Disregard Robert Louis Stevenson’s rowdy buccaneers, the Disney factory’s lively rascals and those musical lads from Penzance: Here are the real pirates of the Caribbean, and the facts are as colorful and exciting as fiction.
The Golden Age of Piracy came early in the 1700s, when seagoing criminal enterprises reached unprecedented supremacy under leaders like Edward Thatch, better known as Blackbeard. Cruising under black flags (yes, they really did fly the skull and crossbones), they sailed the waters off Barbados, Cuba, Hispaniola and Ocracoke. When not engaged in battle, the transnational outlaws practiced democracy, equitably sharing all sorts of booty, including rum and slaves. Indeed, the life of the lowliest member of a pirate crew was considerably better than that of a mariner aboard a merchant ship, a hand on a commissioned privateer or, particularly, a pressed sailor on any vessel of the British royal navy. Maritime writer Woodard (Ocean’s End, 2000, etc.) tells the story of these swaggering brigands and their complex maneuverings in politics and business. That’s right, business: Blackbeard, for example, sported mighty whiskers done in dreadlocks to inspire terror mostly for the purpose of ensuring that his financial demands were met—and they were, quite bountifully, until he was decapitated by a Scots highlander during a pitched battle aboard a British sloop in 1718. The author captures all the high drama inherent in the peregrinations of warring vessels performing extraordinary feats of seamanship under the direction of artist/navigators. Additional color is provided by cameo appearances by such contemporary notables as Cotton Mather, literary lights Addison and Steele and castaway Alexander Selkirk, the prototype for Robinson Crusoe. Woodard’s thrilling narrative neatly navigates the Caribbean’s dangerous seas. Maybe they really did snarl, “Arrr!”
An Age of Sail adventure, pleasantly recounted.