Pirates, Hydrarchy and the Motley Crew: Beyond “Arrgggh!”

In the late 17th thru mid 18th centuries, piracy was the method of last resort for the downtrodden and dispossessed: men desperate for work; deserters from throughout the war-wracked Atlantic; runaway slaves seeking refuge from bondage; criminals (from debtors to cutthroats) escaping the long arm of the law. Today, pirates are most remembered through popular culture–as dashing rouges, foppish cross-dressers, menacing brigands and motley crews of mad men and degenerates. But the pirates and piracy of history were much more complex, individuals who chose the margins of society as preferable to the authoritarian rule of empires, creating a separate space where they sought to govern themselves through methods that were radical not only for their day, but our own.

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