Book Review: The Pirates’ Pact

The Pirates’ Pact:  The Secret Alliance Between History’s Most Notorious Buccaneers And Colonial America, by Douglas R. Burgess, Jr.

This book highlights one of the many interesting patterns of American history, and that is the way that buccaneers and pirates served the interests of American colonial governors and American colonials as a whole in providing goods that were legally banned to the colonies thanks to England/Britain’s misguided merchantlist policies.  And while England repeatedly tried to address the issue generations of smugglers of various kinds kept on finding support within the colonial establishments, and England was never able to get a grip on the colonies.  This book’s story is a deeply interesting one and it shows the extent to which smuggling and a proper hostility to laws that were not written with the well-being of the colonists in mind helped to create a colonial identity distinct from England’s that led quite predictably to a separate political identity for America in light of England’s imperial failures.  And for those who have a larger interest in the history of piracy and smuggling, this book tells an important part of that story in how it was that piracy and smuggling got embedded into American political culture.

This particular book is a bit more than 250 pages long and is divided into fourteen chapters.  The book begins with acknowledgments and a preface and a prologue that tells the story of Blackbeard’s end with a look at who it was who was sheltering and politically supporting that pirate.  After that the author discusses pirates as the enemy of the human race (1) and England’s own history with state-sponsored piracy starting in the 16th century (2), as well as Henry Morgan’s career as a pirate as well as a colonial official in Jamaica (3).  Then the author moves to the hostility shown to Morgan and others by various English officials (4) and the pirate cabal that proved so influential in New York in the late 1600’s and early 1700’s (5).  This leads to a discussion of the relationship between King Baldridge and the Red Sea pirate (6) and Thomas Tew’s own career (7).   AFter this the author discusses Henry Every (8) and the trials and tribulations of pirates in dealing with English law (9).  There is a discussion of the English official sent to stamp out piracy as the most hated man in America (10) as well as the selective hostility shown by crown officials towards piracy (11).  After that the author discusses friendship with pirates (12), the problems of Lord Bellomont (13), and the way that pirates were remembered as wicked even though they had a great deal of social legitimacy within the colonies (14) until their behavior ended up closer to home.

There are at least a few obvious parallels that exist among the various people talked about here, many of whom were gouty and had to deal with the tensions between serving the interests of the colonists in having goods not allowed to them under unjust British laws as well as the problems that resulted when the security of trade and one’s life was jeopardized by the violence of pirates when they acted close to home.  In many ways the colonists were dependent on smuggling because they could not afford to survive, much less thrive, on the amount of trade that they received directly from England.  This dependence on smuggling gave the colonists an awareness of the ways that their interests were contrary to those of the home country and also forced colonial administrators to hold their nose and involve themselves in the same smuggling for their own well-being as well as the own local popular support, giving them interests that were contrary to their duties to the crown and Parliament.  The end result was a long period of collusion between colonists, colonial administrators, and pirates/smugglers that helped to form an American identity that eventually led to the war of independence, and an ambivalent relationship between government and business that continues to this day.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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