- Buccaneers and Privateers: The Story of the English Sea Rover, 1675-1725 by Richard Frohock
Richard Frohock's Buccaneers and Privateers is aptly subtitled The Story of the English Sea Rover for two reasons. First, the book seeks to provide a coherent narrative of English buccaneers and privateers who sailed the South Seas from 1675 to 1725 by chronologically tracing their lineage from George Cusack to George Shelvocke. Second, it documents the [End Page 249] ways that sea-voyage narratives both about and by these characters made the English sea rover a staple, if evolving, figure in the public imagination across the turn of the century. Considering the ambiguous legal and moral space privateers occupied, the author foregrounds the crucial function of language in their self-fashioning as he examines how various buccaneers and privateers used narratives of their sea voyages to justify their conduct in response to third-party accounts that demonized and sensationalized their exploits. However, more than simply shaping the individual, Frohock suggests, these narratives also played an important role in mediating the borders of England's empire for an English audience. Buccaneers and Privateers is significant for considering the role that the ambiguous and nationally unsettled space of Caribbean waters played in how readers of these stories imagined the globe and England's own place in it.
The study begins with a true pirate, George Cusack, a mutineer who was tried and hanged in England in the 1670s and denoted by the pamphlets that surrounded his high profile trial as one of the "Publique Enemies to Mankind" (9). Drawing from Cusack's own alleged journal, as mediated by his anonymous biographer, Frohock demonstrates how Cusack used blasphemy and self-authorizing language to create an identity that could operate outside the law, thereby enabling his piratical behavior and exploits. This rhetorical strategy is undercut in Cusack's biography by his capture and execution, which not only demonstrated English authorities' ability to effectively police the Caribbean but also established a character type in the public discourse—one that Frohock argues the other subjects of his book are reacting against and, ultimately, hearkening back to through their own narratives. Chapters 2 and 3 examine the accounts of Henry Morgan, a buccaneer whose various biographies portrayed him ranging from a national hero to a treacherous tyrant. English booksellers capitalized on the sensational and violent aspects of Morgan's biographies, so much so that Morgan sued two of them for libel in the 1680s, staunchly maintaining that his conduct overseas had been unimpeachable. Chapter 4 traces how the accounts of Bartholomew Sharp's voyages take the swashbuckling pirate tale even further, to the extent that the narrative record of Sharp's life ultimately "transforms the figure of the buccaneer into a picaresque hero who violates the law but does so with admirable swagger" (84). As a result, rather than serving as a barometer for moral control overseas, the buccaneer is imbued with the potential to become a radically individualized, [End Page 250] proto-Enlightenment figure who can move outside authorized bounds in order to contribute to imperial affairs.
In chapter 5, Frohock explores how William Dampier capitalized on this potential in order to create his own privateering not as piracy but as a scientific voyage. However, he argues that Dampier also drew on a lineage of sea-voyage narratives to create a vital role for buccaneers in imperial expansion. Touching briefly on Dampier's A New Voyage Round the World but focusing mostly on the understudied "Two Voyages to Campeachy," Frohock argues that Dampier positions the buccaneer as the forerunner of England's empire, establishing points of contact with the Spanish and with Native Americans, forging alliances and gathering information. By doing so, Dampier "imagines a roving past transforming into future settlement" (108). Chapter 6 covers the narratives of Edward Cooke and Woodes Rogers: two figures who, contrary to Dampier, overtly condemned previous sea rovers in order to fashion themselves as a completely new kind of voyager, concerned with gathering accurate, scientific information rather...