Queen Anne of England has declared war on France because the grandson of King Louis XIV has become the king of Spain. Louis the XIV aims to combine the power of the Spanish and the French against the English and the Dutch to dominate the world's trade. 1702, New York Colony. When Jack Slate, the famous pirate, arrives at Jemmy's father's farm to ask him to join the crew of his ship the Annalise as mate, thirteen-year-old Jemmy is part of his father's driven bargain. The men have sailed together before, and now Slate is a commissioned privateer sailing under the English flag to plunder French and Spanish ships for a prize. Jemmy's father has the sea in his blood, but does not want to leave his son on the farm alone. Jemmy, about the same height as his father, looks to be 16 or 17, wants to be a sailor, speaks and writes both English and Dutch and is excellent with arithmetic.
Through Jemmy's eyes we see the larger details of the ship and unique crew, and the smaller details important to young adult readers. The decks, the rigging and maneuvering at sea, the weaponry, the food, and all the things that were a matter of course during a day at sea were new to Jemmy, and important. So was the whole concept of privateering and the Articles of Contract including payment percentages which were the rules of the voyage. The chase and capture of a French ship gave him his first knowledge of the real consequences of battle.
The action-filled novel is capped by the capture of The Butcher, a Spanish pirate who has been harassing English shipping in the Windward Islands. And there is a surprise revelation that Captain Slate is really from a British noble family and must now succeed his demised father as earl.