Special Collections & Archives Blog

History of the Bucaniers of America, by Alexandre Olivier Exquemelin

Friday, September 3, 2010 4:10 pm

Alexandre Exquemelin’s first hand account of the life of a pirate in the Spanish Main is the source of much of today’s pirate lore. From Long John Silver to Jack Sparrow, fictional pirates have their roots in Exquemelin’s 17th century bestseller.

The History of the Bucaniers of America has been called the ur-text of pirate narratives. It is the earliest and most complete source of information about the so-called golden age of piracy. First published in Dutch in 1674, it was immediately translated into several languages. The English editions were wildly popular, and the book was reprinted many times well into the 18th century. The 1741 fourth edition held in Wake Forest’s Special Collections Department includes additional narratives by Basil Ringrose, Raveneau de Lussan, and the Sieur de Montauban describing voyages and encounters with pirates in the South Seas.

Exquemelin was apparently a Dutch or Flemish surgeon who purchased his freedom from indentured servitude in the West Indies and joined Henry Morgan and his crew of pirates. He also gives accounts of his encounters with other famous pirates, including L’Olonnais and Roc Braziliano. Exquemelin describes daily life on a pirate ship and gives vivid (if not always entirely believable) accounts of the peoples, flora, and fauna of the Caribbean islands that they visited.

Exquemelin does not shrink from recounting the extreme cruelty of the buccaneers, often describing in grisly detail the tortures inflicted on the victims of pirate raids. But he also admires the pirates’ daring exploits, their defiance of an oppressive social order, and their peculiar but strict code of honor. It was this view of pirates as swashbuckling rebels that took hold in the popular imagination in the 17th century and retains its tremendous appeal today.

Wake Forest’s copy of The History of the Bucaniers of America was purchased, probably between 1939 and 1950, with funds from the Tracy McGregor Plan for the Encouragement of Book Collecting by American College Libraries.

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