Society for the History of Discoveries

Peter R. Galvin.
Patterns of Pillage: A Geography of Caribbean-based Piracy in Spanish America, 1536-1718. New York: Peter Lang Press, Inc., 2000.  271 pp, Notes, bibliography, bibliographic essay, index, glossary, charts, maps and illustrations, ISBN 082045025X, paper, $32.95 US.

This delightful book is wonderfully written, well documented and fills a very necessary place in the growing literature on Caribbean piracy in the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. A geographer by profession, Galvin’ fascination with piracy led him to this topic, for, as he points out, “The historical geographer reconstructs the stage of the past, whereon the historian discloses the plot. Each relies upon the other to add dimension to the final production.”  Galvin skillfully combines a talent for concise story-telling with a vivid understanding of the geography with which pirates necessarily became very well acquainted.

There are two features of this book that highly recommend for  classroom adaptation. First, the author boldfaces many key terms and phrases and then provides a glossary at the end defining and clearly illustrating each of these. Second, the chapters are broken down into concise, easily understood topics, all of which relate back to the central theme. In addition, there is a wonderfully brief, but informative, bibliographic essay, in which key books from the eighteenth century to the present are discussed. This should not stop any more advanced scholar, however, who wishes to understand more about the complex interplay of piracy and geography. The first three chapters provide a basic outline of the rise of Caribbean piracy from the early French corsairs and Elizabethan privateers, to the seventeenth-century buccaneers and freebooters. The following chapters focus on different aspects of piracy and geography. A chapter on “Pirate Haunts and Strongholds” is followed by a full chapter dedicated to Tortuga.

From the middle of the seventeenth century to the end, the rise of the sugar plantations and slave labor forced displaced workers and planters into the marginal coasts of the Spanish mainland. There, they hunted for logwood in Belize and Campeche, hunted for game and formed alliances with the Miskito Indians and cimarrones of Nicaragua and Panama and, ultimately, drifted into piracy. Men who were familiar with the existence of locations where giant green turtles, prized for their highly desirable meat, along with inlet bays and beaches that provided areas for the careening of their vessels, were critical to the strategies of colonial English, French and Dutch leaders who sponsored buccaneering raids upon one another as frequently as they did the Spanish.

The closing chapter, “Reflections in the Wake,” provides insight into the important role of pirates as geographers. Galvin points out that it is important to acknowledge the geography pirates experienced from the geography they generated. In this, he traces the role pirates played in discovery and mapping of the New World beginning with Drake and his compatriots and finishing with the works of William Dampier, who carefully charted the currents of the water masses around the world in his epic tale of his adventures following the pirate round.

This book is well worth the reading for both information and provoking insights. It should be included in any collection dedicated to the history of discovery.

 Tim Sullivan
Cedar Valley College, Dallas, Texas

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