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Women and English Piracy, 1540-1720: Partners and Victims of Crime

Women and English Piracy, 1540-1720: Partners and Victims of Crime

John C. Appleby
Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Women and English Piracy, 1540-1720: Partners and Victims of Crime
    Book Description:

    Piracy was one of the most gendered criminal activities during the early modern period. As a form of maritime enterprise and organized criminality, it attracted thousands of male recruits whose venturing acquired a global dimension as piratical activity spread across the oceans and seas of the world. At the same time, piracy affected the lives of women in varied ways. Adopting a fresh approach to the subject, this study explores the relationships and contacts between women and pirates during a prolonged period of intense and shifting enterprise. Drawing on a wide body of evidence and based on English and Anglo-American patterns of activity, it argues that the support of female receivers and maintainers was vital to the persistence of piracy around the British Isles at least until the early seventeenth century. The emergence of long-distance and globalized predation had far reaching consequences for female agency. Within colonial America, women continued to play a role in networks of support for mixed groups of pirates and sea rovers; at the same time, such groups of predators established contacts with women of varied backgrounds in the Caribbean and the Indian Ocean. As such, female agency formed part of the economic and social infrastructure which supported maritime enterprise of contested legality. But it co-existed with the victimisation of women by pirates, including the Barbary corsairs. As this study demonstrates, the interplay between agency and victimhood was manifest in a campaign of petitioning which challenged male perceptions of women's status as victims. Against this background, the book also examines the role of a small number of women pirates, including the lives of Mary Read and Ann Bonny, while addressing the broader issue of limited female recruitment into piracy. JOHN C. APPLEBY is Senior Lecturer in History at Liverpool Hope University.

    eISBN: 978-1-78204-171-9
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
    (pp. vi-vi)
    (pp. vii-vii)
    (pp. viii-viii)
    (pp. ix-ix)
  7. Maps
    (pp. x-xvi)
  8. Introduction
    (pp. 1-7)

    Staging an execution was a tricky business. Combining real and symbolic meanings, the spectacle of punishment and penitence depended on the key actors playing their parts according to the demands of the state and the expectations of the audience. Such scenes were memorialized for a wider public in the illustrations which appeared in criminal biographies of pirates and highwaymen with growing frequency during the early eighteenth century. One striking example shows the execution of the pirate captain, Stede Bonnet, in November 1718. It is from A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pyrates...

  9. 1 The Rise and Fall of English Piracy from the 1540s to the 1720s
    (pp. 8-50)

    The development of English piracy from the 1540s to the 1720s drew on a well-established tradition of seaborne plunder. A pattern of enterprise emerged during the Anglo-French conflicts of the early sixteenth century which laid the basis for future expansion and elaboration. It included an extensive infrastructure of support, enabling piracy to take on the appearance of a business and commercial operation. Thereafter its growth was sustained by war and international rivalry, particularly with Spain, often in association with lawful forms of sea-roving. The link between piracy and reprisal venturing or privateering was an enduring characteristic of the period. According...

  10. 2 Pirates, Female Receivers and Partners: The Discrete Supporters of Maritime Plunder from the 1540s to the 1640s
    (pp. 51-85)

    In October 1581 the Privy Council in London was informed that John Piers, a notorious pirate, had been captured in Studland Bay by Thomas Walshe. Apparently the arrest of Piers with fifteen of his company was the result of a chance encounter, though the Bay was widely known as a place much frequented by pirates and other sea rovers. Piers stood accused of piracy and murder, but his notoriety was darkened by the partnership he enjoyed with his mother, Anne, who lived at Padstow and was reputedly a witch, ‘to whome by reporte ... Piers hathe conveyed all suche goodes...

  11. 3 Wives, Partners and Prostitutes: Women and Long-Distance Piracy from the 1640s to the 1720s
    (pp. 86-128)

    The development of English plunder during the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, culminating in a so-called ‘golden age of piracy’, had far-reaching and contradictory consequences for women. Published works from the period described the emergence of groups of professionalized, hardbitten career pirates, the product of an aggressive and alienated outlaw culture, which exposed women to unrestrained predatory behaviour that seemed to flout customary and moral obligations. The anonymous author of The Grand Pyrate of 1676 reported that captain George Cusack, ‘the great Sea-robber’, was captured in bed with a woman, ‘who was brought along with him, forthwith to the Old-Baily’.¹...

  12. 4 Petitioners and Victims: Women’s Experiences from the 1620s to the 1720s
    (pp. 129-188)

    In 1614 Richard Daniel, a ship-master from Youghal, was seized with the rest of his company by pirates and sold into slavery. Four years later his wife, Ellen, received a licence from the Lord Deputy of Ireland, authorizing her to beg for two years, to support herself and five small children, while collecting money for his ransom.¹ How she survived with such a burden is unknown. Like other women in similar situations, she may have received help from kin or neighbours, including support from parish relief which was supplemented by earnings from low-paid casual work as well as unlicensed begging....

  13. 5 The Women Pirates: Fact or Fiction?
    (pp. 189-224)

    During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries women played a varied and vital role ashore in maintaining piracy, yet very few were directly involved in roving at sea. Indeed the idea of women pirates seems unsettling, if not outlandish, challenging male expectations and fears regarding gender stereotypes. At least one modern study emphatically declares that, with the possible exception of the Chinese, ‘no woman is known to have committed piracy at sea’.¹ Captain Johnson, whose rogues’ gallery of sea rovers included Anne Bonny and Mary Read, two of the most notorious female pirates, disarmingly admitted that their lives were like a...

  14. Epilogue
    (pp. 225-230)

    England played a leading role in promoting and maintaining seaborne plunder of varied forms from the 1540s to the 1720s. Building on medieval tradition, piracy and privateering flourished within the local waters of the British Isles. Its expansion overseas initiated a process of predatory globalization which led English adventurers to prey on shipping across the oceans and seas of the world. Adapting to local conditions it was grafted on to corsair enterprise in the Mediterranean and merged with buccaneering in the Caribbean. It was a remarkably dynamic, but also fragmented, development. At times of intense activity thousands of male recruits...

    (pp. 231-249)
  16. Index
    (pp. 250-264)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 265-265)