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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: Pirates, Jack Tar,
        and Memory
Pirates, Jack Tar, and Memory: New Directions in American Maritime History
Edited by Paul A. Gilje and William Pencak
Mystic Seaport, 2007, ISBN 0-939511-22-3, $19.95


When you study history in school, not much is covered about sailors (Jack Tar) even though they played an important role in most periods. This collection of essays examines those of the 18th and 19th centuries from the perspective of the individual, rather than the officer. In the introduction “The Elusive Jack Tar,” the editors reveal their aim is “to identify scholarship from all levels of the profession, and we therefore solicited essays from graduate students, newly minted PhDs, and senior scholars whose work has taken them to maritime subjects.” This allows them to share new research about the common seaman in the Age of Sail.

Of the nine papers in this collection, the first two discuss this theme by comparing and contrasting their authors’ findings in light of Marcus Rediker’s conclusions in his nonfiction books, Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea and Villains of All Nations. The next three essays examine sailors in the 1700s, while the last four concentrate on 19th-century seamen.

1. How to Fight a Pirate: Provincials, Royalists, and the Raiding of San Marcos de  Apalache by Amy Turner Bushnell
2. Nascent Socialists or Resourceful Criminals? A Reconsideration of Transatlantic Piracy, 1690-1726 by Crystal Williams
3. On the Material Culture of Ships in the Age of Sail by Michael Jarvis
4. John Blatchford’s New America: Sailors, Print Culture, and Post-Colonial Identity by Sarah Purcell
5. “Relics of the Past Generation”: Maritime Prisoners of War and the Memory of  the American Revolution by Francis D. Cogliano
6. Before and After the Mast: James Fenimore Cooper and Ned Myers by Hester  Blum
7. Broadsides on Land and Sea: A Cultural Reading of the Naval Engagements in  the War of 1812 by Dan Hicks
8. Negotiating Power: Status and Authority in Anglo-American Shipwreck  Narratives by Amy Mitchell-Cook
9. Discipline But Not Punish: Legality and Labor Control at Sea, 1790-1861 by  Matthew Raffety
In gathering together this collection, the editors provide readers with the opportunity to “see [Jack Tar] as a pirate, learn something of the ships he sailed, and share his experience in the Revolutionary War and War of 1812.” We also become aware of their ability to spin yarns, to better themselves, and to survive. Each chapter includes notes and source materials. The book concludes with an index and short paragraphs about each contributor.

This is a highly entertaining and informative look into the lives of everyday mariners. All the contributions are easy for laymen to understand. They enrich what readers already know about our maritime history, while at the same time enlightening them on new perspectives and little-known events.

Book Review Copyright ©2008 Cindy Vallar

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