The Republic of Pirates by Colin Woodard

I just finished reading Colin Woodard’s The Republic of Pirates and I have to say, being a novice in the area of pirate history, that I was impressed by Woodard’s work. He packs in a lot of information with easy prose.

Here is a brief synopsis from the book’s website:

In the early eighteenth century a number of the great pirate captains, including Edward “Blackbeard” Teach and “Black Sam” Bellamy, joined forces. This infamous “Flying Gang” was more than simply a thieving band of brothers. Many of its members had come to piracy as a revolt against conditions in the merchant fleet and in the cities and plantations in the Old and New Worlds.

Inspired by notions of self-government, they established a crude but distinctive form of democracy in the Bahamas, carving out their own one of freedom in which indentured servants were released and leaders chosen or deposed by a vote.

They were ultimately overcome by their arch-nemesis, Captain Woodes Rogers – a merchant fleet owner and former privateer – and the brief though glorious moment of the Republic of Pirates came to an end.

For the most part, this is a very fast read – although I have to say that the book bogged down a bit with the inclusion in the story of every ship taken by the pirates. Woodard may have been able to shorten the book a bit by only including stories of ships taken that affected the outcome of the “war.”

Woodard’s writes about a time that has long been shrouded in mystery and short on facts. He ably explains some misunderstandings many have of pirates. For instance, he explains that pirates and privateers are very different – privateers are commissioned by a sovereign power and the profits are not split as equally as they are with pirates.

Woodard may be a little light on his portraits of the pirates. He mostly portrays the pirates as a group of men out to make a profit without hurting anyone. Although I am a novice in this area of history, I have read enough to know that the pirates were not a bunch of Boy Scouts – they roughed up more people than Woodard lets on.

In all, the book is a fascinating look at a time period that has come and gone – “the Golden Age of Piracy.”

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