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.
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
- Stede Bonnet, a wealthy Barbados land owner, turned pirate solely in search of adventure. Bonnet captained a 10-gun sloop, which is famously named the Revenge. Primarily raiding ships off the Virginia coast in 1717, he was caught and hanged for piracy in 1718.
- Henry Morgan was one of the most destructive English robber captains of the seventeenth century.
- Edward Teach, more commonly known as Blackbeard, ruled the seas with an iron fist from 1716 to 1718. Blackbeard's most famous ship was titled the Queen Anne's Revenge, in response to the end of Queen Anne's War. Blackbeard was killed by one of Lieutenant Robert Maynard's crewmen in 1718.
- Bartholomew Roberts, sometimes called 'Black Bart', was one of the most successful and colourful pirates of the day (he and fellow pirate Captain Francis Spriggs were the earliest recorded using the Jolly Roger as their battle flag). He was killed off the coast of Africa in 1722.
- William Fly, whose execution in 1726 is used by historian Marcus Rediker to mark the end of the Golden Age of Pirates.
- William Kidd was the only privateer who was thought to have buried treasure somewhere in New Hampshire.
- Thomas Anstis was an early 18th century pirate, who served under Captain Howell Davis and then Captain Bartholomew Roberts, before setting up on his own account, raiding shipping on the eastern coast of the American colonies and in the Caribbean.
- Samuel Bellamy was called "Black Sam" because he eschewed the fashionable powdered wig in favor of tying back his long black hair. Bellamy became known for his mercy and generosity toward those he captured gaining him the second nickname of the "Prince of Pirates," and his crew called themselves "Robin Hood's Band."
- Calico Jack is remembered mainly because of his association with the two most famous women pirates in history: Mary Read and Anne Bonny, whom all shared sexual affairs. It has been claimed he fathered their children.
- Jean Lafitte's lost treasure has acquired a lore of its own as it, like his death, was never accounted for. He reportedly maintained several stashes of plundered gold and jewelry in the vast system of marshes, swamps, and bayous located around Barrataria Bay.
- François l'Ollonais was a French pirate active in the Caribbean during the 1660s. L'Ollonais first arrived in the Caribbean as an indentured servant during the 1650s. By 1660, his indenture was complete and he began to wander the various islands, before finally arriving in Saint-Domingue and becoming a buccaneer, preying on Spanish shipping.
- Edward Lowe was a notorious pirate during the Golden Age of Piracy. His pirate flag featured a black flag with a red skeleton. Lowe is also famous as one of the more brutal pirates, inflicting torture and cruel acts to his victims.
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.