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She Captains: Heroines and Hellions of the Sea [Paperback]

Joan Druett
3.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)

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Book Description

March 6, 2001 0684856913 978-0684856919 1st Touchstone Ed
Long before women had the right to vote, earn money, or have lives of their own, "she captains" -- bold women distinguished for courageous enterprise on the high seas -- thrilled and terrorized their shipmates, performed acts of valor, and pirated with the best of their male counterparts. From the warrior queens of the sixth century b.c. to the female shipowners influential in opening the Northwest Passage, She Captains brings together a real-life cast of characters whose audacity and bravado will capture the imagination. In her inimitable style, Joan Druett paints a vivid portrait of real women who were drawn to the ocean's beauty -- and danger -- and dared to captain ships of their own.

Frequently Bought Together

She Captains: Heroines and Hellions of the Sea + HEN FRIGATES: Passion and Peril, Nineteenth-Century Women at Sea + Seafaring Women: Adventures of Pirate Queens, Female Stowaways, and Sailors' Wives
Price for all three: $47.70

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Editorial Reviews Review

Mention the word "pirate," and you'll likely conjure up an image, courtesy of Robert Newton's scenery-chewing performance in the 1950 film adaptation of Treasure Island, that features a peg-leg, a parrot, and a mighty "arrrgh."

New Zealand-based maritime historian Joan Druett amends that image to include voices in a higher register, adding She Captains to other works (Hen Frigates, "She Was a Sister Sailor") that address women's roles in the passage and exploration of the high seas. Druett reaches far back in history, opening her lively book with an account of the water-coursing Massegetae queen Tomyris, who bested the Persian king Cyrus on the shores of the Volga River. Druett enlists dozens of other militarily, criminally, and commercially extraordinary women in her dramatis personae, including the Egyptian pharaoh Cleopatra, whose name is synonymous with mysterious beauty but who also commanded a mighty navy; Cheng I Sao, the 18th-century terror of the South China Sea; and Lucy Brewer, who, disguised as a man, served as a common sailor aboard the U.S.S. Constitution. Along the way Druett considers the role of New England women as financial mainstays of the whaling trade, stops at Spanish ports of call controlled by powerful (and sometimes bloodthirsty) women, and generally has a fine time exploring waters that history has little charted. --Gregory McNamee --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Following Hen Frigates, an account of 19th-century women at sea, Druett tackles a broader canvas, portraying the exploits of seafaring women throughout history. Though unevenly paced, this entertaining work is filled with fascinating characters distinguished by "bold enterprise in the history of the sea" and a robust appreciation of women's forgotten or little-known role in maritime activity. The cast ranges from Cleopatra, the Valkyries, pirate queens such as Anne Bonny and cross-dressing sailors to tough mariners' wives, lighthouse keepers like Kate Walkers at Robbins Reef, N.Y., and enterprising ship owners. Some are memorialized in legend, like the Irish pirate Grace O'Malley, while others are included because of their influential relationships: Emma Hamilton had a scandalous affair with Admiral Nelson; Lady Jane Franklin launched an intensive campaign for the rescue of her husband's lost 1845 Polar expedition that not only secured Sir John Franklin's reputation as an arctic explorer but led to the opening and mapping of new arctic routes. While the early chapters are densely populated and rooted in myth, literature and folk tales, the livelier stories in the second half draw on contemporary documents and diaries, often coming boldly to life and occasionally ringing with familiar themes, as in the story of Grace Horseley Darling, a lighthouse keeper's daughter who helped rescue shipwreck victims off the coast of Northumberland in 1838 and was made into a folk heroine by an invasive, greedy press. Line drawings. (Mar.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Series: Heroines and Hellions of the Sea
  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; 1st Touchstone Ed edition (March 6, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0684856913
  • ISBN-13: 978-0684856919
  • Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 5.5 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #466,553 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Back in the year 1984, on the picture-poster tropical island of Rarotonga, I literally fell into whaling history when I tumbled into a grave. A great tree had been felled by a recent hurricane, exposing a gravestone that had been hidden for more than one and a half centuries. It was the memorial to a young whaling wife, who had sailed with her husband on the New Bedford ship Harrison in the year 1845.

And so my fascination with maritime history was triggered ... resulting in 23 books (so far).

I am proud to say that I am a founding member of the publishing cooperative Old Salt Press, which is dedicated to fine books about the sea. Launched on May 15, 2013, this press has seen the birth of six more of my books -- the fifth in the Wiki Coffin mystery series, "The Beckoning Ice," a nonfiction castaway story in the spirit of the bestselling "Island of the Lost," called "The Elephant Voyage" (read the book to find the reason for the strange title), a trilogy set on a piratical brig at the exciting start of the California gold rush, "Judas Island," "Calafia's Kingdom," and "Dearest Enemy," and a reissue of an old favourite, originally published as "Abigail," but now brought out as "A Love of Adventure." All available as digital books. Watch for the print editions.

Visit to see what other exciting books with a nautical theme, all by fine authors, are arriving on the scene.

Customer Reviews

3.1 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Queens of the High Seas November 28, 2000
By Shannon
People may think that the womens' movement began in the 1960s or '70s, but the ladies whose stories are told in this book prove that female empowerment was alive and kicking on-board clipper ships and at the helm of pirate cutters long before Gloria Steinem was a gleam in her mother's eye. This book tells the stories of numerous fascinating female buccaneers who could be just as ruthless as their male counterparts and hold sway over crews of male sailors. Even if you're familiar with Anne Bonny and Mary Read, you will learn about many of their lesser-known compatriots and their world. This is an intriguing study of women in a career that has been generally relegated to the male realm in popular thought.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Not enough information, some of it very wrong September 25, 2005
By Lilia
I'm still in the middle of this book. The subject matter is interesting, but it skims over the tales too quickly (e.g., how and when were Rackham et al captured?). Druett also jumps around too much - mixing the tales of more than one woman who were unrelated in terms of place and time.

In addition, the book really bothered me for its lack of quality research. The author relied too much upon myths and stereotypes to embellish her story. In particular, the chapter about the Vikings contained a lot of misinformation, most from romanticized tales from the Victorian era. A 30-second web search would have told her that the Vikings didn't wear horned helmets, that they ate a lot more than plain, boiled meat (as traders and farmers, they had access to a variety of fruit, vegetables, herbs, and spices), etc. They were a lot more sophisticated than Druett made out.

It's fine as light reading and a quick overview of the topic, but the devil's in the details.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Sea Legs or She Legs September 17, 2002
In general this is a collection of stories of women associated with seafaring. Not all were 'captains', but that's not really material to the focus of the book, which is to provide the reader with ample examples of women who worked in the maritime trade (in one way or another).
The topics range from royalty and psuedo-royalty, to pirates, to wives. For the most part the women are of strong character and know what they want. Druett, writes well and the stories are entertaining and well researched.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
This book did not get off to a good start, given that it was supposed to be about great female sailors. In the introduction, the author mentions Tomyris, who killed Cyrus the Great in a (land) battle. Also, Hero (of Hero and Leander) who drowned herself, which is sort of like sailing, only without the floating. There were also Chinese Fox Fairies (not so much with the swimming foxes), Valkyries, Amazons, and a missionary princess who sailed to Ceylon to spread Buddhism. So at least that last one rode in a boat once.

The book gets slightly more on-topic after the introduction is over, mentioning famous female pirates like Anne Bonney, Mary Reed, Cheng I Sao, and Grace O'Malley. However, I got the impression that the author didn't really have enough information to write an entire book, and had to fill it out with quite a few stories of women married to or involved with sailors, but who were not in fact sailors themselves. Still, some of the stories were engaging, if thinly researched, and there was some interesting information about women in the whaling industry. This book is of more use as a starting point for research than a reference in and of itself.
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