Happy August to you. Or if you like pirate lore, Happy Arrgust to you. Popular society has long enjoyed making light of some of the worst villains who have ever pestered fair-playing, lawful mercantile traders. We realize that pirates of lore and in the present day, have been ruthless, cruel, greedy, murderous individuals. They have and still do roam the seas to hijack booty. In modern times, they prey upon unsuspecting, innocent victims on the Internet as scammers and other fraudsters. Yet, even with so much criminality, folks love to fantasize about olden-time pirates.
Perhaps one reason might be our innate human desires for adventure, danger, exploration, and thrills. These emotions have been distilled in the collective imagination into the one subculture of individuals more than most–pirates. This has been trending ever since the 1700s, the so-called “Golden Age of Pirates”. Despite their extreme criminality, they have symbolized our raw instincts for unbridled freedom and uninhibited behavior. As we know, even in the most free societies, there must be limits on license and thoughtless behavior so as to protect the common good. However, in the back of our minds, people sometimes ponder what it might be like to live in a culture with no restrictions.
“Yes, I do heartily repent. I repent I had not done more mischief; and that we did not cut the throats of them that took us, and I am extremely sorry that you aren’t hanged as well as we.”–anonymous pirate upon his execution.
“Give me freedom or give me the rope. For I shall not take the shackles that subjugate the poor to uphold the rich.–American pirate, John Goldenwolf
In the 18th century, many thousand American and European privateers and sailors became unemployed due to the end of the War of Spanish Succession. These individuals turned to the life of crime on the high seas near the coasts of North America, the Caribbean, Africa, and South Asia. As was common in the days before the invention of mass media, legends and embellished stories were told about the most daring, outrageous of the buccaneers. Such criminals as Black Bart, Blackbeard, Anne Bonny, Captain Kidd, and Calico Jack Rackham became household names.
By the middle of the 1700s the characters began to appear in published books. One of the most popular books at the time was “A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pyrates” by Daniel Defoe, who used the pen-name Captain Charles Johnson. Since then, more books, plays, and films have glorified the colorful swashbuckling adventures.
So, although we know that 18th century pirates were terrible felons, we are drawn like moths to a flame to the romanticized fantasy that they were mainly rowdies, ruffians, and uncontrollable free spirits. After all, romantic archetypes, even dark ones,, are appealing in our daydreams.
The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes the reputed wealthiest pirate of the 18th century, “Black” Sam Bellamy. “Damn ye, you are a sneaking puppy, and so are all those who will submit to be governed by laws which rich men have made for their own security.”