Not only was Howard Pyle an awesome artist/illustrator, he wasn't too shabby a storyteller, either. This wonderful book combines the two, a
collection of eight pirate stories published throughout Pyle's lifetime in various sources with accompanying black-and-white illustrations, and a center section
of full-color works of art. Most all of these are found on the
Pirates CD-ROM and Book, which
unfortunately doesn't give the name of the work or much other information. This present book is a source where you may find out more about
the pictures in that set.
All of these stories are about real pirates, therefore, technically, non-fictional. However, when you are dealing with such a subject, it is nearly impossible, certainly, to prevent a sense of the tall-tale to creep in. These are definitely not scholarly research papers—they’re flesh and blood, exciting, daring and heroic legends, and are downright fun to read!
As for the heroic part, yes, it is true, the whole pirate lifestyle has somehow been passed down as swashbuckling and romantic, but in reality, these guys were one evil bunch of villains, barely human in some respects, having zero regard for anything but their own greed. As Pyle points out, even the saying about "honesty among thieves" doesn't apply here. For most of them, trust was a foreign word, never translated into whatever language they spoke. Though the powerful pirates were able to gather among them huge followings to aid with their thievery, it wasn't uncommon for those same leaders to turn traitor and cheat, often kill, those who assisted in the plunder. Nasty bunch, these pirates.
Piracy thrived during the sixteenth to especially eighteenth centuries. It’s popularity arose from a semi-legal "profession" of "buccaneering"—Protestant Europe against those damned Spanish Catholics who were always at war with everyone. But even when there were no wars, pirating began to "overstep the bounds of international law." Cruelty and torture became the game, and Spanish ruled islands and the ships that sailed there became easy plunder with little possibility of defense. With the settling of America, our own coast became vulnerable. Of course, politicians, not having changed for centuries, were easily bought and bribed to turn a blind eye to the theft and murder, being promised a share of the plunder. This book tells several stories of political leaders and citizens with supposedly fine reputations who were not quite what they appeared to be. One in particular was a downright pirate himself!
Here is a brief synopsis of the eight stories in the book:
Buccaneers and Marooners of the Spanish Main gives a condensed history of the beginnings of the reign of piracy. This one tells of the French who pillaged Hispaniola (Santo Domingo), the West Indies, (Jamaica), and other islands in the area—Cuba, the Bahamas, Tortuga de Mar, Panama, which saw both French and Spanish victories during the period. Incidentally, marooners were pirates who, not pleased with certain members of their crew, would dump them on a remote island with basically no supplies—a certain and miserable death. The sands became littered with bones, over time.
The Ghost of Captain Brand is a rather charming and romantic story of a man murdered in cold blood by Captain John Malyoe. His grandson Barnaby True was a good and honest lad. He took to the sea, employed by his step-father, a renowned West India merchant. It happened on his fifth visit to the West Indies that he received a strange message requesting him to meet a certain man at night in a designated place. He follows instructions, thinking it is a joke, but it is not. Without being told much by the men, being young and daring, he agrees to go with them as they request.
With the Buccaneers is an entertaining story about a good boy, Master Harry, looking for adventure, who falls in with the renowned Captain Henry Morgan—that is, until his brother and a friend of his father order him to come back home!
Tom Chist and the Treasure Box tells of a baby washed ashore into the Delaware Bay at Henlopen, after a ship-wreck. He is raised by an abusive drunk and his daughter who had just lost her baby. But he grows up to be a good boy. One night, he follows three men carrying a chest along the sand dunes (and one is the famous Captain Kidd!). They are carefully calculating by steps a certain place of importance, where they bury the chest, then murder the Negro who is with them. Tom sees it all and is terrified. Aside from his abusive caretaker, Tom has a good friend in Parson Jones, who has taught him to read and write. He tells him what he witnessed. This one is a very cool story and has a happy ending.
Jack Ballister's Fortunes is actually a story from a larger collection by that name. I had to look this up because there is no character named Jack Ballister in this particular story. Dover should have been more explicit about that fact when they printed this book. In any case, it is a story about the great pirate Blackbeard, and how he was finally killed.
Blueskin, the Pirate was one of my very favorite stories. It takes place, also on the Delaware Bay in Lewes. It is about the reign of the ruthless pirate, Blueskin, and the political leaders who turned a blind eye to his crimes, provided they got a cut. It takes place in around 1750, and at that time, there wasn't much that settlers could do for protection in these little sea towns, still being under British rule and having no defense to speak of. It is also about a lumbering and (supposedly dim-witted) man named Hiram White, who was much sharper than anyone realized. His father favored his step-brother, Levi West, suave and charming, though lacking in morals and integrity. Levi disappears one day, and everyone takes him for dead. But nine years later, he returns, and it is Hiram who finds out what he is really all about.
Captain Scarfield is a wonderful and fascinating story about a citizen of wealth and high repute who turns out to be much different than what he appears. This is another one of my favorites.
The last story, The Ruby of Kishmoor, is really quite humorous. A mysterious lady requests a favor of a not-too-bright Philadelphian Quaker, (Pyle himself was Quaker, so it's OK if he pokes fun!), who is employed by a leading merchant as a clerk. He finds himself on business in Kingston, Jamaica, where he is contacted by a servant of the lady. She wants him to guard a small bauble, which Jonathan Rugg can't see is all too valuable. What he doesn't realize is that it is priceless, and thugs are after this woman to recover it. Three times, he trusts those who are after this treasure, because, as I mentioned, he's a bit dim. But he's strong, and becomes a hero without even realizing it! This one will make you chuckle.
So here they are, eight exciting tales of adventure on land and sea. Even if you're not into pirates, this one is fun to read. Incidentally, here
are two fictional tales, based on pirates that Pyle mentions:
The King of Pirates (Captain Avery) by Daniel Defoe, and
Pirate Latitudes by
Michael Crichton (Captain Henry Morgan) although Crichton uses fictional names.
Below are three paintings and one illustration that appear in this book. I used the Pirates CD-ROM and Book to post them here. The painting on the book cover (see above) is An Attack on a Galleon and is #163 on the CD-ROM. Please note: the CD-ROM collection contains artwork from numerous artists, not just Pyle. And for more about pirates, please see my Pirates, Seafarers, Travel by Water Index.
Captain Keitt (from The Ruby of Kishmoor)
Kidd on the Deck of the Adventure Galley (from Tom Chist and the Treasure Box)
The Buccaneer was a Picturesque Fellow
He had Found the Captain Agreeable and Companionable (from Captain Scarfield)
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