Monthly Archives: September 2015

Buccaneers, Privateers or Downright Pirates?


It’s always good to connect with fellow authors of piratical tales. Here’s what Jude Knight had to say about those fearsome men, (and women) who terrorised the high seas during the Golden Age of Piracy:

First posted on April 22, 2015

Thieves with a boat or patriots?

buccaneers_lo-res placeholder copy from blog 072410_0

One of the made-to-order stories I gave away last month needed a bit of research. The winner asked for a buccaneer. So what, I wondered, was the difference between a pirate, a buccaneer, a corsair, a privateer, or any other ship-going bandit?

Thieves with ships

Pirates, I found, were fundamentally outlaws. ‘Thieves with ships’ one website I found called them. They ransack towns and capture ships looking for loot and people to sell or hold for ransom. They answer to no-one except their own appointed leaders, and recognise no law outside of themselves. Leaving aside the romantic image from books and movies, they were and are a ruthless lot of men and women, loyal only to one another and a danger to everyone else.

Not that I don’t find something to admire in the way that the pirates of the Caribbean ran a democratic society based on ability, where every man and woman of the crew had a say in how it ran and who should be captain, and a share of the loot. But I’d find it a challenge to make a hero of any of them. It could be fun, mind you, but I’d need a novel, not a short story.

Buccaneers, it turns out, were privateers and pirates in the West Indies in the 17th Century. The word comes from the French boucan, meaning smoked meat. The buccaneers started by selling meat gained from hunting, then found there was more money to be made by attacking towns on behalf of the French and the English, who were at war with Spain at the time.

And corsair is a word the English applied to foreign pirates, particularly Muslim pirates operating out of North Africa. They also applied it to the French and even the Spanish when at war with them, which was most of the time. They intended that as an insult, and it was certainly taken that way. Corsairs were also keen to find loot, but they were particularly interested in capturing slaves. Muslims being forbidden to enslave (or even rob) other Muslims, the corsairs attacked any underprotected European or American ship that strayed into their path, thus combining the religious duty of harrying the infidel with the economic pleasure of making a profit.

Thieves with a licence

Which brings us to privateers. In times of war, governments would issue letters of marque and reprisal — commissions to entrepreneurs with boats. The licence or commission would give the ship the right to attack ships belonging to whoever the country was at war with. In the 1812 war between the United Kingdom and the United States, which is in the background of my short story Kidnapped to Freedom, both countries commissioned privateers. The US had a very small navy but a large merchant fleet, and the UK navy was heavily committed to the war against Napoleon.

The commission specified what they were allowed to do, and any prisoners were treated as prisoners-of-war. But the prize — the ship and the cargo — paid for the enterprise.

All-out privateers often sailed with multiple teams headed by ship masters, who could take over a prize ship and bring it back to port. They were essentially pirates, but with a single focus on their nation’s enemy. They would never dream of attacking a neutral or allied nation’s ships or ports.

Many cargo ships also carried letters of marque authorising them to seize enemy ships. This also made them privateers, but part-time privateers rather than full-time.

When the war was over, those cargo ships would carry on with their usual business. The problem with privateers, though, was that the end of the war destroyed their livelihood, and history records many pirates who began their lives as privateers but branched out at the end of the war they were commissioned for.

I made my short-story’s hero a merchant captain from the Maritime States of Canada, with letters of marque from the United Kingdom. I hope my winner thinks I’ve got close enough to a buccaneer.

Casanova of the High Seas: Pirate Captain, John Rackham


“His notoriety came from his gentlemanly conduct and his outlandish dress sense rather than from his treacherous exploits. He was a mystery, a romantic hero, the Lothario of the seas.”


John Rackham was probably the least successful pirate ever to captain a ship. However, his garish fashion sense, womanising and general flouting of every rule in the pirate code have made him one of the best loved pirates of the Caribbean and Latin America.  He is also the man responsible for designing the iconic Jolly Roger flag, a symbol we recognise to this day.

jolly roger

Rackham began his villianous career as quartermaster for the infamous Charles Vane, who made his living looting ships off New York. During their spree of law-breaking and criminality they came across a huge French man-o-war, from which Vane, out of caution, ordered a retreat. But Rackham, tempted by the riches on board, led a mutiny against the captain and usurped him at the helm. Being the gentleman he was, though, he still furnished Vane and his supporters with a small sloop, sufficient ammunition and a variety of other goods.

In probably the most daring of his piratical escapades, Rackham found himself trapped off the coast of Cuba by a Spanish war ship which had entered the harbour along with a captured English ship. The Spaniards were unable to get to Rackham’s sloop due to the low tide but decided to sit it out until morning. At dead of night, Rackham and his crew took rowing boats over to the English ship and claimed it as their own. In the morning, the Spanish crew open fired on the now deserted pirate sloop and Rackham and his crew sailed away unnoticed aboard the English vessel.

But this was in no way typical of John Rackham’s career. He made his living picking off smaller vessels close to shore. The bigger prizes, he said were armed to the hilt and would speed him straight to the gallows. It was better to acquire one’s riches slowly and with caution.

In 1718, Rackham sailed to the pirate haven Nassau in the Bahamas to take the blanket pardon offered to all pirates by Governor Woodes Rogers. Rackham claimed Charles Vane had forced him into a life of piracy and was granted the pardon and his freedom, but his legitimate life was not set to last.

Rackham soon took up with a beautiful, flame-haired female pirate, Anne Bonny. But Anne was married and when her husband discovered their affair, Woodes Rogers had her flogged for adultery. Rackham escaped to sea with Anne Bonny  and the two resumed their criminal lifestyle.

But Anne was not to be the only female to sail on board one of Rackham’s sloops. Captured sailor Mark Read was invited to join the crew and Anne soon befriended him, igniting Rackham’s rage. It was not until he discovered the pair undressed in Anne’s quarters that Rackham discovered Mark was actually a woman, the treacherous Mary Read.

bonny and read

In October 1720, Governor Woodes Rogers sent pirate hunter Jonathan Barnet after Rackham’s sloop. Barnet attacked in the early hours of the morning while most of the crew were drunk below deck. Barnet’s men faced little resistance from the outlaws, apart from Bonny and Read who fought viciously with another unknown pirate. It seemed the vagabond Rackham preferred his women to do his dirty work to the end! The King offered a reward for any information leading to the arrest of this mystery pirate, but he (or she) was never caught.

John Rackham and eleven of his crew including Anne Bonny and Mary Read were sentenced to death. Rackham was hanged in Port Royal on November 18th 1720. His body was gibbeted and placed at the main entrance of the city to serve as a warning to all. He is fondly remembered as ‘Calico Jack’ after his brightly coloured striped pants, made of the same fabric.

For more on the life of pirates visit my author page: Emma Rose Millar, Author

Honour Among Thieves



“If you wish to drink alcohol after eight o’clock you must do so on deck without light… No fighting on board my ship. If you feel the need to attack another member of the crew, please do so on land.” Then he broke into a smile and his smile was very rude indeed and his voice was as smooth as velvet. “Absolutely no gambling…except with dice or cards. Do not let me catch you gambling. No deserting; if you abandon ship I shall have to hunt you down and kill you, and if you make me do that I shall be very cross indeed. Oh, and most of all, no women on board – or boys, but especially women; they bring with them all kinds of trouble – and their monthly ill humour! We do not want that… God forbid!” (Five Guns Blazing, Emma Rose Millar and Kevin Allen).


Even scoundrels had their standards. It might seem that life on board a pirate ship was all about drinking rum and singing sea shanties. However, in order to sustain the crew and avoid capture, certain rules had to be followed.

Perhaps the most famous pirate code of conduct comes from Captain Bartholomew Roberts, better known as Black Bart. After one of his crew members made off with his sloop and booty of gold jewellery destined for the King of Portugal, Roberts drew up his Shipboard Articles of 1721. These were his rules:

  1. Every man shall have an equal vote in affairs of moment. He shall have an equal title to the fresh provisions or strong liquors at any time seized, and shall use them at pleasure unless a scarcity may make it necessary for the common good that a retrenchment may be voted.
  2. Every man shall be called fairly in turn by the list on board of prizes, because over and above their proper share, they are allowed a shift of clothes. But if they defraud the company to the value of even one dollar in plate, jewels or money, they shall be marooned. If any man rob another he shall have his nose and ears slit, and be put ashore where he shall be sure to encounter hardships.
  3. None shall game for money either with dice or cards.
  4. The lights and candles should be put out at eight at night, and if any of the crew desire to drink after that hour they shall sit upon the open deck without lights.
  5. Each man shall keep his piece, cutlass and pistols at all times clean and ready for action.
  6. No boy or woman to be allowed amongst them. If any man shall be found seducing any of the latter sex and carrying her to sea in disguise he shall suffer death.
  7. He that shall desert the ship or his quarters in time of battle shall be punished by death or marooning.
  8. None shall strike another on board the ship, but every man’s quarrel shall be ended on shore by sword or pistol in this manner. At the word of command from the quartermaster, each man being previously placed back to back, shall turn and fire immediately. If any man do not, the quartermaster shall knock the piece out of his hand. If both miss their aim they shall take to their cutlasses, and he that draw the first blood shall be declared the victor.
  9. No man shall talk of breaking up their way of living till each has a share of 1,000. Every man who shall become a cripple or lose a limb in the service shall have 800 pieces of eight from the common stock and for lesser hurts proportionately.
  10. The captain and the quartermaster shall each receive two shares of a prize, the master gunner and boatswain, one and one half shares, all other officers one and one quarter, and private gentlemen of fortune one share each.
  11. The musicians shall have rest on the Sabbath Day only by right. On all other days by favour only.

For anyone breaking the code of conduct, the penalty could be very severe indeed, ranging from flogging or legs in irons to marooning or even death. Breaches of the code were dealt with swiftly, as was the case on naval vessels at the time. In fact conditions in the Royal Navy were so harsh that perhaps for sailors deserting their lawful occupations in favour of a life of piracy, the thought of a democratic and equitable ship might have been rather appealing.

Bartholomew Roberts was shot in the neck during a battle with the crew of HMS Swallow on February 10, 1922. During his career he captured over 470 vessels, making him the most successful pirate of the Golden Age of Piracy.

Five Guns Blazing is now available on Amazon. For more information please visit my author page: Emma Rose Millar, Author



“Never had she imagined she would be brought so low, and all for the love of a very bad man.” 


Convict’s daughter, Laetitia Beedham, is set on an epic journey from the back streets of London, through transportation to Barbados and gruelling plantation life, into the clutches of notorious pirates John ‘Calico Jack’ Rackham, Mary Read and the treacherous Anne Bonny. 

In a world of villainy and deceit, where black men are kept in chains and a woman will sell her daughter for a few gold coins, Laetitia can find no one in whom to place her trust. 

As the King’s men close in on the pirates and the noose begins to tighten around their necks, who will win her loyalty and her heart? 



Author Interview: Sheila Dalton



It’s a pleasure to welcome author Sheila Dalton, who, like me has a love of all things piratical. Here’s what she had to say about her research into the life of pirates and their connection with the slave trade and the Royal Navy during the seventeenth century. Fascinating stuff:

Q Hello and welcome. Pirates play a role in your historical novel, Stolen. Would you tell us why you chose to write about them?

Hi. I’m excited to be on a blog featuring pirates and their history, one that does not glamorize them. They were a rough bunch, and often cruel. They also had their good points, especially in the context of the less-than-ideal society in which they lived.


In my novel, Stolen, which features both Barbary Corsairs and British pirates in the 17th century, I try to be true to their reality as I came to understand it. My pirate captain, “Gentleman Jake” Norris, is a complex character, and a very intelligent man. He is still a thief who is ruthless to his enemies. I tried to make him a person who is not easy to dismiss as a stereotype; but he is not intended to be a representation of an ‘average’ pirate, either. I tried to make him as well-rounded and believable an individual as I could. I have to say that I really like him, despite his many and obvious faults.

I first became interested in pirates after I visited Morocco and saw the underground dungeons where the Christian slaves were imprisoned. Subsequently reading about the Barbary Corsairs who captured British villagers along the coast of England during the 1600’s was riveting and eye-opening. They carted off whole villages of people to be sold in North African slave markets, often treated the men very cruelly, and sent many of the attractive women into harems, royal and otherwise. The British captives who helped build some of the most beautiful mosques and palaces in the world were often savagely beaten, kept underground, and worked to an early death.

This was happening at the same time the black slave trade was growing and expanding in Africa and the New World. My research into that era led me to accounts of the activities of British pirates during the late 17th century.

These men also could be cruel and almost casually violent. But I learned that joining a British pirate crew was often preferable to signing on as a sailor for the Royal Navy. Pirates tried to be fair to each other; they had their code. Pirate captains, to be sure, were tough and fearsome to their men, but they generally saw themselves and their crew as a team, and spoils were shared. Berths were provided; food was divided equally. In contrast, British sailors were often treated like chattel, had to sleep on open, wet decks, were scourged for small infractions, even keel-hauled, were terribly underpaid and often underfed.

Even before researching Stolen, I thought the way pirates were represented in popular culture was intriguing. Sometimes they are portrayed as rollicking good ole boys, who drink a lot and do bad things, but have hearts of the proverbial gold beating under their rough exteriors; sometimes they are ruggedly handsome romantic heroes, never mind that, in reality, they were as likely to rape you as woo you. They have become glamorized almost as much as vampires.

I suspect that in the popular imagination, they are the ‘Keith Richards of the sea’, affable bad boys who allow us to vicariously live out our own anti-social and rebellious urges. They represent a kind of lawlessness that lurks deep in many of our hearts, and a longing to be free of all the constraints of ‘civilization’. Perhaps it makes us less afraid of our own unacknowledged drives if we see them as loveable rogues, rather than heartless villains.

Q What are your favourite books? Which authors inspire you?

There are so many authors out there who blow my mind, it’s hard to choose – all the way from the authors of classic literature, such as Charles Dickens, who knew how to tell a good story without sacrificing quality, to modern writers of historical fiction, such as Sarah Waters and Lisa See. I also admire contemporary novelists, including Barbara Gowdy, Janet Fitch and Joyce Carol Oates, who are intimidatingly brilliant at creating great psychological portraits of damaged or unusual people (among other things).

Q If your book was made into a film, who would you like to see as the lead characters?

Robert Downey Jr. would be my first choice for the British pirate captain, “Gentleman Jake” Norris. He’s got just the right mix of inspired craziness and intelligence.  I’d like to see Javier Bardem as Jean, the French privateer who becomes involved with the main character, Lizbet Warren. He’s handsome and sophisticated, but a bit rough around the edges. Lizbet is a sensitive young woman with high ideals and a restless spirit. I think Selma Hayek would be a good choice to play her. She has the right figure and colouring, and is capable of projecting a mix of hesitancy and boldness.  And I can visualize Elinor, the street-wise young orphan who accompanies Lizbet to London, played by a young Sissy Spacek – all bone and brass.

Q Did you choose the title and cover for your book?

Yes to both. It was originally titled Slavery in Black and White: My Life as a Kept Woman and Most Peculiar Pirate. I still like that title, but came to realize it was both too cumbersome, and took up too much room. I bought my cover, a pre-made, from a company called Spittyfish. I absolutely love it, and was very lucky to find something that fit my book so well.

Q Do you ever suffer from writer’s block?

I often suffer from writer’s block – not in the sense that I don’t have story ideas or can’t think of characters. Characters in particular come to me all the time, and the world seems full of stories. But I just find there are times I lack the motivation to write; I’m almost phobic about it, and nothing seems to help until the feeling passes on its own. I think it has mostly to do with the vast gulf between writing as a solitary activity, in which you search for meaning and relevance, and writing as a business. I also, like most writers who care about their work, doubt my abilities at times.

Q What do you do when you’re not writing?

I work as an editor though I’m formally ‘retired’. I also read a lot, take courses in things like Buddhism, history and poetry, volunteer at a cat rescue, do artwork for a donkey sanctuary, take art classes, exercise, spend time with friends and family, love to visit small-town bookstores and wildlife preserves, and travel when I can afford it. I tend to watch a lot of T.V., too. I can really get sucked in by a good series. I also help friends with their writing, judge local writing contests, and spoil my cat.

Q: We know you have written non-fiction as well as fiction for both adults and children.

Where can we find out more about you and your writing?

I have two websites. One is out-of-date, but has a lot of information; the other is ‘a work in progress’, but current.

All my books, including Stolen, are available on Amazon and other book sites. This link will take you to Stolen on Amazon in whatever country you live in: