A General History of the Pyrates, by Daniel Defoe

The Preface.

HAVING taken more than ordinary Pains in collecting the Materials which compose the following History, we could not be satisfied with our selves, if any Thing were wanting to it, which might render it entirely satisfactory to the Publick: It is for this Reason we have subjoined to the Work, a short Abstract of the Laws now in Force against Pyrates, and made Choice of some particular Cases, (the most curious we could meet with) which have been heretofore tried, by which it will appear what Actions have, and what have not been adjudged Pyracy.

It is possible this Book may fall into the Hands of some Masters of Ships, and other honest Mariners, who frequently, by contrary Winds or Tempests, or other Accidents incident to long Voyages, find themselves reduced to great Distresses, either through Scarcity of Provisions, or Want of Stores. I say, it may be a Direction to such as those, what Lengths they may venture to go, without violating the Law of Nations, in Case they should meet other Ships at Sea, or be cast on some inhospitable Shore, which should refuse to trade with them for such Things as are absolutely necessary for the Preservation of their Lives, or the Safety of the Ship and Cargoe.

We have given a few Instances in the Course of this History of the Inducements Men have to engage themselves headlong in a Life of so much Peril to themselves, and so destructive to the Navigation of the trading World; to remedy which Evil there seems to be but two Ways, either to find Employment for the great Numbers of Seamen turn'd adrift at the Conclusion of a War, and thereby prevent their running into such Undertakings, or to guard sufficiently the Coast of Africa, the West-Indies, and other Places whereto Pyrates resort.

I cannot but take Notice in this Place, that during this long Peace, I have not so much as heard of a Dutch Pyrate: It is not that I take them to be honester than their Neighbours; but when we account for it, it will, perhaps, be a Reproach to our selves for our want of Industry: The Reason I take to be, that after a War, when the Dutch Ships are laid up, they have a Fishery, where their Seamen find immediate Business, and as comfortable Bread as they had before. Had ours the same Recourse in their Necessities, I'm certain we should find the same Effect from it; for a Fishery is a Trade that cannot be overstock'd; the Sea is wide enough for us all, we need not quarrel for Elbow-room: Its Stores are infinite, and will ever reward the Labourer. Besides, our own Coast, for the most Part, supply the Dutch, who employ several hundred Sail constantly in the Trade, and so sell to us our own Fish. I call it our own, for the Sovereignty of the British Seas, are to this Day acknowledged us by the Dutch, and all the neighbouring Nations; wherefore, if there was a publick Spirit among us, it would be well worth our while to establish a National Fishery, which would be the best Means in the World to prevent Pyracy, employ a Number of the Poor, and ease the Nation of a great Burthen, by lowering the Price of Provision in general, as well as of several other Commodities.

I need not bring any Proofs of what I advance, viz. that there are Multitudes of Seamen at this Day unemploy'd; it is but too evident by their straggling, and begging all over the Kingdom. Nor is it so much their Inclination to Idleness, as their own hard Fate, in being cast off after their Work is done, to siarve or steal. I have not known a Man of War commission'd for several Years past, but three times her Compliment of Men have offer'd themselves in24 Hours; the Merchants take their Advantage of this, lessen their Wages, and those few who are in Business are poorly paid, and but poorly fed; such Usage breeds Discontents amongst them, and makes them eager for any Change.

I shall not repeat what I have said in the History concerning the Privateers of the West-Indies, where I have taken Notice they live upon Spoil; and as Custom is a second Nature, it is no Wonder that, when an honest Livlyhood is not easily had, they run into one so like their own; so that it may be said, that Privateers in Time of War are a Nursery for Pyrates against a Peace.

Now we have accounted for their Rise and Beginning, it will be natural to enquire why they are not taken and destroy'd, before they come to any Head, seeing that they are seldom less than twelve Men of War stationed in ourAmerican Plantations, even in Time of Peace; a Force sufficient to contend with a powerful Enemy. This Enquiry, perhaps, will not turn much to the Honour of those concern'd in that Service; however, I hope I may be excus'd, if what I bint is with a Design of serving the Publick.

I say, ’tis strange that a few Pyrates should ravage the Seas for Years, without ever being light upon, by any of our Ships of War; when in the mean Time, they (the Pyrates) shall take Fleets of Ships; it looks as if one was much more diligent in their Affairs, than the other. Roberts and his Crew, alone, took 400 Sail, before he was destroy'd.

This Matter, I may probably set right another Time, and only observe for the present, that the Pyrates at Sea, have the same Sagacity with Robbers at Land; as the latter understand what Roads are most frequented, and where it is most likely to meet with Booty, so the former know what Latitude to lie in, in order to intercept Ships; and as the Pyrates happen to be in want of Provisions, Stores, or any particular Lading, they cruise accordingly for such Ships, and are morally certain of meeting with them; and by the same Reason, if the Men of War cruise in those Latitudes, they might be as sure of finding the Pyrates, as the Pyrates are to find the Merchant Ships; and if the Pyrates are not to be met with by the Men of War in such a Latitude, then surely down the same Latitude may the Merchant Ships arrive safely to their Port.

To make this a little plainer to my Country Readers, I must observe that all our outward bound Ships, sometime after they leave the Land, steer into the Latitude of the Place they are bound to; if to the West-India Islands, or any Part of the Main of America, as New-York, New-England, Virginia, &c. because the Latitude is the only Certainty in those Voyages to be found, and then they sail due West, till they come to their Port, without altering their Course. In this West Way lie the Pyrates, whether it be to Virginia, &c. or Nevis, St. Christophers, Montserat, Jamaica, &c. so that if the Merchant Ships bound thither, do not fall a Prey to them one Day, they must another: Therefore I say, if the Men of War take the same Track, the Pyrates must unavoidably fall into their Mouths, or be frighted away, for where the Game is, there will the Vermin be; if the latter should be the Case, the trading Ships, as I said before, will pass unmolested and safe, and the Pyrates be reduced to take Refuge in some of their lurking Holes about the uninhabited Islands, where their Fate would be like that of the Fox in his Den, if they should venture out, they would be hunted and taken, and if they stay within they must starve.

I must observe another Thing, that the Pyrates generally shift their Rovings, according to the Season of the Year; in the Summer they cruise mostly along the Coast of the Continent of America, but the Winters there, being a little too cold for them, they follow the Sun, and go towards the Islands, at the approach of cold Weather. Every Man who has used the West-India Trade, knows this to be true; therefore, since we are so well acquainted with all their Motions, I cannot see why our Men of War under a proper Regulation, may not go to the Southward, instead of lying up all the Winter useless: But I shall proceed too far in this Enquiry, I shall therefore quit it, and say something of the following Sheets, which the Author may venture to assure the Reader that they have one Thing to recommend them, which is Truth; those Facts which he himself was not an Eye-Witness of, he had from the authentick Relations of the Persons concern'd in taking the Pyrates, as well as from the Mouths of the Pyrates themselves, after they were taken, and he conceives no Man can produce better Testimonies to support the Credit of any History.

It will be observed, that the Account of the Actions of Roberts runs into a greater Length, than that of any other Pyrate, for which we can assign two Reasons, first, because he ravaged the Seas longer than the rest, and of Consequence there must be a greater Scene of Business in his Life: Secondly, being resolved not to weary the Reader, with tiresome Repetitions: When we found the Circumstances in Roberts's Life, and other Pyrates, either as to pyratical Articles, or any Thing else, to be the same, we thought it best to give them but once, and chose Roberts's Life for that Purpose, he having made more Noise in the World, than some others.

As to the Lives of our two female Pyrates, we must confess they may appear a little Extravagant, yet they are never the less true for seeming so, but as they were publickly try'd for their Pyracies, there are living Witnesses enough to justify what we have laid down concerning them; it is certain, we have produced some Particulars which were not so publickly known, the Reason is, we were more inquisitive into the Circumstances of their past Lives, than other People, who had no other Design, than that of gratifying their own private Curiosity: If there are some Incidents and Turns in their Stories, which may give them a little the Air of a Novel, they are not invented or contrived for that Purpose, it is a Kind of Reading this Author is but little acquainted with, but as he himself was exceedingly diverted with them, when they were related to him, he thought they might have the same Effect upon the Reader.

I presume we need make no Apology for giving the Name of a History to the following Sheets, though they contain nothing but the Actions of a Parcel of Robbers. It is Bravery and Stratagem in War which make Actions worthy of Record; in which Sense the Adventures here related will be thought deserving that Name. Plutarch is very circumstantial in relating the Actions of Spartacus, the Slave, and makes the Conquest of him, one of the greatest Glories ofMarcus Crassus; and it is probable, if this Slave had liv'd a little longer, Plutarch would have given us his Life at large. Rome, the Mistress of the World, was no more at first than a Refuge for Thieves and Outlaws; and if the Progress of our Pyrates had been equal to their Beginning; had they all united, and settled in some of those Islands, they might, by this Time, have been honoured with the Name of a Commonwealth, and no Power in those Parts of the World could have been able to dispute it with them.

If we have seem'd to glance, with some Freedom, at the Behaviour of some Governors of Provinces abroad, it has been with Caution; and, perhaps, we have, not declar'd as much as we knew: However, we hope those Gentlemen in the same Station, who have never given Occasion for the like Censure, will take no Offence, tho’ the Word Governor is sometimes made use of.

P. S. It will be necessary to add a Word or two to this Preface, in order to inform the Reader, that there are several material Additions made to this second Impression, which swelling the Book in Bulk, must of Consequence add a small Matter to its Price.

The first Impression having been received with so much Success by the Publick, occasioned a very earnest Demand for a second: In the mean Time, several Persons who had been taken by the Pyrates, as well as others who had been concerned in taking of them, have been so kind to communicate several Facts and Circumstances to us, which had escaped us in the first Impression. This occasioned some Delay, therefore if we have not brought it out, as soon as wish'd, it was to render it the more compleat.

We shall not enter into a Detail of all the new Matter inserted here, but the Description of the Islands St. Thome, &c. and that of Brafil are not to be passed by, without a little Notice. It must be observed, that our speculative Mathematicians and Geographers, who are, no doubt, Men of the greatest Learning, seldom travel farther than their Closets for their Knowledge, &c. are therefore unqualified to give us a good Description of Countries: It is for this Reason that all our Maps and Atlasses are so monstrously faulty, for these Gentlemen are obliged to take their Accounts from the Reports of illiterate Men.

It must be noted also, that when the Masters of Ships make Discoveries this Way, they are not fond of communicating them; a Man's knowing this or that Coast, better than others, recommends him in his Business, and makes him more useful, and he'll no more discover it than a Tradesman will the Mystery of his Trade.

The Gentleman who has taken the Pains to make these Observations, is Mr. Atkins, a Surgeon, an ingenious Man in his own Profession, and one who is not ty'd down by any narrow Considerations from doing a Service to the Publick, and has been pleased generously to communicate them for the good of others. I don't doubt, but his Observations will be found curious and very serviceable to such as Trade to those Parts, besides a Method of Trade is here laid down with thePortuguese, which may prove of great Profit to some of our Countrymen, if followed according to his Plan.

It is hoped these Things will satisfy the Publick, that the Author of the following Sheets considered nothing so much as making the Book useful; — tho’ he has been informed, that some Gentlemen have rais'd an Objection against the Truth of its Contents, viz. that it seems calculated to entertain and divert. — If the Facts are related with some Agreeableness and Life, we hope it will not be imputed as a Fault; but as to its Credit, we can assure them that the Sea-faring Men, that is all that know the Nature of these Things, have not been able to make the least Objection to its Credit:— And he will be bold to affirm, that there is not a Fact or Circumstance in the whole Book, but he is able to prove by credible Witnesses.

There have been some other Pyrates, besides those whose History are here related, such as are hereafter named, and their Adventures are as extravagant and full of Mischief, as those who are the Subject of this Book. —— The Author has already begun to digest them into Method, and as soon as he receives some Materials to make them compleat, (which he shortly expects from the West-Indies) If the Publick gives him Encouragement he intends to venture upon a second Volume.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/d/defoe/daniel/pyrates1/preface.html

Last updated Friday, March 14, 2014 at 21:28