Thistle & Pirates Book Review
Cindy Vallar, pirate historian and author.
Pirates of New England: Ruthless Raiders & Rotten Renegades
by Gail Selinger
Some pirates, such as Black Sam Bellamy, are well-known while others, such as Thomas Pound, rarely garner mention, but Selinger examines these and many other nefarious rogues associated with New England between the late sixteenth and early eighteenth centuries. She opens with a short history of piracy before tackling the questions of why men went “on the account” and why this way of life enticed so many to violate the law. This helps readers to comprehend the historical context of the period.
This volume’s particular focus is on New England, a region comprised of today’s states of Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont. Many who lived in these areas often failed to differentiate between pirates, smugglers, and privateers. All provided goods at reasonable prices without encumbering the products with the heavy taxes imposed by Great Britain. This fact is explored both politically and economically as Selinger discusses the Pirate Round, a trade route between the Western Atlantic and the pirate haven of Madagascar.
The remaining ten chapters explore individual pirate. In addition to the previously mentioned brigands, readers learn about Dixie Bull, John Rhoades, Jurriaen Aernouts, Peter Roderigo, Thomas Hawkins, Thomas Tew and Governor Benjamin Fletcher, Henry Every, William Kidd, John Quelch, Paulsgrave Williams, George Lowther, John Massey, Charles Harris, Ned Low, Francis Spriggs, and William Fly.
To better understand just how perilous this period is, Selinger provides a list of some of the wars fought between various European nations – many of which spilled into the Caribbean and New England. She also provides information on wages, cost of living, and pirate booty in an attempt to answer the oft-asked question of “How much is a pirate treasure worth today?” To best contrast the allure of pirate life with that of the common man, she provides lists of earnings for various legal seaman and costs for particular items of daily life. Aside from the bibliography, a few black-and-white illustrations, and an index, two appendices are included. The first is a complete roster of the men and boys who sailed aboard Captain Kidd’s Adventure Galley. The second gives the names and fates, if known, for pirates who are rarely or never mentioned in other books on this subject.
The only drawback in that no footnotes are provided to identify the source of some information; this may be more bothersome to anyone wishing to delve further into the history rather than just those seeking good background on New England’s connections with piracy.
Aside from three pages in the chapter on William Fly, where firing of guns and who’s who on the gun crew are discussed in detail, Pirates of New England is a worthy introduction to and summary of piracy as it relates to this specific area of the New World. Many other titles only provide known facts about pirates before and during their escapades, but Selinger makes certain to include what happens after they either cease their marauding or are captured. Nautical language is always explained within parentheses, which makes it easy to understand word (s) in context. Overall Pirates of New England is a compelling, fast read filled with interesting tidbits for both readers unfamiliar with the subject and those with an insatiable appetite for all things piratical.
Cindy Vallar © 2018.
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