Up Against the Pirates Who Never Left
I understand that part of historian Doug Burgess’s argument is that piracy was once a somewhat respectable occupation among American colonies, but I can’t help but take this as an indication of the historical nature of conservative reformers’ current task:
Newport became a Colonial capital for pirating.
“The Colony [of Rhode Island] now began to attract brigands from every Colony,” Burgess writes. “This was due both to its geographic advantages as a safe harbor and to the complacency of its government. Yet 1691 also marks the beginning of Rhode Island’s ‘pirate fever’ when the Colony became virtually synonymous with piratical trade.”
Ironically, pirating’s success became its problem. Pirates became plentiful, lazy and inarguably unlawful, according to Burgess. Instead of traveling to some far away place to loot ships, they simply cruised the coast, robbed some boats and returned home from a day’s work. And what’s worse, at least for the Colonial governments, is the pirates didn’t seek commissions, and, consequently didn’t give any cuts.
There’s a novel waiting to be written on the premise that some spiritual force located in this area attracts a certain type of character — the pirates and mobsters — and instills a certain insidious apathy among broad segments of the population. The state is possessed by a demon whispering, “Just get yours, brother.”
Even if we’re merely up against a regional character trait centuries in the stewing, we must take it as an opportunity to undo what the pirates have wrought.