Saturday, February 2, 2019

On American pirates of the 17th century – among other things, crews elected their captains

Christopher Klein interviews author Eric Jay Dolin in The Boston Globe, "The surprising history of American pirates."
As Marblehead author Eric Jay Dolin chronicles in his new book, “Black Flags, Blue Waters: The Epic History of America’s Most Notorious Pirates,” 17th-century sea-bandits propped up colonial economies while preying on ships from a faraway Muslim empire. Not until they started to plunder local merchants in the early 1700s did colonial attitudes toward pirates harden.
From the interview:
Few pirates actually became wealthy, so why did they do it?

Pirates were like gamblers entering a casino full of confidence that they were going to be the one to hit on the slot machine. It’s human nature to exaggerate the possibility of success and underestimate the chance of failure, which is why people get into risky behavior. This is just another story of people thinking they were going to score big, only to be foiled. And once they became pirates, it was harder to get out and stop trying to get that next score. Many of them were lured by a dream, but more often than not that dream turned into a nightmare.

Can you talk about the surprising way in which pirate ships were governed?

Crews elected the captain, and if he wasn’t doing a very good job, the pirates could take another vote and elect a new leader. It was a very democratic process. In addition, each crew member was promised nearly equal riches. The pirates didn’t do this because they were democratic philosophers. They did it because they were a floating society shunned by much of the rest of the world, and they had to create a political and social environment in which they could survive. If you had all these money-hungry and bloodthirsty people crowded together on a ship, one of the clearest ways to sow dissension was to create formal hierarchies and have a captain abuse someone beneath him or not share the treasure equally.

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