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Libertatia (also known as Libertalia) is said to have been a free communalist colony forged by pirates under the leadership of Captain James Misson in the late 1600s. Whether or not Libertatia actually existed is disputed. It is described in the book A General History of the Pyrates by Captain Charles Johnson, an otherwise unknown individual who may have been a pseudonym of Daniel Defoe.[1] Much of the book is a mixture of fact and fiction, and it is possible the account of Libertatia is entirely fabricated.[1]

Libertatia is said to have consisted of an enclave within north Madagascar and to have lasted for about twenty five years. The precise location is not known, however, most sources say it stretched from the Bay of Antongil to Mananjary, including Ile Sainte Marie and Foulpointe. Thomas Tew, the Provençal Misson and an Italian Dominican priest named Caraccioli were involved in founding it.

Contents

Description

The pirate utopia's motto was "for God and liberty," and its flag was white, in contrast to a Jolly Roger. They were anarchist, waging war against states and lawmakers, attacking their ships, sparing prisoners, and freeing slaves. They called themselves Liberi, and lived under a communal city rule, a sort of worker owned corporation of piracy. They had articles (shared codes of conduct), and used elected systems of re-callable delegates.

Misson was French, born in Provence, and it was while in Rome on leave from the French warship Victoire that he lost his faith, disgusted by the decadence of the Papal Court. In Rome he ran into Caraccioli - a "lewd Priest" who over the course of long voyages with little to do but talk, gradually converted Misson and a sizeable portion of the rest of the crew to his way of thinking:

…he fell upon Government, and shew'd, that every Man was born free, and had as much Right to what would support him, as to the Air he respired... that the vast Difference betwixt Man and Man, the one wallowing in Luxury, and the other in the most pinching Necessity, was owing only to Avarice and Ambition on the one Hand, and a pusillanimous Subjection on the other.

Embarking on a career of piracy, the 200 strong crew of the Victoire called upon Misson to be their captain. They shared the wealth of the ship, deciding "all should be in common." All decisions were to be put to "the Vote of the whole Company." Thus they set out on their new "Life of Liberty." Off the west coast of Africa they captured a Dutch slave ship. The slaves were freed and brought aboard the Victoire, Misson declaring that "the Trading for those of our own Species, cou'd never be agreeable to the Eyes of divine Justice: That no Man had Power of Liberty of another" and that "he had not exempted his Neck from the galling Yoak of Slavery, and asserted his own Liberty, to enslave others." At every engagement they added to their numbers with new French, English and Dutch recruits, and freed African slaves.

While cruising round the coast of Madagascar, Misson found a perfect bay in an area with fertile soil, fresh water and friendly natives. Here the pirates built Libertalia, renouncing their titles of English, French, Dutch or African and calling themselves Liberi. They created their own language, a polyglot mixture of African languages, combined with French, English, Dutch, Portuguese and native Madagascan. Shortly after the beginning of building work on the colony of Libertalia, the Victoire ran into the pirate Thomas Tew, who decided to accompany them back to Libertalia. Such a colony was no new idea to Tew; he had lost his quartermaster and 23 of his crew when they had left to form a settlement further up the Madagascan coast. The Liberi - "Enemies to Slavery," aimed to boost their numbers by capturing another slave ship. Off the coast of Angola, Tew's crew took an English slave ship with 240 men, women and children below decks. The African members of the pirate crew discovered many friends and relatives among the enslaved and struck off their fetters and handcuffs, regaling them with the glories of their new life of liberty.

The pirates settled down to become farmers, holding the land in common - "no Hedge bounded any particular Man's Property." Prizes and money taken at sea were "carry'd into the common Treasury, Money being of no Use where every Thing was in common."[2]

Captain William Kidd is said to have visited in 1697 to undertake repairs to his ship, and to have lost half his crew to Libertalia.

Inconsistency

The dates in Johnson's story do not add up. The association with Thomas Tew, who died in 1695, would appear to date Misson's own death to c. 1694: however, in his earlier career with the French Navy, he is supposed to have taken part in an action which occurred in 1708.

Johnson also never refers to Misson by the name "James", which appears to be a later addition to the story.

Literature

  • Daniel Defoe, A General History of the Pyrates ISBN 0-486-40488-9 (Dover Publications, 1999)
  • Daniel Defoe, Libertalia, une utopie pirate (French extract of "Histoire générale des plus fameux pirates", L'Esprit Frappeur, €1,5 - ISBN 2-84405-058-1)
  • The book Pirates: Terror on the High Seas from the Caribbean to the South China Sea (consulting editor David Cordingly, Turner Publishing 1996 ISBN 1-57036-285-8), has a chapter by Marcus Rediker on Libertalia: The Pirate's Utopia. It suggests that Libertatia was fictitious, and discusses the reasons for the legend.
  • The True History of the Pyrate Captain Misson, His Crew & Their Colony of Libertatia, London: Spectacular Times, 1980. A condensed version of the story of Captain Misson and Libertatia
  • Kevin Rushby, Hunting Pirate Heaven. ISBN 1-84119-488-3. This documents the author's travels searching for evidence of pirate utopias in Mozambique, the Comoros, and Madagascar - notably that of Captain Misson. He gives its name as Libertalia.
  • The Wordsworth Dictionary of Pirates, 1997, asserts that Libertatia is fictitious.
  • William S. Burroughs: Ghost of Chance, 1991. ISBN 1-85242-406-0. Burroughs uses Libertatia as the starting point of this short novel.
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Asserting reality

  • Raiders and Rebels: The Golden Age of Piracy, by Frank Sherry, ISBN 0-688-04684-3 suggests it existed, although Captain Misson may have been fictitious.
  • In fiction William S. Burroughs writes an alternate future based on the survival of Libertatia in the novel Cities of the Red Night, 1981.

Film

  • Against All Flags (1952), where the republic is set in the bay of Diego Suarez
  • The King's Pirate (1967), a remake of Against All Flags

See also

References

External links


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