Honor Among Thieves
Saint Mary's Island is located a few miles east of Madagascar. Beginnning in 1688, pirate ships from Saint Mary's scoured the Indian Ocean, the Red Sea, the Persian Gulf, and as far east as Burma. Among the most successful criminals in history their crews seized gold, gems, and other treasure worth hundreds of millions in American dollars.
These bold marauders were mariners of supreme skill. It was more than 7,000 miles from New England or the English Channel to Madagascar, with very few pirate-friendly ports of call in between. Navigation was still as much instinct as science in those days and shipwrecks were common. Yet few pirate ships piled up on the rocks and most of them arrived with their crews intact, or at least alive.
Successful pirate captains also displayed a thorough knowledge of the Indian Ocean's seasonal monsoons and overall weather patterns. The well-protected, easily defended harbor at St. Mary's Island was a perfect refuge because it was just below the monsoon influence and safe from most tropical storms.
At St Mary's, the pirates embraced the way of life of the native Malagasy peoples. Living in a strongly-built house, the seaman enjoyed an abundance of varied foods, alcohol, and wines as well as the company of affectionate wives.
Piracy was a young man's game; men enlisted in their '20s and served about 10 years. Aboard ship and at St Mary's,they formed an open society bound together by personal and, at times, sexual ties. Pirate crews elected and fired their officers. The ship's articles were honored, and each crewman received an equal share of the booty.
Honor Among Thieves makes it clear why Captain William Kidd's unlucky Indian Ocean cruise ended in disaster. Before living on St Mary's in 1698, Kidd took rich booty. But he failed as a leader of men, lacking the political skills to function in St Mary's open society.
The brigands at Saint Mary's kept on good terms with and bribed British and French officials. Over the years, hundreds retired from piracy and left Saint Mary's for the French colony on nearby Réunion Island. There all settlers answerered detailed census forms; sent to France, these forms remain in government archives. They are unique in providing first-hand,non-fictional evidence about pirate crewmen.
The Saint Mary's raiders sailed across vast oceans and overcame larger and better-armed vessels. Having seized great treasures, they divided them equitably, successfully avoided capture, and lived to enjoy their shares of the booty. Their story is well worth our attention.
Rogozinski is at his best when he describes the exploits of particular pirates. Well illustrated with maps and tables, Honor Among Thieves offers a refreshing and enlightening insight into what was clearly the heyday of piracy on the high seas.
John Kretschmer, Sailing magaine.
Rogozinski handles his contexts well. He provides lucid explanations for the movement of pirates from the Caribbean to the Indian Ocean in the 1680s, of the shipping patterns in the Indian Ocean, and of the lifestyles on St Mary's Island. . . . Kidd only appears in three of the sixteen chapters; but this is actually entirely appropriate to Rogozinski's purpose, as he is able to set Kidd much more firmly than some other authors have done in the broader context of piracy in the 1690S
J. David Davies, H-Albion, H-Net Reviews