Captain Kidd and the War against the Pirates

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Overview


The legends that die hardest are those of the romantic outlaw, and those of swashbuckling pirates are surely among the most durable. Swift ships, snug inns, treasures buried by torchlight, palm-fringed beaches, fabulous riches, and, most of all, freedom from the mean life of the laboring man are the stuff of this tradition reinforced by many a novel and film.

It is disconcerting to think of such dashing scoundrels as slaves to economic forces, but so they were--as Robert Ritchie demonstrates in this lively history of piracy. He focuses on the shadowy figure of William Kidd, whose career in the late seventeenth century swept him from the Caribbean to New York, to London, to the Indian Ocean before he ended in Newgate prison and on the gallows. Piracy in those days was encouraged by governments that could not afford to maintain a navy in peacetime. Kidd's most famous voyage was sponsored by some of the most powerful men in England, and even though such patronage granted him extraordinary privileges, it tied him to the political fortunes of the mighty Whig leaders. When their influence waned, the opposition seized upon Kidd as a weapon. Previously sympathetic merchants and shipowners did an about-face too and joined the navy in hunting down Kidd and other pirates.

By the early eighteenth century, pirates were on their way to becoming anachronisms. Ritchie's wide-ranging research has probed this shift in the context of actual voyages, sea fights, and adventures ashore. What sort of men became pirates in the first place, and why did they choose such an occupation? What was life like aboard a pirate ship? How many pirates actually became wealthy? How were they governed? What large forces really caused their downfall?

As the saga of the buccaneers unfolds, we see the impact of early modern life: social changes and Anglo-American politics, the English judicial system, colonial empires, rising capitalism, and the maturing bureaucratic state are all interwoven in the story. Best of all, Captain Kidd and the War against the Pirates is an epic of adventure on the high seas and a tale of back-room politics on land that captures the mind and the imagination.

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Editorial Reviews

Washington Post

The most detailed record I have ever seen of a pirate voyage, with its origins and aftermath; I doubt if there is another like it. [Ritchie] has also placed it in its historic context, describing the political, and especially the economic events that shaped piracy in its age of transition...Captain Kidd is a first-rate book.
— George MacDonald Fraser

New York Times Book Review

[A] fascinating true story—not of moonlit beaches and buried treasure but of political intrigue and complicated business deal-making, not of swashbucklers on the high seas but of men who went to sea to escape a stifling social order so rigid that even the fabrics they could wear were prescribed...[Ritchie] makes the shadowy, myth-laden figure of William Kidd a real person, and not without sympathy.
— Jim Haskins

Times Literary Supplement
Fascinating...Captain Kidd emerges as a very real historical person, the victim of shifts in English and colonial politics, and changes in mercantile, imperial and legal attitudes...Ritchie...has sorted out the conflicting evidence in a masterful way.
Journal of Imperials and Commonwealth History
The wealth of descriptive detail, combined with attention to a broad canvas of world politics, transports the reader into the world of the seventeenth century sea-breathren in an unusually forceful way...A rollicking, roistering adventure which will make...compulsive reading.
Washington Post - George Macdonald Fraser
The most detailed record I have ever seen of a pirate voyage, with its origins and aftermath; I doubt if there is another like it. [Ritchie] has also placed it in its historic context, describing the political, and especially the economic events that shaped piracy in its age of transition...Captain Kidd is a first-rate book.
New York Times Book Review - Jim Haskins
[A] fascinating true story--not of moonlit beaches and buried treasure but of political intrigue and complicated business deal-making, not of swashbucklers on the high seas but of men who went to sea to escape a stifling social order so rigid that even the fabrics they could wear were prescribed...[Ritchie] makes the shadowy, myth-laden figure of William Kidd a real person, and not without sympathy.
Washington Post - George MacDonald Fraser
The most detailed record I have ever seen of a pirate voyage, with its origins and aftermath; I doubt if there is another like it. [Ritchie] has also placed it in its historic context, describing the political, and especially the economic events that shaped piracy in its age of transition...Captain Kidd is a first-rate book.
Washington Post
The most detailed record I have ever seen of a pirate voyage, with its origins and aftermath; I doubt if there is another like it. [Ritchie] has also placed it in its historic context, describing the political, and especially the economic events that shaped piracy in its age of transition...Captain Kidd is a first-rate book.
— George MacDonald Fraser
New York Times Book Review
[A] fascinating true story--not of moonlit beaches and buried treasure but of political intrigue and complicated business deal-making, not of swashbucklers on the high seas but of men who went to sea to escape a stifling social order so rigid that even the fabrics they could wear were prescribed...[Ritchie] makes the shadowy, myth-laden figure of William Kidd a real person, and not without sympathy.
— Jim Haskins
Library Journal
This excellent volume explores the lives of pirates and probes deeply into the social, economic, and political forces that shaped those lives. Ritchie offers a compelling account, focusing on the legendary Captain Kidd, whose rise and fall more reflected the changing needs of landlocked merchants and princes than conditions at sea. He traces the golden age of piracy and places this in the historical context of seafaring through the millenia. This far-ranging book chronicles the daily life of the pirates, even as it helps us understand the appeal of pirate stories. A well-written and well-conceived volume; important reading for pirate fans and history buffs alike. Jay R. Kaufman, Massachusetts Bay Marine Studies Consortium, Boston
From Barnes & Noble
Piracy is as old as seafaring vessels themselves. The Roman proconsul Pompey organized a huge fleet to stamp out the Sicilian pirates who had seized so many grain ships that Rome was threatened with starvation. By the seventeenth century buccaneers were commonplace, often operating under sanctions by their home country. William Kidd, born in 1645 into the family of a Presbyterian minister, by mid-life was a member of a marauder crew in the Caribbean. When William of Orange and his wife Mary Stuart ascended to the English throne in 1688, England and France soon entered into a savage war. Kidd was one of the pirates asked to defend the crown against the French. His ship was armed with twenty guns, and soon Captain Kidd had not only the blessings of the authorities but piles of booty. Eventually, after many adventures and misadventures, Kidd was charged with murder for smashing the skull of his gunner with a wooden bucket. The verdict: Guilty. Piracy didn't end with the hanging of William Kidd, but the romance associated with the swashbuckling pirates may have. This detailed personal history is a page-turner with all the drama one would expect from fine fiction ... and this is fact. Indexed, with maps and illustrations.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674095021
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 3/1/1989
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 340
  • Product dimensions: 0.71 (w) x 6.14 (h) x 9.21 (d)

Meet the Author

Robert C. Ritchie is Professor of History, University of California at San Diego.
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Table of Contents

1. The Sea Peoples

2. From Pirate to Friend of the Junto

3. Voyage to Madagascar

4. The Pirates' Last Frontier

5. Life in a Pirate Settlement

6. Revenge of the Company

7. Cat and Mouse

8. Winners and Losers

9. The Trial

10. Of Death, Destruction, and Myths

Abbreviations

Notes

Index

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