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Black Flags, Blue Waters: The Epic History of America's Most Notorious Pirates

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With surprising tales of vicious mutineers, imperial riches, and high-seas intrigue, Black Flags, Blue Waters vividly reanimates the “Golden Age” of piracy in the Americas. Set against the backdrop of the Age of Exploration, Black Flags, Blue Waters reveals the dramatic and surprising history of American piracy’s “Golden Age”―spanning the late 1600s through the early 1700s― With surprising tales of vicious mutineers, imperial riches, and high-seas intrigue, Black Flags, Blue Waters vividly reanimates the “Golden Age” of piracy in the Americas. Set against the backdrop of the Age of Exploration, Black Flags, Blue Waters reveals the dramatic and surprising history of American piracy’s “Golden Age”―spanning the late 1600s through the early 1700s―when lawless pirates plied the coastal waters of North America and beyond. Best-selling author Eric Jay Dolin illustrates how American colonists at first supported these outrageous pirates in an early display of solidarity against the Crown, and then violently opposed them. Through engrossing episodes of roguish glamour and extreme brutality, Dolin depicts the star pirates of this period, among them towering Blackbeard, ill-fated Captain Kidd, and sadistic Edward Low, who delighted in torturing his prey. Also brilliantly detailed are the pirates’ manifold enemies, including colonial governor John Winthrop, evangelist Cotton Mather, and young Benjamin Franklin. Upending popular misconceptions and cartoonish stereotypes, Dolin provides this wholly original account of the seafaring outlaws whose raids reflect the precarious nature of American colonial life.


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With surprising tales of vicious mutineers, imperial riches, and high-seas intrigue, Black Flags, Blue Waters vividly reanimates the “Golden Age” of piracy in the Americas. Set against the backdrop of the Age of Exploration, Black Flags, Blue Waters reveals the dramatic and surprising history of American piracy’s “Golden Age”―spanning the late 1600s through the early 1700s― With surprising tales of vicious mutineers, imperial riches, and high-seas intrigue, Black Flags, Blue Waters vividly reanimates the “Golden Age” of piracy in the Americas. Set against the backdrop of the Age of Exploration, Black Flags, Blue Waters reveals the dramatic and surprising history of American piracy’s “Golden Age”―spanning the late 1600s through the early 1700s―when lawless pirates plied the coastal waters of North America and beyond. Best-selling author Eric Jay Dolin illustrates how American colonists at first supported these outrageous pirates in an early display of solidarity against the Crown, and then violently opposed them. Through engrossing episodes of roguish glamour and extreme brutality, Dolin depicts the star pirates of this period, among them towering Blackbeard, ill-fated Captain Kidd, and sadistic Edward Low, who delighted in torturing his prey. Also brilliantly detailed are the pirates’ manifold enemies, including colonial governor John Winthrop, evangelist Cotton Mather, and young Benjamin Franklin. Upending popular misconceptions and cartoonish stereotypes, Dolin provides this wholly original account of the seafaring outlaws whose raids reflect the precarious nature of American colonial life.

30 review for Black Flags, Blue Waters: The Epic History of America's Most Notorious Pirates

  1. 4 out of 5

    Cindy Vallar

    For five decades encompassing the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, pirates played an integral role in colonial history and life. Initially, they were welcomed, but as the years passed, what was once profitable coexistence became a dogged determination to eradicate these sea marauders. Black Flags, Blue Waters presents the “celebrities” of this “golden age” of piracy with a narrowly focused lens. Most comparable volumes look at this historical period in a broad manner that encompas For five decades encompassing the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, pirates played an integral role in colonial history and life. Initially, they were welcomed, but as the years passed, what was once profitable coexistence became a dogged determination to eradicate these sea marauders. Black Flags, Blue Waters presents the “celebrities” of this “golden age” of piracy with a narrowly focused lens. Most comparable volumes look at this historical period in a broad manner that encompasses the whole breadth of who, where, what, why, when, and how. Dolin examines one facet – those pirates with intimate connections to the American colonies – to showcase how world events and shifting attitudes led to them being seen as the “enemies of all mankind.” In doing so, he demonstrates how these criminals also became more legendary with the passage of time. This approach also permits him to showcase rarely mentioned pirates, as well as names familiar to many people today. The narrative unfolds in chronological order. The first chapter, Small Beginnings, sets the stage, providing necessary background information to orient readers. The next two chapters – Welcomed with Open Arms and “Where the Money Was as Plenty as Stones and Sands” – explores the financial connection between pirates and the colonists, as well as the danger this interaction posed to England, and the transitions that shifted piracy from the Caribbean and Atlantic seaboard to the Indian Ocean and Madagascar and back again. Crackdown, the fourth chapter, concerns the mysterious Henry Avery. While he has no tangible connection to America, his capture and plundering of a single ship made the pirates wealthy and severely impacted how governments, the media, and people viewed pirates. Like intermission at a theater, chapters five and six provide key information readers need to know to fully understand this historical time period. War’s Reprieve discusses the War of the Spanish Succession, when pirates all but disappeared from the world stage. In the war’s aftermath came the greatest upsurge in sea marauders that history has ever witnessed. It also gave rise to a different class of pirates than those who came before. Interlude, or a Pirate Classification covers the reasons for this and investigates who these people were and how they operated. The subsequent chapters – Treasure and the Tempest, The Gentleman Pirate and Blackbeard, and Fading Away – introduce pirates, such as Samuel Bellamy, Stede Bonnet, Edward Thatch, and Edward Low – whose personalities and exploits commanded the attention of the public and the authorities alike during their lifetimes. Also discussed are the pirate hunters and the laws and punishments enacted to end the marauding. Dolin concludes his narrative with his epilogue, “Yo-ho-ho, and a Bottle of Rum!” Here he explores the public’s fascination, both then and now, with pirates, including the discoveries of actual pirate shipwrecks. Maps and illustrations pepper the pages throughout Black Flags, Blue Waters. The majority appear in black and white, but a vibrant collection of color plates is also present. (One curious note concerning one caption is the identification of Low’s Jolly Roger. The contemporary accounts I’ve read describe his flag as a red skeleton on a black background, rather than a white skeleton with an hourglass and three drops of blood.) Unfamiliar words and brief historical tidbits are noted at the bottom of the pages where they occur, while source citations and longer explanations can be found in the end notes. Dolin also provides readers with a select bibliography and an index. The predominant personages readers meet are pirates, men such William Kidd, Henry Morgan, Dixie Bull, Thomas Tew, Francis Drake, John Quelch, and John Rose Archer. (Technically, Drake falls outside the time parameters of this history, but he did raid the American coast. Morgan, however, is a questionable inclusion. He may have been the greatest of the buccaneers, but his raids always centered in the Caribbean and Spanish Main.) But history and people never occur within a void. There are always others involved, and Dolan introduces these too. Among those who aided and abetted the pirates are Adam Baldridge and Governor Benjamin Fletcher. Victims who suffered at the hands of pirates include Philip Ashton and John Fillmore. Then there are those who helped to bring about their demise, such as Governor Alexander Spotswood, Lieutenant Robert Maynard, and Captain Peter Solgard. Entertaining and compelling, Black Flags, Blue Waters is a swift-flowing, all-inclusive account of the history and evolution of piracy from 1680 through 1730. Dolin transports readers back in time so they better understand the time and places where intimidation, pillaging, cruelty, political intrigue, collusion, and punishment eventually led to the downfall of these “enemies of all mankind.” A worthy and must-read addition to any reputable pirate collection.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Northumberland

    With surprising tales of vicious mutineers, imperial riches, and high-seas intrigue, Black Flags, Blue Waters vividly reanimates the “Golden Age” of piracy in the Americas.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Josh Liller

    I picked this up because I quite enjoyed two of the author's previous works, Brilliant Beacons and Leviathan. I'm not a pirate "fan" but I do find the subject somewhat interesting. BFBW takes some unusual directions. First, it focuses on the Golden Age of Piracy, but Dolin includes the late 1600s as well rather than just 1715-1726 (a quick internet search indicates this view his view is not unusual; it's simply not what I was familiar with). Second, it focuses on pirates who were from the America I picked this up because I quite enjoyed two of the author's previous works, Brilliant Beacons and Leviathan. I'm not a pirate "fan" but I do find the subject somewhat interesting. BFBW takes some unusual directions. First, it focuses on the Golden Age of Piracy, but Dolin includes the late 1600s as well rather than just 1715-1726 (a quick internet search indicates this view his view is not unusual; it's simply not what I was familiar with). Second, it focuses on pirates who were from the American Colonies and/or committed significant piracy off that coast. Third, the combination of the first two results in a sudden turn from the expected (buccaneers, Tortuga, Port Royal) into American Pirates in the Indian Ocean which was a thing I don't think I had heard of before. Dolin's writing is good as usual. I was quite pleased to see him approach the subject without any romanticism and he makes an earnest effort to separate fact from myth (always a difficult task with pirates). He also contrasts the different periods with the Golden Age of Piracy. This is one of his shorter books, at just over 300 pages of main text. I was a little surprised that, apart from a short epilogue about searching for pirate wrecks & treasure and pirates in pop culture, the story wraps up in 1726. While this makes sense in context of the book, the result is a century of lesser piracy in Florida (Black Caesar, the Keys pirates of the 1820s, Don Pedro Gilbert) and other parts of the eventual USA (ex: Jean Lafitte in Louisiana) are left out. I hope we'll get a sequel. High recommended, especially if you don't know much about pirate history.

  4. 4 out of 5

    George

    I loved this book. A detailed, well researched and compelling account of the golden age of piracy, through it's eventual decline. Other pirate books have focused on the exploits of the pirates, or on individual pirates and their careers, or on pirate "society", this book was different in that delved deep into the working relationship between pirates and the colonies of early America and New England. Although everyone naturally thinks of the Caribbean when they think of pirates, no one really con I loved this book. A detailed, well researched and compelling account of the golden age of piracy, through it's eventual decline. Other pirate books have focused on the exploits of the pirates, or on individual pirates and their careers, or on pirate "society", this book was different in that delved deep into the working relationship between pirates and the colonies of early America and New England. Although everyone naturally thinks of the Caribbean when they think of pirates, no one really considers how the pirates were able to thrive for so long, i.e., how and where they disposed of the goods and merchandise they seized and spent all their ill-gotten wealth, and what effect that had on the early American colonies. I was surprised to learn that many "respectable" communities were active partners in piracy, and benefited greatly from the influx of goods, and currency (which was always in short supply in the colonies). Almost all of the "Pine Tree" shillings in circulation in colonial America were made from re-minted Spanish silver pieces of eight! As long as pirates were raiding Spanish, Dutch or French ships in the Caribbean or Mogul ships in the Indian Ocean, the colonies were happy to accept, harbor and even protect pirates as they brought in exotic, expensive, and hard-to get imported goods at bargain prices, and freely spent money on equipment and supplies, alcohol and prostitutes, and in so doing, infused much-needed cash into the colonial economy. It was only after the loss of several pirate strongholds or "kingdoms" (Port Royal in Jamaica destroyed by earthquake in 1692, Madagascar in the Indian Ocean, and Nassau in the Bahamas) that pirates were forced to start raiding local shipping. When pirates started menacing local trade, communities that formerly welcomed the pirates turned to enemies actively assisting in stamping them out, and their doom was sealed. A thoroughly enjoyable and informative book. If you love history and pirates, add this one to your "pirate bookshelf".

  5. 4 out of 5

    Christopher Klein

    Eric Jay Dolin writes a rollicking history of the "Golden Age" of American piracy. "Black Flags, Blue Waters" is not only heavily researched, but extremely readable. Much of what I thought I knew about pirates hadn't progressed much beyond the romanticized tales of buried treasure and swashbuckling buccaneers that captivates nearly every schoolchild, but the real history in "Black Flags, Blue Waters" is just as compelling. What I found most fascinating in reading the book was the fact that, duri Eric Jay Dolin writes a rollicking history of the "Golden Age" of American piracy. "Black Flags, Blue Waters" is not only heavily researched, but extremely readable. Much of what I thought I knew about pirates hadn't progressed much beyond the romanticized tales of buried treasure and swashbuckling buccaneers that captivates nearly every schoolchild, but the real history in "Black Flags, Blue Waters" is just as compelling. What I found most fascinating in reading the book was the fact that, during the late 1600s, the American colonies treated pirates not as outlaws, but as economic godsends. Puritan leader John Winthrop had no qualms with pirates' morality, describing a 1646 visit by pirates to Plymouth as “divine providence.” I also learned from the book that the target of many 17th century pirates were ships from the Muslim Mughal Empire carrying riches along with wealthy pilgrims en route to Mecca. The disparate reactions by the British government and its American colonies foreshadowed the differences that would lead to revolution a century later. Those names you learned as a kid--Captain Kidd, Blackbeard, etc.--are all here. There are tales of shipwrecks and treasure. Dozens of illustrations and maps further enliven the narrative. Highly recommended--whether you want to drink with a bottle of rum or not.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Gerard Villegas

    A great history of the more well-known figures of piracy like Captain Morgan and Blackbeard. The book details the race for exploration between Spain and England and how each was affected by both political and economic motivations. Though it touches upon its application to modern day piracy, it does leave out some other influential pirates like Mary Read and Anne Bonnie. Still, a good nonfiction book nonetheless.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Ti.Me

    Extremely well-researched and informative, this work could be used as a textbook on the subject. As entertainment, the book falls short, meandering on, slowly dripping trails of facts, with the feel of a never-ending reading assignment.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Carolyn Davis

    Eric Jay Dolin writes entertainingly about many seafaring topics, even unsavory ones, in this case, piracy.. A specialist in ocean life, he also writes about the history of lighthouses, and the questionable joys and misadventures of pursuing PhD. studies. His books are to print what Ken Burns' documentaries are to film. I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Jamaica. Subsequent to that, I researched many subjects about the West Indies. Black Flags, Blue Waters' history is presented in an easy narrative Eric Jay Dolin writes entertainingly about many seafaring topics, even unsavory ones, in this case, piracy.. A specialist in ocean life, he also writes about the history of lighthouses, and the questionable joys and misadventures of pursuing PhD. studies. His books are to print what Ken Burns' documentaries are to film. I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Jamaica. Subsequent to that, I researched many subjects about the West Indies. Black Flags, Blue Waters' history is presented in an easy narrative that combines personal, national, and political histories seamlessly.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Lynn Coulter

    If you've got a drop of salt water in your veins or a thing for Johnny Depp as Capt. Jack Sparrow, you should read Eric Jay Dolin's new book, Black Flags, Blue Waters. There's just something about pirates that seems so romantic and mysterious--although the more I read about them, the more I realize how bloodthirsty and greedy they became, after initially being welcomed to the North American colonies. Dolin also debunked some myths I'd heard (nobody walked the plank or buried treasure on Gardiner If you've got a drop of salt water in your veins or a thing for Johnny Depp as Capt. Jack Sparrow, you should read Eric Jay Dolin's new book, Black Flags, Blue Waters. There's just something about pirates that seems so romantic and mysterious--although the more I read about them, the more I realize how bloodthirsty and greedy they became, after initially being welcomed to the North American colonies. Dolin also debunked some myths I'd heard (nobody walked the plank or buried treasure on Gardiner's Island, apparently). This was a very enjoyable book, and I recommend it for those who enjoy history and a bit of swashbuckling.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Urey Patrick

    Interesting... but tedious in large part. I suppose that is a feat in itself, making a history of pirates an exercise in tedium, but as it turnout, that is more historically accurate than the swashbuckling tales of violence and derring-do. There were buckles swashed, and daring deeds done, to be sure... but they were more notable for their infrequent occurrence. Dolin depicts the actualities of pirate economics interwoven within colonial coastal economies and nourished by the corruption of colon Interesting... but tedious in large part. I suppose that is a feat in itself, making a history of pirates an exercise in tedium, but as it turnout, that is more historically accurate than the swashbuckling tales of violence and derring-do. There were buckles swashed, and daring deeds done, to be sure... but they were more notable for their infrequent occurrence. Dolin depicts the actualities of pirate economics interwoven within colonial coastal economies and nourished by the corruption of colonial officers. Prior to the so-called Golden Age of Piracy (roughly 1715-1725) pirates largely preyed upon foreign shipping in far away seas - Spanish treasure ships and French merchants, ships of the then existent Indian Mugrab Empire trading across the Indian Ocean plus British East Indian shipping. Some depredations of shipping in the Caribbean occurred, but it largely targeted Spanish and French shipping. The pirates brought all their wealth back to the colonies. Fully half the book covers this pre-Golden Age period of the late 1600's. The tide began to turn against pirates during the Golden Age when they began to focus their efforts upon all shipping from all countries and colonies from Newfoundland to the Caribbean, up and down the American coast. They no longer were an asset bringing in wealth, but a detriment to order and economic health and well being. This was the time of Blackbeard, Edward Low and similar famous pirates. Dolin narrates their individual histories, as best as the historical record can attest to them, and the anti-pirate efforts the successfully ended piracy as a common threat on the high seas. It is a well researched, well written history of a specialized subject during a limited era. As I said, it is more often tedious in the telling, a text book approach to the subject of piracy with diverting asides into pirate culture and pirate activities (dispelling a number of popular misconceptions about pirates along the way), individual stories of selected pirates, and the societal and governmental responses to them. This is a history of piracy as an enterprise more than a tale of pirates, and a good one. If you have an interest in the subject, this history will teach you much you probably did not know.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Gale

    “Swashbucklers along the Colonial American Coast” This non-fiction book proves a pleasure to read, as it plows its way between the murky waters of pirate lore and seaweed swells of documented facts. Dolin presents a chronological history of piracy mainly in the Caribbean but also around Madagascar. You will sympathize with the Crown’s never-ending battle against privateers-turned-pirates (or perhaps not…), be scandalized by the brutality of many pirate captains, and vacillate with the colonists “Swashbucklers along the Colonial American Coast” This non-fiction book proves a pleasure to read, as it plows its way between the murky waters of pirate lore and seaweed swells of documented facts. Dolin presents a chronological history of piracy mainly in the Caribbean but also around Madagascar. You will sympathize with the Crown’s never-ending battle against privateers-turned-pirates (or perhaps not…), be scandalized by the brutality of many pirate captains, and vacillate with the colonists up and down the eastern seaboard who both sheltered and profited from pirate visits ashore—while decrying their villainous lifestyle. Of course famous pirates and their literary inspirations are featured, as the author dispels many of our cherished notions re these dashing rogues of the sea. Exploring the rise and eventual downfall of the Golden Age of Piracy this book steers a serious course between all the Hollywood hoopla and dated and modern scholarship to depict the ongoing strife between corrupt governors, greedy merchants and treacherous relationships among sea dogs. Delightful reading intermingles with faded black and white maps and copious footnotes. This hefty tome concludes with a review of contemporary pirate traditions in the media and actual maritime treasure hunting. Let the Jolly Roger flap its skeletal arms in the breeze of literary enjoyment! ARGGH… (they didn’t really say that…) November 29, 2018

  12. 5 out of 5

    David Bales

    Enshrined in popular mythology as admirable scamps, (mostly by the imagery in Robert Louis Stevenson's "Treasure Island") pirates--or privateers, if you prefer--were, for lack of a better word, criminals on the high seas. Ordinary trade, commerce and law was thrown overboard as pirates were financed and encouraged by nation-states to attack the trade ships of their enemies. Starting in the late-sixteenth century with Sir Francis Drake, (knighted for his plunder of Spanish ships) state-supported Enshrined in popular mythology as admirable scamps, (mostly by the imagery in Robert Louis Stevenson's "Treasure Island") pirates--or privateers, if you prefer--were, for lack of a better word, criminals on the high seas. Ordinary trade, commerce and law was thrown overboard as pirates were financed and encouraged by nation-states to attack the trade ships of their enemies. Starting in the late-sixteenth century with Sir Francis Drake, (knighted for his plunder of Spanish ships) state-supported piracy lasted over 100 years and then morphed out of control of its creators. Mutinous crews overthrew their captains and set out to rob anyone they could, often mercilessly. Allegedly democratic in some ways, (pirate crews often elected their own captains) their real legacy is terror, robbery, rape and insecurity. By the second decade of the eighteenth century, the scourge of piracy was pretty much stamped out by the power of the state, at least off the American Colonies. And good riddance.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Patrick SG

    An interesting and complete account of piracy related to English America and those based there. The focus is on English in this case, with emphasis on the 13 original colonies. With that in mind, the story does cover piracy around the world if connected to English America. Its emphasis is on the late 17th and early 18th century and does not address piracy in the Mediterranean like the Barbary Pirates of the late 18th and early 19th centuries as those pirates were African. It does cover piracy co An interesting and complete account of piracy related to English America and those based there. The focus is on English in this case, with emphasis on the 13 original colonies. With that in mind, the story does cover piracy around the world if connected to English America. Its emphasis is on the late 17th and early 18th century and does not address piracy in the Mediterranean like the Barbary Pirates of the late 18th and early 19th centuries as those pirates were African. It does cover piracy committed by Englishmen in the Indian Ocean and the area of the Levant and current Middle East, which was particularly interesting as I didn't know much about that region. The author sticks to documented accounts and notes when stories told are more legendary. The book contains an extensive section of notes, making this a good volume for those interested in furthering their study of the subject.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Nikki

    Pirates are so interesting. They are a fairly consistent part of pop culture, every kid is familiar with at least one pirate, fiction or otherwise. This book did a good job of diving in on the history of pirates as related to America. A lot of time is spent on the men, ships, and routes based out of or in other ways interacting heavily with the colonies. I thought it was neat to learn about that relationship, how pirates were basically on friendly terms with the colonies for so long, how they he Pirates are so interesting. They are a fairly consistent part of pop culture, every kid is familiar with at least one pirate, fiction or otherwise. This book did a good job of diving in on the history of pirates as related to America. A lot of time is spent on the men, ships, and routes based out of or in other ways interacting heavily with the colonies. I thought it was neat to learn about that relationship, how pirates were basically on friendly terms with the colonies for so long, how they helped and as a result were welcomed and sort of allowed to exist, even as England was against them. The dynamics and how they changed are fun to read about.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Jdimona

    This is a terrific book- engagingly written and tells the story of an important period of history of the colonies that became the United States, as seen through the lens of global piracy on the colonial coasts and the high seas. Dolin has meticulously researched this and presents a very balanced assessment - just a lot of fun to read I recommend it to you if you like history, seafaring tales, pirates and treasure - what's not to like? Joe

  16. 5 out of 5

    Kenneth

    I picked this up as a light read between two weightier tomes and it was what I wanted. The book focuses on pirates from or who plied their trade in what would become the United States. It's a good narrative history and some of the tales are very memorable. It's not a deep dive, it's not an adventure tale, it's a nice easy read on an in interesting subject.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Brett Van Gaasbeek

    The book is interesting at times, but drags through some of the parts and makes it very difficult to get into and interested in the subjects. The book tends to focus on minutiae of the pirate culture instead of telling tales of the pirate leaders and their crews in detail. I guess I expected a little more narrative history out of this subject.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Jonathan Bobb

    Very in depth. should have started with “Under the black flag” first

  19. 5 out of 5

    Daniel

    Fascinating look back at the Pirate era and the reasons for Pirates and how they helped colonies at times economic wise

  20. 5 out of 5

    Richard

    Excellent writing. Very detailed. Learned a lot about this period of American history

  21. 4 out of 5

    John P. Davidson

    A bit too violent for my taste but informative and engrossing.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Rob Hawley

  23. 5 out of 5

    James Orange

  24. 5 out of 5

    Brian Hamilton

  25. 4 out of 5

    Michael Rodriguez

  26. 4 out of 5

    Leah

  27. 5 out of 5

    Kathryn

  28. 4 out of 5

    Justin Metzger

  29. 5 out of 5

    Joel Mc Mahon

  30. 4 out of 5

    Lori Sheats

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