53 of 55 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Rousing story of the Caribbean pirates
Colin Woodard has authored a wonderful history of the pirates of the Caribbean in their heyday, with the prime years being 1715-1725. The lives of Jack Sparrow and Long John Silver fascinate us; the real pirates, as depicted by Woodard, are perhaps even more interesting.
He tells the story of the "pirate republic," headquartered in the Bahamas. He uses the...
Published on May 5, 2007 by Steven A. Peterson
21 of 26 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Great if you love History...
I enjoyed this book, but then again I'm a serious history buff. Lot's of really interesting information about the real pirates of the Caribbean: their origins, their relationships to one another, and their rise and fall during the so called golden age. As pure entertainment however, it could get a bit tedious. I don't really need to know the name of every ship captured...
Published on May 31, 2007 by jack o clubs
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53 of 55 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Rousing story of the Caribbean pirates,
This review is from: The Republic of Pirates: Being the True and Surprising Story of the Caribbean Pirates and the Man Who Brought Them Down (Hardcover)Colin Woodard has authored a wonderful history of the pirates of the Caribbean in their heyday, with the prime years being 1715-1725. The lives of Jack Sparrow and Long John Silver fascinate us; the real pirates, as depicted by Woodard, are perhaps even more interesting.
He tells the story of the "pirate republic," headquartered in the Bahamas. He uses the term "republic" purposefully. He contends that (and this appears to me to be hyperbole) the pirates fueled (page 1) ". . .the democratic sentiments that would later drive the American revolution." Some fascinating tidbits related to this thesis: pirates shared their spoils relatively equally; rank-and-file pirates elected and deposed ships' captains; decisions were often made in what Woodard calls "open councils"; runaway slaves sometimes came aboard as pirates and were often treated as equals by their fellow pirates. As Woodard notes (page 4): "The pirate gangs of the Bahamas were enormously successful. At their zenith they succeeded in severing Britain, France, and Spain from their New World empires, cutting off trade routes. . . ."
The primary figures covered in this book are three pirate leaders, Samuel ("Black Sam") Bellamy, Edward ("Blackbeard") Thatch, and Charles Vane. Of course, many others are mentioned as well, including "Calico Jack" Rackham, Benjamin Hornigold, Josiah Burgess, Henry Jennings, Anne Bonny, and Mary Read. The fourth primary character is the man who devoted himself to destroying the pirate republic--Woodes Rogers. The book tells the story of the pirates and their depredations. It also tells the story of Rogers, who made it his aim to destroy those pirates.
All in all, a rip roaring volume. The book tells of the poor living conditions in ships, the collaboration of some political leaders with the pirates, the role of the pirates in American waters, and so on. Basically, this is a nice volume to introduce one to the real Caribbean pirates, not just the film versions thereof.
35 of 38 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The politics of piracy.,
This review is from: The Republic of Pirates: Being the True and Surprising Story of the Caribbean Pirates and the Man Who Brought Them Down (Hardcover)It is a subject that I had previously given very little thought to. Even as a kid I never found the subject of pirates to be all that interesting. I don't know why. However, over the past couple of years I have had occasion to read a pair of phenomenal books about the slave trade. I found both Ron Soodalter's "Hanging Captain Gordon" and Charles Rappleye's "Sons of Providence" to be absolutely spellbinding. So when I recently came across Colin Woodward's new book "The Republic of Pirates" I simply could not resist.
There is an old saying that counsels if you want to find out why things happen the way they do then simply "follow the money". This is essentially the route Colin Woodward takes in "The Republic of Pirates". After reading this book it is now clear to me why so many men made the fateful decision to turn away from "legitimate" authority and engage in the act of piracy. For many of these men had very legitimate economic and political issues with those in power in England in the early 18th century and most of these concerns were simply not being addressed. One by one and for very personal reasons men made the decision to rebel against the authorities who were holding them down. Before long a large group of like minded individuals would set up shop at an island known as New Providence in the Bahamas and would begin a period of plunder and terror that would last for nearly a decade. Operating all along the eastern coast of America and in the Carribean these daring men succeeded in wreaking havoc and disrupting trade between the European powers and their various colonies in the New World as well as the very lucrative trade with the Far East. In the pages of "The Republic of Pirates" you will read the fascinating stories of dozens of the men who made names for themselves during this period. Colin Woodward devotes a considerable amount of time tracking the careers of three of these men. Charles Vane, Sam Bellamy and Edward Thatch, better known as "Blackbeard" were among the most feared and successful of the pirate leaders. You will also meet one Woodes Rogers, the man King George would eventually tap to quell the uprising and restore order to the high seas.
For the most part I did enjoy reading "The Republic of Pirates". Having said that I must admit that I was a bit overwhelmed at times trying to keep up with the comings and goings of all of the players in this drama. Drawing from the epic 1724 book "A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pyrates" and a great many other documents from the period that survive to this day "The Republic of Pirates" is an extremely thoughtful, well-researched and scholarly work. Recommended.
15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What you didn't know about pirates,
This review is from: The Republic of Pirates: Being the True and Surprising Story of the Caribbean Pirates and the Man Who Brought Them Down (Hardcover)You might think a person interested in pirates would get into the historical records to learn more about those rough wanderers. Colin Woodard came at it from the other direction: he has a fascination with history and "got into" pirates as a vehicle to bring U.S. colonial history to life. "The Republic of Pirates" is the fascinating product of his research.
Woodard focuses on what he calls "the Golden Age of Piracy," a ten-year period from 1715 to 1725. The few thousand men -- and a few women -- who populate this story were a different breed from the government-sanctioned privateers of earlier times. As Woodard describes them, they were " ... engaged in more than simple crime and undertook nothing less than a social and poitical revolt. They were sailors, indentured servants, and runaway slaves rebelling against their oppressors: captains, ship owners, and the autocrats of the great slave plantations of America and the West Indies." Some of them were set up as a rebel navy by supporters of James Stuart, the half-brother of Queen Anne, exiled after her death in 1714.
Woodard's three main pirate subjects -- Samuel Bellamy, Charles Vane, and Edward "Black Beard" Thatch, grew up in an England made harsh for the lower classes by the waning of feudalism, the enclosure of public grazing land, and the flight from rural regions to London. The fourth focus of the book is Woodes Rogers, a Bahamian governor and former privateer who would eventually be the downfall of the pirates' Golden Age.
Funded in part by the wreck of a great Spanish treasure fleet off Florida in 1715, the pirate bands began to congregate in the Bahamas and to grow in strength and daring. They roamed up and down the coast, finding safe harbor in Virginia, Long Island, Cape Cod, and the islands off the coast of Woodard's native Maine.
While the pirate bands were based on a model of democratic decision-making and equal sharing of booty, Woodard leaves us with no doubt that life on the main was harsh and dangerous. "The Republic of Pirates" is a lively look at the realities of life in England and America in the eighteenth century, and is a great example of dry records and correspondence giving up their treasure to one who knows how to search them out.
Colin Woodard is a native of the tiny Maine town where I live now and he spoke last year at the local library, a rare and precious event for the town. He lit the room up with his passion for those old days, both the wild adventures and the mundane relationships. Three hundred years ago -- but as real as yesterday in this wonderful book. Highly recommended to anyone who enjoys seeing history brought to life.
Linda Bulger, 2008
21 of 26 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Great if you love History...,
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I love this book!,
16 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Real Pirates of the Caribbean,
Authorities during the Golden Age of Piracy found it useful to spread stories about how pirates were addicted to murder, rape, and chaos; there is no doubt that some pirates were of this variety, but pirates were folk heroes in their time. They were seen by many as nautical Robin Hoods, stealing from wealthy merchants and giving to poor sailors. The pirate ship was a democratic organization, with the crew voting on who should be captain. The captain had absolute authority during combat, but after the battle, he could be voted out of office. Unlike on a privateer, the captain got perhaps half a share more than an ordinary sailor in the profits made by the ship. Folk heroes or not, the pirates valued and used their terrifying image for their own purposes. No pirate used the image more fully than Blackbeard, formerly Edward Thatch. He braided his hair and beard and used ribbons in them, but most memorably in battle he tied fuses to his hat and beard, lighting them so that his head had an appearance of being infernally surrounded by smoke and fire. He knew exactly what he was doing; one ship after another would surrender without firing a shot when Blackbeard and his similarly wild-looking crew were spied. Blackbeard was a threatening apparition, but before his final battle, he had to do little but threaten; there is no evidence that in all his other actions he ever killed anyone. The pirates indeed set up a colony in the Bahamas known as New Providence. It was a haven for pirate sailors, of course, but also for runaway slaves and for farmers who had not been able to get a start in the plantations of the American colonies. The main force to break up the republic was Woodes Rogers, who came up with the brilliant plan of offering a pardon to pirates who would take it, causing an acrimonious split within the colony. Rogers took out personal loans to finance protection of British interests and wound up in debtor's prison. Eventually his creditors took pity on him and he was sprung.
Rogers was thereupon able to participate in the writing of _A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pyrates_, which restored his reputation; he ultimately got compensation from the king, and was restored to governorship of the Bahamas. _A General History_ was a bestseller and is still in print, giving a fairly sympathetic picture of the pirates from which Woodard, and all others depicting pirates, have drawn extensively. Pirates of the Caribbean loom large in our culture, and not just because of Disney. Woodard has given us a means of understanding just how the short-lived but colorful Golden Age of Piracy got to be such a source of continued interest.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beyond Parrots: A Fascinating History of the Pirates,
In the case of the pirates of the Caribbean, who threatened to shut down the shipping of at least three empires, a combination of factors came together which meant most sailors had little to lose and much to gain by turning pirate. This richer history is contained in "The Republic of Pirates" by Colin Woodward, a highly readable book that goes well beyond the old clichés of eye patches, parrots, and the throaty growl "argh."
To start with, the overwhelming majority of the pirates came from the British Isles and a look at the conditions most people in Britain endured makes a mockery of the nickname merry old England. As the 1700s began, aristocrats began kicking tenant farmers off their lands so they could raise sheep and cattle swelling a tide of impoverished, rootless people flooding into the cities. By some estimates, up to half of Britain's six million people were living at or below subsistence. One surprising statistic in the book is the claim that members of the aristocracy and middle class stood an average of six inches taller than the underclass, a by product of the starvation endured by many.
Both the Royal Navy and even regular merchant ships kidnapped men from the streets of the port cities and forced them to become sailors and then imposed a brutal discipline under which a ship's captain could mete of floggings with impunity. When the War of Spanish Succession, 1702-1713, broke out, the number of men forced to serve in the Royal Navy surged. Likewise, when peace came, the Royal Navy simply kicked the men of the ships with no thought of what the highly-trained sailors would do next.
When Queen Anne died without an heir, the way was open to rival claimants to the throne. While George I took the throne, he faced uprisings in 1715 and 1719 intent on setting a Stuart king on the throne. These Jacobite uprisings provided a political rallying point for the pirates coalesce around.
Finally, sailors of the day were very familiar with the story of Henry Avery, a pirate who raided the Moghul of India's treasure fleet in 1694. Avery's took a haul of treasure of mind-boggling proportions and managed to disappear in England with his loot. Here was a clear example of the point that crime does, in fact, pay and pays very well.
All the pirates needed was a safe haven to operate from and they found it on Providence Island in the defunct English colony of the Bahamas in 1713. Once Nassau was open for pirate business, men and ships poured in, founding a society based on democracy and an equal chance for everyone. Soon, the pirates brought the shipping of the Spanish, French and English empires nearly to standstill in the Caribbean.
A handful of pirate captains even offered to back a Stuart claimant to the British throne in a bid to overthrow the monarchy.
Needless to say, the aristocrats and rich merchants of the day loathed the pirates seeing them as threat not only to their goods but their way of life. By early 1718, a counter attack had been organized and Woodes Roger mounted a military expedition to take back Nassau. He did this through a combination of a force of arms and the offer of a pardon from King George I for any pirate that surrendered.
Deprived of their base which they needed to repair their ships, the era of the pirates began to run out. By 1720, the pirates were a spent force and while small bands of men would still hold out, never again would the pirates be the threat they once were.
However, in a testimony to how brutal society was at the time, the authorities faced a hostile population every time they tried to bring pirates to justice. For example, in Charleston, South Carolina, the people rioted in the streets when Stede Bonnet was tried in 1718. In many ways, the pirates, who operated their ships through a democratic system of voting by the men, were as much the founding fathers of the American democracy as George Washington.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Golden Age of Piracy: crime and adventure in its context,
This review is from: The Republic of Pirates: Being the True and Surprising Story of the Caribbean Pirates and the Man Who Brought Them Down (Paperback)The Golden Age of Piracy, roughly a 30 year period at the beginning of the 18th century, has taken on such a romantic notion in the modern mind, that when you actually discover the true events of the period, that the true story becomes much larger than the caricature that has been painted by Disney or other children's' stories. What Woodard, a native Maine journalist, attempts to do in this book is explain who the pirates actually were, what their motivation was, and why their heyday ended so rapidly. What makes this book so readable, is that not only does Woodard recount the hazards of early 18th century sailing so well, but he places it in its economic, social and political context.
What made the pirates of the age so different from previous pirates, for piracy has been around as long as men have taken to the sea, was that these pirates were considered outlaws by every nation, and quite a large percentage of the few thousand who made up the Golden Age, were political dissenters, and hopeful insurgents against the new House of Hanover of Britain, and supporters of the deposed House of Stuart.
Woodard inserts several things into his narrative that make this book worthwhile. His description of the extremely harsh social and economic conditions that sailors of the day had to serve under goes a long way to describe why a sailor with an otherwise spotless record would choose to leave legitimate merchant or military service for the high risk life of a Caribbean pirate. The author also makes the at time arcane world of 18th century sailing understandable and real. The reader, by the end of the book, should know the difference and significance between sloops, various rates of line ships, and frigates for example.
The book focuses on the personalities of the era especially well. The rise pirate "republic" of the failed British colony of the Bahamas is shown to be personality driven by pirates like Vane and Hornigold. The public persona of Blackbeard, as well as the bumbling of Stede Bonnet illustrates how pirates used or misused their personal gifts to advance their high risk/ high reward profession.
Put into context, the reader, besides learning about a fascination time period that was as exciting and really as short lived as the outlaw period of the American west or the gangster rule of Chicago, can see how a pattern of the rule of law and social convention breaks down in all sorts of time periods and circumstances. The British government solution, led by the Bahamian Governor, Woodes Rogers, was to aggressively assert authority over the center of the insurgence and then to alternate between warnings of mercy and systematic hunting of the lawbreakers by getting them to use their natural suspicion to turn on each other.
This is a fascinating book for the general reader. There are sufficient maps of the 18th century Caribbean and the North American coast, and the writing not only puts the events into context, but tells the story well, by describing the motivations and personalities of the Golden Age of Piracy so that they make sense within their time period.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Valuable and fun resource for pirate enthusiasts,
It picks up a few years after Stephan Talty's book "Empire of Blue Water" leaves off, and in fact I recommend reading that volume first as it really puts this book in it's historical perspective. "Empire" covered the Henry Morgan era of privateering in the mid to late 1600's, while "Republic of Pirates" picks up the story during the "Golden Age of Piracy" some years later in the early 1700's. During this time, a group of pirate captains settled New Providence with the intention of setting up a pirate headquarters of sorts, a loose society of rogues and vagabonds committed to living life on the account, free to roam the sea lanes and cause as much mischief amongst the merchant fleets as possible.
Woodard provides good biographies of several of the main figures of the Golden Age, primarily Samuel Bellamy, Edward Thatch (otherwise known as Blackbeard), and Charles Vane. He also profiles Woodes Rogers, himself a famous privateer and circumnavigator of the globe who eventually took position as Governor of the Bahamas and was charged with restoring order and safety to the shipping lanes by driving out the pirates who had settled the area. Of course many other pirates are given time as well, including some of the lesser known faces of Bahamian pirating such as Benjamin Hornigold and his rival Henry Jennings.
Woodard also covers a lot of the political climate that overshadowed the rise and subsequent fall of the pirate republic. England and the colonies had their share of colorful political characters as well, and some of the stories will amaze. The tale of Blackbeard's North Carolina capture at the hands of a Virginian "invasion" is worth the price of the book all by itself.
This is a fast paced book that moves along with full-throttle narrative force. The author certainly did his research, as the extensive notes and sources will attest to. There are many fascinating details and adventures within these pages, and the characters really come to life under Woodard's skilled prose. The last third of the book especially is a whirlwind of thrills as the pirate empire begins to collapse and we learn of the final fates of many of the book's protagonists.
I had a couple of small issues with the book. It would have been nice to have had a glossary included for those of us who are not familiar with nautical terminology and slang. Also, the dustjacket makes claim that the pirate republic somehow fanned the flames of the American Revolution, but that theme is never really explored much in the book. Benjamin Franklin makes a small token appearance, but it's only a passing reference at best. It's true that the pirate society profiled here was run much like a democracy, and the pirates certainly had much popular support among the common folk in the colonies who thrilled to their stories, but trying to make the claim that any of these events somehow influenced the American Revolution seems a stretch. Small quibbles, though, as the book is very well-written and satisfying otherwise.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Republic of Pirates - A good read,
The accounts of Blackbeard and the other famous pirates were good and even the two women pirates one well known and the other not at all.
I enjoyed the book very much. HIghly recommended.
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The Republic of Pirates: Being the True and Surprising Story of the Caribbean Pirates and the Man Who Brought Them Down by Colin Woodard (Paperback - June 30, 2008)