Elizabethan London

Elizabethan London
Tyburn was an infamous execution spot west of London, used since medieval times. The Tyburn "tree" - a unique, multi-person gallows - erected in 1571 became a popular public spectacle, drawing crowds of thousands.Tyburn Tree blog is less blood-thirsty but hopefully topical, interesting and informative, if slightly bent to my personal topics of interest - books, writing, history, technology, with a smattering of politics and dash of pop culture, science and the downright strange. So "take a ride to Tyburn" and see what happens...

Monday, April 7, 2003

The Pirate Hunter

The Pirate Hunter: The True Story of Captain Kidd - Richard Zacks

Pirates and blue water took hold of me as a kid and never really let go.

I blame those early-morning black-and-white film classics that our local TV station ran where I thrilled to such worthies as Errol Flynn and Douglas Fairbanks Jr., as they jaunted their way through the Spanish Main, with Erich Wolfgang Korngold's blaring trumpets offering rich accompaniment...

Those celluloid pirates offered only the barest reflection of the reality of the pirate life.

The Pirate Hunter tells the tale (and a richly detailed, well-researched, highly charged tale it is) of Captain William Kidd, who, together with Blackbeard, is probably the most well-known figure in pirate lore. Interestingly enough, most public knowledge of Kidd, his activities and his piratical life, is entirely wrong. In this well-written work, Zacks sheds new light on the legendary Captain Kidd, who was a prominent and well-respected captain and merchant in early New York, painting an authentic picture of Kidd as a privateer captain, sanctioned and backed by certain individuals high in the British government, to seek out and destroy pirate activities (incidentally enriching his investors/backers and himself in the process). Privateers were, as Zacks points out, legally contracted to prey on enemy shipping, so it may well be treading a fine-line to paint Kidd as an innocent abroad, but the evidence Zacks presents that Kidd was a Pirate Hunter, not a pirate himself, is highly compelling, particularly after Kidd returns to await trial. Interwoven with Kidd's story is the tale of a true pirate, Robert Culliford, whose ongoing piratical career weaves in and out of the narrative (and Kidd's life) like an unrelenting Nemesis.

Zacks work is copiously backed by research, documentation and records, and wonderfully enhanced by period details, pirate lore and backroom political intrigue, including such tidbits as the surprising democratic structure of most pirate crews, their general distaste of battle (they prefered to frighten and bluff unwary ships into submission), the truth about the legendary lost treasure of Captain Kidd, and the inevitable and unenviable fate that the Admiralty reserved for convicted pirates.

Zacks paints a vivid and exciting picture that makes The Pirate Hunter a hugely entertaining read. Highly recommended!

Avast there - seeking new reads to plunder? Look no further, check out Under the Black Flag: The Romance and the Reality of Life among the Pirates by David Cordingly. I also recommend the old classic adventure tale, Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson (also available here as a free online version). Another classic author who knew pirates well was Daniel Defoe, the author of Robinson Crusoe who wrote one of the first "pirate histories" called A General History of Pyrates in 1724 (unfortunately not available yet free online).

If you are looking to fall out of your chair with laughter, I highly recommend George MacDonald Fraser's The Pyrates. It offers a tongue-firmly-in-cheek look at the Brethern of the Coast that could possibly cause you to rupture something while reading...

For more information (and a terrific link list) on pirates, check out Pirates of the Spanish Main. Find out about the legendary pirate haunts of Port Royal (which sank beneath the waves one cataclysmic morning in 1692), the Island of Tortuga, and Madagascar and the activities of modern-day pirates here.

Looking for lost pirate treasure? Try Gardiner's Island, off Long Island, where Kidd hid some of his disputed treasure; or , if you are feeling very energetic, head for Oak Island, Nova Scotia, another reputed repository of pirate gold...

Lastly, check out the sunken site of Blackbeard's famed pirate ship, The Queen Anne's Revenge! Here's a brief excerpt from Blackbeard's journal (courtesy of Daniel Defoe):

"Such a day, rum all out: — Our company somewhat sober: — A damned confusion amongst us! — Rogues a-plotting: — Great talk of separation — so I looked sharp for a prize: — Such a day found one with a great deal of liquor on board, so kept the company hot, damned hot; then all things went well again."

Hoist the black flag!

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