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Open Access Publications from the University of California

UC World History Workshop

UC Berkeley

‘A Man of Courage and Activity’: Thomas Tew and Pirate Settlements of the Indo-Atlantic Trade World, 1645-1730


Through a social biographical approach to an Anglo-American pirate, Thomas Tew, this paper attempts to situate pirates and piracy in their proper historical contexts, to demonstrate that the definition of "pirate" was an unstable and continually shifting category, and to establish that many pirates operated within cultural and social norms. The research presented here reveals how the sinews of empire were constructed from above by ruling elites, from below by colonial merchants and seamen, and from beyond by entities outside the control of the metropole, exposing the general processes and contested means by which the economic, social, and cultural frameworks of empire were formulated. Furthermore, juxtaposing North American colonies with settlements on Madagascar reveals the complex workings in multiple directions of early modern colonizing projects, and provides a comparative trans-regional perspective on the traditional exceptionalist narrative of early America. Finally, this paper attempts to remedy a gap in the scholarship between scholars of the Atlantic and Indian Ocean worlds, exposing some early modern interactions between these regions by tracking pirate settlements, their inhabitants and their sponsors over the course of the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries.

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