“A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pyrates and Also Their Policies, Discipline, and Government.” Nearly every book you find on pirates of antiquity will refer to the book featured in today’s installment of The Library of Female Pirates. David Cordingly, in Under the Black Flag, calls it Captain Johnson’s A General History of the Pyrates, and Cordingly has provided an Introduction to at least one edition of the book under that name.
However, you will also find the book listed under author Daniel Defoe. Why? Editor Manuel Schonhorn explains in the Introduction to the edition pictured below. Based on the work of Professor John Robert Moore in 1932, academics have increasingly come to believe that “Captain Charles Johnson” was merely one of many pseudonyms for Daniel Defoe, the author of Robinson Crusoe. Schonhorn elaborates on Defoe’s life, his interest in maritime commerce and piracy, and the nature of his sources and travels.
Schonhorn’s edition fills more than 700 pages and incorporates text from four editions of the first volume of A General History and the second volume as well. His supplementary material works to clarify Defoe’s factual claims, while the organization of the text for clarity cohesively orders material which was apparently scattered throughout the editions published in Defoe’s era. Defoe himself made corrections and changes between editions, and Schonhorn must have put in tremendous time and effort to make a single coherent text.
Compared to other texts in our Library of Female Pirates, this one has the most antiquated language. Schonhorn has preserved many old spellings (such as “authentick” instead of “authentic”) and the apparently common “anything goes” Approach to Capitalization of those bygone Days. This makes the book at once more challenging to the reader and more endearing, as if one is truly studying an historic document.
Pages 153 through 165 cover Mary Read and Anne Bonny. We would love to scan those pages for you, but the book is incredibly thick. Scanning it without destroying it is nigh impossible. However, most of the information has been recounted in the other, more modern books we have covered in this series. A General History of the Pyrates has served as the primary source, or at least the starting point, for all modern research on Read and Bonny, from the romantic retelling by Charles Ellms to Gosse’s account to Cordingly’s scholarly work.
Yet some details of their lives only appear in Defoe’s work, as far as we can tell. For example, Defoe spends nearly four pages recounting a tale of three stolen spoons. The drama between a wife, her husband, and her maid resulting from these stolen spoons leads directly to the circumstances of Anne Bonny’s early childhood. Mary Read’s various military services and her marriage resulting from one of those services also earn a bit more detail in Defoe’s history than in subsequent works. A combination of Defoe’s General History and Cordingly’s research in Under the Black Flag may well constitute the sum of all we shall ever know about these two famous female pirates.