesapeake Bay: From the Colonial Era to the Oyster Wars
By Jamie L. H. Goodall
History Press, 2020, ISBN 978-1-4671-4116-1, US $23.99
Also available in e-book formats

Sometimes people turn to piracy strictly because they want easy money. Other times they are driven to piracy. The latter is what happened to the first documented pirate of the Chesapeake Bay, a man named William Claiborne. His felonious activities occurred during the 1630s and are discussed in the introduction to Pirates of the Chesapeake Bay. Contrary to what this title suggests, Goodall describes her book as “a collection of stories that follow some of the Chesapeake’s most notorious pirates and valiant privateers and the local residents, merchants and government officials who aided, abetted and sometimes captured them.” (23) Her goals in bringing these individuals together in a single volume are to (a) identify who took part in these piratical acts and what role did they play; (b) locate where the nefarious exploits occurred; (c) explain why the Chesapeake Bay was both a haven and a target of piracy; and (d) identify what caused the depredations in this 200-mile region that extends from Havre de Grace, Maryland to Virginia Beach, Virginia to be suppressed. Of course, this supposes that all the depredations described within are acts of piracy. In actuality, they are not.

To achieve these objectives, she divides the book into five time periods: colonial (1630-1750), the Revolutionary War (1754-1783), the War of 1812 (1805-1815), the Civil War (1860-1865), and the Oyster Wars (1865-1959). (The latter is really about poaching, rather than piracy, although contemporary newspapers referred to those involved as “pirates.”) The majority of people mentioned will be unknown to most readers: Richard Ingle, Joseph Wheland Jr., George Little, John Yates Beall, and William Frank Whitehouse, among many others. A few – Lionel Delawafer (better known as Lionel Wafer, the pirate surgeon), William Kidd, Sam Bellamy, and Thomas Boyle, for example – are often discussed in books about pirates and privateers. Readers will also find a timeline of major conflicts, maps, pictures, glossary, notes, bibliography, and index.

This is an interesting summary of piratical and privateering activity in a vital, but often overlooked, region that introduces readers to individuals rarely discussed in other maritime history books. That said, some missteps call into question this historian’s research. For example, on page 36, the vivid description of a body gibbeted in May 1699 in the Thames River is identified as being that of Captain Kidd. Four pages later, the text reads, “On May 23, 1701, Kidd ultimately met his fate at the end of the hangman’s noose.” (In 1699, Kidd was in American colonial waters trying to clear his name after sailing the Quedah Merchant to the West Indies.) On page 45, Sam Bellamy’s first victim is identified as the Whidah. He had already captured at least two vessels the previous year after going on the account. In fact, when he captured the Whidah, he was aboard the Sultana, which he had taken in December 1716. Nor did the pirates run Whidah aground, as stated on page 47. A severe nor’easter drove her ashore. The final paragraph states: “Sam Bellamy and his few surviving crew members were imprisoned, condemned and executed for piracy. They met their makers at the end of the hangman’s noose.” While several members of Bellamy’s crew were hanged, Bellamy was not one of them and they weren’t aboard Whidah at the time that she sank. He died in the shipwreck. Only two men survived Whidah’s sinking; Thomas Davis was acquitted while John Julian was sold into slavery.

Review Copyright ©2021 Cindy Vallar

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