[personal profile] vicki595

                  Evans, Jayda. "Rides in the Whirlwind and Directs the Storm": A True Tale of Love and Piracy in the 18th Century. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2007.


Winner of the 2007 National Book Award for nonfiction and the Joan Kelly Memorial Prize in Women's History for 2007

Finalist for the James A. Rawley Prize in Atlantic History for 2007 and the John H. Dunning Prize for 2007

"Evans, with a little help from some fastidious letter writers, weaves an incredible and entertaining story of piracy that's unlike any you've ever seen or read before."
- The New York Times Book Review

"An absolute gem! Bird's story is one you would have never imagined, but truth is clearly stranger than fiction... Hollywood couldn't have told this tale better."
- Mike DiMauro

"Evans truly makes history come alive in this well-crafted, detailed piece of work... An emotional journey through the life of one woman and the people she encounters along the way."
- John Walters

"At its core, this is just a beautifully told love story and the triumph of two women over their societal constraints. If only there was more history like this one."
- The Times (London)

"A masterful narrative which helps to further deconstruct the monolithic male dominance of pirate history... a consummate addition to both women's and queer history."
- Journal of Women's History

"A gripping tale with a compelling and likable protagonist. You can't help but fall in love with Sue Bird, as Evans skillfully and gently steers you through the ups and downs of her life."
- John Altavilla


"There is properly no history, only biography."
                                                                                           - Ralph Waldo Emerson




                                                                                                                                     "My fastidious readers let me first say that while I spent a good many years of my life at sea, it was as an honest merchant and the tales found in this book are ones heard by myself and my crew while making port across the globe.  I cannot vouch for their truthfulness, but I hope that they will entertain you nevertheless."                                                                                                                                     

"Storming the Seas: Tales of a Pirate's Life" Captain S. Bird, 1742.

                  LIKE many children, I was rather obsessed with pirates. Growing up on Long Island in New York, not far from Gardiner's Island where Captain Kidd famously buried a portion of his treasure, I was never short for stories.

When I was eight, a nasty case of the mumps meant I was bed-ridden for three weeks – a lifetime for a child that age – and to keep me entertained, my mother went to the library and returned with an armful of books on pirates for me. It was during this time when I first encountered Captain S. Bird, as I devoured "Storming the Seas," and then its sequel, "Rides Upon the Storm" (although that included far too much kissing and "mushy" stuff for my eight-year-old self to be as enthralled with it as I had been the first!)

Rather than fading, my interest in piracy grew and it was the natural choice for where I wanted to focus my research after I made my decision become a professional historian, and Captain S. Bird would become an important figure in such research, even though I had no idea just who he had been.

For years, the general consensus amongst historians in my field had been that Captain S. Bird had been a pseudonym. There was no doubt that the author had been a sailor, having also written two non-fiction books as well; a basic glossary of naval terms, which ended up being translated into four languages and was standard issue in many navies until the arrival of the modern steam clad, and a more general handbook to a life on the sea, which has been considered one of the quintessential primary source for maritime life of the time.

But the only references made to any Bird at sea at the eighteenth century were to a British vice-admiral, Harold Bird, who had become the Governor of Bermuda in 1706 and who had died over twenty years prior to the first publishing date of "Storming the Seas." Log books and merchants' accounts were scoured for many years, but nothing came to light to illuminate this historical mystery.

Until one day in 1987, when I was teaching at East Carolina State University, I was working with the personal diary of a British Naval captain from 1722 and I found a brief entry for July 17, reading,   

                                                                                                                                     "Encountered schooner named Storm off southern coast of Nassau. Was permitted by her captain Bird to board. Polite seemingly well-educated fellow and answered all questions and offered tea. Was then served in main cabin by his wife and saw their daughter working with a governess. Demanding to search ship seemed futile, as doubt any pirate would bring wife, child and governess on raids with them."                                                                                                                                     
With proof that Captain Bird had existed, and with the name of his ship, I immediately started to search for further evidence, convinced that it would be out there. But as many historians will tell you, just because you believe that the sources are out there, it doesn't make it so. I clung to that one single journal entry as I used my failed attempts to illustrate to my graduate students, who at that time included Jayda, just how fickle historical research can sometimes be.

I didn't realize just how much of an impact my story had made on Jayda until I got a phone call from her five years ago. "Professor," she said. "I've found Captain Bird."

It has been my privilege to act as a sounding board these past five years to Jayda as she has carefully pieced together and reconstructed the story of a unique captain, and solved a historical mystery. The life and story she has uncovered makes "Storming the Seas" pale in comparison, proving once again, that the truth is often stranger than fiction.

Mel Greenberg.
Professor of History, Emeritus
Philadelphia University

"These are only hints and guesses, Hints followed by guesses."
                                                                                                   - T. S. Eliot.

                  HISTORICAL research is often part serendipity, part luck. The further back the historical period, the greater the luck required and many historians will go their whole careers without ever having such a fortuitous convergence.

I have a very good friend who works in the Manuscript Collection in Joyner Library at the East Carolina State University, and she knows me very well. So when they got a collection of papers dating back to the early eighteenth century, she gave me a call. It sounds so cliché and trite, but it was a call that changed my life.

My first experiences in the Manuscript Collection had been while I was working on my PhD dissertation, looking at literacy and the use of letters amongst the lower classes in the colonies. One collection which had caught my eye at the time consisted of a number of letters that had been sent by a young girl who had run away from home and was writing back to her sister. The letters were fascinating, for many different reasons, not least the very overt references that the girl was in a relationship with another woman. I swore that I would return to those letters sometime in the future, and I did, although under the most unlikely circumstances.

It was also during my dissertation that I first encountered Captain S. Bird, the "phantom captain," as my advisor has always described him. My curiosity was piqued, and the name would always remain lurking in the back of my mind whenever I reviewed papers from that time period.

At first glance, the letters in this new donation seemed remarkably similar to the other collection I had previously looked at; two sisters living totally separate lives, writing back and forth to one other. But it was the signature which caught my eye – the curves and lines of the sender's surname seemed awfully familiar, and staring at it, I suddenly realized where I'd seen this name before. A special edition of "Storming the Seas" had been issued in honor of its 250th publishing anniversary, and that cover had been a reprint of the original, handwritten manuscript. The way Bird had been written on the manuscript was practically the same as it was on these letters, which had been written by a Sue Bird.

Could it be that Captain S. Bird was really a woman, I asked myself? Was she a pirate, who could possibly come to surpass Anne Read and Mary Bonny in infamy and in the public imagination? This donation, consisting primarily of letters, but also including a couple of log books and general papers, would indeed confirm that Sue Bird was the Captain S. Bird, as their words painted a vivid tale of piracy and romance.

I have tried to do justice to Sue's tale, quoting from her letters and logs so that she may narrate her story in her own words as much as possible. I have also tried to build up an image of the world around her, and of those she encountered along her way. And while I have tried to extrapolate beyond what the letters themselves say, I have invented nothing, invoking words such as "perhaps" or "maybe" when it is impossible to know precisely the thoughts and actions which would have occurred at the time. Rather than fiction, this is the craft of history, assisted by the art of speculation.


                  MANY thanks to all those who answered various pleas for help, and who would point me in the right direction, including, but certainly not limited to Marianne Stanley, Jim Petersen, Julie Hairgrove, Bridget Pettis, Olaf Lange, Nancy Darsch, Shelley Patterson, and Scott Hawk. To staff at Joyner Library, British Library, Bodleian Library Special Collections, Durham University Library Special Collections, Maritime History Archives, Mystic Seaport, Chatham Historic Dockyards, Thomas J. Dodd Research Center, English Heritage, British Museum, British National Fencing Museum, South Carolina Department of Archives and History, Bermuda Tourist Board, Bermuda National Trust, Bermuda Historical Society and St. Peter's church and many others I'm sure I've forgotten, but appreciate nevertheless. To Professor Mel Greenberg, who introduced me to Captain Bird, and who was always there with support and advice whenever it was needed. To the Vogel family for keeping such treasures and passing them down, and especially to Jenny, who made the donation and let me dig into her family history. And finally, and most importantly, to Alex and Morgan, my two biggest fans and cheerleaders, who kept the home fires burning while I chased a pirate.

Chapter 1
Table of Contents

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April 2011

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