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Piratas: História Geral de Roubos e Crimes…

Piratas: História Geral de Roubos e Crimes de Piratas Famosos (original 1724; édition 2003)

par Charles R. Johnson

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648927,603 (3.89)6
Immensely readable history by the author of Robinson Crusoe incorporates the author's celebrated flair for journalistic detail, and represents the major source of information about piracy in the early 18th century. Defoe recounts the daring and bloody deeds of such outlaws as Edward Teach (alias Blackbeard), Captain Kidd, Mary Read, Anne Bonny, many others.… (plus d'informations)
Titre:Piratas: História Geral de Roubos e Crimes de Piratas Famosos
Auteurs:Charles R. Johnson
Info:Artes e Ofícios (2003), Edition: 1, Paperback
Collections:Votre bibliothèque
Mots-clés:Pìrates, history,

Détails de l'œuvre

Histoire générale des plus fameux pyrates, tome 2 : Le Grand Rêve flibustier par Daniel Defoe (1724)


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» Voir aussi les 6 mentions

Durante anos a autoria desta obra foi atribuída a Daniel Defoe, o famoso jornalista e autor de Robinson Crusoe, contudo e por vários motivos, veio a provar-se que Defoe nada teve a ver com as três primeiras edições. Afinal, tudo aponta para que estas histórias tenham sido escritas por um pirata, sob o pseudónimo de Capitão Charles Johnson! Entre realidade e ficção contam-se os feitos dos mais terríveis e perigosos piratas de que há memória. Nomes como o Capitão Kidd ou o Barba Negra assombram estas páginas, fazendo desta obra um dos mais emocionantes relatos sobre a era de ouro do corso e da flibusta. Nestas histórias encontram-se muitas referências à presença portuguesa e aos povos colonizadores em todo o mundo, o que as torna um dos mais fiéis retratos do dia-a-dia de uma época histórica.
  LuisFragaSilva | Nov 8, 2020 |
Captain Charles Johnson

A General History of the Robberies & Murders of the Most Notorious Pirates

Osprey, Paperback, 2017.

8vo. xiv+370 pp. Edited by David Cordingly with an Introduction [vii-xiv] and Notes [365-8].

First published, 1724.
Second edition, 1724.
Third edition, 1725.
Fourth edition, 2 vols., 1726.
This edition first published by Conway Maritime Press, 1998.
Reprinted by Osprey, 2017.



Captain Johnson’s Introduction
The life of Captain Avery
The life of Captain Martel
The life of Captain Teach
The life of Major Bonnet
The life of Captain England
The life of Captain Vane
The life of Captain Rackham
The life of Mary Read
The life of Anne Bonny
The life of Captain Davis
The life of Captain Roberts
The life of Captain Anstis
The life of Captain Worley
The life of Captain Lowther
The life of Captain Low
The life of Captain Evans
The life of Captain Philips
The life of Captain Spriggs
The life of Captain Gow
The life of Captain Kidd
An account of the piracies and murders committed by Philip Roche, etc.
An abstract of the civil law and statute law now in force in relation to piracy



This is not a review of Captain Johnson’s highly influential piratological bible. I have done that elsewhere. The following comments refer to this particular edition.

To be blunt, this is a fine edition to have as a reference to Captain Johnson’s text, but for reading at leisure – nope! How come? This is how.

So far as I can tell, the Captain’s text is complete, including his (often tedious) lists of ships and crews, lengthy digressions and official documents verbatim. The third edition was used as a copy text, and it does contain all of the usual suspects but one. Captain Kidd’s chapter was added from the fourth edition, but all other new additions (one more obscure than the other) were rightly omitted. Spelling and capitalisation are modernised, but punctuation is not; strange compromise, but it works surprisingly well. When contemporary sources are quoted, the original spelling and capitalisation are preserved to get a flavour of the epoch; again a weird editorial decision, but it’s less trouble than you might think.

Big trouble is, the font is rather small in the first place. It’s hard on the eyes and not really suitable for extended reading sessions. When the aforementioned lists and documents are quoted, the font becomes even smaller. The notes in the end are barely readable without a magnifying glass. (By the way, these notes are very few and hardly justify so grand a word as “commentary” on both the front cover and the title page. No attempt is made, as in Manuel Schonhorn’s forbiddingly scholarly 1972 edition, to trace every newspaper article used by the author.) The book is very light and compact, but I would have preferred something bigger and more unwieldy, harder to hold yet easier to read.

The best thing about this edition is the introduction. David Cordingly, piratologist par excellence, wrote as excellent an essay as it might be expected from him. He begins with the Captain’s mighty influence on the popular concept of pirates which has long become entrenched in countless novels and movies, a subject on which Mr Cordingly wrote a very fine book. He then proceeds to evaluate the Captain’s veracity, concluding that relatively few of his stories cannot be confirmed by documentary evidence (most notably the early histories of Anne and Mary as well as all conversations) and only one has been certainly proved to be fictional (Captain Misson and the pirate kingdom of Libertalia). It has become a cliché that fact and fiction are inextricably mingled in the Captain’s engrossing chapters, but this is a truth in no need of exaggeration.

Most of the introduction is dedicated to the ever-fascinating subject of the Captain’s real identity. Charles Johnson was certainly not his real name, nor has a sea captain of that name active at the time ever been discovered in the naval archives. The once popular idea, launched in 1932 and largely accepted for the next half a century, that it was Daniel Defoe who wrote the book is nowadays far less popular. Captain Charles Johnson remains a complete mystery. Except that he wrote one of the best (mostly) non-fiction bestsellers of the 18th century, we know nothing about him. Mr Cordingly tentatively offers the hypothesis that the Captain was a pirate at one time or another, a good reason to hide his real name. Johnson was certainly a seafaring man, as obvious from his knowledgeable and understated way of describing maritime matters, and if he never was a pirate, he sure followed closely the pirate trials in the press.

So, if you want a massive scholarly edition or a handsomely printed text for reading at length, skip this one. On the other hand, if you need a nice reference to the Captain’s magnum opus, mildly modernised yet quite faithful, this is a fine choice. Mr Cordingly’s introduction is a special bonus and so is the large number of contemporary illustrations (all of them small and captionless, though).

On the whole, I’d say the edition is a qualified success: I’m happy to keep it on my shelves and browse it when I’m in a piratical mood or in need of a colourful quote on the subject. But it could have been so much better! It could have been a pleasure to read. Nicely printed and judiciously abridged, Captain Johnson provides lurid entertainment of the highest quality. ( )
1 voter Waldstein | Sep 1, 2020 |
A General History of the Pyrates,

from Their first Rise and Settlement in the island of Providence, to present Time

With the remarkable Actions and Adventures of the two Female Pyrates
Mary Read and Anne Bonny

Contain’d in the following Chapters,

Chap. I. Of Capt. Avery
Chap. II. Of Captain Martel
Chap. III. Of Captain Teach, alias Black-Beard
Chap. IV. Of Major Stede Bonnet
Chap. V. Of Capt. Edward England
Chap. VI. Of Captain Charles Vane
Chap. VII. Of Captain John Rackam
- The Life of Mary Read
- The Life of Anne Bonny
Chap. IX. Of Capt. Howel Davis
Chap. XI. Of Captain Bartho. Roberts
Chap. XII. Of Captain Anstis
Chap. XIII. Of Captain Worley
Chap. XIV. Of Capt. George Lowther
Chap. XV. Of Captain Edward Low
Chap. XVI. Of Capt. John Evans
Chap. XVII. Of Captain John Phillips
Chap. XVIII. Of Captain Spriggs
And their several Crews

An Abstract of the Civil Law and Statute Law now in Force, in Relation to Pyracy

The second Edition, with considerable Additions

By Captain Charles Johnson

Printed for, and sold by T. Warner, at Black-Boy in Paternoster-Row,

NB. The chapter titles, including the wrong numerals, are given as they appear in the book, not on the title page. The same goes for the Abstract in the end.


This is, of course, the Bible of devout piratomaniacs. Treasure Island (1883) may be the most popular pirate book with neophytes and filmmakers, but Captain Johnson’s General History is by far the favourite volume of all serious pirate scholars. It occupies the same exalted place like Esquemeling’s The Buccaneers of America (1678).

But the books could hardly have been more different. Esquemeling was an amateur. Johnson, whether or not he was Daniel Defoe, was certainly an accomplished writer, almost a literary artist one is tempted to say. The subjects are nothing alike, either. Esquemeling’s buccaneers from the 1660s operated almost exclusively as privateers (i.e. pirates at service of some European crown) and on a massive amphibious scale far exceeding anything else before or since in the history of piracy. Johnson’s “pyrates” in the first decades of the 18th century are small fry by comparison. They worked as pure sea bandits beyond all national laws and attacked almost exclusively ships.

But they were colourful chaps, or rather, I suspect, Captain Johnson’s vivid pen made them so. Thanks to the author, whoever he was, Edward Teach, the infernal Blackbeard with his three pairs of pistols and lighted matches in the hair, became the archetypal pirate long before Robert Louis Stevenson was even born. Captain Avery with his Mogul treasure captured in the Indian Ocean and Bartholomew Roberts with his famous code of conduct aboard have become legendary entirely thanks to Captain Johnson. So have Mary Read and Anne Bonny, two women who distinguished themselves in one of the most male-obsessed occupations of all time. Captain Kidd, with his notorious trial and putative buried treasure, is notably missing from Captain Johnson’s book (he is included, in fact, in the second and much less famous volume*).

Most of the stories stretch credibility, to put it mildly. Avery’s Indian Ocean adventure is quite probable in comparison with his pathetic attempts to sell the plunder afterwards, not to mention some of his crew (whom he cheated and abandoned) playing kings among the natives of Madagascar. There is material for several picaresque novels here. Blackbeard’s blockade of “Charles-Town”, shenanigans with the governor of North Carolina and final showdown with Lieutenant Maynard are movie-worthy material. They would make a terrific historical drama set in some parallel universe. That he shared his 16-year-old wife with the most brutal of his companions seems much the most probable episode in Blackbeard’s biography. The background stories of Anne and Mary are so fanciful that even the author feels compelled to warn us that they are non-fiction.

Bartholomew Roberts is much the most interesting character among Johnson’s “Brother Rogues”. He was by far the most successful pirate of them all, for one thing. Roberts practised piracy for the unbelievable 30 months – uniquely long career – in most of the Atlantic, from Brazil to Newfoundland to West Africa. The number of ships he plundered is impossible to tell, but 200 is a reasonable estimation. Quite a fashion icon, he was apt to wear crimson waistcoats, feathered hats and a giant diamond cross on his neck. (Why he was called Black Bart and not Crimson Bart, or Dandy Bart, has never been explained.) Far from being some effeminate chicken, Black Bart was a charismatic leader whose courage in battle was never in doubt. Most amazingly of all, Roberts was apparently a teetotaller. Seldom if ever did he touch liquor. He drank mostly tea. Tea! Most unusual for a sailor in those days, to say the very least!

Above all, Bart Roberts was a great statesman. The ship (indeed, the small fleet) he commanded was his state, and he ruled it with a harsh but just hand. Direct democracy was practised aboard. All hands had a vote in every decision that concerned the whole crew. All hands had free access to food and hard liquor, except in times of scarcity when retrenchment was voted by everybody. Gambling, women (or boys) and fighting aboard were strictly forbidden and punishable by death, or at best marooning. Quarrels were to be settled ashore with fair duels supervised by the quartermaster. Eight o’clock was lights-out time. If you want to continue drinking after that, do so on the deck – and in the dark.

Most important of all, everything plundered was divided in a very even-handed way. The captain and the quartermaster received two shares; the master, boatswain and the gunner, one and a half; all other officers, one and a quarter. It’s not clear how much the common cutthroat got, but presumably one share. Nothing like this existed in any navy or merchant marine at the time. No wonder piracy was alluring and many sailors took it up if their ship was captured. If they served in Black Bart’s fleet, they were not allowed to leave until they had amassed a thousand pounds, an enormous sum at the time but not impossible to acquire, especially if one was seriously injured for which he received a handsome benefit. On the other hand, theft from the common plunder, like desertion in battle, was punished with death, seldom by marooning.

Much of all this was not original. Sensible division of the spoil, generous rewards for injuries and ruthless punishments for cheaters, all written down and signed, were common among the buccaneers from the 17th century. But the democratic system was indeed something new, and predated the French and American revolutions by well over half a century, if on a much smaller scale of course. Captain Johnson tends to be ironic about the constitution of Bart Roberts, implying that it was largely ineffectual, but the long career of this most colourful of all pirates does suggest otherwise. Constant plunder in one form or another was surely the most important part of Black Bart’s lasting success. But his unique set of articles probably played some role, too. Some of them, like the experimental democracy, were adopted by many pirate captains and may well have prolonged their pretty short lives.

Being a pirate captain was a delicate business. It required balls and brains, in addition to the innate and indefinable X factor of leadership. Two Edwards, England and Low, may provide a pair of contrasting cautionary tales. Neither of them was notably less successful than most of their colleagues. Both came to a sticky end because of their characters. England was much too merciful: he was in the appalling habit of pardoning captives. Low was much too brutal: he was a sadist who enjoyed mutilating his victims. Both were voted down, or at any rate removed from the captain’s post, and marooned. Both presumably ended their lives as miserable versions of Robinson Crusoe, England on Madagascar, Low nobody knows where.

(To be honest, I’ve dramatised a little, conflating sources for a better effect; temptation hard to resist. The information about Low’s marooning comes from another source, by no means more trustworthy than Captain Johnson, which further claims that Low was only cast adrift and later captured and hanged on Martinique. Still another rumour is that Low ended his days in Brazil, whether as a beggar or a king is anybody’s guess. Captain Johnson gamely admits that nothing definite was heard in England about the end of this most cruel of all pirates, “tho’ the best information we could receive, would be, that he and all his crew were at the bottom of the sea.”)

Many of those “pyrates” were fantastically obscure and unsuccessful even by the timid standards of the so-called “Golden Age of Piracy” in which piratical careers seldom lasted more than a year or two, even more seldom captured even the most meagre treasure, and usually ended on the gallows. It might be admitted that Blackbeard, Avery, Roberts and perhaps the ladies would have survived, if quite a bit toned down, even without Captain Johnson. But under the same conditions fellows like Stede Bonnet, Charles Vane and John Rackam never would have been heard of.

The most notable achievement of Charles Vane was one drinking party of epic proportions with the Blackbeard. Well, he also defied Woodes Rogers, the new governor of Bermuda and future pirate exterminator, but then wisely vanished. He was deposed by his crew and set adrift with a few supporters, tried to start again an honest piratical career, was shipwrecked somewhere in the Bay of Honduras, played Robinson Crusoe for a few weeks, and was finally rescued only to be recognised and hanged. Quite an adventure, if not a pirate, novel!

John Rackam (aka “Calico Jack” or Jack Rackham) took Vane’s place, but he proved to be an even bigger loser. He is famous for having on his ship Mary Read and Anne Bonny. Lucky fella! Two women aboard! Most pirate captains couldn’t afford one. Naturally enough, Mary and Anne both ended up pregnant. Who the father(s) was (were) was never known, but they were lucky anyway. Their death sentences were reprieved because of their condition. Mary died a little later in a Jamaican prison. Anne’s fate, like those of Captain Avery and Edward Low, remains a mystery.

Apart from their sex, Anne and Mary are remarkable for – well, for nothing. They were there, and that’s that. But it’s enough. They were more than two centuries ahead of their times in showing that women can do everything as well as men – and sometimes even better. Anne and Mary cursed like sailors and, if contemporary engravings are to be believed, handled the cutlass and the pistol with true piratical virtuosity. They carried their liquor even better than the men. When Rackam’s ship was unpleasantly surprised, his crew was reportedly too drunk to fight. Rackam himself was completely bombed. Anne and Mary were the only people aboard who put up any resistance at all.

There should be more novels and movies about these ladies. Whatever is known about them is probably fiction anyway. It’s a hair-raising melodrama, but excellent raw material for novelists and screenwriters with fine piratical imaginations.

Stede Bonnet was a curious character, the blueprint of the gentleman pirate, one of the most exploited tropes (sometimes with blue blood) in piratical fiction. He was a farmer on Barbados, a man of good fortune, better reputation and even some education. This guy, without the least practical incentive to become a pirate, twice went “a-pyrating” without the slightest idea what he was doing. He was no sailor and knew nothing of maritime matters. The first time he received a pardon from the governor and even commission as a privateer. The second time he wasn’t so lucky. He must have been one of those Romantics with a capital R, or simply crazy. Captain Johnson is a realist, though. It was probably Bonnet’s wicked wife who drove him to piracy. Gentleman to the bone, Bonnet wouldn’t beat into submission or murder his wife. He simply became a pirate. He was hanged (as were Kidd, Vane, Rackam and most of their crews; Teach and Roberts were killed in battle).

Captain Johnson tells all this and a great deal more with real flair. He writes the flowery and turgid prose of his times, including some bizarre ideas about spelling and grammar. But he is a born storyteller with a keen eye for dramatic effect and spicy detail. He can be funny, too. I couldn’t resist a smile when I read that one captain was “mightily addicted to punch”, another had “more cunning than courage”, this group of pirates “continued in some time longer in a way of life that suited their depraved tempers”, Anne Bonny “was not altogether so reserved in point of chastity [as Mary Read]”, Blackbeard’s “large quantity of hair [...] frightened America more than any comet that has appeared there a long time”, “sobriety [among pirates] brought man under suspicion of being in a plot against the Commonwealth”, and so on, plenty of bons mots. Here is one last example from Blackbeard’s journal (slightly modernised) to illustrate why the importance of liquor in pirate lore cannot overestimated:

Such a day, rum all out: – Our company somewhat sober: – A damned confusion amongst us! – Rogues a plotting; – great talk of separation. – So I looked sharp for a prize; – such a day took one, with a great deal of liquor on board, so kept the company hot, damned hot, then all things went well again.

On the whole, the writing is indeed that of a novelist, relating events and reported speech, even thoughts and feelings, from an omniscient point of view. The Captain seldom makes but a half-hearted attempt to explain how on earth he knew all that. Some ponderous official documents, letters, lists of ships and crews, court speeches (including a summation of sickening piety addressed to Stede Bonnet), geographical digressions (including a monstrous one on Brazil in the Roberts chapter) and other such exercises in excessive detail are quoted from time to time. They are worth skipping. The author is fond of moralising asides as well, but these I count among his wittiest moments. They are absolutely hilarious; no doubt unintentionally so, but hilarious nevertheless.

For the most part the Captain is an engrossing raconteur blissfully free of research or sermons. I don’t know about Moll Flanders (1722) yet, but this book sure makes for an easier and more entertaining read than Robinson Crusoe (1719).

The combination of sensational subject and flamboyant writing made the Captain’s book one of the great bestsellers of the 18th century. It has remained in print ever since – almost 300 years! – in all sorts of editions from the cheapest reprints to the most scholarly tomes. If you’re a piratologist, you must always keep in mind that “the line between fact and fiction is extremely blurred”[1], even though most of the book was presumably compiled “from the transcripts of pirate trials and from the reports of contemporary newspapers”[2]. The life of the piratologist is hard indeed! But if you’re simply fascinated by pirates, you can read this book as pure fiction and have plenty of fun. To be sure, there are names in the table of contents that even the Captain’s passionate advocacy couldn’t make really interesting. But with most of them he succeeded much better than that.

PS. The book opens with a short Preface and a long Introduction. The former is full of sage advice how to stamp out the current pirate boom and obnoxious self-praise how truthful even the most fanciful parts of the book are. The latter is a tedious rambling about the attempts to suppress piracy in the “West-Indies” with an irrelevant preface on piracy in ancient Rome. You may skip both without fear of missing anything important. Also, you might want to get a modern edition. This one from 1724 is very nicely scanned but poorly printed in the first place. Oddities like the notorious long “s”, italics for every name and capitals for every noun (the latter is standard practice in German but very unusual in English) further make reading difficult. The well-known edition of Manuel Schonhorn (1972) is complete and scholarly, but makes no attempt to modernise the orthography and boldly attributes the book to Daniel Defoe, a dubious practice that rests on flimsy evidence and goes back only until the 1930s.

*Edit [August 2020]. This is a little inaccurate. The second edition is in one volume. Captain Kidd is included in the second volume of the fourth edition (1726). The first volume of this edition was essentially a reprint of the third edition (1725), but the second one contained the biographies of Captain Kidd and a host of much more obscure pirates. I am indebted for this information to David Cordingly. See his excellent 1998 introduction to Captain Johnson’s History reprinted in the 2017 Osprey edition, pp. viii & 365.
[1] Angus Konstam, Pirates 1660-1730, Osprey [2000], p. 6.
[2] David Cordingly, Under the Black Flag, Harvest, 1997, p. xix. ( )
1 voter Waldstein | Jan 1, 2020 |
Más que cuatro relatos, son como cuatro reportajes de la vida y andanzas de cuatro piratas famosos, incluyendo a William Kidd y a Edward Teach alias "Barbanegra". A veces es algo aburridillo, porque Defoe se limita a apuntar por dónde navegaron, fondearon o asaltaron estos hombres. Otras veces se anima más contando algunas anécdotas reveladoras y algunos comentarios personales. Lo que me ha sorprendido es que, salvo Barbanegra (que actuó en la costa de Virginia y Carolina, en los actuales Estados Unidos), los demás fueron piratas del Índico, con tendencia a refugiarse en Madagascar, donde incluso algunos fundaron pequeños reinos. Nada del Caribe. ( )
  caflores | Aug 5, 2011 |
A comprehensive reprint of the original 1726 two volume fourth edition by Captain Charles Johnson, Manual Schonhorn gives good argument for deciding that Daniel Defoe is the actual author using the pen name of Captain Charles Johnson, though scholars have since debunked that argument. Still, an excellent book to have in your collection! ( )
1 voter clorimer | Sep 8, 2010 |
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Immensely readable history by the author of Robinson Crusoe incorporates the author's celebrated flair for journalistic detail, and represents the major source of information about piracy in the early 18th century. Defoe recounts the daring and bloody deeds of such outlaws as Edward Teach (alias Blackbeard), Captain Kidd, Mary Read, Anne Bonny, many others.

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