The Golden Age Of Piracy

The golden age of piracy
affected mostly the Cari-
bbean, the American coast,
the Indian Ocean, and the
western coast of Africa.
Due to the peace spreading
across Europe, many sailors
and privateers found them-
selves unemployed. Factors
contributing to piracy in-
cluded the rise in quantities
of valuable cargoes being shipped to Europe over vast ocean areas, the weakness of European navies in peacetime, the training and experience that many sailors had gained as conscripts in European navies (particularly the Royal Navy), and the weakness of European government in overseas colonies.


In 1713, a series of peace treaties were signed, known as the Treaty of Utrecht, which ended the War of the Spanish Succession (also called 'Queen Anne's War'). With the end of this conflict, thousands of seamen, including Britain's paramilitary privateers, were relieved of miltary duty. The result was a large number of trained, idle sailors at a time when the cross-Atlantic colonial shipping trade was beginning to boom. In addition, Europeans who had been pushed by unemployment to become sailors and soldiers involved in slaving were often enthusiastic to abandon that profession and turn pirate, giving pirate captains for many years a constant pool of trained European recruits to be found in west African waters and coasts.

Triangular Trade

Traffic on shipping lanes between Africa, the Caribbean, and Europe began to soar in the 18th century, a model that was known as triangular trade, and was a rich target for piracy. Trade ships sailed from Europe to the African coast, purchasing slaves. The traders would then sail to the Caribbean to sell the slaves, and return to Europe with goods such as sugar and cocoa. Sugar, rum, and slaves made up the majority of the trade goods.

Britain had also recently gained the asiento. This arrangement also contributed heavily to the spread of piracy across the western Atlantic at this time. Shipping to the colonies boomed -- simultaneous to the flood of skilled mariners after the war. This gave the employers the ability to drive wages down, cutting corners to maximize their profits, and led to unsavory conditions for those crewing legitimate commercial vessels. They suffered from mortality rates as high or higher than the slaves being transported (Rediker, 2004). Living conditions were so poor that many sailors began to prefer a freer existence as a pirate.

Pirates of the Era


Female Pirates

Women entered the profession of piracy as well (most usually disguised as men). Two of the best-known female pirates were Calico Jack Rackham's cohorts, Anne Bonny and Mary Read.

Bonney grew up fierce, and, unable to leave an earlier marriage, eloped with Rackham, with whom she was in love. Mary Read had been dressed as a boy all her life by her mother, and had spent time in the British military. She came to the West Indies (Caribbean) after the death of her husband, and fell in with Calico Jack and Anne Bonney.

After their capture, both women escaped death sentences (the punishment for piracy) by claiming to be pregnant. However, Read died of a fever in jail. Bonney disappeared. These two women exemplified the wide range of people who were involved in piracy during its Golden Age.

Pirate schooner attacking merchant ship - Click To Enlarge