A General History of the Pyratesby Daniel Defoe
Immensely readable history by the author of Robinson Crusoe incorporates the author's celebrated flair for journalistic detail, and represents the major source of information about piracy in the early 18th century. Defoe recounts the daring and bloody deeds of such outlaws as Edward Teach (alias Blackbeard), Captain Kidd, Mary Read, Anne Bonny, many others. See more details below
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Immensely readable history by the author of Robinson Crusoe incorporates the author's celebrated flair for journalistic detail, and represents the major source of information about piracy in the early 18th century. Defoe recounts the daring and bloody deeds of such outlaws as Edward Teach (alias Blackbeard), Captain Kidd, Mary Read, Anne Bonny, many others.
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A General History of the Pyrates
By DANIEL DEFOE, Manuel Schonhorn
Dover Publications, Inc.Copyright © 1999 Manuel Schonhorn
All rights reserved.
OF Captain AVERY And his CREW
NONE of these bold Adventurers were ever so much talked of, for a while, as Avery; he made as great a Noise in the World as Meriveis does now, and was looked upon to be a Person of as great Consequence; he was represented in Europe, as one that had raised himself to the Dignity of a King, and was likely to be the Founder of a new Monarchy; having, as it was said, taken immense Riches, and married the Great Mogul's Daughter, who was taken in an Indian Ship, which fell into his Hands; and that he had by her many Children, living in great Royalty and State; that he had built Forts, erected Magazines, and was Master of a stout Squadron of Ships, mann'd with able and desperate Fellows of all Nations; that he gave Commissions out in his own Name to the Captains of his Ships, and to the Commanders of his Forts, and was acknowledged by them as their Prince. A Play was writ upon him, called, the Successful Pyrate; and these Accounts obtained such Belief, that several Schemes were offered to the Council for fitting out a Squadron to take him; while others were for offering him and his Companions an Act of Grace, and inviting them to England, with all their Treasure, least his growing Greatness might hinder the Trade of Europe to the East-Indies.
Yet all these were no more than false Rumours, improved by the Credulity of some, and the Humour of others who love to tell strange Things; for, while it was said, he was aspiring at a Crown, he wanted a Shilling; and at the same Time it was given out he was in Possession of such prodigious Wealth in Madagascar, he was starving in England.
No doubt, but the Reader will have a Curiosity of knowing what became of this Man, and what were the true Grounds of so many false Reports concerning him; therefore, I shall, in as brief a Manner as I can, give his History.
He was born in the West of England near Plymouth in Devonshire, being bred to the Sea, he served as a Mate of a Merchant-Man, in several trading Voyages: It happened before the Peace of Ryswick , when there was an Alliance betwixt Spain, England, Holland, &c. against France, that the French in Martinico, carry'd on a smugling Trade with the Spaniards on the Continent of Peru, which by the Laws of Spain, is not allowed to Friends in Time of Peace, for none but native Spaniards are permitted to Traffick in those Parts, or set their Feet on Shore, unless at any Time they are brought as Prisoners; wherefore they constantly keep certain Ships cruising along the Coast, whom they call Guarda del Costa, who have the Orders to make Prizes of all Ships they can light of within five Leagues of Land. Now the French growing very bold in Trade, and the Spaniards being poorly provided with Ships, and those they had being of no Force, it often fell out, that when they light of the French Smuglers, they were not strong enough to attack them, therefore it was resolved in Spain, to hire two or three stout foreign Ships for their Service, which being known at Bristol, some Merchants of that City, fitted out two Ships of thirty odd Guns, and 120 Hands each, well furnished with Provision and Ammunition, and all other Stores; and the Hire being agreed for, by some Agents for Spain, they were commanded to sail for Corunna (the Groine), there to receive their Orders, and to take on board some Spanish Gentlemen, who were to go Passengers to New-Spain.
Of one of these Ships, which I take to be call'd the Duke, Capt. Gibson Commander, Avery was first Mate, and being a Fellow of more Cunning, than Courage, he insinuated himself into the good Will of several of the boldest Fellows on board the other Ship, as well as that which he was on board of; having sounded their Inclinations before he opened himself, and finding them ripe for his Design, he, at length, proposed to them, to run away with the Ship, telling them what great Wealth was to be had upon the Coast of India: It was no sooner said than agreed to, and they resolved to execute their Plot at ten a-Clock the Night following.
It must be observed, the Captain was one of those who are mightily addicted to Punch, so that he passed most of his Time on Shore, in some little drinking Ordinary; but this Day he did not go on Shore as usual; however, this did not spoil the Design, for he took his usual Dose on board, and so got to Bed before the Hour appointed for the Business: The Men also who were not privy to the Design, turn'd into their Hammocks, leaving none upon Deck but the Conspirators, who, indeed, were the greatest Part of the Ship's Crew. At the Time agreed on, the Duchess's Long-Boat appeared, which Avery hailing in the usual Manner, was answered by the Men in her, Is your drunken Boatswain on board? Which was the Watch-Word agreed betwixt them, and Avery replying in the Affirmative, the Boat came aboard with sixteen stout Fellows, and joined the Company.
When our Gentry saw that all was clear, they secured the Hatches, so went to work; they did not slip the Anchor, but weighed it leisurely, and so put to Sea without any Disorder or Confusion, tho' there were several Ships then lying in the Bay, and among them a Dutch Frigate of forty Guns, the Captain of which was offered a great Reward to go out after her; but Mynheer, who perhaps would not have been willing to have been served so himself, could not be prevail'd upon to give such Usage to another, and so let Mr. Avery pursue his Voyage, whither he had a Mind to.
The Captain, who by this Time, was awaked, either by the Motion of the Ship, or the Noise of working the Tackles, rung the Bell; Avery and two others went into the Cabin; the Captain, half asleep, and in a kind of Fright, ask'd, What was the Matter? Avery answered cooly, Nothing; the Captain replied, Something's the Matter with the Ship, does she drive? What Weather is it? Thinking nothing less than that it had been a Storm, and that the Ship was driven from her Anchors: No, no, answered Avery, we're at Sea, with a fair Wind and good Weather. At Sea! says the Captain, How can that be? Come, says Avery, don't be in a Fright, but put on your Cloaths, and I'll let you into you a Secret:—You must know, that I am Captain of this Ship now, and this is my Cabin, therefore you must walk out; I am bound to Madagascar, with a Design of making my own Fortune, and that of all the brave Fellows joined with me.
The Captain having a little recovered his Senses, began to apprehend the meaning; however, his Fright was as great as before, which Avery perceiving, bad him fear nothing, for, says he, if you have a Mind to make one of us, we will receive you, and if you'll turn sober, and mind your Business, perhaps in time I may make you one of my Lieutenants, if not, here's a Boat along Side, and you shall be set ashore.
The Captain was glad to hear this, and therefore accepted of his Offer, and the whole Crew being called up, to know who was willing to go on Shore with the Captain, and who to seek their Fortunes with the rest; there were not above five or six who were willing to quit this Enterprize; wherefore they were put into the Boat with the Captain, that Minute, and made their Way to the Shore as well as they could.
They proceeded on their Voyage to Madagascar, but I do not find they took any Ships in their Way; when they arrived at the N. E. Part of that Island, they found two Sloops at Anchor, who, upon seeing them, slipp'd their Cables and run themselves ashore, the Men all landing, and running into the Woods; these were two Sloops which the Men had run away with from the West-Indies, and seeing Avery, they supposed him to be some Frigate sent to take them, and therefore not being of Force to engage him, they did what they could to save themselves.
He guessed where they were, and sent some of his Men on Shore to let them know they were Friends, and to offer they might join together for their common Safety; the Sloops' Men were well arm'd, and had posted themselves in a Wood, with Centinels just on the out-side, to observe whether the Ship landed her Men to pursue them, and they observing only two or three Men to come towards them without Arms, did not oppose them; but having challenged them, and they answering they were Friends, they led them to their Body, where they delivered their Message; at first they apprehended it was a Stratagem to decoy them on board, but when the Ambassadors offered that the Captain himself, and as many of the Crew as they should name, would meet them on Shore without Arms, they believ'd them to be in Earnest, and they soon entered into a Confidence with one another; those on board going on Shore, and some of those on Shore going on board.
The Sloops' Men were rejoiced at the new Ally, for their Vessels were so small, that they could not attack a Ship of any Force, so that hitherto they had not taken any considerable Prize, but now they hop'd to fly at high Game; and Avery was as well pleased at this Reinforcement, to strengthen them for any brave Enterprize, and tho' the Booty must be lessened to each, by being divided into so many Shares, yet he found out an Expedient not to suffer by it himself, as shall be shewn in its Place.
Having consulted what was to be done, they resolved to sail out together upon a Cruise, the Galley and two Sloops; they therefore fell to work to get the Sloops off, which they soon effected, and steered towards the Arabian Coast; near the River Indus, the Man at the Mast-Head spied a Sail, upon which they gave Chase, and as they came nearer to her, they perceiv'd her to be a tall Ship, and fancy'd she might be a Dutch East-India Man homeward bound; but she proved a better Prize; when they fired at her to bring to, she hoisted Mogul's Colours, and seemed to stand upon her Defence; Avery only cannonaded at a Distance, and some of his Men began to suspect that he was not the Hero they took him for: However, the Sloops made Use of their Time, and coming one on the Bow, and the other on the Quarter of the Ship, clap her on board, and enter'd her, upon which she immediately struck her Colours and yielded; she was one of the Great Mogul's own Ships, and there were in her several of the greatest Persons of his Court, among whom it was said was one of his Daughters, who were going on a Pilgrimage to Mecca, the Mahometans thinking themselves obliged once in their lives to visit that Place; and they were carrying with them rich Offerings to present at the Shrine of Mahomet. It is known that the Eastern People travel with the utmost Magnificence, so that they had with them all their Slaves and Attendants, their rich Habits and Jewels, with Vessels of Gold and Silver, and great Sums of Money to defray the Charges of their Journey by Land; wherefore the Plunder got by this Prize, is not easily computed.
Having taken all the Treasure on board their own ships, and plundered their Prize of every Thing else they either wanted or liked, they let her go; she not being able to continue her Voyage, returned back: As soon as the News came to the Mogul, and he knew that they were English who had robbed them, he threatened loud, and talked of sending a mighty Army with Fire and Sword, to extirpate the English from all their Settlements on the Indian Coast. The East-India Company in England, were very much alarmed at it; however, by Degrees, they found Means to pacify him, by promising to do their Endeavours to take the Robbers, and deliver them into his Hands; however, the great Noise this Thing made in Europe, as well as India, was the Occasion of all these romantick Stories which were formed of Avery's Greatness.
In the mean Time our successful Plunderers agreed to make the best of their Way back to Madagascar, intending to make that Place their Magazine or Repository for all their Treasure, and to build a small Fortification there, and leave a few Hands always ashore to look after it, and defend it from any Attempts of the Natives; but Avery put an End to this Project, and made it altogether unnecessary.
As they were steering their Course, as has been said, he sends a Boat on board of each of the Sloops, desiring the Chief of them to come on board of him, in order to hold a Council; they did so, and he told them he had something to propose to them for the common Good, which was to provide against Accidents; he bad them consider the Treasure they were possess'd of would be sufficient for them all, if they could secure it in some Place on Shore; therefore all they had to fear, was some Misfortune in the Voyage; he bad them consider the Consequences of being separated by bad Weather, in which Case, the Sloops, if either of them should fall in with any Ships of Force, must be either taken or sunk, and the Treasure on board her lost to the rest, besides the common Accidents of the Sea; as for his Part, he was so strong, he was able to make his Party good with any Ship they were like to meet in those Seas; that if he met with any Ship of such Strength, and could not take her, he was safe from being taken, being so well mann'd; besides his Ship was a quick Sailor, and could carry Sail when their Sloops could not, wherefore, he proposed to them, to put the Treasure on board his Ship, to seal up each Chest with 3 Seals, whereof each was to keep one, and to appoint a Rendezvous, in Case of Separation.
Upon considering this Proposal, it appeared so reasonable to them, that they readily came into it, for they argued to themselves, that an Accident might happen to one of the Sloops, and the other escape, wherefore it was for the common Good. The Thing was done as agreed to, the Treasure put on board of Avery, and the Chests seal'd; they kept Company that Day and the next, the Weather being fair, in which Time Avery tampered with his Men, telling them they now had sufficient to make them all easy, and what should hinder them from going to some Country, where they were not known, and living on Shore all the rest of their Days in Plenty: They understood what he meant, and, in short, they all agreed to bilk their new Allies, the Sloops' Men; nor do I find that any of them felt any Qualms of Honour rising in his Stomach, to hinder them from consenting to this Piece of Treachery. In fine, they took Advantage of the Darkness that Night, steer'd another Course, and, by Morning, lost Sight of them.
I leave the Reader to judge, what Swearing and Confusion there was among the Sloops' Men, in the Morning, when they saw that Avery had given them the Slip; for they knew by the Fairness of the Weather, and the Course they had agreed to steer, that it must have been done on purpose: But we leave them at present to follow Mr. Avery.
Excerpted from A General History of the Pyrates by DANIEL DEFOE, Manuel Schonhorn. Copyright © 1999 Manuel Schonhorn. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
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Daniel Defoe (or whoever the author is...the book is pseudonymous) reports, embellishes, and occasionally invents the lives of 35 of the most notorious pirates from the "golden age of piracy" in the late 17th and early 18th centuries. The entertainment value and coherence of the stories varies throughout the book. Some are described vividly with a lot of attention to detail, some read like a boring police blotter or ship's log, One (Captain Misson) is completely fictitious, and some are interwoven in such a haphazard manner that it is hard to follow. The five accounts that I found the most colorful/detailed and therefore most interesting were: Edward Teach (aka Blackbeard), Jack Rackam (aka Calico Jack), two of Calico Jack's companions - Mary Read and Anne Bonny, and William Fly. Despite the occasional boring section, this book is well worth a read if you have any interest at all in pirates. It provides a great glimpse into the brutality, drunkenness, violence, courage, and tragedy that surrounded these men. John Robert Moore rightly says of this book: "It is hardly too much to say that the author of the History has created for us the modern conception of pirates."