John A Coakley

  • Fellowship year:2012-2013
  • University: University of Wisconsin - Madison
  • Dissertation Topic/Category: Early Modern European History
  • Dissertation Title: Agents of Empire: Privateers and Political Relations in English Jamaica, 1655-1701
  • This dissertation highlights the significance of late seventeenth-century English sea raiders to the growth of the English empire and tracks the dramatic legal and political changes that eventually outlawed their way of life. Focusing on privateers - seamen hired by governors or other state agents to capture enemy ships and towns - operating out of Jamaica between 1655 and 1701, it weaves together sources from both sides of the Atlantic to counter frequent assertions of piracy and lawlessness beyond the line. Placing privateers in the context of the politics of early English Jamaica, it argues that these raiders mostly practiced traditional privateering and acted as agents of empire who protected colonies, smuggled goods and slaves, and made natural and navigational observations significant to scientific development. It tells the story of a gradual transition in relations between privateers and colonial politicians that results in new laws, altered the understanding of the terms 'pirate' and 'privateer,' and eventually eliminated the practice of traditional privateering throughout the Atlantic world and the empire.