Reading Room Log: Celebrate Talk Like a Pirate Day!

A selection of books from the Williams Collection of the John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

A selection of books from the Williams Collection of the John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

In honor of International Talk Like a Pirate Day, which is celebrated annually on September 19th, the Burns Library offers you a Flickr set of images from pirate-related books and manuscripts in the Burns Library’s collections.  Pirates were – and are – brutal, violent plunderers, but pirates also exist in public imagination as bold and daring adventurers whose exploits as often entertain as horrify. The popularity of the recent movie series Pirates of the Caribbean exemplifies the present-day appeal of pirates, but this appeal is nothing new.

First page of a manuscript report describing the capture of an English privateer carrying contraband. Alonzo Barros, Captain, 1686. Box 19, Folder 6, MS2009-30, Williams Ethnological Collection, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

First page of a manuscript report describing the capture of an English privateer carrying contraband. Alonzo Barros, Captain, 1686. Box 19, Folder 6, MS.2009.030, Williams Ethnological Collection, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

The Flickr set “Pirate Treasures” includes material published between 1608 and 2009, most from our Williams Ethnological Collection which was assembled by anthropologist Joseph J. Williams, SJ (1875-1940). Over 16,000 books and manuscripts comprise the collection. Williams entered the Society of Jesus in 1893 and was ordained to the priesthood in 1907. He was the author of several books on religion and anthropology. Williams lived for a number of years as a missionary in Jamaica. A Boston College alumnus, he returned to lecture in 1932, and helped establish Boston College’s Department of Anthropology. His collection reflects his interest in the history, customs, beliefs and folklore of the people of the Caribbean.

Piracy is the primary subject of nearly 100 books in the Williams Ethnological Collection. Among the earliest of these is navigator and pirate William Dampier’s New Voyage Round the World, published in London in 1698. Also included here is buccaneer surgeon Alexandre Olivier Exquemelin’s Histoire des Adventuriers Filibustiers, qui se sont Signalez dans les Indies, published in Paris in 1699. As European nations colonized and exploited America and the islands of the Caribbean, pirates, buccaneers and privateers plundered colonists, natives and one another on land and sea – sometimes with the approval of their governments and sometimes without. Works by Dampier, Exquemelin and others in this photo set continue to influence our perception of piracy.

Illustration from Flann O'Brien's copy of Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe. Flann O’Brien's Library, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Illustration from Flann O’Brien’s copy of Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe, PR3403 .A1 1869 O’Brien Library.

Also represented in this Flickr set are pirates from the imaginations of Defoe, Scott, Byron, Stevenson, Sabatini and others. These stories, poems and songs come from the Burns Library’s Jesuitica, Irish and Fine Print Collections. Pictures in this set are also drawn from the Irish Music Center, and the libraries of Graham Greene, and Flann O’Brien.  For further information, please contact the Burns Library Reading Room by sending an e-mail to  burnsref@bc.edu or by calling  # 617-552-4861.

  • Shelley Barber, Library/Archives Assistant, John J. Burns Library

About John J. Burns Library of Rare Books and Special Collections at Boston College

The University’s special collections, including the University’s Archives, are housed in the Honorable John J. Burns Library, located in the Bapst Library Building, north entrance. Burns Library staff work with students and faculty to support learning and teaching at Boston College, offering access to unique primary sources through instruction sessions, exhibits, and programming. The Burns Library also serves the research needs of external scholars, hosting researchers from around the globe interested in using the collections. The Burns Library is home to more than 200,000 volumes and over 700 manuscript collections, including holdings of music, photographic materials, art and artifacts, and ephemera. Though its collections cover virtually the entire spectrum of human knowledge, the Burns Library has achieved international recognition in several specific areas of research, most notably: Irish studies; British Catholic authors; Jesuitica; Fine printing; Catholic liturgy and life in America, 1925-1975; Boston history; the Caribbean, especially Jamaica; Nursing; and Congressional archives.
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