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Pirates of New England: Ruthless Raiders and Rotten Renegades

  • Maine May 2018, Book Review





  • The Wave, Rockaway Beach, NY.

Complete Idiot’s Guide® to Pirates


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Main Harbors

May 2018

Book Review

by Jessica Webster

Pirates of New England: Ruthless Raiders and Rotten Renegades.

Well researched and entertaining, Pirates of New England, is an engrossing read. Gail Selinger is a respected pirate expert and this book is exactly what you would expect from someone who according to her bio has been seen on the History Channel’s Modern Marvel Pirate Tech, and True Caribbean Pirates. She has also written The Complete Idiot’s Guide® to Pirates and lectures on the subject.

Selinger opens the book with the history of piracy. She then goes on to explain the political and socio-economic stresses during the late sixteenth century: the cost of living, the huge chasm between the rich and poor, and the seemingly unceasing wars I Europe. While working for one navy or another, the crew were often treated barbarically by the captain, underfed and often not paid. Nevertheless life at sea was seen as one way out of the poverty at home and once trained at sea, these men and women did have a trade.

This book is focused mainly on New England. The pressures of England’s trade tariffs, due to her constant warring, allowed the New Englanders to turn a blind eye to the ships procuring the goods they needed at a lower cost. Then Selinger gets to the fun stuff, in my opinion. The following chapters are all in depth accounts of specific pirates and their stories.

One such story captivated me. Black Sam Bellamy’s (nicknamed because he refused to powder his dark hair) story is still folklore on Cape Cod. It is uncertain why Bellamy had sailed to Cape Code; however, the story is that while there, he had fallen in love with Mary Hallett. Bellamy then took to sea to earn enough wealth to marry. Bellamy, born to tenant farmers in 1689, Devon, England, found himself a victim of a new capitalism where the wealthy lords stopped allowing tenants open grazing land, In order to live on their own land, often “entire families had to hire themselves out as laborers to make enough money, so as not to be thrown out of their cottages.” In Bellamy’s case while pirating he “proposed to his crewmates that they should act as Robin Hood.” They would plunder from the rich and give to any poor seaman they encounter. Unfortunately Bellamy’s ship was lost in a storm. His heartbroken Mary died unmarried and childless.

None of the stories Selinger relates are benign. Some are just a bi more horrific then others. The chapter of Ned Low and Francis Farrington Spriggs is one example of how bad pirating could get.

She begins the chapter by stating Ned Low was “a sadistic psychopath who reveled in torture and cannibalism.”

What I appreciated about this book is that Selinger doesn’t just tell about the travails on the sea, but also of the consequences. To the best of her research she lets us know whether the individual is caught and put to trial, or their ship is lost at sea, or even if the pirate just disappears never to be heard from again. Selinger also included a translation of what the pirate loot would be worth today.

When she uses nautical language, she uses parentheses to explain their definition. Pirate of New England is a fascinating read full of history, politics and tales of the high seas and it illuminates the reasons for its uprising as it relates to New England.

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The Wave

Rockaway Beach, New York

December 14, 2017


One Rockaway Native’s Gripping New Book On Pirate History In The Northeast.”

by Joanie Wolkoff

As a little girl in Rockaway, Gail Selinger would rewrite the end of any book that didn’t sit right with her.

“I didn’t want Alice and Uncas to die in ‘The Last of the Mohicans,’ so I gave the story a new ending and had my mother read that instead,” she laughs. “One day my sister turned to me from the pirates we were watching on TV and said, ‘That’s a real person!’ I was nine and fascinated by this idea, so my quest began to find out everything I could about pirates. My home away from home became the main branch of the New York Public Library and I would go there almost every weekend. Living two blocks from the ocean in Rockaway, I’d sit on the beach and watch the boats go by, wondering about the lives of people onboard. Once I was old enough, I traveled up and down the coast, searching through all the pirate documents and trials I could find.”

The nautical neighborhood shaped her passion for the high seas and their history until, at 23, the authoress migrated west, where she is still nestled today as she celebrates the publication of her latest nonfiction offering, “Pirates of New England: Ruthless Raiders and Rotten Renegades.” True to her Rockaway roots, Selinger has infused this delectable read with trenchant wit and a keen reverence for the past.

“Write the book you want to read,” she advises. “I’ve read so many academic books that were dry and boring. I like to make it fun and interesting for readers.” Selinger’s vibrant storytelling sets “Pirate of New England” apart form other stuffier, academic-toned historical accounts making the rounds. Her writing breathes life into the maritime rebels, sadists, high- speed heists and heartbreak filling the work’s pages.

It also serves up a refreshing take on piracy as a form of democracy in days-of-yore, which found seafarers in bad need of representation and basic rights. “In response to the severity of government navies and lack of consideration for non-nobility on the ships at the time, pirates created the first democracy and worker’s compensation,” Selinger explains. “That agreement, on a pirate ship, was a binding contract and if you violated it, you’d be marooned! Pirates refused to be kept under the thumb of church and aristocracy.”

Selinger notes strong parallels between modern day pirates in developing nations like Somalia and bygone “proto pirates,” proposing that the main difference between the two is that in 2017, they have the marine weaponry and surveillance technology to track down renegades at sea.

“Unfortunately, today’s pirates are operating under the same driving forces as their forbearers: desperation,” Selinger sighs. “They’re starving to death under corrupt governments and they have nothing to lose.”

Selinger’s piratology has carved out a Hollywood niche all her own, in addition to acclaim in pirate-loving subcultures throughout the U.S. “When the first ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ movie came out, a publisher was referred to me to write The Complete Idiot’s Guide® to Pirates,” she shrugs modestly. “Then, one thing lead to another and I was contacted by the people putting out the Blu-ray of ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ and I did all the historical commentary pop-ups!”

Selinger also worked on a 20th anniversary of “The Princess Bride” DVD mockumentary feature and in short succession, the History Channel hired her as consultant for the TV documentary “Modern Marvels: Pirate Tech.”

The Rockaway native is regularly invited to lecture on the social, political and economic ramifications of pirate culture (which as “Pirates of New England” reveals, are considerable).

If you’re lucky enough to track Selinger down in her free time, you might catch her in a rare books room or hamming it up with her re-enactment group, The Port Royal Privateers. “It’s for kids and adults alike,” she effuses. “You know, teaching everyone how to cut a quill pen, period food discussions and belly dancers. It’s a lot of fun.”

Part of Selinger’s pan-generational appeal ties in with surviving the high seas of the publishing industry as (gasp!) a woman in the ‘60’s.

“When I was growing up, I was marginalized. I was always interested in metal and woodshop, for instance, and we were told ‘you can’t do this because you’re a girl.’ That infuriated em, but it just spurred me on,” she said. “I think pirates stayed close to my heart because they’ve been around since men and women first went on the water. I like the fact that there were quite a few woman pirates. A lot of people don’t know about all those female ship captain’s!”

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July, 2006

A Pirate’s Library: by Jonathan Mumolo

Think you’d like to be mates with Capt. Jack Sparrow? Think again. Most real-life pirates of the Caribbean were murderous bandits, and a slew of new books aim to separate historical fact from Hollywood fiction.

To Start, “If they didn’t like you, they killed you and threw you overboard,” says Gail Selinger, co-author of “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Pirates.”

The book includes everything from biographical highlights-like when 17th-century Capt. Francis L’Ollonais hacked out and ate a prisoner’s heart – to practical details, such as translations of common pirate-flag symbols.

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New York Post

July 6, 2006

Pirate’s life for you

by Mandy Stadtmiller

Is the brand spanking new “Complete Idiot’s Guide to Pirate” really necessary?

Um, is a pirates favorite Oscar winner Warren Matey? Does a pirate only read “Playboy” for the articles? Is a pirate’s favorite “Star Wars” character Arrr-2-D-2?

That would be a hell yes. Hell to the yes.

But is it a good read?

Um, is a pirate’s favorite Nirvana song “Come As You Arrr? Does a pirate also have a soft spot for “Hearrrrrt-Shaped Box”? Does a pirate think that the Arrrctic Monkeys are kind of overrated?


A veritable T.M.I.-filled tome, brace yer-self for descriptions that tell it like it is. “The foul air below stank from unwashed bodies, rotten food, urine buckets, and the putrid water in the bilge,” one section begins. But take heart, because, “If it was known that a man had syphilis, he was not allowed to use the piss-tubes.”

Marrrtha Stewart just might approve after all. If it were possible to critize this book at all, ayyyye might take a bit of exception with the fact that the subject of pirate jigs is given far too little attention.

Does this seem like a major oversight? Come on. Is a pirate’s favorite radio station N-P-Arrr? Let’s just hope this means one thing and one thing only. “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Pirate Jigs” is soon on the way.

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