Pirates of New England|
Ruthless Raiders and Rotten Renegades
Globe Pequot Press, 2017, PB, 224 pp, $16.95
Well researched and entertaining, Pirates of New England is an engrossing read. Gail Selinger is a respected pirate expert and this book is exactly what you would expect from someone who according to her bio has been seen on the history channel's Modern Marvels: Pirate Tech, and True Caribbean Pirates. She has also written The Complete Idiots Guide to Pirates, and lectures on the subject.
Selinger opens the book with the history of pirating. She then goes on to explain the political and socio-economic stresses during the late sixteenth century: the cost of living, the huge chasm between the rich and poor, and the seemingly unceasing wars in Europe. While working for one navy or another, the crew were often treated barbarically by the captain, underfed and often not paid. Nevertheless life at sea was seen as one way out of the poverty at home and once trained at sea, these men and women did have a trade.
This book is focused mainly on New England. The pressures of England's trade tariffs, due to her constant warring, allowed the New Englanders to turn a blind eye to the ships procuring the goods they needed at a lower cost. Then Selinger gets to the fun stuff, in my opinion. The following chapters are all in depth accounts of specific pirates and their stories.
One such story captivated me. Black Sam Bellamy's (nicknamed because he refused to powder his dark hair) story is still folklore on Cape Cod. It is uncertain why Bellamy had sailed to Cape Cod; however, the story is that while there, he had fallen in love with Mary Hallett. Bellamy then took to the sea to earn enough wealth to marry. Bellamy, born to tenant farmers in 1689, Devon England, found himself a victim of a new capitalism where the wealthy lords stopped allowing tenants open grazing lands. In order live on their own land, often "entire families had to hire themselves out as laborers to make enough money, so as not to be thrown out of their cottages." In Bellamy's case while pirating he "proposed to his crewmates that they should act as Robin Hood". They would plunder from the rich and give to any poor seamen they encounter. Unfortunately Bellamy's ship was lost in a storm. His heartbroken Mary died unmarried and childless.
None of the stories Selinger relates are benign. Some are just a bit more horrific then others. The chapter of Ned Low and Francis Farrington Spriggs is one example of how bad pirating could get. She begins the chapter by stating Ned Low was "a sadistic psychopath who reveled in torture and cannibalism".
What I appreciated the about this book is that Selinger doesn't just tell about the travails on the sea but also of the consequence. To the best of her research she lets us know whether the individual is caught and put to trial, or their ship is lost at sea, or even if the pirate just disappears never to be heard from again. Selinger also includes a translation of what the pirate loot would be worth today. When she uses nautical language, she uses parentheses to explain their definition. Pirates of New England is a fascinating read full of history, politics and tales of the high seas and it illuminates the reasons for its uprising as it relates to New England.