PirateDiary

Pirate Diary: The Journal of Jake Carpenter by Richard Platt, 2001.

Young Jake Carpenter lives with his father in North Carolina in 1716.  His mother is dead, and his father is a medical doctor.  His father wants him to become a doctor as well, but he has decided that it’s important to the boy’s education that he see something of the world first, so he is allowing Jake to go to sea with his uncle, Will, who is a sailor.  Jake is excited about the prospect, and Will has told him many stories about the sea.

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Jake isn’t allowed to bring much with him because there is limited space on board the ship for personal belongings, and there are many things that Jake has to get used to, like sleeping in a hammock, the names for all the different parts of the ship, seasickness, the poor quality of food on the ship, and using the horn lanterns which are safer for candles on board ship but don’t cast much light.  Jake makes friends with Abraham, the cook’s boy, who promises him extra food in exchange for teaching him to read.  Jake’s main job on the ship is to help the carpenter, so he begins learning his trade.

When the ship is underway, Jake and his uncle learn that the captain is running from debts and that the ship is carrying contraband.  Jake doesn’t think that smuggling is a very serious crime because the main purpose is to avoid paying extra taxes on certain types of goods, and other members of the crew say that it isn’t fair for Americans to continue paying taxes to England when the king doesn’t really care about them or what they want.  The ship sails the Caribbean, but crew members say that they try to avoid docking at English-controlled ports, like the ones in Jamaica, so they won’t have to pay the customs fees. Abraham says that even if they were caught with their contraband, the authorities would likely look the other way if they offer them a share.  Will tells Jake that the captain of the ship will most likely hold back their wages in order to keep them with the ship for as long as possible, like he does with other sailors.

Discipline on board the ship is harsh and arbitrary, according to the captain’s whims.  When Will speaks up to save Jake from a harsh flogging, he himself is flogged and abandoned in a small boat.  Jake believes that his uncle will die because they left him at sea with no provisions!

Then, the ship is captured by pirates!

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Far from making things worse, Jake’s situation and that of the rest of the crew actually improves because of the pirate attack.  With the captain captured, his cruel punishments are over, and members of his crew eagerly join the pirates in the capture.  The pirates ask the crew about the treatment their captain has given them, saying that it will help them to decide what to do with him, and crew members explain the cruelties they have suffered, including what the captain did to Will.  They end up marooning the captain and his equally-cruel second mate on an island with drinking water.

As Jake’s father predicted, Jake gets to see a lot and learn a lot about life and death during his time at sea, perhaps even more than expected while under the command of the pirates.  He gets some experience in dealing with injuries as he has to help the ship’s carpenter saw off the leg of a man whose wound was too infected to treat in any other way, although the man later died anyway.  Later, the pirates join up with other pirate ships, and Jake participates in a raid on a Spanish treasure fleet!

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It’s not all excitement, and Jake spends some time talking about the routine chores that sailors did and how they would pass the time on board ship when nothing else was going on.  He does get to see St. Elmo’s Fire on the upper rigging of the ship, and the crew spots a “mermaid” once on a misty day.

An offer of amnesty for those willing to give up pirating allows Jake and other members of the crew to return home where he learns that his uncle has managed to survive after all!

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In the back of the book is a section with historical information.  It explains the history and geography of the American Colonies, where Jake lived and the history of piracy from the first known pirates to the privateers and buccaneers that led to the golden age of piracy in the 18th century.  Jake is a fictional character, but some of the pirates that Jake met in the story were real people, and the section in the back explains more about them.

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