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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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Cover Art: The Life and Tryals of Stede Bonnet
The Life and Tryals of the Gentleman Pirate, Major Stede Bonnet
By Jeremy R. Moss
Köehlerbooks, 2020, ISBN 978-1-64663-149-0, US $16.95

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We think of him as a failure. A man who lurks in the shadows of a stronger personality. A man who squanders his slim chance of evading the hangman’s noose by escaping. Yet none of this is why he engages those interested in pirate history. What intrigues them is the why. What compels a successful and well-respected gentleman to jettison family, friends, position, and wealth to pursue a life of crime?

He was a member of the elite of Barbados. He inherited a vast plantation. He married well and had four children. He even served as a justice of the peace. Like most people, he carried emotional baggage, some of which stretched back to his childhood, and it impacted this “ideal” life. So much so that one day, he purchased a sloop, fitted it out as a pirate ship, hired a crew, and went on the account. His name was Major Stede Bonnet. But he was a landsman, one who possessed little knowledge of sailing – a fact that would earn him no respect from those who served under him. A near-fatal misstep eventually led him to cross paths with a much-feared pirate who was a legend in his own time – Blackbeard.

Within the pages of this book, Moss shines a light on Bonnet from birth to death. Although he provides no definitive answer as to why this gentleman went on the account – Bonnet took that answer to the grave – Moss does share several hypotheses on this question. Along the way, he allows readers to see “the man behind the mask,” so to speak. For example, while we might deem Bonnet the least successful of pirates, his actual ill-gotten booty would equate to between five and six million dollars today.

The book is divided into two parts: The Life of Stede Bonnet and Bonnet’s Trial and Its Aftermath. Moss consulted many primary documents, some of which he quotes at great length within these pages. Where scant information is known, he fills in gaps with particulars from Captain Johnson’s A General History of the Pyrates. (Although a secondary source, much of the material on Bonnet can be confirmed from contemporary original sources.) In addition to the pertinent quotations that begin each chapter, Moss includes five appendices and actual transcripts of the trials. There is no index or a bibliography containing full citations of works consulted, although footnotes do identify sources.

The Life and Tryals of Major Stede Bonnet is an absorbing revelation of a pirate who often gets short shrift in histories of the golden age of piracy. It serves as an excellent review of this man and his life, as well a methodical examination of imprudent choices and the resultant consequences of them.

Meet the author

The Mariners' Museum hosts Jeremy Moss's virtual booktalk

Read the trial transcripts

 

Book Review Copyright ©2021 Cindy Vallar


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