Jamie Goodall, Pirates of Chesapeake Bay: From the Colonial Era to the Oyster Wars. Charleston, SC: The History Press, 2020. ISBN: 9781467141161, Paperback, $23.99USD, 160 pages and 19 images.
By Mike Timonin
The Chesapeake Bay, with its complex coastline and extensive network of rivers providing access deep into the interior of a significant section of North America, was a notable haven of pirates, piracy, and smuggling from the middle 1600s through the early 1960s. Jamie Goodall, in this slim volume, strives to present a useful overview of this period of activity and does a good job of it.
From the outset, it is clear that this volume is a labor of love for Goodall. Her passion for the subject is evident in her pursuit of sources to construct as complete a picture of piracy in the region as possible. The result is as exhaustively researched and densely cited as any scholarly work. The text is narrative in nature, however, and is not written in a strictly academic language, making it accessible to a wider audience than the strictly scholarly.
Goodall provides a compelling series of vignettes, starting with the Golden Age of Piracy, continuing through the American War of Independence, the War of 1812 and the US Civil War, and concluding with the oyster piracy of the late 1950s. Goodall devotes attention both to pirates and to the efforts to curtail piracy, and shows effectively the ways in which the border between piracy and enforcement was highly permeable, with captains moving from piracy to privateering to anti-piracy and back to piracy as profit and opportunity presented itself. All of this is presented clearly, with the terms neatly defined, and the format is highly readable and enjoyable.
Goodall draws connections between the various periods, and, in particular, presents the oyster piracy in the broader context of nautical larceny in the Chesapeake Bay. This extends the discussion of piracy beyond the traditional time frame, and clearly shows the continuing complex relationship between the various governments of the Chesapeake region and piracy. General readers will appreciate Goodall’s approachable and clear writing style and her book’s narrative structure. Finally, Goodall provides a rich bibliography that will be useful to future scholars.
Despite the breadth of Goodall’s research, scholars of piracy might wish for a more in-depth discussion of the various pirates highlighted by her text, especially in the first section of the book. I, personally, was sad that there was no discussion of privateering—or the decision not to make use of privateers—in the Spanish-American War, despite a provocative statement in the introduction. A wide audience, however, will find this an informative and useful guide to the topic of piracy in the Chesapeake.
Mike Timonin is a professor at Tompkins Cortland Community College, where he teaches US History. His dissertation and ongoing research focus on the intersection of civilian and military life, particularly in the context of induction and demobilization of conscripted soldiers.