What I’m Reading: The Pirate Hunter

Who doesn’t love a good swashbuckling tale about pirates?

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Pirates have “A merry life, and a short one”according to Bartholomew Roberts, Welsh pirate.

This nonfiction book draws from historical documents, letters, and other resources collected and studied over three years to paint an accurate picture of the life of the notorious Captain Kidd.

Warning: this isn’t the Hollywood version. This is the gritty, raw, real life tale of the Scottish born pirate turned privateer who lived in New York with his wife and daughter, and the men who sailed with him on his ship, appropriately named the Adventure. 

Author Richard Zacks paints a vivid picture of the perilous life these men endured at sea. I felt as if I was watching them gnaw on rock hard biscuits, squint at the horizon for any sign of a sail indicating fresh prey, or rowing below decks. Yes, rowing. Captain Kidd’s ship, a galley,  had oars to help propel the ship when the wind died. It didn’t have a wheel either; instead it had what was known as a “whipstaff” to control the rudder.

Although Captain Kidd  had been a pirate in his younger days, he was technically a privateer when he was hung for piracy. A privateer has a letter from the king or governor(s) saying that he can legally take any ship belonging to an enemy country. Kidd and his men would then receive a share of the spoils instead of splitting it between themselves like pirates. The more ships they captured, the more money they made.

But he didn’t need the money. He had married a rich widow who owned numerous properties, among them 56 Wall Street. So why did he sail off for uncertain treasure, and why was he hung if his misdeeds were legal and endorsed by the government?  You’ll  have to read it to find out.

Some fascinating tidbits:

  • On a ship where the sleeping quarters were not even large enough to hold the entire crew at once, Captain Kidd’s second in command brought twenty books on board with him. My kind of guy!
  • According to the author, pirates of the 17th century didn’t usually fly the black flag, they almost never buried treasure, and their victims rarely walked the plank.
  • Pirates were, however, notorious for swearing, wearing outrageous clothes, raping women and keelhauling men.
  • Captain Kidd had a rival,  an arch nemesis if you will. His name was Robert Culliford, and he, along with several other men, stole Kidd’s first vessel, the Blessed William.  They were pirates together; Kidd went straight, Culliford didn’t.

I would not recommend this book for children or young teens as it is graphic and rather bawdy, but if you want an accurate historical picture of pirates and privateers, this is a captivating read.

Read up, me hearties, yo ho!

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