Form and Content

(Critical Edition of Young Adult Fiction)

Linda Grant De Pauw introduces Seafaring Women by dispelling many of the myths and superstitions that have surrounded women and seafaring through the ages. She then turns to stories of specific women who lived and worked aboard vessels, primarily between the fifteenth and nineteenth centuries. The account of women’s lives at sea is divided into four principal occupations: pirates, warriors, whalers, and traders. A final chapter on the future of seafaring women speaks about some of the more recent concerns of women both in the private sector and in the military.

The first and most exciting chapter details the role of women pirates, from as early as the twelfth century pirate Alvilda, who operated in the North Atlantic. This chapter, more than any of the others, gives unified accounts of individual lives. One such individual was the “queen of the west,” Grace O’Malley, an Irish pirate during the sixteenth century. O’Malley commanded a war against the English fleet; her daring piracy was so successful that Queen Elizabeth offered five hundred pounds for her capture. The reward was never claimed. Most of the pirates are treated separately; only Mary Read and Anne Bonny are compared. Both disguised themselves as boys, both sailed with Captain John Rackham, and both were captured by a Jamaican sloop. Although both were sentenced to die, their pregnancies delayed their executions until Read died of a fever and Bonny vanished.

Perhaps the ultimate pirate was a Chinese woman named Hsi Kai Ching Yih: “At the height of her career in the early years of the nineteenth century, she commanded almost two thousand ships and more than fifty thousand pirates. Because of the sheer magnitude of her operation, she must be considered the greatest pirate, male or female, in all history.” She had acquired half of her husband’s property, including joint command...

(The entire section is 769 words.)