Piracy stories

Villains of all Nations, by Marcus Rediker

Below is the first ten minutes of audio from the first chapter of Marcus Rediker's Villains of all Nations. In the extract, Rediker uses the execution of William Fry as the stage for his core idea: pirates were rebels against the unjust, inhumane, and terrorising authority of rulers in the 1720s. In Fry's view, there was little he had done in his quest for wealth that was not legally mandated by the authorities of the time. Rediker describes these authorities, including Cotton Mather - who is now best known as the leader of the Salem witch trials - as early terrorists. The 18th century incarnation of the word was a little different from the way we use it now and was more commensurate with the terrorising aspect over the political motivation.


The extract below is page 1 to 6.

MR_Ch1-1Marcus Rediker
00:00 / 09:39
The Atrocities of the Pirates, by Aaron Smith

Aaron Smith's memoir of his capture by pirates off Cuba is a rare narrative by a victim of piracy. His pirates were notably more vicious than Rediker's Caribbean predecessors. In Cuba, the Spanish were trying to stave off the wave of independence movements that had best their other South American colonies. Cuban pirates tended to wrap their violence in a veil of legitimacy by professing to be Spanish loyalists. The absence of any Spanish authority for their actions made them legitimate pirates. In the extract below, Smith tells how he came to be taken by pirates after boarding a legitimate merchant ship as first mate. Note the self-serving attitude of his captain Lumsden when compared to the actions of the pirate captain. Lumsden promised to 'represent him at Lloyds' referring to Lloyds of London, the maritime insurers who oversaw claims for piratical acts. In the event Smith is captured - and he was - he stood to be prosecuted for piracy, despite being coerced into it by the pirate captain and all but thrown onto the ship by Lumsden. Meanwhile, despite Smith's contempt for them, the pirates treat him with some care, sharing their food and coffee.

Pages 1 - 14.

The Atrocities of the PiratesAaron Smith
00:00 / 20:16

Caribbean pirates of the 1680s - 1720s

Scroll over the image and click on circles for more information. This map is a re-creation of the inside cover of the 1972 edition of A O Exquemelin's account of Caribbean piracy published as The Buccaneers of America.

The voyage of Captain William Kidd

Scroll over the image and click on the circles for more information. Captain Kidd's fateful pirate hunting voyage began in Boston and followed the traditional 'pirate round' across the North Atlantic Ocean, down the west African coast, around the Cape of Good Hope, up to Madagascar and north towards the Persian Gulf and Indian Coast. Along the way he developed a reputation for piracy despite no evidence of undertaking any. His capture of the Quedagh Merchant remains historically controversial as a pirate act.