John C. Appleby. Women and English Piracy, 1540-1720: Partners and Victims of Crime

By Zook, Melinda S. | Seventeenth-Century News, Fall-Winter 2014 | Go to article overview

John C. Appleby. Women and English Piracy, 1540-1720: Partners and Victims of Crime


Zook, Melinda S., Seventeenth-Century News


John C. Appleby. Women and English Piracy, 1540-1720: Partners and Victims of Crime. Woodbridge, UK.: The Boydell Press, 2013. v + 264 pp. + 13 illus. $ 95.00.

This book makes a strong contribution to the history of English piracy in the early modern world. The unsuspecting reader might be misled by the cover image of Ann Bonney, the American woman who actually did cross-dress and participate in piracy. That and the title would seem to suggest that this is a fashionable attempt to retell (and sell) folk stories of viragoes at sea. But this is not so. This book is an honest, balanced, and thorough examination of how the lives of women intersected with pirates and sea rovers in the sixteenth, seventeenth, and early eighteenth centuries. Women's lives were touched by piracy in more ways than we might imagine, with the female pirate having one the most minor roles in this rough, violent, and anarchic world of outlaws and outcasts. Appleby argues that many women were partners in the global game of sea robbery, most often as receivers of stolen goods, and many were victims of pirate violence and misogyny.

Chapter one surveys the history of English piracy, starting in mid-sixteenth century. From the outset, piracy exploited state weaknesses and international conflicts and rivalries. Where the state was absent, pirates flourished. When the government went to war, pirates robbed enemy ships with impunity and masked their greed and violence in patriotism. During the war with Spain, as many as two thousand English pirates operated in the 1570s. The Elizabethan and Jacobean governments lacked both the resources and the will to do anything to stop piracy, and during wartime, they encouraged them. Most of the piracy in the sixteenth and early seventeenth century was short-distance, opportunistic and irregular. Pirate ships operated along the coasts and on rivers. Their booty was often commodities like blankets, hides, cloth, tools, rope, knives, and barrels of tar. Quite naturally, along the coast lines, especially in the southwest and along the Thames, "a hidden economy based on the disposal and dispersal of stolen cargoes" (14) grew up, which became an arena for female agency as receivers of such goods. By the early seventeenth century, English piracy ranged from southwest Ireland to North Africa, but it also began to focus increasingly on the Caribbean and South Sea. Inflamed by anti-Catholicism and avarice, English pirates, often with the assistance of the Dutch and French sea rovers, attacked Spanish shipping in the Caribbean. Appleby asserts that American-based piracy in the first half of the seventeenth century grew out of the chaotic nature of colonial settlement. Pirates found a ready supply of recruits, "poor and vagrant, runaway servants and transported criminals, as well as African slaves and seafarers," who he aptly calls, "the social casualties of colonization. …

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