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Beyond Bonny and Read: Blackbeard’s Bride and Other Women in Caribbean Piracy Narratives

  • Richard Frohock
Chapter
Part of the New Caribbean Studies book series (NCARS)

Abstract

Pirates of the late seventeenth and early eighteenth century have often been credited with establishing progressive brotherhoods built on notions of equality and liberty for all members. Many narratives of the period take up these notions, confirming or satirizing the thesis in their representation of pirate communities on ships and settlements in the Caribbean and beyond. But what place did these purportedly egalitarian societies provide for women? The question has perhaps most frequently been addressed by turning to the well known stories of Anne Bonny and Mary Read, the notorious female pirates who were apprehended with Captain Jack Rackham and who were immortalized in Charles Johnson’s A General History of the Pyrates (1724) for their cross-dressing and masculine behavior and bravado. The emphasis on these two exceptional characters tends to obscure, however, the way women appear in pirate narratives more broadly. While there are few female characters as prominent as Bonny and Read in this literature, there are consistent references to female captives and their treatment at the hands of pirates. How men treat women who are under their power functions as a prominent trope in pirate narratives; rather than playing the role of transgressive and empowered individuals, women most often serve as passive touchstones of male virtue and vice. In this essay, I consider how stories of female captives among pirates are used as reference points in articulating the attributes of male pirates. Beginning with privateer Captain Woodes Rogers’s account of the women captives of Guayaquil in his Cruising Voyage Round the World (1712), I then examine the images of sexual violence directed against women in Exquemelin’s Buccaneers of America (1678) and the General History. Looking beyond Bonny and Read leads to new insights about the role of women and the limits of egalitarian qualities of piratical societies as represented in key eighteenth-century pirate narratives.

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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Richard Frohock
    • 1
  1. 1.Oklahoma State UniversityStillwaterUSA

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