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Pirates of the Florida Coast                    A Pirate's Life in the Golden Age of Piracy

Cover Art: A Pirate's Life
            in the Golden Age of Piracy
A Pirate’s Life in the Golden Age of Piracy
By Robert Jacob
DocUmeant Publishing, 2018, ISBN 978-1-937801-91-5, US $49.99
Also available in e-book format
This hardback book resembles a chronological encyclopedia, of which the majority (forty-one of the sixty chapters) recounts the history of piracy during the golden age. The remainder focuses on aspects of pirate life. Three chapters introduce the subject before the author subdivides the most prolific period in pirate history into four time segments: The Buccaneers 1640-1670, The Buccaneer Pirates 1670-1702, Pirates and Privateers of the War of 1702-1713, and The Pyrates 1714-1722. He also focuses on three particular pirates, whom he identifies as classic representatives of the men who hunted during this time span: Henry Morgan, Blackbeard, and John “Bartholomew” Roberts.

Jacob correctly points out that during these eighty-two years, political support and society’s acceptance of these marauding men and women did not remain static. The same holds true for why they went on the account. This was a time of flux, where one year pirates might be deemed acceptable comrades, but the next they were seen as enemies to be eradicated.

Among the many people and topics discussed in the history section are Christopher Myngs, François L’Olonnais, Henry Morgan’s lawsuit pertaining to the English translation of Alexandre Exquemelin’s The Buccaneers of America, Port Royal, Petit Goave, Michel de Grammont Le Chevalier, Laurens Cornelius Boudewijn de Graaf, William Dampier, Thomas Tew, Governor Benjamin Fletcher, Robert Searle, Marcus Hook, William Snelgrave, Howell Davis, and many more. Some of these can be found in most pirate histories, but others are either merely mentioned or not included at all. The lifestyle section covers such aspects as tools of the trade (ships, weapons, navigation), treasure, food, captives, and textiles.

Scattered throughout this volume are seventy-three pictures and maps. Jacob also includes sidebar notes to point out important dates, key points, and specific people, or to define unfamiliar words. There are no footnotes or endnotes to identify source material quotations and statements. Nor is there an index, which makes it difficult for readers to locate specific information. He does, however, include a glossary and bibliography.

Lack of consistency and clarity are two aspects that readers will notice as they read this book. For example, sometimes ships’ names are italicized; sometimes they are not even in the same paragraph. Several times the text says that a particular subject will be discussed later in chapter; in actuality, the discussion takes part later in the book, which breaks the narrative’s flow and makes it difficult for readers to know where the particular subject matter continues.

There are a number of missing words and misspellings and “many” and “most” are overused. While newspaper articles are a great source of information for cultural aspects of the period, they must be taken with the same grain of salt in which the author objects to the use of Charles Johnson’s A General History of Pirates as a reliable resource. Newspaper editors embellished stories the same way Johnson did, yet Jacob seems to take the articles at face value. Another questionable source is The Pirates Own Book; in fact, Jacob states that “It appears to be accurate.” (125) In actuality, this resource is just as questionable in its historical accuracy as Johnson’s book is.

He believes that Edward Thache and Edward Beard are two acquaintances who went to sea, but that Thache died and Beard adopted his name as alias. If any evidence exists to support this highly speculative hypothesis, Jacob doesn’t provide it. There are a few factual errors. For example, two men who were aboard Whydah at the time of her demise did survive the wreck. Contrary to the author’s belief that “Black” as a name is related to the pirates’ black flags (229), (as in Black Sam Bellamy) the adjective actually refers to the person’s swarthy appearance. Jasper Seagar and Edward England were not the same person.

Jacob is an historical reenactor, whose pursuit of history and historical accuracy led him to write this book. This research shines through in the amount of material that he provides, although some readers may prefer a greater focus on pirate life than the history of these sea rovers, especially since that was a primary reason for his writing this volume. Aside from providing readers with a well-rounded picture of the time period, he also explores what may have motivated the pirates to do what they did. There are times when he inserts his own thoughts into the recounting; these appear in a different font from the main text so readers can easily separate fact from opinion.

Its value lies not in being a book for reading night after night, but in the abundance of information contained within nearly 500 pages. Overall, with the caveats in mind, this is a good resource for those in search of a comprehensive volume on pirate history during the buccaneering and golden piracy eras.


Review Copyright ©2022 Cindy Vallar

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Cover Art: Pirates of the
            Florida Coast

Pirates of the Florida Coast: Truths, Legends, and Myths
By Robert Jacob
DocUmeant Publishing, 2022, ISBN 978-1-950075-59-1, US $34.95
Also available in e-book format
The author, a longtime historical reenactor and living history interpreter, decided to incorporate pirates into his repertoire. In the process of researching this topic, he discovered histories rife with discrepancies and a lack of information on aspects of piratical life, such as clothing, weaponry, and food. To counteract this, he turned to writing about pirates, and this is his second book. His initial quest was to shine a light on the history of those scurvy knaves with ties to Florida during the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth century. What he unearthed was twofold. First, only a few pirates actually visited the region before 1750, and second, few of the stories were actually factual in nature.

Florida belonged to Spain and the first known privateer to attack St. Augustine was Francis Drake in 1586. His illegal counterpart was a man named Robert Searle, who attacked the Spanish city in 1668. Other historical pirates with actual ties to Florida include Andrew Ranson and Henry Jennings. The latter’s connection is tied to the Spanish treasure fleet that sank in coastal waters in 1715 during a hurricane. Among the later pirates that are included are William Bowles and his Muskogee pirates, Jean Laffite, and Louis-Michel Aury. Also discussed are Commodore David Porter and the Moskito Squadron, which were tasked with hunting pirates. Perhaps the best known of the legendary pirates is José Gaspar, a fictional pirate who is feted each year.

This account of piracy and piratical legends unfolds in twenty-four chapters. Illustrations and maps are included, as are a glossary, bibliography,* and index. Side bars point out important facts and dates. In an effort to provide background and a more complete understanding of what was happening historically, Jacobs incorporates passages from his first book, A Pirate’s Life in the Golden Age of Piracy. (Only those who read the two books back-to-back will notice the repetition.) In those instances where he was unable to substantiate information using documentary evidence, he shares the stories and then discusses the accuracy of them.

What emerges as a result of this in-depth investigation is a book that provides an abundance of information on pirates, the majority of whom have little to no ties to Florida. Examples of this include the chapters “Did Captain Kidd Visit Florida?”, “Did Blackbeard Visit Florida?”, and “Calico Jack Rackham and Anne Bonny’s Honeymoon in Florida.”

It is evident to anyone who reads this book that Jacobs did a lot of research. He writes in a clear and interesting manner, although not all of his stated facts are accurate. On page 55, he writes: “152 of Roberts’ crew were captured alive and brought back to England to stand trial.” In actuality, the trials of these pirates were held at Cape Coast Castle in Africa, where the majority of those convicted were hanged. Only seventeen were returned to England and this occurred only after they were tried. A second example pertains to Jean Laffite. He did not build a pirate base at the barrier islands at Barataria. Pirates and smugglers frequented Grande Terre and Grand Isle since before the time of Blackbeard. What Laffite did was to organize them into an efficient force to be reckoned with. Also concerning are that the author consistently misspells Francis Drake’s first name and he overuses the word “many.”

In spite of these weaknesses, this is an interesting addition to pirate history that is geared toward lay readers. Jacobs presents these scoundrels in a manner that incorporates the whole of history, rather than exhibiting them in a void. And it is refreshing to find a book that dispels legends and myths about certain pirates while at the same time providing historical details about others.

Meet the author

 *Among the resources that the author consulted during the writing of this book are two of my articles, both of which are cited in the bibliography

Review Copyright ©2022 Cindy Vallar

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