A title like The Pirate’s Wife makes promises to the reader: adventure, danger, betrayal, romance, and especially pirate treasure. Daphne Geanacopoulos* more than keeps those promises in this deeply researched and richly imagined exploration of the life of Sarah Kidd,** the little known wife of one of history’s most infamous pirates.
Sarah’s marriage to Captain William Kidd stands at the heart of the book. Daphne tells the story of Kidd’s betrayal by his [non-pirate] business partner, capture, trial, and execution through the lens of Sarah’s experience of them. She discusses the world of pirates, the fine line between piracy and privateering, and the fact that being a pirate’s wife is not the same thing as being a female pirate.
And yet their marriage was only a short part of Sarah’s life.
Daphne uses a wide range of records to piece together the life of a woman who, like many women of her time, could not read or write and consequently could not leave her own account of her experiences. She demonstrates how Sarah reinvents herself across multiple changes in fortune and through four very different marriages at a time when a woman’s place in society was determined by that of her husband.*** (Captain William Kidd was her third marriage and the only one that was a love match.) I was particularly fascinated by her period as a successful “she-merchant”: with her first husband’s support**** she opened a shop where she sold high-end imported goods.
The end result is not only the previously buried story of one woman’s life—in itself a form of hidden treasure–but a detailed and sometimes surprising picture of women’s lives in colonial America.
If you’re interested in pirates, women’s history, or colonial America, this one’s for you.
*Who I am going to refer to as Daphne hereafter, both because we are writing friends and also because otherwise I will undoubtedly misspell her last name at least once.
**Who I am going to refer to as Sarah hereafter, because historians have attached Kidd to her more famous husband for a long time.
***A woman did not have a legal identity separate from her husband. She was literally his property, though not in the same way that a slave was property. (More than once, Daphne pauses to look at the role of slaves in Sarah’s life during her marriage to Kidd—powerful reminders that slavery was already embedded into American culture at the end of the seventeenth century.)
****See *** above. Without his support she could not have taken any of the legal or financial actions needs to open and run a business.