Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Jim Borck

Second Advisor

Elsie Michie


Successful Pirates and Capitalist Fantasies investigates British pirate fiction during the emergence of capitalism. I initially began my dissertation with the intention of focusing on historical pirates, privateers, and common sailors (the men who "turned" pirate) in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, but after close readings of pirate ballads, rogue biographies, plays, novellas, and novels by (among others) Daniel Defoe, John Gay, Charles Johnson, and Jane Austen, I determined that this pirate fiction is not about the historical pirate at all; the deployment of pirate figures in eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century British fiction is an invented tradition of representation that has far more to do with British ideology---social, political, and economic structures within the homeland and throughout the evolving British empire---than it does with the historical pirate figure. From the first, depictions of the pirate abroad correspond to the desires of the emerging commercial and trading classes at home. Pirates understand the world's trade routes, practices, and commodities better than most Europeans, and they become (for the emerging middle class) educational guides who inspire trading, investing, fortune hunting, and colonizing. Pirate fiction, which sensationalizes the fortunes that can be made in the East and West Indies, functions as a didactic tool, or a kind of chap book for eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century readers. My analysis of British pirate fiction spans the century-long period from the early eighteenth to the early nineteenth century, wherein the pirate/fortune hunter evolves from an outlaw to a well-moneyed and powerful middle-class subject, a legitimate member of the British empire. I argue that this change results precisely from England's increasing dependence upon the colonial realm for economic success. In the early eighteenth century, Captain Avery is the pirate king/colonizer of Madagascar; in 1728, the pirate is reconfigured (and satirized) as a colonial merchant/plantation owner; and finally, the pirate emerges in the early nineteenth century as a successful and wealthy British naval officer, a prominent member of the middle class.