Pirates in Early America

American Studies Seminar
Lisa H. Wilson

illustrated portrait of Fanny Campbell the female pirate captain

The representations of pirates in early America reveal deep truths about class, gender, and race in this place and time. Using scholarly work as well as the vast resources of the American Antiquarian Society, this course will examine how scholars and popularizers have approached this topic from various angles. Some focus on the individuals, famous or infamous, that dominate surviving documents. Some look at the young-male world of the pirate, focusing on sexuality, drinking, and political organization. For example, was there more equality on a pirate ship than on dry land? Others examine cross-dressing female pirates—were they expressing their sexuality or demonstrating the exclusion of women from the ship-board economy or both? Scholars also focus on the ethnically and racially diverse crew.

Were pirates modeling a rare example of a burgeoning democracy? Why did violence continue to rule the day for these men on-board when flogging became less common on land? What role did piracy play in the Caribbean and the broader Atlantic world? Are pirates and their representation in print culture actually more important than we think?

Lisa WilsonLisa H. Wilson is the Charles J. MacCurdy Professor of American History at Connecticut College. Wilson focuses her present research on North America and the Caribbean. She has recently begun a project comparing the experiences of seventeenth-century women in Barbados, Bermuda, Virginia, and New England. She has published on topics such as widowhood, manhood, and stepfamilies in Early America. Her most recent book is A History of Stepfamilies in Early America (University of North Carolina Press, 2014).

The following American Studies Seminar research papers were written by students in the 2019 seminar:

  • "From historical criminal to imaginary heroes: an examination of pirates, song, and public perception in the 18th and 19th centuries" by Elizabeth Griffin
  • "Gender and representation: Anne Bonny and Mary Read in the golden age of piracy" by Maggie Panteli
  • "Marauders and maidens: depictions of women in nineteenth-century pirate dime novels" by Meghan Shaffer
  • "Crime and punishment: from courtroom criminals to silver screen heroes" by Samantha Surowiec
  • "The masculinity of Sir Henry Morgan and other pirates in the Atlantic world, 1663-1722" by Holly Walker

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