Monograph Project #2: Pirates of Sympathy

In this ongoing monograph, I analyze the trope of the unsentimental pirate beginning with Jefferson’s Declaration and concluding with the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869. During this period, popular and political writers invoked unfeeling piracy when debating the nation’s familial order as well as its status in the transoceanic “family of nations.” Befitting the period’s fluctuating political currents, alleged pirates included British monarchs, North African nationals, Caribbean revolutionaries, southern slaveholders, potential free-people, radical abolitionists, and Confederate secessionists. Those seeking to refute state power recovered sympathy for the pirate or aligned piracy with prior state violence. Attending to the pirate of sympathy thereby confirms the antebellum era’s shifting and conflicting moral compasses, particularly in relation to maritime slavery and its inheritances.

To evidence this work, I analyze political documents such as state papers, maritime law, trial transcripts, congressional debates, and public speeches as well as popular texts like plays, novels, poetry, broadsides, and printed postal envelopes. In sum, I establish a new canon of antebellum pirate literature in a sentimental key. 

Intro: “This piratical warfare”: Declaring Pirates of Sympathy with Thomas Jefferson in 1776

Introduces the pirate of sympathy as the literary-historical product of vexed attempts to declare national identity and international standing via the removal of piratical unruliness.

Section I: Early National Currents

Ch. 1: Barbary Pirates of Sympathy: Capturing National Inheritances

Reframes popular and political Barbary captivity narratives as sentimental fictions that affirmed the ties between domestic sovereignty and state-backed feeling’s oceanic expansion.

Ch.2: Caribbean Pirates of Sympathy: Seducing National Inheritances

Tracks the conflation of racial revolution in the Caribbean with piratical & unsympathetic seduction made possible by the oceanic travel of domestic subjects or economies.

Section II: Jacksonian Tides

Ch3: New England Pirates of Sympathy: Laundering Plantation Inheritances

Probes Jacksonian-era invocation of slaveholding piracy to recast or refute plantation inheritances’ status as the basis of a morally pure, economically mobile, and racially white New England culture.

Ch4: New Caribbean Pirates of Sympathy: Resenting Plantation Inheritances

Highlights abolitionist authors’ varied investments in pirate narratives of violent sentimental resentment as models for reclaiming oceanic inheritances or destroying plantation orders.

Section III: Secessionist Waves

Ch.5: Confederate Pirates of Sympathy: Trying National Inheritances

Analyzes legal debates on Confederate maritime policy and secessionist sympathy that place competing visions of the nation’s slaveholding past and (potential) abolitionist future on trial.

Epilogue: “Year of the Marriage”: Transcending Pirates of Sympathy with Walt Whitman in 1869

Juxtaposes the Suez Canal’s opening with transcendental sentimental fictions in which state-backed feeling and imperial infrastructure will lead to universal or transoceanic harmony.

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