Read the quote above one more time. Those few words carry great meaning and may have been Capt. Charles Johnson's (pseudonym for Nathaniel Mist) crowning achievement in A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pyrates. Mist warned the whole of the British Empire of that insane world across the seas, that provincial wilderness of America – a lascivious world "beyond the lines of amity" that had long filled with villains and desperadoes kicked out of civilization – a collection of criminals who had completely lost all veneer of civilization. These people had forsaken God and goodness, king and country, privilege and right.
“Commonwealth of Pyrates” alluded directly to America, a forsaken land where “Wickedness” equates to “Gallantry.” Americans, colonials, provincials, or simply... “them” envied this “Wickedness.” And, this commonwealth attempted its first revolt during the Golden Age of Piracy.
What went wrong in America?
For nearly a century, America developed under the more imperialistic and conservative Stuarts. In 1688, the Glorious Revolution occurred and more liberal Whigs slowly came to power. Eventually, England's Parliament forced a German ruler to the throne, still trying to reduce the power of the monarchy and resist the old Tory conservatism of the Stuart Dynasty. Americans had been growing apart from their mother country for a century, but these actions accelerated the widening gap. They wholly resented the change. Britain began enacting legislation against piracy, but Americans resisted them. Americans still viewed their domain from the old Stuart perspective - militarily, a martial land of feudalism where Christianity became a force of evil intent upon subjugating slaves. They still revered and needed piracy. Americans frightened the liberalizing, civilizing world. They learned to depend upon and even worship their pirates and resent British efforts against them! The British rightly worried of the loss of their tremendous investment in America - a land previously stolen from Spain... and soon to be lost to the wickedness across the sea.
Even by 1700, Americans were no longer British...
The Johnson-Mist quote described a rogue population of criminality - indeed, England had exiled their criminal population to America for decades. The quote did not inspire patriotic unity under the Union Jack. At best, it expressed division. This evil, villainous band of miscreants across the ocean needed to be corrected – and their society as well. America had to be righted – brought to heel. Blackbeard and his society needed to face the king’s justice or be removed!
Blackbeard may have been the George Washington of the first American Revolution... one that failed and devolved into rebellion...
None of the political speculation or depth appeared in A General History, but then, that might detract from its direct point – its ghastly charm - of America as a place where uncouth degenerates lived. The argument was easy to make that America had become an evil place - pirates and slavery were everywhere. Stuart conservatives continued to conduct their business without regulation.
Nathaniel Mist wrote this book as historical fiction - and made some good points like this one - still, he sold the book as history, fact – a popular criminal biography based on recent events, and sold to a hungry audience of mariners sure to be at sea for weeks at a time. It was liberal propaganda to reduce piracy and its accompanying evils so that Britain could regain control.
These travelers to the virtual "hell" across the seas had time to absorb his infectious words, craving entertainment, and would spread the word that pirates there were evil and "notorious." The propaganda would spread across the Atlantic community like a computer virus in software. The wild stories attracted the gullible masses and were often not subtle in their anti-historicity, despite lightly sardonic affirmations of sincerity. A General History was not a history. The ardent wordsmith found it useful to treat the numerous gaps in sources as a blank canvas on which to paint Blackbeard’s “black” infamy and delight his indiscriminate audience - to convince America not to follow pirates, many of them former privateers, into battle against Britain.
A General History delighted in and, yet, admonished Edward “Blackbeard” Thache – for a reason. According to Johnson-Mist, Blackbeard was born in Bristol. His rise begins sometime in late 1716, just prior to the Admiralty’s strongest efforts to put an end to American piracy and regain control over their foreign plantations in the wilds of America. His wealthy family descended from a substantial Anglican minister in Gloucestershire is never mentioned by Johnson-Mist. His service in the Royal Navy on HMS Windsor, totally neglected. His gentlemanly qualities were erased... and, today we assume that discovering pirates' pasts are almost impossible! But, this is simply not true. Quest for Blackbeard tells the past of several of these pirates...
British Anti-piracy efforts and Blackbeard’s simultaneous appearance were probably not coincidental. Johnson-Mist completely confused Thache’s entry into pirate history, perhaps intentionally. He probably knew more than he wrote about Thache’s past. Furthermore, Arne Bialuschewski had pondered the change in tone of the reports coming from the first and quite new colonial news media of the day: the Boston News-Letter. He suspected that propaganda probably infiltrated these news reports, especially the month after Burchett’s instructions against pirates to the colonial fleet – another coincidence? This author of A General History was also financially in trouble and seen as a likely candidate for recruitment by Secretary Joseph Addison’s patron, Lord Sunderland and the Whig ministry, then in charge of Britain.
Obviously, Britain's efforts only worked for a short time... by 1776, America declared independence on more solid ground and this time, beat the liberal Whigs soundly!
For whatever reason, A General History took great license to alter history and turn Blackbeard, and other conservative American heroes, into villainous monsters. It was an easy transition, though. Still, the book's continued use is a serious problem in history today.
Propaganda is a serious problem in any century. A General History has long been extolled as a reliable source, but it cannot be. The book isn't even necessary for telling pirate history. Johnson-Mist’s sources for his historically-accurate segments are available elsewhere – he used the same sources that we would today. He used the same sources that I used to write Quest for Blackbeard; though, thanks to modern advances in technology, I had many more. The part that annoys all historians, including myself, is that perhaps not all of the sources he used still remain. Still, taking into consideration the liberties, obfuscations, and outright lies that Johnson-Mist used intermingled with the facts, perhaps it is best to largely ignore his book as a historical source and rely upon the primary sources still available.
After all, America, like its pirate heroes, is concerned with profit... not the truth.
"Quest for Blackbeard" has finally been approved for Global Distribution which means that it will be available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Alibris, and other online booksellers very soon. Look for it on my Lulu site at: http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/bcbrooks
It is already previewable on Google Books.