Subject: pirate captain
Setting: Golden Age of Piracy, Caribbean/Atlantic 1690s-1730s
Context (Event Photos, Primary Sources, Secondary Sources, Field Notes)
* Konstam 1999 p96
"While piracy has existed in some form as long as mankind has traveled by sea, one short period has remained in the popular imagination as being the 'classic' pirate era. This was known as 'the Golden Age of Piracy,' which lasted a mere 40 years (1690-1730) at the most generous reckoning. For various reasons, there was a huge outbreak of piracy in the waters of the Caribbean and the American Atlantic seaboard.
"The prey were the merchant ships that plied from Europe to the American colonies, or that carried slaves from West Africa to the Caribbean, then returned to Europe carrying rum and sugar. Unlike the pirates of fiction, these maritime criminals never expected to plunder cargoes of gold and silver, but preyed on the everyday commerce of the Americas. "The worst of these pirate excesses was limited to an eight-year period, from 1714 to 1722, so the true Golden Age cannot even be called a 'golden decade.' This is the era that has been portrayed by writers of fiction such as Robert Louis Stevenson and J.M. Barrie, painters such as Howard Pyle, and in scores of Hollywood pirate movies. Everyone can conjure up an image of an archetypal pirate from the Golden Age. ... [T]he reality of piracy was obscured by contemporary writers who romanticized their exploits, so there is little wonder that the modern perception of them is often highly inaccurate."
* Woodard 2009 p10
"Although it would last less than a decade, it would be known as 'the Golden Age of Piracy,' and its leaders -- Edward 'Blackbeard' Thatch (whose surname is often erroneously referred to as 'Teach'), 'Black Sam' Bellamy, Stede Bonnet, 'Calico Jack' Rackham, Mary Read, and Anne Bonny among them -- would become the stuff of legend. Fortified in the Bahamian base, they would soar to unprecedented heights of both power and popularity, threatening the social and economic underpinnings of King George's empire. British military policy not only failed to nip this piracy outbreak in the bud but was also one of its primary causes. And as the Bahamian pirate gangs grew in strength, the Royal Navy was impotent to respond, its warships in America and the West Indies being poorly manned, supplied, and maintained after expensive wars in Europe and among the European colonies.
" [...] Admiralty policies fueled the piracy outbreak. During the war [of Spanish Succession], sailors who managed to survive the brutal discipline, poor food, and unsanitary conditions aboard Her Majesty's ships rarely received the wages they were due; as the Admiralty ran out of money, sailors were given 'tickets,' official IOUs that they could sell only to loan sharks, and at a fraction of face value. After the Peace of Utrecht in 1713, the bankrupt Royal Navy rapidly contracted, shedding three-quarters of its manpower -- 36,000 sailors -- in the first 24 months of peace. Many thousands mroe seamen were dumped on the wharves of England and the Americas when privateering commissions (government papers allowing captains to attack enemy shipping in wartime) were withdrawn. With all those sailors begging for work, merchant captains could slash wages in half; even those lucky enough to find work had to survive on little more than £1 a month. The waterfronts of ports like London and Port Royal, Jamaica, were crowded with aggrieved and impoverished sailors."
* Woodard 2014 p34
"Blackbeard and his contemporaries in the early 18th-century Caribbean had nobody's permission to do what they were doing; they were outlaws. But unlike the aristocrats who controlled the British, French and Spanish colonial empires, many ordinary people saw Blackbeard and his fellow pirates as heroes, Robin Hood figures fighting a rear-guard action against a corrupt, unaccountable and increasingly tyrannical ruling class. So great were these pirates' reputations -- daring antiheroes, noble brigands -- that they've been sustained ever since, inspiring 18th-century plays, 19th-century novels, and 20th- and 21st-century motion pictures, television shows and pop culture iconography."
* Konstam/Rickman/Rava 2011 p30
"Ever since the imagined portraits were published in the first edition of A General History, the general public has come to believe that pirate captains and other officers dressed much better than their men -- perhaps even like gentlemen in laced coats and plumed hats. But there is almost no evidence to support this notion, and many reasons to believe that, at best, pirate officers only dressed somewhat better than their men and were very often indistinguishable from them. On the other hand, officers could wear the longer coats and sleeved waistcoasts that their men would find inconvenient in their work, and their larger shares of booty would allow them to acquire, sometimes by purchase, some of the finer clothes that fell to the pirates through plunder."
* Konstam 1999 p184
"During the Golden Age, as throughout history, pirates were seamen, and turned to piracy out of desperation or a desire for personal gain. They did not adopt a special uniform, and retained the clothing they wore when they remained within the law."
Swords (Cutlass, Smallsword)
* Konstam 1999 p117
"The most popular edged weapon was the cutlass. A cheap, clumsy, but effective cutting weapon, it was the maritime blade of choice. Naval officers and pirate captains often favored the more gentlemanly smallsword, designed to be thrust with the point."
Guns (Blunderbuss, Pistol)
* Konstam 1999 p117
"Firearms were popular boarding weapons, and included muskets, blunderbusses, and pistols. Blackbeard is reported to have carried three pairs of pistols, as well as a sword and a knife."
* Parry 2006 p138
"Fine handguns were highly prized. Johnson wrote that pirates 'endeavoured to outdo one another in the beauty and richness of their arms, giving sometimes at an auction (at the mast) thirty or forty pounds a pair, for pistols. These were slung in time of service, with different coloured ribbands over their shoulders ...' The articles of George Lowther awarded the man who first spotted a prize the best pistols aboard her. Those without a firearm had to do with a cutlass ...."