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The radical and alternative society of the golden age pirate – myth or reality?

Evans, Dean David (2014) The radical and alternative society of the golden age pirate – myth or reality? Masters thesis (MA), Manchester Metropolitan University.

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Abstract

Since the 1980s the historiography of golden age piracy has increasingly emphasised the development of a radical and alternative society amongst Anglo-American pirates; a society based on egalitarianism and democracy. Much of this emphasis can be attributed to the social historian Marcus Rediker, who seminal works have argued that the pirates of the early eighteenth-century created a social world for themselves which deliberately contrasted, and therefore challenged, the social order of conventional society; a social order in which a rich and powerful minority governed and dictated the existence of a largely powerless labouring class majority. Rediker’s pirates were thus social-revolutionaries, and he has argued that the creation of their radical social order, along with their depredations, were a form of social protest against the social order enforced by the oppressive rich. Such views, however, have not gone unchallenged. Indeed, Peter Earle has accused Rediker and other social historians of infusing their work with fantasy, and of seeking to emphasise radicalism as a result of their own radical persuasion. However, this thesis confirms that the pirates of the early eighteenth-century did, indeed, create a radical and alternative society for themselves; a society with its own radical, egalitarian social order. Furthermore, this thesis confirms that this piratical society also had its own unique culture; a culture which differed markedly from that of conventional society. This thesis therefore confirms that the radical and alternative society of the golden age pirate is not based on fantasy; indeed, it is based on reality not myth. Such confirmation is based on evidence gathered from a wide range of primary source material, such as contemporary newspapers and journals, published accounts of pirate trials, and various correspondence between officials in the Americas and the Council of Trade and Plantations. This primary source base is also supplemented with secondary material.

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