History of Piracy
Title: Historiography of the Golden Era of Anglo-American Piracy in the Atlantic 1680-1730
Author: Paul Gilbert (about)
"Yo Ho, Yo Ho, A Pirate's Life For Me"
Walt Disney, 1967
There once was a mythical time when brave and dangerous pirates sailed the seas in search of both fortune and fame. In this time heroic villains rose to fame, figures like Blackbeard, Captain Kidd, Captain Avery, Captain Morgan and others became household names. They were the famous anti-heroes of their time, much like rock stars today. There was also a historical period from roughly 1680 - 1730 when large numbers of Anglo-American mariners were engaged in piracy and privateering, often against Spanish or other targets of opportunity in the Atlantic Ocean. A great challenge for modern historians is to separate fact from fiction, since the mythical time and the historical time of this Golden Age of Piracy are so intertwined in both historical sources and the collective consciousness of our culture.
In this paper I will trace a number of works of history produced over the last 300 years to examine how historians approach to this subject has changed over the years. I will attempt to answer two questions. Why did the Golden Age of Piracy exist, and how have historians studied this period over time? Throughout this paper, I will use the terms piracy and privateering. Piracy was the outlaw practice of preying on merchant ships and raiding coastal towns for profit. Privateering consisted of the same actions, but they were sanctioned by a government to be conducted against an enemy during war. Many mariners engaged in both activities, during times of war, they were legitimate naval axillaries and if captures were treated as prisoners of war. In times of peace, they were outlaws and if captured...