Scope of Project
This project aims to identify Pirates and Privateers on the high seas.
Piracy is a war-like act committed by private parties (not affiliated with any government) that engage in acts of robbery and/or criminal violence at sea. The term can include acts committed in other major bodies of water or on a shore. It does not normally include crimes committed against persons travelling on the same vessel as the perpetrator (e.g. one passenger stealing from others on the same vessel). The term has been used to refer to raids across land borders by non-state agents. Piracy is distinguished from privateering, which was authorized by their national authorities and therefore a legitimate form of war-like activity by non-state actors. This form of commerce raiding was outlawed in the 19th century.
It may be reasonable to assume that piracy has existed for as long as the oceans were plied for commerce. The earliest documented instances of piracy are the exploits of the Sea Peoples who threatened the Aegean and Mediterranean in the 13th century BC. In Classical Antiquity, the Illyrians and Tyrrhenians were known as pirates, as well as Greeks and Romans. The island of Lemnos long resisted Greek influence and remained a haven for Thracian pirates. During their voyages the Phoenicians seem to have sometimes resorted to piracy, and specialized in kidnapping boys and girls to be sold as slaves. In the 3rd century BC, pirate attacks on Olympos (city in Anatolia) brought impoverishment. Among some of the most famous ancient pirateering peoples were the Illyrians, populating the western Balkan peninsula. Constantly raiding the Adriatic Sea, the Illyrians caused many conflicts with the Roman Republic. It was not until 168 BC when the Romans finally conquered Illyria, making it a province that ended their threat. During the 1st century BC, there were pirate states along the Anatolian coast, threatening the commerce of the Roman Empire in the eastern Mediterranean. On one voyage across the Aegean Sea in 75 BC, Julius Caesar was kidnapped by Cilician pirates and held prisoner in the Dodecanese islet of Pharmacusa. He maintained an attitude of superiority and good cheer throughout his captivity. When the pirates decided to demand a ransom of twenty talents of gold, Caesar is said to have insisted that he was worth at least fifty, and the pirates indeed raised the ransom to fifty talents. After the ransom was paid and Caesar was released, he raised a fleet, pursued and captured the pirates, and had them put to death. The Senate finally invested with powers to deal with piracy in 67 BC (the Lex Gabinia), and Pompey after three months of naval warfare managed to suppress the threat. As early as 258 AD, the Gothic-Herulic fleet ravaged towns on the coasts of the Black Sea and Sea of Marmara. The Aegean coast suffered similar attacks a few years later. In 264, the Goths reached Galatia and Cappadocia, and Gothic pirates landed on Cyprus and Crete. In the process, the Goths seized enormous booty and took thousands into captivity. In 286 AD, Carausius, a Roman military commander of Gaulish origins, was appointed to command the Classis Britannica, and given the responsibility of eliminating Frankish and Saxon pirates who had been raiding the coasts of Armorica and Belgic Gaul. In the Roman province of Britannia, Saint Patrick was captured and enslaved by Irish pirates. Early Polynesian warriors attacked seaside and riverside villages. They used the sea for their hit-and-run tactics - a safe place to retreat to if the battle turned against them.
Middle Ages to 19th century
The most widely known and far reaching pirates in medieval Europe were the Vikings, warriors and looters from Scandinavia who raided from about 783 to 1066, during the Viking Age in the Early Middle Ages. They raided the coasts, rivers and inland cities of all Western Europe as far as Seville, attacked by the Norse in 844. Vikings even attacked coasts of North Africa and Italy. They also plundered all the coasts of the Baltic Sea, ascending the rivers of Eastern Europe as far as the Black Sea and Persia. The lack of centralized powers all over Europe during the Middle Ages favoured pirates all over the continent. Meanwhile, Muslim pirates were common in the Mediterranean Sea. Toward the end of the 9th century, Muslim pirate havens were established along the coast of southern France and northern Italy. In 846 Muslim raiders sacked Rome and damaged the Vatican. In 911, the bishop of Narbonne was unable to return to France from Rome because the Muslims from Fraxinet controlled all the passes in the Alps. Muslim pirates operated out of the Balearic Islands in the 10th century. From 824 to 961 Arab pirates in Crete raided the entire Mediterranean. In the 14th century, raids by Muslim pirates forced the Venetian Duke of Crete to ask Venice to keep its fleet on constant guard. After the Slavic invasions of the Balkan peninsula in the 5th and 6th centuries, a Slavic tribe settled the land of Pagania between Dalmatia and Zachlumia in the first half of the 7th century. These Slavs revived the old Illyrian piratical habits and often raided the Adriatic Sea. By 642 they invaded southern Italy and assaulted Siponto. Their raids in the Adriatic increased rapidly, until the whole Sea was no longer safe for travel. The Narentines, as they were called, took more liberties in their raiding quests while the Venetian Navy was abroad, as when it was campaigning in Sicilian waters in 827–882. As soon as the Venetian fleet would return to the Adriatic, the Narentines temporarily abandoned their habits again, even signing a Treaty in Venice and baptising their Slavic pagan leader into Christianity. In 834 or 835 they broke the treaty and again the Neretva pirates raided Venetian traders returning from Benevento, and all of Venice's military attempts to punish the Marians in 839 and 840 utterly failed. Later, they raided the Venetians more often, together with the Arabs. In 846. the Narentines broke through to Venice itself and raided its lagoon city of Caorle. In the middle of March of 870 they kidnapped the Roman Bishop's emissaries that were returning from the Ecclesiastical Council in Constantinople. This caused a Byzantine military action against them that finally brought Christianity to them. After the Arab raids on the Adriatic coast c. 872 and the retreat of the Imperial Navy, the Narentines continued their raids of Venetian waters, causing new conflicts with the Italians in 887–888. The Venetians futilely continued to fight them throughout the 10thand 11th centuries. In 937, Irish pirates sided with the Scots, Vikings, Picts, and Welsh in their invasion of England. Athelstan drove them back. The Slavic piracy in the Baltic Sea ended with the Danish conquest of the Rani stronghold of Arkona in 1168. In the 12th century the coasts of western Scandinavia were plundered by Curonians and Oeselians from the eastern coast of the Baltic Sea. In the 13th and 14th century pirates threatened the Hanseatic routes and nearly brought sea trade to the brink of extinction. The Victual Brothers of Gotland were a companionship of privateers who later turned to piracy. Until about 1440, maritime trade in both the North Sea and the Baltic Sea was seriously in danger of attack by the pirates. H. Thomas Milhorn mentions a certain Englishman named William Maurice, convicted of piracy in 1241, as the first person known to have been hanged, drawn and quartered, which would indicate that the then-ruling King Henry III took an especially severe view of this crime. The ushkuiniks were Novgorodian pirates who looted the cities on the Volga and Kama Rivers in the 14th century. As early as Byzantine times, the Maniots (one of Greece's toughest populations) were known as pirates. The Maniots considered piracy as a legitimate response to the fact that their land was poor and it became their main source of income. The main victims of Maniot pirates were the Ottomans but the Maniots also targeted ships of European countries. The Haida and Tlingit tribes, who lived along the coast of southern Alaska and on islands in northwest British Columbia, were traditionally known as fierce warriors, pirates and slave-traders, raiding as far as California.
Instances of Piracy in India are recorded on Vedas. However the most interesting one is when the issue of piracy was utilized as a excuse for war. Invasion of Sindh, In the 7th century the new kingdom of Hajjaz wanted to expand Arab domination over India especially Sindh.The Arab Caliph of Baghdad was in search of an excuse to invade India. The excuse taken was that a ship enroute from Sri Lanka to Baghdad was carrying among valuables some slave girls was looted off Debal. The Caliph demanded compensation and the King Dahir of Sindh rightfully denied as the pirates were not in his control. This became an excuse for war between Arabs and Sindh. Since the 14th century the Deccan (Southern Peninsular region of India) was divided into two entities: on the one side stood the Muslim-ruled Bahmani Sultanate, and on the other stood the Hindu kings rallied around the Vijayanagara Empire. Continuous wars demanded frequent resupplies of fresh horses, which were imported through sea routes from Persia and Africa. This trade was subjected to frequent raids by thriving bands of pirates based in the coastal cities of Western India. One of such was Timoji, who operated off Anjadip Island both as a privateer (by seizing horse traders, that he rendered to the raja of Honavar) and as a pirate who attacked the Kerala merchant fleets that traded pepper with Gujarat. During the 16th and 17th centuries there was frequent European piracy against Mughal Indian vessels, especially those en route to Mecca for Hajj. The situation came to a head, when Portuguese attacked and captured the vessel Rahimi which belonged to Mariam Zamani the Mughal queen, which led to the Mughal seizure of the Portuguese town Daman. In the 18th century, the famous Maratha privateer Kanhoji Angre ruled the seas between Mumbai and Goa. The Marathas attacked British shipping and insisted that East India Company ships pay taxes if sailing through their waters. At one stage, the pirate population of Madagascar numbered close to 1000. Île Sainte-Marie became a popular base for pirates throughout the 17th and 18th centuries. The most famous pirate utopia is that of Captain Misson and his pirate crew, who allegedly founded the free colony of Libertatia in northern Madagascar in the late 17th century. In 1694, it was destroyed in a surprise attack by the island natives. The southern coast of the Persian Gulf became known as the Pirate Coast as raiders based there harassed foreign shipping. Early British expeditions to protect the Indian Ocean trade from raiders at Ras al-Khaimah led to campaigns against that headquarters and other harbours along the coast in 1819.
In East Asia
From the 13th century, Wokou based in Japan made their debut in East Asia, initiating invasions that would persist for 300 years. Piracy in South East Asia began with the retreating Mongol Yuan fleet after the betrayal by their Javanese allies (who, incidentally, would found the empire of Majapahit after the Mongols left). They preferred the junk, a ship using a more robust sail layout. Marooned navy officers, consisting mostly of Cantonese and Hokkien tribesmen, set up their small gangs near river estuaries, mainly to protect themselves. They recruited locals as common foot-soldiers known as 'lang' (lanun) to set up their fortresses. They survived by utilizing their well trained pugilists, as well as marine and navigation skills, mostly along Sumatran and Javanese estuaries. Their strength and ferocity coincided with the impending trade growth of the maritime silk and spice routes. However, the most powerful pirate fleets of East Asia were those of Chinese pirates during the mid-Qing dynasty. Pirate fleets grew increasingly powerful throughout the early 19th century. The effects large-scale piracy had on the Chinese economy were immense. They preyed voraciously on China's junk trade, which flourished in Fujian and Guangdong and was a vital artery of Chinese commerce. Pirate fleets exercised hegemony over villages on the coast, collecting revenue by exacting tribute and running extortion rackets. In 1802, the menacing Zheng Yi inherited the fleet of his cousin, captain Zheng Qi, whose death provided Zheng Yi with considerably more influence in the world of piracy. Zheng Yi and his wife, Zheng Yi Sao (who would eventually inherit the leadership of his pirate confederacy) then formed a pirate coalition that, by 1804, consisted of over ten thousand men. Their military might alone was sufficient to combat the Qing navy. However, a combination of famine, Qing naval opposition, and internal rifts crippled piracy in China around the 1820s, and it has never again reached the same status. The Buginese sailors of South Sulawesi were infamous as pirates who used to range as far west as Singapore and as far north as the Philippines in search of targets for piracy. The Orang laut pirates controlled shipping in the Straits of Malacca and the waters around Singapore, and the Malay and Sea Dayak pirates preyed on maritime shipping in the waters between Singapore and Hong Kong from their haven in Borneo. In the 1840s and 1850s, United States Navy and Royal Navy forces campaigned together against Chinese pirates. Several notable battles were fought though pirate junks continued operating off China for years more. During the Second Opium War and the Taiping Rebellion, piratical junks were again destroyed in large numbers by British naval forces but ultimately it wasn't until the 1860s and 1870s that fleets of pirate junks ceased to exist.
In Eastern Europe
One example of a pirate republic in Europe from the 16th through the 18th century was Zaporizhian Sich. Situated in the remote Steppe, it was populated with Ukrainian peasants that had run away from their feudal masters, outlaws of every sort, destitute gentry, run-away slaves from Turkish galleys, etc. The remoteness of the place and the rapids at the Dnepr river effectively guarded the place from invasions of vengeful powers. The main target of the inhabitants of Zaporizhian Sich who called themselves "Cossacks" were rich settlements at the Black Sea shores of Ottoman Empire and Crimean Khanate. By 1615 and 1625, Zaporozhian Cossacks had even managed to raze townships on the outskirts of Istanbul, forcing the Ottoman Sultan to flee his palace. Don Cossacks under Stenka Razin even ravaged the Persian coasts.
In North Africa
The Barbary pirates were pirates and privateers that operated from North African (the "Barbary coast") ports of Tunis, Tripoli, Algiers, Salé and ports in Morocco, preying on shipping in the western Mediterranean Sea from the time of the Crusades as well as on ships on their way to Asia around Africa until the early 19th century. The coastal villages and towns of Italy, Spain and Mediterranean islands were frequently attacked by them and long stretches of the Italian and Spanish coasts were almost completely abandoned by their inhabitants; after 1600 Barbary pirates occasionally entered the Atlantic and struck as far north as Iceland. According to Robert Davis between 1 million and 1.25 million Europeans were captured by Barbary pirates and sold as slaves in North Africa and Ottoman Empire between the 16th and 19th centuries. The most famous corsairs were the Ottoman Hayreddin and his older brother Oruç Reis (Redbeard), Turgut Reis (known as Dragut in the West), Kurtoğlu (known as Curtogoli in the West), Kemal Reis, Salih Reis and Koca Murat Reis. A few Barbary pirates, such as the Dutch Jan Janszoon and the English John Ward [Yusuf Reis], were renegade European privateers who had converted to Islam. According to the U.S. Supreme Court, the United States treated captured Barbary corsairs as prisoners of war, indicating that they were considered as legitimate privateers by at least some of their opponents, as well as by their home countries.
In the Caribbean
In 1523, Jean Fleury seized two Spanish treasure ships carrying Aztec treasures from Mexico to Spain. The great or classic era of piracy in the Caribbean extends from around 1560 up until the mid 1720s. The period during which pirates were most successful was from 1700 until the 1730s. Many pirates came to the Caribbean after the end of the War of the Spanish Succession, they stayed in the Caribbean and became pirates shortly after that. Others, the buccaneers, arrived in the mid-to-late 17th century and made attempts at earning a living by farming and hunting on Hispaniola and nearby islands; pressed by Spanish raids and possibly failure of their means of making a living, they turned to a more lucrative occupation. Caribbean piracy arose out of, and mirrored on a smaller scale, the conflicts over trade and colonization among the rival European powers of the time, including the empires of Britain, Spain, the Netherlands, Portugal and France. Most of these pirates were of English, Dutch and French origin. Because Spain controlled most of the Caribbean, many of the attacked cities and ships belonged to the Spanish Empire and along the East coast of America and the West coast of Africa. Dutch ships captured about 500 Spanish and Portuguese ships between 1623 and 1638. Some of the best-known pirate bases were New Providence, in the Bahamas from 1715 to 1725, Tortuga established in the 1640s and Port Royal after 1655. Among the most famous Caribbean pirates are Edward Teach or Blackbeard, Calico Jack Rackham, Henry Morgan and the most successful Bartholomew Roberts. Most were hunted down by the Royal Navy and killed or captured, several battles were fought between the brigands and the colonial powers on both land and sea. Piracy in the Caribbean declined for the next several decades after 1730 but by the 1810s many pirates roamed American waters though they were not as bold or successful as the predecessors. Throughout the first quarter of the 19th century, the United States Navy repeatedly engaged pirates in the Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico and in the Mediterranean. Several warships were designed specifically for the task. The most successful pirates of the era were Jean Lafitte and Roberto Cofresi. Lafitte's ships primarily operated in the Gulf of Mexico but Cofresi's base was in Puerto Rico where he was considered a type of Robin Hood by many Puerto Ricans. Eventually he was defeated by the schooner USS Grampus and captured in 1825. The United States landed shore parties on several islands in the Caribbean in pursuit of pirates, Cuba was a major haven but the 1830s piracy had died out again and the navies of the region focused on the slave trade. In 1827, Britain declared that participation in the slave trade was piracy, a crime punishable by death. The power of the Royal Navy was subsequently used to suppress the slave trade, and while some illegal trade, mostly with Brazil and Cuba, continued, the Atlantic slave trade would be eradicated by the middle of the 19th century. Boysie Singh was a Caribbean pirate who operated off northern South America. He and his pirate gang killed several people and plundered their ships from 1947 to 1956.
In North America
Piracy off the coasts of North America continued as late as the 1870s. Pirates who operated in the Caribbean often sailed north to attack targets off the present day eastern seaboard of the United States. Possibly the most famous of these was Blackbeard, who operated in the American south, attacking ships and at one point even blockading Charleston, South Carolina. Later in the 19th century, after the Golden Age of Piracy, Jean Lafitte became what is considered by many to be the last buccaneer due to his army of pirates and fleet of pirate ships which held bases in and around the Gulf of Mexico. Lafitte and his men participated in the War of 1812 battle of New Orleans and later his ships fought the United States Navy and the United States Revenue Cutter Service. Eventually Lafitte was evicted from the area by United States forces after several battles and raids. Between 1822 and 1825 the American West Indies Squadron fought against pirates in the Caribbean. By 1830, piracy in the Gulf of Mexico became rare with the exception of slave traders, who were considered pirates. In 1860 during the Reform War, the United States Navy fought the Battle of Anton Lizardo against rebels which were declared pirates by the Mexican government. In 1870, the United States again fought pirates off Mexico during the Battle of Boca Teacapan. The pirates had attacked and captured Guaymas, Mexico, looted the foreign residents of their belongings and forced the United States consulate in Guaymas to provide their steamer with coal, after which they sailed for Boca Teacapan, Sinaloa. A United States Navy expedition under Willard H. Brownson was launched, resulting in the destruction of the pirate ship. The invention of steam powered vessels eventually put an end to piracy off North America though some isolated incidents continued to occur into the 1920s.
In the popular modern imagination, pirates of the classical period were rebellious, clever teams who operated outside the restricting bureaucracy of modern life. Pirates were also depicted as always raising their Jolly Roger flag when preparing to hijack a vessel. The Jolly Roger is the traditional name for the flags of European and American pirates and a symbol for piracy that has been adopted by film-makers and toy manufacturers.
Unlike traditional Western societies of the time, many pirate crews operated as limited democracies. Pirate communities were some of the first to instate a system of checks and balances similar to the one used by the present-day United States and many other countries. The first record of such a government aboard a pirate sloop dates to the 17th century. Both the captain and the quartermaster were elected by the crew; they, in turn, appointed the other ship's officers. The captain of a pirate ship was often a fierce fighter in whom the men could place their trust, rather than a more traditional authority figure sanctioned by an elite. However, when not in battle, the quartermaster usually had the real authority. Many groups of pirates shared in whatever they seized; pirates injured in battle might be afforded special compensation similar to medical or disability insurance. There are contemporary records that many pirates placed a portion of any captured money into a central fund that was used to compensate the injuries sustained by the crew. Lists show standardised payments of 600 pieces of eight ($156,000 in modern currency) for the loss of a leg down to 100 pieces ($26,800) for loss of an eye. Often all of these terms were agreed upon and written down by the pirates, but these articles could also be used as incriminating proof that they were outlaws. Pirates readily accepted outcasts from traditional societies, perhaps easily recognizing kindred spirits, and they were known to welcome them into the pirate fold. For example as many as 40% of the pirate vessels' crews were slaves liberated from captured slavers. Such practices within a pirate crew were tenuous, however, and did little to mitigate the brutality of the pirate's way of life.
Even though pirates raided many ships, few, if any, buried their treasure. Often, the "treasure" that was stolen was food, water, alcohol, weapons, or clothing. Other things they stole were household items like bits of soap and gear like rope and anchors, or sometimes they would keep the ship they captured (either to sell off or keep because it was better than their ship). Such items were likely to be needed immediately, rather than saved for future trade. For this reason, there was no reason for the pirates to bury these goods. Pirates tended to kill few people aboard the ships they captured; oftentimes they would kill no one if the ship surrendered, because if it became known that pirates took no prisoners, their victims would fight to the last and make victory both very difficult and costly in lives. Contrariwise, ships would quickly surrender if they knew they would be spared. In one well-documented case 300 heavily armed soldiers on a ship attacked by Thomas Tew surrendered after a brief battle with none of Tew's 40-man crew being injured.
Pirates had a system of hierarchy on board their ships determining how captured money was distributed. However, pirates were more "egalitarian" than any other area of employment at the time. In fact pirate quartermasters were a counterbalance to the captain and had the power to veto his orders. The majority of plunder was in the form of cargo and ship's equipment with medicines the most highly prized. A vessel's doctor's chest would be worth anywhere from £300 to £400, or around $470,000 in today's values. Jewels were common plunder but not popular as they were hard to sell, and pirates, unlike the public of today, had little concept of their value. There is one case recorded where a pirate was given a large diamond worth a great deal more than the value of the handful of small diamonds given his crewmates as a share. He felt cheated and had it broken up to match what they received. Spanish pieces of eight minted in Mexico or Seville were the standard trade currency in the American colonies. However, every colony still used the monetary units of pounds, shillings and pence for bookkeeping while Spanish, German, French and Portuguese money were all standard mediums of exchange as British law prohibited the export of British silver coinage. Until the exchange rates were standardised in the late 18th century each colony legislated its own different exchange rates. In England, 1 piece of eight was worth 4s 3d while it was worth 8s in New York, 7s 6d in Pennsylvania and 6s 8d in Virginia. One 18th century English shilling was worth around $58 in modern currency so a piece of eight could be worth anywhere from $246 to $465. As such, the value of pirate plunder could vary considerably depending on who recorded it and where. Ordinary seamen received a part of the plunder at the captain's discretion but usually a single share. On average, a pirate could expect the equivalent of a year's wages as his share from each ship captured while the crew of the most successful pirates would often each receive a share valued at around £1,000 ($1.17 million) at least once in their career. One of the larger amounts taken from a single ship was that by captain Thomas Tew from an Indian merchantman in 1692. Each ordinary seaman on his ship received a share worth £3,000 ($3.5 million) with officers receiving proportionally larger amounts as per the agreed shares with Tew himself receiving 2½ shares. It is known there were actions with multiple ships captured where a single share was worth almost double this. By contrast, an ordinary seamen in the Royal Navy received 19s per month to be paid in a lump sum at the end of a tour of duty which was around half the rate paid in the Merchant Navy. However, corrupt officers would often "tax" their crews' wage to supplement their own and the Royal Navy of the day was infamous for its reluctance to pay. From this wage, 6d per month was deducted for the maintenance of Greenwich Hospital with similar amounts deducted for the Chatham Chest, the chaplain and surgeon. Six months' pay was withheld to discourage desertion. That this was insufficient incentive is revealed in a report on proposed changes to the RN Admiral Nelson wrote in 1803; he noted that since 1793 more than 42,000 sailors had deserted. Roughly half of all RN crews were pressganged and these not only received lower wages than volunteers but were shackled while the vessel was docked and were never permitted to go ashore until released from service. Although the Royal Navy suffered from many morale issues, it answered the question of prize money via the 'Cruizers and Convoys' Act of 1708 which handed over the share previously gained by the Crown to the captors of the ship. Technically it was still possible for the Crown to get the money or a portion of it but this rarely happened. The process of condemnation of a captured vessel and its cargo and men was given to the High Court of the Admiralty and this was the process which remained in force with minor changes throughout the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. The share-out of prize-money is given below in its pre-1808 state. 1/8 Flag Officer 2/8 Captain(s) 1/8 Captains of Marines, Lieutenants, Masters, Surgeons 1/8 Lieutenants of Marines, Secretary to Flag Officer, Principal Warrant Officers, Chaplains. 1/8 Midshipmen, Inferior Warrant Officers, Principal Warrant Officer's Mates, Marine Sergeants 2/8 The Rest After 1808 the regulations were changed to give the following: 1/3 of the Captain's share 2/8 1/8 1/8 4/8 4/8 Even the flag officer's share was not quite straightforward; he would only get the full one-eighth if he had no junior flag officer beneath him. If this was the case then he would get a third share. If he had more than one then he would take one half while the rest was shared out equally. There was a great deal of money to be made in this way. The record breaker, admittedly before our wars, was the capture of the Spanish frigate the Hermione, which was carrying treasure in 1762. The value of this was so great that each individual seaman netted £485 ($1.4 million in 2008 dollars). The two captains responsible, Evans and Pownall, got just on £65,000 each ($188.4 million). In January 1807 the frigate Caroline took the Spanish San Rafael which brought in £52,000 for her captain, Peter Rainier (who had been only a Midshipman some thirteen months before). All through the wars there are examples of this kind of luck falling on captains. Another famous 'capture' was that of the Spanish frigates Thetis and Santa Brigada which were loaded with gold specie. They were taken by four British frigates who shared the money, each captain receiving £40,730. Each lieutenant got £5,091, the Warrant Officer group, £2,468, the midshipmen £791 and the individual seamen £182. It should also be noted that it was usually only the frigates which took prizes; the ships of the line were far too ponderous to be able to chase and capture the smaller ships which generally carried treasure. Nelson always bemoaned that he had done badly out of prize money and even as a flag officer received little. This was not that he had a bad command of captains but rather that British mastery of the seas was so complete that few enemy ships dared to sail.
During the 17th and 18th centuries, once pirates were caught, justice was meted out in a summary fashion, and many ended their lives by "dancing the hempen jig", or hanging at the end of a rope. Public execution was a form of entertainment at the time, and people came out to watch them as they would to a sporting event today. Newspapers were glad to report every detail, such as recording the condemned men's last words, the prayers said by the priests for their immortal souls, and their final agonising moments on the gallows. In England most of these executions took place at Execution Dock on the River Thames in London. In the cases of more famous prisoners, usually captains their punishments extended beyond death. Their bodies were enclosed in iron cages (for which they were measured before their execution) and left to swing in the air until the flesh rotted off them- a process that could take as long as two years. The bodies of captains such as William Kidd, Charles Vane, William Fly, and Jack Rackham were all treated this way
A privateer or corsair used similar methods to a pirate, but acted while in possession of a commission or letter of marque from a government or monarch authorizing the capture of merchant ships belonging to an enemy nation. For example, the United States Constitution of 1787 specifically authorized Congress to issue letters of marque and reprisal. The letter of marque was recognized by international convention and meant that a privateer could not technically be charged with piracy while attacking the targets named in his commission. This nicety of law did not always save the individuals concerned, however, as whether one was considered a pirate or a legally operating privateer often depended on whose custody the individual found himself in—that of the country that had issued the commission, or that of the object of attack. Spanish authorities were known to execute foreign privateers with their letters of marque hung around their necks to emphasize Spain's rejection of such defenses. Furthermore, many privateers exceeded the bounds of their letters of marque by attacking nations with which their sovereign was at peace (Thomas Tew and William Kidd are notable examples), and thus made themselves liable to conviction for piracy. However, a letter of marque did provide some cover for such pirates, as plunder seized from neutral or friendly shipping could be passed off later as taken from enemy merchants. The famous Barbary Corsairs (authorized by the Ottoman Empire) of the Mediterranean were privateers, as were the Maltese Corsairs, who were authorized by the Knights of St. John, and the Dunkirkers in the service of the Spanish Empire. In the years 1626–1634 alone, the Dunkirk privateers captured 1,499 ships, and sank another 336. From 1609 to 1616, England lost 466 merchant ships to Barbary pirates, and 160 British ships were captured by Algerians between 1677 and 1680. One famous privateer was Sir Francis Drake. His patron was Queen Elizabeth I, and their relationship ultimately proved to be quite profitable for England. Privateers were a large proportion of the total military force at sea during the 17th and 18th centuries. During the Nine Years War, the French adopted a policy of strongly encouraging privateers, including the famous Jean Bart, to attack English and Dutch shipping. England lost roughly 4,000 merchant ships during the war. In the following War of Spanish Succession, privateer attacks continued, Britain losing 3,250 merchant ships. During the War of Austrian Succession, Britain lost 3,238 merchant ships and France lost 3,434 merchant ships to the British. During King George's War, approximately 36,000 Americans served aboard privateers at one time or another. During the American Revolution, about 55,000 American seamen served aboard the privateers. The American privateers had almost 1,700 ships, and they captured 2,283 enemy ships. Between the end of the Revolutionary War and 1812, less than 30 years, Britain, France, Naples, the Barbary States, Spain, and the Netherlands seized approximately 2,500 American ships. Payments in ransom and tribute to the Barbary states amounted to 20% of United States government annual revenues in 1800. Throughout the American Civil War, Confederate privateers successfully harassed Union merchant ships. Privateering lost international sanction under the Declaration of Paris in 1856.
- Capt. Stede Bonnet, son of an English plantation owner, chose to become a pirate and was known for sadistic treatment of his men. He was hanged at Charleston, SC, in 1718.
- Charles Vane terrorized Caribbean shipping, lost his ship in a 1720 storm and was hanged in Jamaica.
- Capt. Henry Every, famous English pirate, was the model for the pirates in Daniel Defoe’s books; served in the Royal Army before becoming a pirate.
- Walter Kennedy was part of Bartholomew Roberts’ crew when they captured a Portuguese ship carrying rich bounty. He was hanged in 1721.
- Capt. Howell Davis, a Welsh pirate, preyed on ships off the West African coast and in the Caribbean between 1718 and 1719.
- Capt. George Lowther plied the waters of North America and the Caribbean until his arrest in 1728.
- Thomas Tew, based in Madagascar, supposedly had such a reputation for kindness that ships seldom resisted him.
- Capt. William Kidd had assorted adventures, covering a large territory from the Americas to the Indian Ocean. He was hanged for piracy and murder in London in 1701.
- Edward Teach, named Blackbeard for all his facial hair, was among the most dreaded and despised pirates of all times.
- Capt. Edward England was driven from the Caribbean in 1718 and became the scourge of African waters, even though he did not believe in torturing victims
By Christopher Minster, About.com Guide
The so-called “Golden Age of Piracy” lasted from about 1700 to 1725. During this time, thousands of men (and women) turned to piracy as a way to make a living. It is known as the “Golden Age” because conditions were perfect for pirates to flourish, and many of the individuals we associate with piracy, such as Blackbeard, “Calico Jack” Rackham or “Black Bart” Roberts, were active during this time. Here are ten things you maybe did not know about these ruthless sea bandits!
1. They Rarely Buried Treasure Some pirates buried treasure – most notably Captain William Kidd, who was at the time heading to New York to turn himself in and hopefully clear his name – but most never did. There were reasons for this. First of all, most of the loot gathered after a raid or attack was quickly divided up among the crew, who would rather spend it than bury it. Secondly, much of the “treasure” consisted of perishable goods like fabric, cocoa, food or other things that would quickly become ruined if buried. The persistence of this legend is partly due to the popularity of the classic novel “Treasure Island,” which includes a hunt for buried pirate treasure.
2. Their Careers Didn’t Last Long Most pirates didn’t last very long. It was a tough line of work: many were killed or injured in battle or in fights amongst themselves, and medical facilities were usually non-existent. Even the most famous pirates, such as Blackbeard or Bartholomew Roberts, only were active in piracy for a couple of years. Roberts, who had a very long and successful career for a pirate, was only active for about three years from 1719 to 1722.
3. They Had Rules and Regulations If all you ever did was watch pirate movies, you’d think that being a pirate was easy: no rules other than to attack rich Spanish galleons, drink rum and swing around in the rigging. In reality, most pirate crews had a code which all members were required to acknowledge or sign. These rules included punishments for lying, stealing or fighting on board (fighting on shore was OK). Pirates took these articles very seriously and punishments could be severe.
4. They Didn’t Walk the Plank Sorry, but this one is another myth. There are a couple tales of pirates walking the plank well after the “Golden Age” ended, but little evidence to suggest that this was a common punishment before then. Not that pirates didn’t have effective punishments, mind you. Pirates who committed an infraction could be marooned on an island, whipped, or even “keel-hauled,” a vicious punishment in which a pirate was tied to a rope and then thrown overboard: he was then dragged down one side of the ship, under the vessel, over the keel and then back up the other side. This doesn’t sound too bad until you remember that ship bottoms were usually covered with barnacles, often resulting in very serious injuries.
5. A Good Pirate Ship had Good Officers A pirate ship was more than a boatload of thieves, killers and rascals. A good ship was a well-run machine, with officers and a clear division of labor. The captain decided where to go and when, and which enemy ships to attack. He also had absolute command during battle. The quartermaster oversaw the ship’s operation and divided up the loot. There were other positions, including boatswain, carpenter, cooper, gunner and navigator. Success as a pirate ship depended on these men carrying out their tasks efficiently and supervising the men under their command.
6. The Pirates Didn’t Limit Themselves to the Caribbean The Caribbean was a great place for pirates: there was little or no law, there were plenty of uninhabited islands for hideouts, and many merchant vessels passed through. But the pirates of the “Golden Age” did not only work there. Many crossed the ocean to stage raids off the west coast of Africa, including the legendary “Black Bart” Roberts. Others sailed as far as the Indian Ocean to work the shipping lanes of southern Asia: it was in the Indian Ocean that Henry “Long Ben” Avery made one of the biggest scores ever: the rich treasure ship Ganj-i-Sawai.
7. There Were Women Pirates It was extremely rare, but women did occasionally strap on a cutlass and pistol and take to the seas. The most famous examples were Anne Bonny and Mary Read, who sailed with “Calico Jack” Rackham in 1719. Bonny and Read dressed as men and reportedly fought just as well (or better than) their male counterparts. When Rackham and his crew were captured, Bonny and Read announced that they were both pregnant and thus avoided being hanged along with the others.
8. Piracy was better than the Alternatives Were pirates desperate men who could not find honest work? Not always: many pirates chose the life, and whenever a pirate stopped a merchant ship, it was not uncommon for a handful of merchant crewmen to join the pirates. This was because “honest” work at sea consisted of either merchant or military service, both of which featured abominable conditions. Sailors were underpaid, routinely cheated of their wages, beaten at the slightest provocation and often forced to serve. It should surprise no one that many would willingly choose the more humane and democratic life on board a pirate vessel.
9. They came from all Social Classes Not all of the Golden Age pirates were uneducated thugs who took up piracy for lack of a better way to make a living. Some of them came from higher social classes as well. Major Stede Bonnet, who was a wealthy plantation owner in Barbados before he outfitted a ship and became a pirate in 1717: some say he did it to get away from a nagging wife!
10. Not all Pirates were Criminals Sometimes it depended on your point of view. During wartime, nations would often issue Letters of Marque and Reprisal, which allowed ships to attack enemy ports and vessels. Usually these ships kept the plunder or shared some of it with the government that had issued the letter. These men were called “privateers,” and the most famous examples were Captain Henry Morgan. These Englishmen never attacked English ships, ports or merchants and were considered great heroes by the common folk of England. The Spanish, however, considered them pirates.
More Real-life Pirates of the Caribbean
- Edward Low
- Francis Spriggs
- Charles Vane
Great Moments in Pirate History
Beal, Clifford (2007). Quelch's Gold: Piracy, Greed, and Betrayal in Colonial New England. Praeger. p. 243. ISBN 0-275-99407-4.
Burnett, John (2002). Dangerous Waters: Modern Piracy and Terror on the High Seas. Plume. p. 346. ISBN 0-452-28413-9.
Cordingly, David (1997). Under the Black Flag: The Romance and the Reality of Life Among the Pirates. Harvest Books. ISBN 0-15-600549-2.
Defoe, Daniel or Johnson, Charles (1734). A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pyrates. Dover Publications. ISBN )-4864048-8-9
Girard, Geoffrey (2006). Tales of the Atlantic Pirates. Middle Atlantic Press. ISBN 0-9754419-5-7.
Kimball, Steve (2006). The Pyrates Way Magazine. The Pyrates Way, LLC. p. 64.
Langewiesche, William (2004). The Outlaw Sea: A World of Freedom, Chaos, and Crime. North Point Press. ISBN 0-86547-581-4.
Menefee, Samuel (1996). Trends in Maritime Violence. Jane's Information Group. ISBN 0-7106-1403-9.
Rediker, Marcus (1987). Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea: Merchant Seamen, Pirates and the Anglo-American Maritime World, 1700-1750. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-37983-0.
- Henry Morgan: The Pirate King
- Book Revue: A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pyrates
- Digital Library: A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pyrates
- Spanish Town: Notable incidents
- 16 Famous Pirates
- Privateers and Pirates of the West Indies