From the Caribbean to Craignish : imperial authority and piratical voyages in the early eighteenth-century Atlantic commons

Wilson, David (2018) From the Caribbean to Craignish : imperial authority and piratical voyages in the early eighteenth-century Atlantic commons. Itinerario, 42 (3). pp. 430-460. ISSN 2041-2827 (

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Whereas seventeenth-century piracy has been recognised as an integrated component of the developing European Atlantic world, eighteenth-century pirates have been marginalised as an isolated group with few ties to landed communities. Such evaluations have stressed the heightened extension of state authority to the colonial theatre in the eighteenth century and, by doing so, have overlooked how pirates continued to interact with colonial actors operating in contested and unclaimed regions throughout the Atlantic commons. It is imperative that the Atlantic commons is given full consideration in any discussion of Atlantic maritime activity as it was within these expanses that inter-imperial, inter-colonial, and cross-border colonial actors converged. This article utilises the piratical voyage captained by Howell Davies (and later Bartholomew Roberts) to demonstrate that it was within this commons that eighteenth-century piratical voyages were sustained and facilitated through the forced acquisition of supplies, through markets for plundered goods, and through the opportunities available for dispersing amongst landed communities at the end of expeditions. Continued connections between colonial denizens and pirates in the eighteenth century compels a reassessment of pirates’ isolation to instead place them within the wider population of coastal traders, sojourning mariners, and marginal colonial settlers who existed both within and outside of the imperial framework espoused by state and colonial centres. Ultimately, this questions the overall ability of European states to regulate maritime traffic when vessels sailed out of sight of established colonial ports, and beyond the practical reach of imperial authority.


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