Let it be made clear at the very outset of this Preface that the pages which follow do not pretend to be a history of piracy, but are simply an attempt to gather together, from various sources, particulars of those redoubtable pirates and buccaneers whose names have been handed down to us in a desultory way.
I do not deal here with the children of fancy; I believe that every man, or woman too—since certain of the gentler sex cut no small figure at the game—mentioned in this volume actually existed.
A time has come when every form of learning, however preposterous it may seem, is made as unlaborious as possible for the would-be student. Knowledge, which is after all but a string of facts, is being arranged, sorted, distilled, and set down in compact form, ready for rapid assimilation. There is little fear that the student who may wish in the future to become master of any subject will have to delve into the original sources in his search after facts and dates.
Surely pirates, taking them in their broadest sense, are as much entitled to a biographical dictionary of their own as are clergymen, race-horses, or artists in ferro-concrete, who all, I am assured, have their own "Who's Who"? Have not the medical men their Directory, the lawyers their List, the peers their Peerage? There are books which record the names and the particulars of musicians, schoolmasters, stockbrokers, saints and bookmakers, and I dare say there is an average adjuster's almanac. A peer, a horse, dog, cat, and even a white mouse, if of blood sufficiently blue, has his pedigree recorded somewhere. Above all, there is that astounding and entertaining volume, "Who's Who," found in every club smoking-room, and which grows more bulky year by year, stuffed with information about the careers, the hobbies, and the marriages of all the most distinguished persons in every profession, including very full details about the lives and doings of all our journalists. But on the club table where these books of ready reference stand with "Whitaker," "ABC," and "Ruff's Guide to the Turf," there is just one gap that the compiler of this work has for a long while felt sorely needed filling. There has been until now no work that gives immediate and trustworthy information about the lives, and—so sadly important in their cases—the deaths of our pirates and buccaneers.
In delving in the volumes of the "Dictionary of National Biography," it has been a sad disappointment to the writer to find so little space devoted to the careers of these picturesque if, I must admit, often unseemly persons. There are, of course, to be found a few pirates with household names such as Kidd, Teach, and Avery. A few, too, of the buccaneers, headed by the great Sir Henry Morgan, come in for their share. But I compare with indignation the meagre show of pirates in that monumental work with the rich profusion of divines! Even during the years when piracy was at its height—say from 1680 until 1730—the pirates are utterly swamped by the theologians. Can it be that these two professions flourished most vigorously side by side, and that when one began to languish, the other also began to fade?
Even so there can be no excuse for the past and present neglect of these sea-adventurers. But a change is beginning to show itself. Increasing evidence is to be found that the more intelligent portions of the population of this country, and even more so the enlightened of the great United States of America, are beginning to show a proper interest in the lives of the pirates and buccaneers. That this should be so amongst the Americans is quite natural, when it is remembered what a close intimacy existed between their Puritan forefathers of New England and the pirates, both by blood relation and by trade, since the pirates had no more obliging and ready customers for their spoils of gold dust, stolen slaves, or church ornaments, than the early settlers of New York, Massachusetts, and Carolina.
In beginning to compile such a list as is to be found in this volume, a difficulty is met at once. My original intention was that only pirates and buccaneers should be included. To admit privateers, corsairs, and other sea-rovers would have meant the addition of a vast number of names, and would have made the work unwieldy, and the very object of this volume as a book of ready reference would not have been achieved. But the difficulty has been to define the exact meaning of a pirate and of a buccaneer. In the dictionary a pirate is defined as "a sea-robber, marauder, one who infringes another's copyright"; while a buccaneer is described as "a sea-robber, a pirate, especially of the Spanish-American coasts." This seems explicit, but a pirate was not a pirate from the cradle to the gallows....