By Mark P. Donnelly and Daniel Diehl. Stackpole Books.
168 pages. $10.95
Reviewed by Mason Adams
Mention of Colonial Virginia tends to evoke thoughts of Jamestown, Williamsburg, Capt. John Smith and tobacco fields. “Pirates of Virginia: Plunder and High Adventure on the Old Dominion Coastline” looks at the era though a different lens – that of criminals who prowled the Chesapeake Bay looking to raid merchant ships.
“Pirates of Virginia” is divided into 11 chapters, each of which looks at a different individual or pair of pirates. Several of these characters will be familiar to readers – William Kidd and Edward “Blackbeard” Teach are two of the most well-known pirates of that era – and most of them sailed not just off Virginia but farther south in the Caribbean Sea as well.
Authors Mark Donnelly and Daniel Diehl run through the lives of each, hitting highlights in quick succession while lingering a little longer on the Virginia-related anecdotes. The result is a briskly paced book that can be hard to put down at times. And since the chapters are largely standalone stories, it’s easy to read “Pirates of Virginia” episodically.
There’s plenty of fuel for pirate aficionados within these pages, but there also are frank descriptions of brutal behavior – the torture of a prisoner by cranking a fastening screw through his thumb, or Blackbeard essentially prostituting his wife to members of his crew.
Most of the book focuses on the late 1600s and early 1700s – the latest “pirate” listed is John Paul Jones, who fought a storied naval battle during the American Revolution – so although Virginia’s coast plays a prominent role, there’s no mention of points west (although I did find an anecdote about a ship called the Roanoke Merchant, which I related on the Blue Ridge Caucus blog).
If you’re interested in a different view of Virginia’s colonial history, enjoy tales of adventure on the sea or just consider yourself a fan of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise, you’ll probably enjoy “Pirates of Virginia: Plunder and High Adventure on the Old Dominion Coastline,” which is available through booksellers as well as in the Roanoke Valley Libraries system.
– Mason Adams