Like the Stockton, a nineteenth century author of children’s books, I find pirates to be a fascinating subject. Who where they? What is myth and what is accurate? For the record, Stockton does not promote violence, buccaneering or piracy. On the contrary, this book came out of a childhood love of pirates that was turned into a more practical adult view of their crimes and sins.
In Buccaneers, Stockton tells the history of those called Buccaneers and Pirates. Stockton starts with a bird’s eye view of the history. As he progresses along the timeline, he pauses in each chapter to tell about one or more pirates that were representative of that point in time. This isn’t a traditional history book. Stockton specifically focuses on the pirate history off the coast of the Americas and then turns each chapter into a mini biography of a pirate or two.
Did you know that the two terms are not synonymous (in the strict definition of the words)? Buccaneers were men who plundered the Spanish exclusively. Buccaneers also demonstrated great bravery in their willingness and frequently successful attacks on much larger forces. Later there was some confusion as various nations paid buccaneers to attack their enemies without sparking an “official verifiable incident.” The victims viewed these buccaneers as pirates. Now, the term pirate was given to those who gave up national allegiance. These cut throats seldom attacked a stronger force for they were cowards. Pirates attacked any vessel or community that they viewed as weaker.
From buccaneers that went “legitimate” to pirates that terrorized the US from a small eight or nine man craft to female pirates, this book is chock full of page turning stories. A small list of chapter titles:
– The Pirate Who Couldn’t Swim
– A Pirate Author
– L’Olonnois the Cruel
– Villainy on a Grand Scale
– A Tight Place for Morgan
– The Story of a High-Minded Pirate
– A Greenhorn under the Black Flag
– Story of Two Women Pirates
– The Real Captain Kidd
And so on….
One of the most interesting characters of all was John Esquemeling the pirate author. This buccaneer played buccaneer so that he would have material for writing. He interviewed various buccaneer and learned their stories. Much of the early history that we know about buccaneers comes from his work, though I take it all with a grain of salt. I can’t imagine that the buccaneers were always accurate in their story telling. In fact some of the facts that Stockton reports from John Esquemeling seem rather fantastical. I would take the early portions of this book with a generous grain of salt. As the story moves closer to the present, there are more third-party sources that make the facts more reliable.
Stockton also takes great care not to detail, the worst offenses of the pirates and buccaneers. Rather he speaks very generically about their viciousness. I don’t see why most junior high school students couldn’t read this book.
I particularly enjoyed the stories about the gentleman pirate (who had a marriage proposal from a victim) and the religious pirate who required his men to attend church on Sundays (and prohibited them from desecrating or stealing from the church). ? Fun stuff…. Here is the e-text and here the audio.