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The narrative describes the life of an Englishman, stolen from a well-to-do family as a child and raised by Gypsies who eventually makes his way to sea. One half of the book concerns Singleton’s crossing of Africa and the later half concerns his life as a pirate. Defoe’s description of piracy focuses for the most part on matters of economics and logistics, making it an intriguing if not particularly gripping read. Singleton’s piracy is more like a merchant adventurer, perhaps Defoe’s comment on capitalism. (source: Wikipedia)
As it is usual for great persons, whose lives have been remarkable, and whose actions deserve recording to posterity, to insist much upon their originals, give full accounts of their families, and the histories of their ancestors, so, that I may be methodical, I shall do the same, though I can look but a very little way into my pedigree, as you will see presently.
If I may believe the woman whom I was taught to call mother, I was a little boy, of about two years old, very well dressed, had a nursery–maid to attend me, who took me out on a fine summer’s evening into the fields towards Islington, as she pretended, to give the child some air; a little girl being with her, of twelve or fourteen years old, that lived in the neighbourhood. The maid, whether by appointment or otherwise, meets with a fellow, her sweetheart, as I suppose; he carries her into a public–house, to give her a pot and a cake; and while they were toying in the house the girl plays about, with me in her hand, in the garden and at the door, sometimes in sight, sometimes out of sight, thinking no harm.
At this juncture comes by one of those sort of people who, it seems, made it their business to spirit away little children. This was a hellish trade in those days, and chiefly practised where they found little children very well dressed, or for bigger children, to sell them to the plantations.