My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Patrick Auerbach’s delightful account of the pirates of the Caribbean in the early 18 century, which is hailed as the Golden Age of Piracy, is Pirates: The True and Surprising Story of the Pirates of the Caribbean for readers of all ages whose curiosity about these buccaneers is prompted either by the popular Disney movie installments of “Pirates of the Caribbean “ or Robert Louis Stevenson’s timeless novel Treasure Island. Auerbach’s vivid descriptions and elegant way of narration engages the reader in the history of these infamous sea marauders with telltale details of the piracy and the crew based on a wide variety of resources, including Captain Johnson’s A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pirates published in 1724 and other relevant historical records. This book will render the reader a new viewpoint on piracy that comes in a surprising twist of myth and legend in an instructive as well as an entertaining fashion.
The Golden Age of Piracy (around 1716 to 1726) descended upon the open seas as a consequence of the end of the War of the Spanish Succession that begot a great number of unemployed able-bodied seamen turning into pirates in the business of plundering at sea. Although these jobless seamen had no alternative but becoming pirates to make a living, there were others who were captured from ships and forced into signing the articles under duress that stipulated fair distribution of the loot acquired from any plunder. Some of notable clauses of the articles set forth that (1) every man shall keep his watch night and day; and at the hour of eight in the very evening shall retire from gaming and drinking in order to attend his respective station; and that (2) no man shall open or declare to any persons or person his identity or any personal information. In fact, the articles were promulgated by captains based upon their own experiences by working under harsh commands on board naval/merchant ships to create a better life for all at sea to prevent the crew from causing a mutiny against their captains, who were democratically selected by the crew’s votes. Ironically, the society of pirates was comparatively freer from the despotic ruling of the powers that be on land, and it was this democracy of pirate regime that attracted many experienced seamen into piracy.
Pirate ships were commonly known as privateers, commissioned by the government of their country or wealthy merchants (especially and notably the British) to attack and raid enemy ships in times of war by carrying letters of marquis served as legal proof , a license to steal. These privateers were most prevalently seen in the Bahamas because it was a base for pirates with a harbor tucked in water too shallow for any intervening force to enter and harass them. On board these ships, the hierarchy of pirates was reasonably strict in the necessity of each following status and role:
- Captain: democratically selected and ousted at any time; needed to be able to provide enough money to the crew lest they would bring about a mutiny.
- Quartermaster: nearly on the same level as the captain; played a role of cop; also elected; acted as bookkeepers and accountants.
- Sailing Master: “the navigator”; an officer in rank; very valuable “worth his weight in gold.”
- Mate: higher position than a sailor; a term used to signify that a person was under training
- Sailor: the rest of the crew
Auerbach provides the reader with many an interesting tidbit of popular imageries related to piracy. Take “Jolly Roger,” a white skull and crossbones image on a black flag associated with a pirate ship promoted by movies. Pirate ships usually and traditionally raised a solid black (signaling there would be no blood if a captured ship abandoned resistance) and red flag (death upon resistance). Then how did this image of Jolly Roger come about? It was used by the Knights Templar and later adopted by the Knights of Malta, who were also renowned pirates ultimately popularizing the flag as the emblem of piracy in later period. With respect to the pirate life on board, it was much better than on merchant or warships. Although rats were rampant and a range of food limited to salted pork and hard tack, pirates were obliged to do all kinds of chore and to spend their time for singing, playing cards, dancing or sleeping. Turtles were a specialty because they could live longer aboard, hence they were a precious source of protein in the form of soup. When pirates landed on Caribbean islands, they usually ravished hot spicy West Indian dishes and drank themselves in beer, rum, and gin.
Overall, this is a comprehensive overview of piracy and pirates during the early 17th century in the Caribbean with fresh information on the subject matter succinctly put together by well-categorized chapters and the summaries at the end of each chapter to help the reader absorb the content lucidly. It will also be an excellent primer on the subject in the historical context of the era in case the reader wants to pursue his/her genuine curiosity about the subject matter in the quest of the legendary treasure buried by the pirates of the Golden Age.