David Cordingly's “Under the Black Flag: The Romance and the Reality of Life Among the Pirates” was written following the tremendous interest in the exhibit Pirates: Fact and Fiction which Cordingly organized with museum colleagues at England's National Maritime Museum. The book investigates the reality of piracy versus the fictional images of pirates and their milieu portrayed in books and movies. Although Cordingly concentrates on ‘buccaneers', the pirates plying the Caribbean during the heyday of piracy in the first half of the 18th century, piracy in the Indian Ocean and on the coast of Africa is also detailed from the 17th to 18th centuries.
Cordingly contrasts the myths of pirate existence with the reality, although details on the lives of pirates are scarce. Pirates did not keep detailed ship's logbooks, and were generally uneducated former merchant of naval sailors. Walking the plank, for example, was not a common pirate punishment. More prevalent was stranding on an isolated, uninhabited island. Pirate careers were short, usually two to three years, involving sudden bursts of violence against other vessels and port towns, and in their anarchical relations with one another. Captains and crews of attached ships were tortured into surrendering the goods they carried, and the skilled laborers among them, carpenters and coopers (barrel makers) were forced into service on the pirate ships. The exploits of better known individual pirate captains such as Captain Kidd, Bartholomew Roberts (Black Bart), and Captain Edward Teach (Blackbeard) are recounted.
Appendices include a list of pirate attacks where the pirate captain, size of crew and armament were reported, trials and executions of pirates with notation of which bodies hung in chains, and the size of Royal naval vessels policing the waters frequented by pirates. History and maritime history buffs will enjoy details describing the men who became pirates, the size of their ships and how they obtained and maintained their vessels. Revealing and surprising details of pirate life – most did not score large ‘plunder'; many robbed other ships of ordinary supplies, cordage, sails – as well as descriptions of pirate attacks, tortures and battles with the Royal Navy.
This report prepared by Eva Ulett