Book Review – ‘The Ocean is a Wilderness: Atlantic piracy and the limits of state authority, 1688–1856’ by Jason Daniel

By Jason Daniel, published October 2020

Abstract

In The Ocean is a Wilderness, Guy Chet asks why many historians of Atlantic pirates accept that the rampant piracy following the War of Spanish Succession (1701–14) precipitously declined in the 1720s under assault from the Royal Navy. Chet challenges this traditional interpretation of a world increasingly hostile to seaborne thieves with two essential arguments concerning the continuation of maritime predation in the Atlantic world. The first point, contrary to the idea that piracy rapidly declined, is that Atlantic piracy continued under the guise of privateering well into the nineteenth century because the British government favoured policies of reconciliation, and that piracy only declined after economic changes in port cities made illicit seizures and trading unprofitable (pp. 2–3).

Chet’s second argument posits that change did not occur earlier because local communities in Britain and North America did not view raids at sea as illegal, based on long held traditional beliefs (pp. 3–4). Chet frames his analysis of state responses to piracy within a larger discussion of the British government’s ability to assert its authority and the inherent difficulties in convincing the general population to reject specific and traditional beliefs about maritime trade …

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Filed under: Atlantic
Subjects include: Pirates, Corsairs & Privateers | Strategy & Diplomacy

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