Book of the Day: A General History of the Pyrates

Pyrates Cover

Today’s book is a bit of a mystery. As you will see from the cover picture, my Dover edition of A General History of the Pyrates claims to have been written by Daniel Defoe. Inside, the facsimile of the title page, notes the author a Captain Charles Johnson, originally published in 1724. The full title, according to this page, is A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pyrates, and also Their Policies, Discipline and Government, From Their First Rise in the Island of Providence, in 1717, to the Present Year 1724.

Although many editions attribute to book to Defoe and few of the books claimed to have been written by him were actually published under his name, it is by no means certain that he was the author of this book. According to Manual Schonhorn, the editor of this edition, Professor John Robert Moore identified it as being by Defoe in 1932. However, Wikipedia claims that, more recently, Arne Bialuschewski of the Kiel University, Germany has attributed it to Nathaniel Mist, a former sailor, journalist, and publisher of the Weekly Journal.

For my purposes, it does not matter a great deal who wrote the book, any more that it was published after the death of Captain Thomas Bowrey. I have found it a useful starting point for any research into piracy. Do not be misled by the extended title. The author did not limit himself to the years 1717 to 1724 (for example he includes a biography of William Kidd who was executed in 1701) and Schonhorn’s notes extend the date range of the book well beyond the limited eight years of the title. The stories of Thomas’ Prosperous and Worcester as well as that of the Speedy Return are included.

Piracy played an huge part in Thomas’ life and career. If you want an understanding of the complexity of piracy at this time, how people were sucked into the life and the global nature of it, this book is a great starting point. Those with interests in female pirates with find the stories of Mary Read and Anne Bonny. In addition, he includes a description of the parts of a ship from Captain John Smith’s 1692 The Sea-Man’s Grammar plus a description  of different types of vessels of the time from Dr William Burney’s 1815 Marine Dictionary, Improved and Enlarged with illustrations from William Falconer’s 1769 Dictionary of the Marine. It is an extremely useful book and this edition is still and available and the one I would recommend.

Pyrates Publisher

 

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