The “War on Pirates” (roughly 1716 to 1728) coincided with the rise of the British novel. Authors like Daniel Defoe, John Gay, and Jonathan Swift were influenced by the buccaneer journals of William Dampier, Bartholomew Sharp, and Lionel Wafer. Daniel Defoe wrote numerous tales involving pirates including Robinson Crusoe and Captain Singleton.
Daniel Defoe was fascinated by all the places Dampier went and the commodities he found. His novels take his characters throughout the globe observing peoples, flora, and fauna much like Dampier. Considered one of the first novels in the English language, piracy played a prominent role in the central story of Robinson Crusoe. Its sequel included an exact replica of the Moll map, but with Crusoe’s travels instead of Dampier.
Defoe wrote the fictional story of the pirate Captain Bob Singleton at the acme of the “War on Pirates.” Bob claimed to sail in consort with some of the most infamous Red Sea pirates including Captain Avery who captured the granddaughter of the great Mughal Emperor of India. The most fascinating aspect of the story is Bob’s close friendship with a Quaker from the American colonies named William who refused to fight but was instrumental in the pirates’ success. Defoe knew that Quakers were infamous for supporting pirates in the American colonies during the 1690s.
The story of Robinson Crusoe is based in part on the story of a former pirate crewmate of William Dampier named Alexander Selkirk. After fighting with his captain, Selkirk was left alone on the island of Juan Fernandez off the coast of Chile. In Defoe’s novel, Crusoe was captured by North African pirates and later defended his island from English pirates.
Jonathan Swift was also fascinated by Dampier’s map but for opposite reasons from Defoe. Swift dwelled on the parts of the world Dampier left blank. In his fantastical tale Gulliver’s Travels, Lemeul Gulliver (he claims to be Dampier’s cousin) finds in Dampier’s empty spaces miniature people or horse people. Here Gulliver traveled north of Sir Francis Drake’s landing point in California to what is today Oregon to find monstrous giants.
Here Gulliver describes how he was captured by pirates on his third voyage. Like Dampier, Gulliver claims he was married yet was rarely home to see his wife.