Social Scientist. v 18, no. 204 (May 1990) p. 68.


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BOOK REVIEW

Piracy in History

Clinton V. Black, Pirates of the West Indies, Cambridge University Press, 1989, pp. 136, £. 7.95 pbk.

The dominant imagery of piracy is full of flamboyant daredevils looting and killing with savage brutality all those who dreaded to venture on to the seas or cross their path. In popular mythology, rarely these 'abominable brutes' and 'monsters in human form' were victims of any other power other than the destiny. This mythical history of pirates created and popularised by the modern bourgeois moralist-historian is, in the words of Black, 'a distortion and suffers from the common error of judging the past by the moral fashions of the present.' What this excellently written, elegantly illustrated and beautifully produced Cambridge paperback tells us is that there is another side to this story of piracy: a human, socio-economic and politico-historical.

In the Pirates of the West Indies, Clinton Black gives us a historical narrative of piracy from its origins during the 16th century to its peak during 1714-1724. The narrative starts with the story of buccaneers like Henry Morgan and Bartholomew Roberts, the forerunners of West Indies piracy. This particular form of piracy—buccaneering and privateering—was the 'direct outcome of Spain's impractical policy of forbidding her colonists the right to trade with other nationals' and the consequent necessity for clandestine trade.

The buccaneers originally lived on a harmless profession of hunting and trading, were transformed into 'butchers of men' by the Spaniards who drove them out of Hispaniola forests and later, with less success from the Tortuga Island. The hatred for their Spanish persecutors bound the buccaneers into the Confederacy of the Brethren of the Coast from diverse social and national composition: runaway bondsmen, castaways, escaped criminals, political and religious refugees and wonderers of every stripe and kind drawn from French, English and Dutch. While politics drove them to the sea, 'an age of appalling brutality' moulded them into cruel desperadoes.

This book is a portrait of 17th century expanding world economy and politics. The buccaneers' ceaseless, savage attacks on the Spanish territories indirectly protected the English, French and Dutch colonies. During the Second Dutch War (1665), the Governor of Jamaica, Sir

Social Scientist, Vol. 18, No. 5, May 1990



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