The Golden Age of Piracy has long been romanticized in popular culture, from at least the 18th century through the present. Tales of real characters like Blackbeard, Captain Kidd, and Calico Jack have become blurred with fictional characters of Long John Silver, Jack Sparrow, and Captain Blood. Here are three recent works that attempt to set the story straight.
Colin Woodard’s The Republic of Pirates: Being the True and Surprising Story of the Caribbean Pirates and the Man Who Brought Them Down is specifically about the Golden Age, roughly 1715 to 1725 when pirates were so powerful that one group established a literal republic of pirates, untouched by British authorities until one man, Woodes Rogers, determines to break their hold. There are a lot of flamboyant characters, including Blackbeard, and a lot of information about the average pirate, who was anything but average. Pirates were ne’er-do-wells, criminals, runaway slaves, hustlers – from all walks of life, including some forced into piracy. This book is a fast-paced history of them all.
Under the Black Flag: The Romance and the Reality of Life Among the Pirates by David Cordingly is billed as a “revisionist history,” written by the former director of the U.K.’s National Maritime Museum. Like Woodard, he refutes many myths created by Hollywood, like “walking the plank” for example, and portrays the true, often violent life of the pirate. He also spends time examining the popular culture myth of Pirates, the how and why of the romanticization.
At the Point of a Cutlass: The Pirate Capture, Bold Escape, and Lonely Exile of Philip Ashton by Gregory Flemming is the story of one particular pirate, Phillip Ashton. Ashton was one of those unlucky men who was forced into service on board the pirate ship that seized his own. He was captured at age 19 off the coast of Nova Scotia by one of the most bloodthirsty pirates, Edward Low. He survived nine months as a pirate before escaping on a deserted island in Caribbean, where he survived another year before rescue. He wrote a memoir of his experiences, and Flemming deftly weaves his personal narrative with trial records, logbooks, and lots of other archived sources. It is not only an exciting and interesting account of the life of pirates, but also a riveting story of one man’s survival.