Cathy (Kate) Johnson, Pyrates in Petticoats (Graphic/Fine Arts Press, 2000)

Yo-ho, yo-ho, a pirate's life for me! — Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean

I know I'm not the only one who wanted to play Pirates as a little girl. I also know I'm not the only one who was told some version of, "You can't play! Girls can't be pirates!" by the boys. Perhaps some of you out there were fortunate enough to have heard of Mary Read and Anne Bonney. I was not, and so had to resort to that universal cry of childhood, "Can too!"

Well, for those of us who could only shout those two words; and for those of us who had heard those magical names, but knew no more; and, oh yes, even for the boys, the ones who said we couldn't and the ones who said we could, there is now a very definitive can too! It comes in the form of Pyrates in Petticoats: A Fanciful & Factual History of the Legends, Tales, and Exploits of the most notorious Female Pirates and also Some Lesser Known Women Who Plied the Seas and inland Waterways for Fortune, Adventure & Romance From Ireland, China, the Bahamas, and the Barbary Coast to the Americas by Cathy (Kate) Johnson, who is not related to the Capt. Charles Johnson who is said to have penned A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the most notorious Pyrates, (as she is so careful to note on the cover.)

From the moment I read the full title on the red paper cover of this slim volume (almost a pamphlet, really), a smile spread across my face. Quickly, I flipped through it, noting with approval the many reproduced woodcuts and engravings, the frequent references to period documents on the topic, and the ballads quoted both whole and in part. Kate also kindly includes an appendix listing pyrates not discussed in the text, a list of references, over two score names of museums of maritime history and related topics, and a quite complete index. Huzzah for organization of a book!

The text itself is even more delightful. Herein find tales of the Terrible Alwilda, Charlotte de Berry, Madame Ching Yih, Grania O'Malley, Catalina de Eranzo, the marvelous Anne and Mary, and several more. Brave Kate lays out what history records as truth, what historians report as supposition, and what various writers have set down as rumor, in a light tone reminiscent of conversation among scholars ... complete with the occasional quibble, as she relates how this scholar disputed with that one.

My only regret is that, at 31 pages (not counting appendices), it is all too short. Yet every page is packed with historical tidbits as precious to me as pieces of eight. The little girl in me smiles fiercely and brandishes a wooden sword, having won old arguments at last.

And now, if you'll excuse me, I think I'll take my last Hallowe'en costume out of the closet, belt on my rapier, tilt my hat just right, and go out looking for plunder... of one kind or another....

Yo-ho, yo-ho...

[Rebecca Scott]

Kate kindly recommends, for your amusement and edification, this Web site on pirates, and this magazine for those interested in things piratical.
Rebecca the Red suggests another for the fun-loving pirate afficionado