'Piratical Schemes and Contracts': Pirate Articles and Their Society 1660-1730
Fox, Edward Theophilus
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
Reason for embargo
Thesis currently under review for publication
During the so-called ‘golden age’ of piracy that occurred in the Atlantic and Indian Oceans in the later seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, several thousands of men and a handful of women sailed aboard pirate ships. The narrative, operational techniques, and economic repercussions of the waves of piracy that threatened maritime trade during the ‘golden age’ have fascinated researchers, and so too has the social history of the people involved. Traditionally, the historiography of the social history of pirates has portrayed them as democratic and highly egalitarian bandits, divided their spoil fairly amongst their number, offered compensation for comrades injured in battle, and appointed their own officers by popular vote. They have been presented in contrast to the legitimate societies of Europe and America, and as revolutionaries, eschewing the unfair and harsh practices prevalent in legitimate maritime employment. This study, however, argues that the ‘revolutionary’ model of ‘golden age’ pirates is not an accurate reflection of reality. By using the ‘articles’ or shipboard rules created by pirates, this thesis explores the questions of pirates’ hierarchy, economic practices, social control, and systems of justice, and contextualises the pirates’ society within legitimate society to show that pirates were not as egalitarian or democratic as they have been portrayed, and that virtually all of their social practices were based heavily on, or copied directly from, their experiences in legitimate society, on land and at sea. In doing so, this thesis argues that far from being social revolutionaries, pirates sought to improve their own status, within the pre-existing social framework of legitimate society.
PhD in Maritime History