Ching Shih (also known as Shi Xianggu, Madame Ching, Zhèng Shì, Jehng Sih, and Cheng I Sao) is without a doubt one of most unique pirate leaders of all time. Born in 1775, she managed to distinguish herself in that fashion not only because she was a female, or that she managed to personally command the force of over 300 pirate ships and 20 thousand pirates or even because she managed to forge alliance with many other pirate leaders who followed her and created a naval force that counted over 1500 naval ships and 180 thousand pirates. In addition to all these incredible feats, the thing that makes her almost unique in entire sea pirate history is the fact that she managed to walk away from piracy unpunished and live her days in peace until she died from old age in 1844.
Not much is known of the early years of Ching Shih except that she was Cantonese prostitute who quickly rose through the ranks in the brothel of her birthplace city Guangzhou. She was famous for using her incredibly effective “pillow talk” to influence men. She eventually gained control over a large number of pirate ships and organized them into a well-oiled machine that attracted the attention of the famous Chinese pirate Cheng I. They chose to marry each other so that their pirate business could be united and grew to incredible size. She took great advantage from this marriage union, solidifying her place in the large pirate fleet and organizing a coalition with many other large Cantonese pirate fleets. After the death of her husband Cheng I in 1807, she took control of the fleet, immediately starting a romantic relationship with Cheng’s adopted son (and lover) Chang Paou.
Ching Shih’s control over the pirate fleet at that time was absolute, which was possible not only because of her well maintained political maneuvers what enabled her to rule unopposed but also because of her insistence that all pirates under her command respect very strict pirate code. That pirate code had three main rules and several secondary ones, and all of them influenced pirate sailors into the tight-knit group that was very organized and tough to beat. Reports from several governments with naval interests in the Chinese Sea (even mighty Great Britain!) reported that pirates from the Ching Shih organization known as “Red Flag Fleet” were determined in their attacks and unyielding in defense or imminent capture when outnumbered.
The core rules of Cheng I Sao’s fleet were::
Pirates who gave unsanctioned orders or who refused to follow orders were executed on the spot.
Stealing from the “public fund” of captured goods or money or raiding villages that supported pirates was punishable by death.
All captured goods, money or slaves had to be presented for inspection. The rewards were handed out in a predetermined way.
It was absolutely prohibited to have sex or rape female captives. Pirates could marry pretty captives if they had means to support them and be faithful to them, but rest were either ransomed or freed. Punishment for having sex or raping them was death.
Various other offenses were punishable by flogging, ironing, quartering and mutilation (this was almost exclusively performed on deserters).
As a ruler of the largest pirate fleet in the human history, Ching Shih even managed to create problems for many governments with largest naval fleets in the world. China, England, France and other countries who had interest to clear pirate activity from Chinese Sea had no solution for her, and military involvement was out of the question. However, after she started loosing grip of her fleet in 1810 and the pirate alliance broke into six distinct groups, she elected to take the big opportunity that was offered to her by Qing Emperor Jiaqing. She and Chang Paou received full royal pardons. While Chang Paou (under a new name of Cheung Po Tsai) continued to hunt remnants of dissolved Red Flag Fleet as a leader of newly formed governmental pirate hunting fleet until his early death, Ching Shih returned to land and resumed her life as Mistress of a local brothels and organizer of various smuggling and gambling enterprises.
She died in her sleep at the age of 69 in 1844.
Irish chieftain Grace O'Malley is today remembered not only as one of the most important persons during one of its most turbulent times of Irish history but also as a fierce pirate who used her large naval fleet to protect Irish to secure large wealth.
Grace O'Malley was one of the best remembered and influential chieftains of the Ó Máille clan in the west Ireland. She was born as a royalty and was a competent leader of her land, but because of her fascination with the sea and warfare, she fought with all her available means to ensure the independence of her lands against spreading the influence of England. Even though she was a woman and a royal who managed during her life to form notable political connections with neighboring nations, she became a pirate leader whose exploits at sea enabled her to gather significant wealth. Her unorthodox life and years of sailing the sea as a pirate leader have built Grace O'Malley into one of the most important figures from Irish history and also a significant character in the Irish folklore where she is sometimes called "The Sea Queen of Connacht".
Grace O’Malley was born under the name of Gráinne Ní Mháille in Ireland around 1530, as a daughter of the wealthy nobleman and sea trader Owen O'Malley (Eoghan Dubhdara Ó Máille). Contemporary historical records have many other spellings of her name, including Gráinne O'Maly, Graney O'Mally, Grainne Ní Maille, Grayn Ny Mayle, Granny ni Maille, Grany O'Mally, Grane ne Male, Grainy O'Maly, and Granee O'Maillie. During her youth the Ireland was provisionally under English control, who was ruled by the Henry VIII was King of England. However, in those years Tudor conquest of Ireland gathered pace and Irish nation became under attack and forced slowly to give up their independence. This did not sit well with the O’Malley clan which was one of the several clans who defied the will of England. Grace was brought up in the family residences of Belclare and Clare Island as a daughter of the chieftain whose legacy went all the way back to the Maille mac Conall, grandson of the king Ui Maill who ruled in Ireland Middle Ages. She was formally educated and learned to speak Latin. Even though there are no historical records of it, it is also highly possible that during her youth she was also fostered in another family for several years of her life, which was in line with the tradition among Irish nobility of that time.
O’Malleys managed to establish themselves as one of the rare seafaring clans of Irish people, managing not only to find fortune in trade and naval warfare but also fortifying their lands with Coast castles that protected them from invaders. Because of this long history of naval life, Grace O’Malley was fascinated by the sea her entire youth, and she ignored the influences of her entire family that wanted to steer her to the life at land. As the legend says, at the young age she cut her hair and dressed as a boy in an attempt an to become a sailor on her father's ship. Upon discovering her efforts, her entire family laughed and gave her the nickname "Grainne Mhaol" by whom she is known even today. If the legends can be trusted, she even survived a pirate attack by saving the life of his father during a battle on deck, managing to change the tide of the battle. Although she spent much of her youth and young adulthood on the ship, she received formal education and learned to speak foreign languages.
When she was around 17 years of age in 1546, O’Malley married to the Dónal a Chogaidh Ó Flaithbheartaigh also known as “Donal of the Battle”, heir of the O'Flaherty clan and holder of large land in Iar Connacht. She had three children with him - two sons (Owen and Murrough) and daughter Margaret. In 1566 O'Malley married again, this time for Risdeárd an Iarainn Bourke, also known as "Iron Richard". The marriage was a political one and was performed not only so that O’Malley family could enlarge their lands, but also so that they could grow their naval fleet and take advantage from many ports Bourke controlled. The political nature of this marriage showed itself clearly one year after the wedding when O’Malley divorced Burke and took with her the castle of Rockfleet which was protecting the harbor of very strong significance to O’Malley fleet. She bore one son for Bourke named Tiobóid, who would eventually reach the title of 1st Viscount Mayo in 1626 by Charles I of England.
As her influence rose as an international trader, owner of large land in Ireland and a pirate who harassed English holdings and trade, she became involved in several political struggles with surrounding nations. Grace did not hold much love towards the English crown (who in the previous year's took more and more Irish lands under their rule), and in the following years, she entered into open rebelling against the England. She several times offered her fighting men to the Lord Deputy of Ireland who protected Irish and Scottish interests against England.
Her exploits at sea created several folk tales and legendary exploits that are still told today in Ireland. In 1576 O'Malley sailed to Howth Castle to visit Lord Howth, only to find that the Lord was away and the gates of the castle are closed to her or any other visitor. Feeling insulted, she kidnapped the Lord Howth’s grandson and heir, Christopher St Lawrence, 10th Baron Howth. He was eventually released under the promise that Howth Castle doors will always remain opened to unexpected visitors, with a place for them ready at the table. Lord Howth promised to uphold this agreement that is honored even to this day by his descendants.
By 1593 Grace O'Malley was in conflict not only with England but also with Kingdom of Ireland, who she believed was trying to limit her influence over the large land she owned. She was even attacked several times by her fellow Irishmen from other clans, but all those attacks were swatted away on the walls of her strong castles. During that same year, English governor of Connacht, Sir Richard Bingham, managed to capture her two sons Tibbot Burke and Murrough O'Flaherty and her half-brother Dónal na Píopa. O'Malley promptly sailed for London to personally speak to Elizabeth I, Queen of England and secure their release. It was reported that she appeared in front of the queen in a fine gown, did not bow to her because she felt that she was not a rightful ruler of Ireland, and talked with her with Latin. Some stories tell that guards searched O’Malley in front of the Queen and found a hidden dagger, but such rumors were never confirmed. After the long talk had been finished, the Queen and O'Malley came to the agreement in which English would remove Sir Richard Bingham from Ireland, while O’Malley would stop supporting Irish lords who fought for the independence of their lands. Upon returning to Ireland, Grace O'Malley saw not all demands met (Bingham was gone, but the castles and lands he took from O’Malley family remained still in English hands), so he continued backing Irish independence during entirety of the bloody Nine Years' War between 1594 to 1603, the largest open conflict against the English rule in Ireland during Elizabethan era.
During the entire 70 years of her life, Grace O'Malley managed to retain the reputation of fierce leader and smart politician. She successfully protected the independence of her lands during the time when much of Ireland fell under the English rule. She finally died in Rockfleet Castle in 1603, the same year as the Queen of England, Elizabeth I. To this day, Grace O'Malley is used as a personification of Ireland and an inspiration for many modern songs, theater productions, books, and a name for a wide variety of sea vessels and public objects and places.
Mary Read was born in Devon County, England, in the late 17th century. She had a harsh childhood. Her father had died before she was born and her half-brother Mark passed away soon afterward. Mary's paternal grandmother supported Mary and her mother, only because she thought that her grandson Mark was still alive. To keep the death of Mary's brother as secret, from his grandmother, Mary was raised as a boy, pretending to be her older brother.
Mary Read was originally a privateer before becoming pirate
When Mary Read was about thirteen years old, her grandmother died. Mary still dressed as a boy and with boyish habits, had to find a job. She became a footboy to a wealthy French woman, who lived in London. Unsatisfied with her current position, she escaped and boarded a man-o-war. Few years have passed, and she became bored again. This time she joined Army , where she met her future husband. After confessing love and true gender to him, they left the army, married and opened an Inn called Three Horseshoes near Castle Breda.
Mary Read was always surrounded by death. After just a few months of marriage, her husband got sick and died. Desperate, she just wanted to escape from everything and joined the army again. This time, she has boarded a Dutch ship that sailed to the Caribbean. Almost at the reach of its destination, Mary's ship was attacked and captured by the pirate, Calico Rackham Jack, who took all English captured sailors as part of his crew. Unwillingly she became a pirate. However, soon after, she started to like a pirate way of life . When she had a chance to leave Rackham's ship, Mary decided to stay.
On Rackham's ship, she met Anne Bonny. Being only women on the ship and sharing a lot in common, they quickly became good friends. Some people believe that Mary Read was in a romantic relationship with Anne Bonny, Rackham or even one of the crewmembers. However, we cannot testify to any of that.
Mary's pirate career ended, in October 1720. She was captured, by Captain Barnet in a desperate battle. In Port Royal, they stood trial. Rackam and his crew were found guilty of piracy, but Mary and Anne were spared because they claimed to be with child .
Mary Read died with her unborn child in prison from fever . She was buried at St. Catherine's parish in Jamaica.
Calico Jack was one of the most unique pirates that ever sailed on the Caribbean during the height of the Golden Age of Piracy. He was not a great fighter, and he never managed to grab incredible wealth, but modern public remembers him more than many other true pirate legends.
John "Jack" Rackham (born on 26 December 1682, died on 18 November 1720) did not manage in his short career as a Caribbean pirate where he gained nickname "Calico Jack" to amass incredible wealth or respect that many other pirates managed to do so, but his associations with other pirates and his unique pirate that had two female pirate crew members managed to make him one of the best remember pirates of all time. He was not regarded as the great fighter or fierce naval tactician, but his cunning mind and tendency to use backstabbing and politics to further his goals made him one of most unique pirates on the seas of Caribbean.
The written publications after his death contributed greatly to the rise of his fame, and the eventual rise of the movement that romanticized pirate life enabled the myth of Calico Jack to grow. Another important impact that Calico Jack had on the modern image of pirates is his Jolly Rogers flag. While the majority of pirate crews used designs that had a depiction of full human skeletons using some weapon, Calico Jack promoted an iconic pirate flag design that today represents a synonym for a naval piracy - black flag with white human skull and two white crossed swords beneath it.
Captain Rackham earned his fame during the height of the ‘Golden Age of Piracy’
The early history of John Rackham's life is sadly no recorded in modern history. What is known is that he was born in England on 26 December 1682 and that he (and presumably his family) moved to the New World around the start of 18th century. The first historical recording of his presence in the New World comes from the crew manifest of pirate ship "The Ranger" under the command of Captain Charles Vane (1680 - 1721), where Rackham served as a quartermaster. Captain Vane as one of the few famous pirates that operated out of the pirate heaven and trading base "New Providence" located in the Bahamas. The rise of the influence of Jack Rackham happened in 1718 after Captain Vane decided to retreat after at the end of the long pirate run he confronted large French warship that was least twice of the size of The Ranger. Vane was a seasoned sea commander at that time, and he saw that attacking such a large vessel was an impossibility for his small ship that recently went through several pirate raids and was in need of repair and resupply.
The retreat caused discord in the crew, with Rackham taking charge in accusing Vane of poor decision making. In the end of the discussion, 15 crew members supported Vane in the retreat, while the other 75 argued that if captured the French vessel would not only bring them large riches but also a new base of operation that would enable them to become pirate crew with one of the largest and best-equipped ship in the Caribbean. On November 24, 1718, Rackham called to the vote in which Vane was removed from captaincy and branded as a coward. The crew promptly elected John "Calico Jack" Rackham to be a new captain of The Ranger, while Vane and his supporters were allowed to leave on a small ship carrying a supply of food and ammunition.
After being promoted to a position of a captain, Calico Jack continued with the pirate runs that were mostly oriented toward smaller merchant and passenger transport vessels. During one of his numerous runs he managed to gain control of the several larger ships, but the largest prize he ever managed to snatch happened to be from withing the holds of the large Jamaican vessel Kingston. He fought and captured this vessel with skill, but sadly for him, this battle happened within sight of the Port Royal harbor, in view of all the government officials and merchants stationed there. Outraged by the deeds of the now semi-notorious pirate, merchants in that city joined and outfitted pirate hunting Spanish ship with the task to capture and punish Captain Calico Jack. The events that followed were disputed by some historians, but eventual result was that Captain Jack and his crew managed to avoid the hunt. According to the report written by the Captain Charles Johnson in his 1722 book "A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the most notorious Pyrates", John Rackham avoided Spanish pirate-hunting ship by taking advantage of the low tide that prevented Spanish warship from approaching anchored pirate sloop near the shore of the Cuba. During the night, Calico Jack and his crew managed to row with boats to the small sloop captured by the Spanish that was anchored near the warship. They overpowered guards on it and sailed away, with Spanish Warship noticing the pirates were gone only in the morning when it was too late to pursue them. Other accounts of that tale tell of the different events where Spanish pursuers managed to ambush Calico Jack's flagship Kingston that was anchored near the Isla de Los Pinos off of Cuba. Rackham and most of his men avoided capture by hiding on the shore and waiting until pirate hunting ships left taking with them all their possessions, including all their rich plunder.
Faced with this severe setback, Captain Jack, and his crew decided to take advantage of the new amnesty deal offered by the English government (particularly, in this case, new Governor of Bahamas Woodes Rogers) in which all pirates could continue living as free men as long they gave up life of the piracy and privateering. They traveled to Nassau where they pleased their case to the authorities, describing how Captain Charles Vane forced them all to become pirates. Governor Woodes Rogers accepted their plea, partly because he was tasked by higher authorities to make serious effort into solving piracy issue in the Caribbean waters, but also because of his strong hatred toward Charles Vane. John Rackham and his pirates were given Royal Pardon, with the stipulation that they will be put to death if they ever again returned to piracy. However, the lure of the sea was too strong for many of them, and John Rackham did not remain law abiding citizen for too long.
Famous Anne Bonny had a short but notable pirate career at Rackham’s ship
During his stay in Nassau, Rackham became restless and found trouble by having a affair with Anne Bony, wife of the sailor James Bonny who was also under employment by the Governor Rogers's office. After the discovery of the affair, furious James Bonny pleaded to the governor to punish his wife with flogging, but John Rackham intervened offering money to him to divorce her legally. With no peaceful solution found, Rackham and Anne Bonny decided to void his Royal Pardon by stealing sloop from the harbor and fleeing once again to the life of piracy. Anne Bonny became openly part of the pirate crew, by hidden among the pirate crew members was also Mary Read, another female pirate who at first hid her gender from other pirates by disguising as a man. Captain Jack and his lover Anne Bonny.
Back to the sea again, Captain Calico Jack and his crew started their usual runs against merchants across the Caribbean. In addition to targeting only merchants, Calico Jack also attacked few smaller pirate vessels, not with a goal of thinning out the competition, but to offer them ability to join his crew. With ever expanding force of pirates under his command, Calico Jack in just two months managed to cause chaos in the Caribbean. By late 1720, Bahamas' Governor Woodes Rogers issued the official proclamation that marked Rackham and his entire crew as pirates. Pirate hunter Jonathan Barnet immediate sprang into action, sailing toward Jamaica where reports claimed that Rackham has recently captured several small fishing vessels. In October 1720, Captain Jonathan Barnet located Calico Jack's anchored sloop of the coast of Bry Harbour Bay in Jamaica. He managed to surprise pirates who were at that time partying and drinking after a successful round of plundering. Reports say that in the melee fight that ensued, the pirate crew was led by none other by Mary Read and Anne Bonny. However, this struggle was short-lived, eventually leading to the capture of entire John Rackham crew. Captain Jonathan Barnet transported them all to the Spanish Town, Jamaica, where all of them were tried for piracy and sentenced to the death by hanging. Captain John "Calico Jack" Rackham was executed 18 November 1720 in Port Royal. He was hanged, gibbeted, and put on display on a small islet (today know as Rackham's Cay) near the entrance of the harbor of Port Royal to serve as an example to all Pirates on the Caribbean waters. Captain Charles Johnson recorded in his book "A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the most notorious Pyrates" a very famous comment that Anne Bonny said about Rackham: "If he had fought like a Man, he need not have been hang'd like a Dog".
As for the remainder of his crew, all male members were hanged to death, while two females Anne Bonny and Mary Reid were held in prison for several weeks until their claims of pregnancy could be verified. Reports say that Mary Read died in April 1721 while in prison, while all records Anne Bonny stopped. Her fate remains unknown to this day, although some claim that he was released from prison and she lived a peaceful life on shore until she died from old age.
It is hard to separate the legend from the facts of Anne Bonny. The only thing we can be sure of is that Anne Bonny was a strong, independent woman, who was way ahead of her time. The 18th century was still a time when man made all important decisions, a time when women did not have many rights. In this men's world, it was hard for Anne Bonny to become an equal crewmember and a respected pirate.
The exact date of Anne's birth is not known, but most historians think that she was born in Kinsale, County Cork, Ireland in 1697. She was the illegitimate daughter of lawyer William Cormac and his servant woman, Marry Brennan. William's wife made his adultery public, so after losing his reputation, William with his new wife and newborn child decided to leave Ireland and start again in the New World. They settled in Charleston, South Carolina where William began his legal career again. They bought a plantation.
After losing her mother in her late teens, Anne had to take care of her father's household. There are a lot of stories about her teen years; some of them even claim that she murdered a servant girl with a knife, and there is one about a young man that she put in the hospital for several weeks, after his failed attempt to sexually assault her.
When she was sixteen years old, she fell in love with a small-time pirate, James Bonny, who just wanted her estate. Her father was against their relationship, but she was stubborn and married him. William was very disappointed, because he wanted to make a respectful lady of Anne, so he turned her out of his home.
James took his wife to the New Providence, pirate's hideout. He had a hard time supporting her, and in the end, he became a pirate informer for the governor, Woodes Rogers. Anne was disappointed because she had made many pirate friends. With the help of her good friend, Pierre, a celebrated homosexual who ran a famous ladies establishment, Anne left her husband. She ran away with Calico Jack Rackam, romantic Pirate Captain, who even offered to buy her from Anne's husband.
Calico Jack Rackam was a typical small-time pirate who usually attacked coastal shipping. He was not very successful as a pirate, but he knew how to spend money with style. The love relationship between Anne and Calico was not public, but on the ship, everybody knew that Anne was "the captain's woman."
When Rackam found out that she was pregnant, he left her in Cuba to deliver the baby. There are several theories about what happened to Anne's first child. Some people think that she just abandoned her, some believe that Calico had a friend with a family in Cuba who agreed to raise their child. Some even believe that her child died at birth.
After few months, she returned to Rackam's ship, but now infamous Mary Read was also on board. It did not take long for the two girls to become good friends. According to some sailors, Ana and Marry were even in a romantic relationship.
In October 1720, Captain Barnet, ex-pirate, now commander of British Navy attacked Rackam's anchored ship "Revenge". Almost the entire Rackam's crew was drunk. They were celebrating all night because they managed to capture a Spanish commercial ship. The fight was short because only Merry and Anne resisted. However, in the end, they were also overpowered.
The crew of "Revenge" was taken to Port Royal to stand trial. The trial was a big sensation because the background of the female prisoners was reviled. Anne and Mary were women who escaped from traditional restrictions and in their way, fought for equality between men and women.
Everybody was found guilty for the crime of piracy. The sentence was death by hanging. However, Anne and Mary were spared, because they claimed to be pregnant.
Mary died in a Jamaican prison from fever, but the fate of Anne Bonny is unknown.
According to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004), Anne Bonny’s father managed to pay the ransom for his daughter and bring her back to the Charles Town. Soon after, she gave birth to Rackham’s child. In 1721, she remarried to Joseph Burleigh. They had eight children. She died on April 25, 1782, in South Carolina.
From the time first pirate ships sailed the seas of Mediterranean and the North Sea, to the rise of the Golden Age of Piracy and the establishment of large 19th-century pirate fleets in the Chinese sea, the hard work that was demanded from pirate crew almost exclusively attracted male ship crew. The centuries of evolving superstition, written and unspoken laws created an atmosphere where the presence of female crew-members on any ship was almost entirely unwanted. This belief noted that presence of women near the crew that was on the sea for sometimes months at the time would destabilize work ethic, cause arguments, and believed by many, bring incredibly bad luck to anyone on the ship. However, history remembers many notable examples of not only women who managed to disguise their way into the crew of pirate ships and serve undetected but also, brave women who unveiled themselves to the crew, earned their trust, fought fiercely alongside them and even gain the right to become ship captains and leaders of organized fleets of pirates.
The most popular female pirates of all time without a doubt Anne Bonny, who served as a pirate with both her husband James Bonny and her lover John "Calico Jack" Rackham. The same ship was also a temporary home for another female pirate, Mary Read who same as Anne concealed her true gender from the rest of the crew by wearing male clothes. Many historians believe that both Mary and Anne were very accustomed in hiding their gender because of the turbulent youths they had – Mary had very impoverished past while Anne ran away from her wealthy parents toward the life of adventure. During the years both of them were active on the sea as pirates, they fought together alongside the pirate crew, earning their respect, and even being a part of boarding parties on merchant ships they raided. By the time their adventures at sea came to the end in 1720, authorities who captured the crew of John "Calico Jack" Rackham had made a discovery that two of the pirates were in facts women dressed as men. This discovery was made even more incredible when it became clear that both of them were pregnant. This fact saved the lives of Anne Bonny and Mary Read, but historians today cannot be sure what their true fates were. Many believe that Mary Read died in a prison while Anne Bonny managed to find the life freedom and die from old age.
While Anne Bonny and Mary Read managed to gain much of the attention from the modern public who yearned for the romanticized retelling of Caribbean pirate life, many other female pirates made their mark in history. Viking and Medieval centuries featured several notable female pirates and female pirate captains while 16th century saw the rise of several famous female pirate figures such as Irish Grace O'Malley, who commanded the fleet of 20 pirate ships that raided the coast of England (she died in prison after being captured in one of her raids).
In more modern times, two female pirate figures stand among the rest. Chinese leader of organized piracy Cheng I Sao inherited the fleet of pirate ships that were crewed by over 50 thousand men. Instead of pursuing the pirate life forever, after she became public enemy number one of Chinese government she elected to surrender her ships and men to the authorities and retire with all her riches. In the late 20th-century Chinese pirate leader Cheng Chui Ping (with a nickname "Sister Ping") created organized smuggling ring that carried immigrants from Asia to US and Europe. She was caught and sentenced to 35 years in prison.
While this article shows that women pirates managed to play a role in the history of piracy, it is also worth mentioning brave women who elected to serve on military navy ships during a time when only men were allowed to work there. Hannah Snell served as a Marine in the 18th century, she saw combat many times, got wounded 11 times, all without being discovered that she was a female. After she was discovered, she received the honorary discharge and a pension for her excellent service. Other notable examples of women serving in 18th century British fleet are Elizabeth Bowden and a black woman known under a name William Brown who served on a ship for 12 years. She was allowed to do so because of her incredible skill of manually managing the topmost sails.
There have been awesome pirates throughout the years but nothing quite compares to the level of badass a woman pirate brings. Be it to avenge the wrong killing of her husband, to bring an empire down a notch, or to reclaim what was hers, these women were truly the biggest badasses of their time. Here are a few of the biggest names of lady pirates:
1. Pirate Queen Teuta Of Illyria
After her husband, the King of the Ardiaei tribe in Illyria, died she took over the crown. She supported the pirates of her Kingdom and with that support they captured merchant vessels of Greece and Rome. This lead to the capture of two Ambassadors of Rome, one killed and the other held captive. Eventually, Rome was forced to declare war. Once Queen Teuta surrendered Rome declared that no ship should sail under her reign.
2. Anne Bonny
After stabbing a servant girl with a table knife Anne married small-time pirate James Bonny. She was soon after disowned by her father and moved to the Bahamas with her husband. She then became mistress to Jack Rackham, and divorced James. They captured the Revenge took to the seas, and assembled a crew. They captured many ships some transporting tea from England. She befriended Mary Read and became a fearsome duo. The Governor of Jamaica commissioned Captain Jonathan Barnet to deal with Anne and Jack. While most of the crew were too drunk to hold off troops Anne fought them off for sometime before the ship was captured. Rackham was executed and Bonny was spared after it was found she was pregnant.
3. Jeanne de Clisson
Jeanne de Clisson was British and lived in Brittany when she married Olivier III de Clisson a wealthy nobleman. After failing to defend Vannes he switched allegiances to the English and was later captured by French and executed under orders of King Philip VI. Jeanne swore vengeance on the king and sold her lands and bought three ships calling them the "Black Fleet" because of their black exterior and red sails. She assembled a crew and took to the seas defeating any ship belonging to King Philip VI leaving only a few alive to tell that she had struck again. After his death, she continued to capture ships. She later retired to Britain.
4. Mary Read
This lady spent most of her youth disguised as a boy by her mother. Wanting adventure she kept up the charade and adopted the name Mark Read. She became a soldier and later a merchant sailor. She later became a pirate when she found herself aboard Jack Rackham and Anne Bonny's ship. She revealed herself as a woman and befriended Anne in the time she spent aboard the ship she became a fearsome pirate. When the trio was captured her and Anne weren't because they were pregnant. She later would die in prison.
5. Grace O'Malley
She was the Queen of Unmaill she was a fearless leader who rejected the ways a woman was "supposed" to act. Instead, she took to the seas commanding 20 fleet ships to stand against Britain. She raided ships of the English and Spanish. She was legendary for her escapes and her captures. She continued to pirate until her death in 1603.
6. Ching Shih
Ching Shih became one of the most feared pirates in history. She controlled a fleet known as the Red Flag Fleet. She raided ships along the China Sea and plundered towns. She kept a very high code of honor and if you violated it, well, you died. She was so fearsome that the Chinese Navy was sent to stop her and instead were defeated and she got away with it all by basically saying I won't destroy you if you stay out of my way.
7. Anne Dieu-Le-Veut
After being deported from France for criminal behavior Anne married Pierre Length. One night in a bar fight Pierre was killed by Laurens de Graaf. Anne challenged Laurens to a duel and when he drew a sword and her a gun he was so impressed he proposed. She said yes and together they sailed the seas. They took over ships and raided Jamaica. Anne and her two daughters were captured and what happened after they were freed is unknown.
8.Christina Anna Skytte
After her and her fiance joined her brother in the pirate business they soon found she was no one to be messed with. They attacked a Dutch merchant ship killing the crew and stealing the cargo. This lead to the capture and execution of her fiance and forced her to flee.
9. Jacquotte Delahaye
This Haitian woman had a hard life after her mother died after giving birth to her brother, and her father killed. To take care of her brother she had to turn to piracy. She had to fake her own death in order to escape the government. After living as a man she returned to pirating and is thought to have sailed alongside Anne Dieu-Le-Vuet.
10. Rachael Wall
Wall was the only known American pirate. She married George Wall and tried to settle in Boston. The two were always poor so when she procured a small boat she saw oportunity. She used the boat to go out after storms pretending to be ravaged. After boarding the unwitting ship they would murder and steal. This ended when a storm passed through and destroyed her boat and killed her husband. She continued to steal on land and was arrested. She wrote a confession of her sins trying to sway the authorities. It didn't work and soon she became the last woman hanged in Massachusetts.
The era of piracy in the Caribbean began in the 1500s and phased out in the 1830s after the navies of the nations of Western Europe and North America with colonies in the Caribbean began combating pirates. The period during which pirates were most successful was from the 1660s to 1730s. Piracy flourished in the Caribbean because of the existence of pirate seaports such as Port Royal in Jamaica, Tortuga in Haiti, and Nassau in the Bahamas.
Pirates were often former sailors experienced in naval warfare. They were called buccaneers, from the French "boucanier" (one who smokes meat on a "boucan" (wooden frame set over a fire.)) By setting up smokey fires and boucans with the prepared meat of marooned cattle, these castaways could lure a ship to draw near for trading, at which time the buccaneers could seize the ship. The buccaneers were later chased off their islands by colonial authorities and had to seek a new life at sea, where they continued their ship raiding. Beginning in the 16th century, pirate captains recruited seamen to loot European merchant ships, especially the Spanish treasure fleets sailing from the Caribbean to Europe.
The following quote by an 18th-century Welsh captain shows the motivations for piracy:
"In an honest Service, there is thin Commons, low Wages, and hard Labour; in this, Plenty and Satiety, Pleasure and Ease, Liberty and Power; and who would not balance Creditor on this Side, when all the Hazard that is run for it, at worst, is only a sower Look or two at choaking. No, a merry Life and a short one shall be my Motto.”
—Pirate Captain Bartholomew Roberts
Piracy was sometimes given legal status by the colonial powers, especially France under King Francis I (r.1515–1547), in the hope of weakening Spain and Portugal's mare clausum trade monopolies in the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. This officially sanctioned piracy was known as privateering. From 1520 to 1560, French privateers were alone in their fight against the Crown of Spain and the vast commerce of the Spanish Empire in the New World, but were later joined by the English and Dutch.
The Caribbean had become a center of European trade and colonization after Columbus' discovery of the New World for Spain in 1492. In the 1493 Treaty of Tordesillas the non-European world had been divided between the Spanish and the Portuguese along a north-south line 370 leagues west of the Cape Verde islands. This gave Spain control of the Americas, a position the Spaniards later reiterated with an equally unenforceable papal bull (The Inter caetera). On the Spanish Main, the key early settlements were Cartagena in present-day Colombia, Porto Bello and Panama City on the Isthmus of Panama, Santiago on the southeastern coast of Cuba, and Santo Domingo on the island of Hispaniola. In the 16th century, the Spanish were mining extremely large quantities of silver from the mines of Zacatecas in New Spain (Mexico) and Potosí in Bolivia (formerly known as Alto Peru). The huge Spanish silver shipments from the New World to the Old attracted pirates and French privateers like François Leclerc or Jean Fleury, both in the Caribbean and across the Atlantic, all along the route from the Caribbean to Seville.
To combat this constant danger, in the 1560s the Spanish adopted a convoy system. A treasure fleet or flota would sail annually from Seville (and later from Cádiz) in Spain, carrying passengers, troops, and European manufactured goods to the Spanish colonies of the New World. This cargo, though profitable, was really just a form of ballast for the fleet as its true purpose was to transport the year's worth of silver to Europe. The first stage in the journey was the transport of all that silver from the mines in Bolivia and New Spain in a mule convoy called the Silver Train to a major Spanish port, usually on the Isthmus of Panama or Veracruz in New Spain. The flota would meet up with the Silver Train, offload its cargo of manufactured goods to waiting colonial merchants and then load its holds with the precious cargo of gold and silver, in bullion or coin form. This made the returning Spanish treasure fleet a tempting target, although pirates were more likely to shadow the fleet to attack stragglers than to engage the well-armed main vessels. The classic route for the treasure fleet in the Caribbean was through the Lesser Antilles to the ports along the Spanish Main on the coast of Central America and New Spain, then northwards into the Yucatán Channel to catch the westerly winds back to Europe.
By the 1560s, the Dutch United Provinces of the Netherlands and England, both Protestant states, were defiantly opposed to Catholic Spain, the greatest power of Christendom in the 16th century; while the French government was seeking to expand its colonial holdings in the New World now that Spain had proven they could be extremely profitable. It was the French who had established the first non-Spanish settlement in the Caribbean when they had founded Fort Caroline near what is now Jacksonville, Florida in 1564, although the settlement was soon wiped out by a Spanish attack from the larger colony of Saint Augustine. As the Treaty of Tordesillas had proven unenforceable, a new concept of "lines of amity", with the northern bound being the Tropic of Cancer and the eastern bound the Prime Meridian passing through the Canary Islands, is said to have been verbally agreed upon by French and Spanish negotiators of the Peace of Cateau-Cambrésis. South and west of these lines, respectively, no protection could be offered to non-Spanish ships, "no peace beyond the line." English, Dutch and French pirates and settlers moved into this region even in times of nominal peace with the Spanish.
The Spanish, despite being the most powerful state in Christendom at the time, could not afford a sufficient military presence to control such a vast area of ocean or enforce their exclusionary, mercantilist trading laws. These laws allowed only Spanish merchants to trade with the colonists of the Spanish Empire in the Americas. This arrangement provoked constant smuggling against the Spanish trading laws and new attempts at Caribbean colonization in peacetime by England, France and the Netherlands. Whenever a war was declared in Europe between the Great Powers the result was always widespread piracy and privateering throughout the Caribbean.
The Anglo-Spanish War in 1585–1604 was partly due to trade disputes in the New World. A focus on extracting mineral and agricultural wealth from the New World rather than building productive, self-sustaining settlements in its colonies; inflation fueled in part by the massive shipments of silver and gold to Western Europe; endless rounds of expensive wars in Europe; an aristocracy that disdained commercial opportunities; and an inefficient system of tolls and tariffs that hampered industry all contributed to Spain's decline during the 17th century. However, very profitable trade continued between Spain's colonies, which continued to expand until the early 19th century.
Meanwhile, in the Caribbean, the arrival of European diseases with Columbus had reduced the local Native American populations; the native population of New Spain fell as much as 90% from its original numbers in the 16th century.This loss of native population led Spain to increasingly rely on African slave labor to run Spanish America's colonies, plantations and mines and the trans-Atlantic slave trade offered new sources of profit for the many English, Dutch and French traders who could violate the Spanish mercantilist laws with impunity. But the relative emptiness of the Caribbean also made it an inviting place for England, France and the Netherlands to set up colonies of their own, especially as gold and silver became less important as commodities to be seized and were replaced by tobacco and sugar as cash crops that could make men very rich.
As Spain's military might in Europe weakened, the Spanish trading laws in the New World were violated with greater frequency by the merchants of other nations. The Spanish port on the island of Trinidad off the northern coast of South America, permanently settled only in 1592, became a major point of contact between all the nations with a presence in the Caribbean.
Early seventeenth century, 1600–1660:
Changes in demography:
In the early 17th century, expensive fortifications and the size of the colonial garrisons at the major Spanish ports increased to deal with the enlarged presence of Spain's competitors in the Caribbean, but the treasure fleet's silver shipments and the number of Spanish-owned merchant ships operating in the region declined. Additional problems came from shortage of food supplies because of the lack of people to work farms. The number of European-born Spaniards in the New World or Spaniards of pure blood who had been born in New Spain, known as peninsulares and creoles, respectively, in the Spanish caste system, totaled no more than 250,000 people in 1600.
At the same time, England and France were powers on the rise in 17th-century Europe as they mastered their own internal religious schisms between Catholic and Protestant and the resulting societal peace allowed their economies to rapidly expand. England especially began to turn its people's maritime skills into the basis of commercial prosperity. English and French kings of the early 17th century—James I (r. 1603–1625) and Henry IV (r. 1598–1610), respectively, each sought more peaceful relations with Habsburg Spain in an attempt to decrease the financial costs of the ongoing wars. Although the onset of peace in 1604 reduced the opportunities for both piracy and privateering against Spain's colonies, neither monarch discouraged his nation from trying to plant new colonies in the New World and break the Spanish monopoly on the Western Hemisphere. The reputed riches, pleasant climate and the general emptiness of the Americas all beckoned to those eager to make their fortunes and a large assortment of Frenchmen and Englishmen began new colonial ventures during the early 17th century, both in North America, which lay basically empty of European settlement north of Mexico, and in the Caribbean, where Spain remained the dominant power until late in the century.
As for the Dutch Netherlands, after decades of rebellion against Spain fueled by both Dutch nationalism and their staunch Protestantism, independence had been gained in all but name (and that too would eventually come with the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648). The Netherlands had become Europe's economic powerhouse. With new, innovative ship designs like the fluyt (a cargo vessel able to be operated with a small crew and enter relatively inaccessible ports) rolling out of the ship yards in Amsterdam and Rotterdam, new capitalist economic arrangements like the joint-stock company taking root and the military reprieve provided by the Twelve Year Truce with the Spanish (1609–1621), Dutch commercial interests were expanding explosively across the globe, but particularly in the New World and East Asia. However, in the early 17th century, the most powerful Dutch companies, like the Dutch East India Company, were most interested in developing operations in the East Indies (Indonesia) and Japan, and left the West Indies to smaller, more independent Dutch operators.
In the early 17th century, the Spanish colonies of Cartagena, Havana, Santiago de Cuba, San Juan, Porto Bello, Panama City, and Santo Domingo were among the most important settlements of the Spanish West Indies. Each possessed a large population and a self-sustaining economy, and was well-protected by Spanish defenders. These Spanish settlements were generally unwilling to deal with traders from the other European states because of the strict enforcement of Spain's mercantilist laws pursued by the large Spanish garrisons. In these cities European manufactured goods could command premium prices for sale to the colonists, while the trade goods of the New World—tobacco, cocoa and other raw materials, were shipped back to Europe.
By 1600, Porto Bello had replaced Nombre de Dios (where Sir Francis Drake had first attacked a Spanish settlement) as the Isthmus of Panama's Caribbean port for the Spanish Silver Train and the annual treasure fleet. Veracruz, the only port city open to trans-Atlantic trade in New Spain, continued to serve the vast interior of New Spain as its window on the Caribbean. By the 17th century, the majority of the towns along the Spanish Main and in Central America had become self-sustaining. The smaller towns of the Main grew tobacco and also welcomed foreign smugglers who avoided the Spanish mercantilist laws. The underpopulated inland regions of Hispaniola were another area where tobacco smugglers in particular were welcome to ply their trade.
The Spanish-ruled island of Trinidad was already a wide-open port open to the ships and seamen of every nation in the region at the start of the 17th century, and was a particular favorite for smugglers who dealt in tobacco and European manufactured goods. Local Caribbean smugglers sold their tobacco or sugar for decent prices and then bought manufactured goods from the trans-Atlantic traders in large quantities to be dispersed among the colonists of the West Indies and the Spanish Main who were eager for a little touch of home. The Spanish governor of Trinidad, who both lacked strong harbor fortifications and possessed only a laughably small garrison of Spanish troops, could do little but take lucrative bribes from English, French and Dutch smugglers and look the other way—or risk being overthrown and replaced by his own people with a more pliable administrator.
The English had established an early colony known as Virginia in 1607 and one on the island of Barbados in the West Indies in 1625, although this small settlement's people faced considerable dangers from the local Carib Indians (believed to be cannibals) for some time after its founding. The two early colonies needed regular imports from England, sometimes of food but primarily of woollen textiles. The main early exports back to England included: sugar, tobacco, and tropical food. No large tobacco plantations or even truly organized defenses were established by the English on its Caribbean settlements at first and it would take time for England to realize just how valuable its possessions in the Caribbean could prove to be. Eventually, African slaves would be purchased through the slave trade. They would work the colonies and fuel Europe's tobacco, rice and sugar supply; by 1698 England had the largest slave exports with the most efficiency in their labor in relation to any other imperial power. Barbados, the first truly successful English colony in the West Indies, grew fast as the 17th century wore on and by 1698 Jamaica would be England’s biggest colony to employ slave labor. Increasingly, English ships chose to use it as their primary home port in the Caribbean. Like Trinidad, merchants in the trans-Atlantic trade who based themselves on Barbados always paid good money for tobacco and sugar. Both of these commodities remained the key cash crops of this period and fueled the growth of the American Southern Colonies as well as their counterparts in the Caribbean.
After the destruction of Fort Caroline by the Spanish, the French made no further colonization attempts in the Caribbean for several decades as France was convulsed by its own Catholic-Protestant religious divide during the late 16th century Wars of Religion. However, old French privateering anchorages with small "tent camp" towns could be found during the early 17th century in the Bahamas. These settlements provided little more than a place for ships and their crews to take on some fresh water and food and perhaps have a dalliance with the local camp followers, all of which would have been quite expensive.
From 1630 to 1654, Dutch merchants had a port in Brazil known as Recife. It was initially founded by the Portuguese in 1548. The Dutch had decided in 1630 to invade several sugar producing cities in Portuguese-controlled Brazil, including Salvador and Natal. From 1630 to 1654, they took control of Recife and Olinda, making Recife the new capital of the territory of Dutch Brazil, renaming the city Mauritsstad. During this period, Mauritsstad became one of the most cosmopolitan cities of the world. Unlike the Portuguese, the Dutch did not prohibit Judaism. The first Jewish community and the first synagogue in the Americas - Kahal Zur Israel Synagogue - was founded in the city.
The inhabitants fought on their own to expel the Dutch in 1654, being helped by the involvement of the Dutch in the First Anglo-Dutch War. This was known as the Insurreição Pernambucana (Pernambucan Insurrection). Most of the Jews fled to Amsterdam; others fled to North America, starting the first Jewish community of New Amsterdam (now known as New York City). The Dutch spent most of their time trading in smuggled goods with the smaller Spanish colonies. Trinidad was the unofficial home port for Dutch traders and privateers in the New World early in the 17th century before they established their own colonies in the region in the 1620s and 1630s. As usual, Trinidad's ineffective Spanish governor was helpless to stop the Dutch from using his port and instead he usually accepted their lucrative bribes.
The first third of the 17th century in the Caribbean was defined by the outbreak of the savage and destructive Thirty Years' War in Europe (1618–1648) that represented both the culmination of the Protestant-Catholic conflict of the Reformation and the final showdown between Habsburg Spain and Bourbon France. The war was mostly fought in Germany, where one-third to one-half of the population would eventually be lost to the strains of the conflict, but it had some effect in the New World as well. The Spanish presence in the Caribbean began to decline at a faster rate, becoming more dependent on African slave labor. The Spanish military presence in the New World also declined as Madrid shifted more of its resources to the Old World in the Habsburgs' apocalyptic fight with almost every Protestant state in Europe. This need for Spanish resources in Europe accelerated the decay of the Spanish Empire in the Americas. The settlements of the Spanish Main and the Spanish West Indies became financially weaker and were garrisoned with a much smaller number of troops as their home countries were more consumed with happenings back in Europe. The Spanish Empire's economy remained stagnant and the Spanish colonies' plantations, ranches and mines became totally dependent upon slave labor imported from West Africa. With Spain no longer able to maintain its military control effectively over the Caribbean, the other Western European states finally began to move in and set up permanent settlements of their own, ending the Spanish monopoly over the control of the New World.
Even as the Dutch Netherlands were forced to renew their struggle against Spain for independence as part of the Thirty Years' War (the entire rebellion against the Spanish Habsburgs was called the Eighty Years War in the Low Countries), the Dutch Republic had become the world's leader in mercantile shipping and commercial capitalism and Dutch companies finally turned their attention to the West Indies in the 17th century. The renewed war with Spain with the end of the truce offered many opportunities for the successful Dutch joint-stock companies to finance military expeditions against the Spanish Empire. The old English and French privateering anchorages from the 16th century in the Caribbean now swarmed anew with Dutch warships.
In England, a new round of colonial ventures in the New World was fueled by declining economic opportunities at home and growing religious intolerance for more radical Protestants (like the Puritans) who rejected the compromise Protestant theology of the established Church of England. After the demise of the Saint Lucia and Grenada colonies soon after their establishment, and the near-extinction of the English settlement of Jamestown in Virginia, new and stronger colonies were established by the English in the first half of the 17th century, at Plymouth, Boston, Barbados, the West Indian islands of Saint Kitts and Nevis and Providence Island. These colonies would all persevere to become centers of English civilization in the New World.
For France, now ruled by the Bourbon King Louis XIII (r. 1610–1642) and his able minister Cardinal Richelieu, religious civil war had been reignited between French Catholics and Protestants (called Huguenots). Throughout the 1620s, French Huguenots fled France and founded colonies in the New World much like their English counterparts. Then, in 1636, to decrease the power of the Habsburg dynasty who ruled Spain and the Holy Roman Empire on France's eastern border, France entered the cataclysm in Germany—on the Protestants' side.
Many of the cities on the Spanish Main in the first third of the 17th century were self-sustaining but few had yet achieved any prosperity. The more backward settlements in Jamaica and Hispaniola were primarily places for ships to take on food and fresh water. Spanish Trinidad remained a popular smuggling port where European goods were plentiful and fairly cheap, and good prices were paid by its European merchants for tobacco or sugar.
The English colonies on Saint Kitts and Nevis, founded in 1623, would prove to become wealthy sugar-growing settlements in time. Another new English venture, the Providence Island colony on what is now Providencia Island off the malaria ridden Mosquito Coast of Nicaragua, deep in the heart of the Spanish Empire, had become the premier base for English privateers and other pirates raiding the Spanish Main.
On the shared Anglo-French island of Saint Christophe (called "Saint Kitts" by the English) the French had the upper hand. The French settlers on Saint Christophe were mostly Catholics, while the unsanctioned but growing French colonial presence in northwest Hispaniola (the future nation of Haiti) was largely made up of French Protestants who had settled there without Spain's permission to escape Catholic persecution back home. France cared little what happened to the troublesome Huguenots, but the colonization of western Hispaniola allowed the French to both rid themselves of their religious minority and strike a blow against Spain—an excellent bargain, from the French Crown's point of view. The ambitious Huguenots had also claimed the island of Tortuga off the northwest coast of Hispaniola and had established the settlement of Petit-Goâve on the island itself. Tortuga in particular was to become a pirate and privateer haven and was beloved of smugglers of all nationalities—after all, even the creation of the settlement had been illegal.
Dutch colonies in the Caribbean remained rare until the second third of the 17th century. Along with the traditional privateering anchorages in the Bahamas and Florida, the Dutch West India Company settled a "factory" (commercial town) at New Amsterdam on the North American mainland in 1626 and at Curaçao in 1634, an island positioned right in the center of the Caribbean off the northern coast of Venezuela that was perfectly positioned to become a major maritime crossroads.
Seventeenth century crisis and colonial repercussions:
The mid-17th century in the Caribbean was again shaped by events in far-off Europe. For the Dutch Netherlands, France, Spain and the Holy Roman Empire, the Thirty Years War being fought in Germany, the last great religious war in Europe, had degenerated into an outbreak of famine, plague and starvation that managed to kill off one-third to one-half of the population of Germany. England, having avoided any entanglement in the European mainland's wars, had fallen victim to its own ruinous civil war that resulted in the short but brutal Puritan military dictatorship (1649–1660) of the Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell and his Roundhead armies. Of all the European Great Powers, Spain was in the worst shape economically and militarily as the Thirty Years War concluded in 1648. Economic conditions had become so poor for the Spanish by the middle of the 17th century that a major rebellion began against the bankrupt and ineffective Habsburg government of King Philip IV (r. 1625–1665) that was eventually put down only with bloody reprisals by the Spanish Crown. This did not make poor Philip IV more popular.
But disasters in the Old World bred opportunities in the New World. The Spanish Empire's colonies were badly neglected from the middle of the 17th century because of Spain's many woes. Freebooters and privateers, experienced after decades of European warfare, pillaged and plundered the almost defenseless Spanish settlements with ease and with little interference from the European governments back home who were too worried about their own problems at home to turn much attention to their New World colonies. The non-Spanish colonies were growing and expanding across the Caribbean, fueled by a great increase in immigration as people fled from the chaos and lack of economic opportunity in Europe. While most of these new immigrants settled into the West Indies' expanding plantation economy, others took to the life of the buccaneer. Meanwhile, the Dutch, at last independent of Spain when the 1648 Treaty of Westphalia ended their own Eighty Years War (1568–1648) with the Habsburgs, made a fortune carrying the European trade goods needed by these new colonies. Peaceful trading was not as profitable as privateering, but it was a safer business.
By the later half of the 17th century, Barbados had become the unofficial capital of the English West Indies before this position was claimed by Jamaica later in the century. Barbados was a merchant's dream port in this period. European goods were freely available, the island's sugar crop sold for premium prices, and the island's English governor rarely sought to enforce any type of mercantilist regulations. The English colonies at Saint Kitts and Nevis were economically strong and now well-populated as the demand for sugar in Europe increasingly drove their plantation-based economies. The English had also expanded their dominion in the Caribbean and settled several new islands, including Bermuda in 1612, Antigua and Montserrat in 1632, and Eleuthera in the Bahamas in 1648, though these settlements began like all the others as relatively tiny communities that were not economically self-sufficient.
The French also founded major new colonies on the sugar-growing islands of Guadeloupe in 1634 and Martinique in 1635 in the Lesser Antilles. However, the heart of French activity in the Caribbean in the 17th century remained Tortuga, the fortified island haven off the coast of Hispaniola for privateers, buccaneers and outright pirates. The main French colony on the rest of Hispaniola remained the settlement of Petit-Goâve, which was the French toehold that would develop into the modern state of Haiti. French privateers still used the tent city anchorages in the Florida Keys to plunder the Spaniards' shipping in the Florida Channel, as well as to raid the shipping that plied the sealanes off the northern coast of Cuba.
For the Dutch in the 17th century Caribbean, the island of Curaçao was the equivalent of England's port at Barbados. This large, rich, well-defended free port, open to the ships of all the European states, offered good prices for sugar that was re-exported to Europe and also sold large quantities of manufactured goods in return to the colonists of every nation in the New World. A second Dutch-controlled free port had also developed on the island of Sint Eustatius which was settled in 1636.The constant back-and-forth warfare between the Dutch and the English for possession of it in the 1660s later damaged the island's economy and desirability as a port. The Dutch also had set up a settlement on the island of Saint Martin which became another haven for Dutch sugar planters and their African slave labor. In 1648, the Dutch agreed to divide the prosperous island in half with the French.
Golden Age of Piracy, 1660–1726:
The late 17th and early 18th centuries (particularly between the years 1716 to 1726) are often considered the "Golden Age of Piracy" in the Caribbean, and pirate ports experienced rapid growth in the areas in and surrounding the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. Furthermore, during this time period there were approximately 2400 men that were currently active pirates. The military power of the Spanish Empire in the New World started to decline when King Philip IV of Spain was succeeded by King Charles II (r. 1665–1700), who in 1665 became the last Habsburg king of Spain at the age of four. While Spanish America in the late 17th century had little military protection as Spain entered a phase of decline as a Great Power, it also suffered less from the Spanish Crown's mercantilist policies with its economy. This lack of interference, combined with a surge in output from the silver mines due to increased availability of slave labor (the demand for sugar increased the number of slaves brought to the Caribbean) began a resurgence in the fortunes of Spanish America.
England, France and the Dutch Netherlands had all become New World colonial powerhouses in their own right by 1660. Worried by the Dutch Republic's intense commercial success since the signing of the Treaty of Westphalia, England launched a trade war with the Dutch. The English Parliament passed the first of its own mercantilist Navigation Acts (1651) and the Staple Act (1663) that required that English colonial goods be carried only in English ships and legislated limits on trade between the English colonies and foreigners. These laws were aimed at ruining the Dutch merchants whose livelihoods depended on free trade. This trade war would lead to three outright Anglo-Dutch Wars over the course of the next twenty-five years. Meanwhile, King Louis XIV of France (r. 1642–1715) had finally assumed his majority with the death of his regent mother Queen Anne of Austria's chief minister, Cardinal Mazarin, in 1661. The "Sun King's" aggressive foreign policy was aimed at expanding France's eastern border with the Holy Roman Empire and led to constant warfare against shifting alliances that included England, the Dutch Republic, the various German states and Spain. In short, Europe was consumed in the final decades of the 17th century by nearly constant dynastic intrigue and warfare—an opportune time for pirates and privateers to engage in their bloody trade.
In the Caribbean, this political environment led colonial governors to face new threats from every direction. The Dutch sugar island of Sint Eustatius changed ownership ten times between 1664 and 1674 as the English and Dutch dueled for supremacy. Consumed with the various wars in Europe, the mother countries provided few further military reinforcements to their colonies, so the colonial governors of the Caribbean increasingly made use of buccaneers as mercenaries and privateers to guard their colonies or carry the fight to their mother country's current enemy. Surprisingly (or not), these undisciplined and greedy dogs of war often proved difficult for their sponsors to control.
By the late 17th century, the great Spanish towns of the Caribbean had begun to prosper and Spain also began to make a slow, fitful recovery, but remained poorly defended militarily because of Spain's problems and so were sometimes easy prey for pirates and privateers. The English presence continued to expand in the Caribbean as England itself was rising toward great power status in Europe. Captured from Spain in 1655, the island of Jamaica had been taken over by England and its chief settlement of Port Royal had become a new English buccaneer haven in the midst of the Spanish Empire. Jamaica was slowly transformed, along with Saint Kitts, into the heart of the English presence in the Caribbean. At the same time the French Lesser Antilles colonies of Guadeloupe and Martinique remained the main centers of French power in the Caribbean, as well as among the richest French possessions because of their increasingly profitable sugar plantations. The French also maintained privateering strongholds around western Hispaniola, at their traditional pirate port of Tortuga, and their Hispaniolan capital of Petit-Goâve. The French further expanded their settlements on the western half of Hispaniola and founded Léogâne and Port-de-Paix, even as sugar plantations became the primary industry for the French colonies of the Caribbean.
At the start of the 18th century, Europe remained riven by warfare and constant diplomatic intrigue. France was still the dominant power but now had to contend with a new rival, England (Great Britain after 1707) which emerged as a great power at sea and land during the War of the Spanish Succession. But the depredations of the pirates and buccaneers in the Americas in the latter half of the 17th century and of similar mercenaries in Germany during the Thirty Years War had taught the rulers and military leaders of Europe that those who fought for profit rather than for King and Country could often ruin the local economy of the region they plundered, in this case the entire Caribbean. At the same time, the constant warfare had led the Great Powers to develop larger standing armies and bigger navies to meet the demands of global colonial warfare. By 1700 the European states had enough troops and ships at their disposal to begin better protecting the important colonies in the West Indies and in the Americas without relying on the aid of privateers. This spelled the doom of privateering and the easy (and nicely legal) life it provided for the buccaneer. Though Spain remained a weak power for the rest of the colonial period, pirates in large numbers generally disappeared after 1730, chased from the seas by a new British Royal Navy squadron based at Port Royal, Jamaica and a smaller group of Spanish privateers sailing from the Spanish Main known as the Costa Garda (Coast Guard in English). With regular military forces now on-station in the West Indies, letters of marque were harder and harder to obtain.
Economically, the late 17th century and the early 18th century was a time of growing wealth and trade for all the nations who controlled territory in the Caribbean. Although some piracy would always remain until the mid-18th century, the path to wealth in the Caribbean in the future lay through peaceful trade, the growing of tobacco, rice and sugar and smuggling to avoid the British Navigation Acts and Spanish mercantilist laws. By the 18th century the Bahamas had become the new colonial frontier for the British. The port of Nassau became one of the last pirate havens. A small British colony had even sprung up in former Spanish territory at Belize in Honduras that had been founded by an English pirate in 1638. The French colonial empire in the Caribbean had not grown substantially by the start of the 18th century. The sugar islands of Guadaloupe and Martinique remained the twin economic capitals of the French Lesser Antilles, and were now equal in population and prosperity to the largest of the English's Caribbean colonies. Tortuga had begun to decline in importance, but France's Hispaniolan settlements were becoming major importers of African slaves as French sugar plantations spread across the western coast of that island, forming the nucleus of the modern nation of Haiti.
End of an era:
The decline of piracy in the Caribbean paralleled the decline of the use of mercenaries and the rise of national armies in Europe. Following the end of the Thirty Years' War the direct power of the state in Europe expanded. Armies were systematized and brought under direct state control; the Western European states' navies were expanded and their mission was extended to cover combating piracy. The elimination of piracy from European waters expanded to the Caribbean beginning as early as 1600 with the expansion of standing Royal Naval vessels in the Caribbean, numbering 124 by 1718. Other colonial powers soon followed suit and by the beginning of the nineteenth century, France, Spain, and the United States had all stationed ships in the Caribbean.
Due to a high degree of tension amongst the colonial powers, most of the ships stationed in the Caribbean were more concerned with engaging each other than they were with engaging the pirates of the time. However, this same time period saw a resurgence of piracy in the Caribbean due to the growth of the slave trade. Pirates saw the slave trade as a new lucrative source of income. They could easily capture a crew and ransom the valuable slaves that were their cargo. As the piracy increasingly interfered with the lucrative slave trade come from the Caribbean, colonial powers had a changing attitude towards piracy. Military presence had been growing in Caribbean waters for some time, but now the Royal Navy especially was more concerned with the growing issue of slavery, increasing the number of ships dedicated to policing slavery from two in 1670 to twenty-four by 1700. Despite increasing military power, Piracy saw a brief resurgence between the end of the War of the Spanish Succession in 1713 and around 1720, as many unemployed seafarers took to piracy as a way to make ends meet when a surplus of sailors after the war led to a decline in wages and working conditions. At the same time, one of the terms of the Treaty of Utrecht that ended the war gave to Great Britain's Royal African Company and other British slavers a thirty-year asiento, or contract, to furnish African slaves to the Spanish colonies, providing British merchants and smugglers potential inroads into the traditionally closed Spanish markets in America and leading to an economic revival for the whole region. This revived Caribbean trade provided rich new pickings for a wave of piracy. Also contributing to the increase of Caribbean piracy at this time was Spain's breakup of the English logwood settlement at Campeche and the attractions of a freshly sunken silver fleet off the southern Bahamas in 1715. This last large resurgence of piracy saw a change in attitude of the colonial powers towards piracy. It had once been seen as a somewhat minor offense only punishable if suspects and evidence were taken back to Europe for formal proceedings. Now, the English Parliament set the system of courts of Vice-Admiralty, appointing seven commissioners in the colonies to carry out the legal proceedings. These commissioners were chosen from naval and colonial officers who already contained a certain amount of bias towards the local pirates, instead of civilian judges. Pirates were given no representation in the new courts and were, therefore, often sentenced to hang. Between 1716 and 1726 approximately 400 to 600 pirates were executed. Another major attitude change was the policy that if one's ship was attacked by pirates, then one must fight back and attempt to resist to the capture of their ship lest they receive six months imprisonment.
With royal attitudes growing so harsh towards the pirates in the Caribbean, many fled to areas of the world where piracy may still be a profitable trade. Black Bart, Bartholomew Roberts, perhaps the most successful pirate that had sailed in the Caribbean, eventually returned to Africa in 1722. Other, less successful pirates from the golden age in the Caribbean attempted to flee North to the Americas. Stede Bonnet, an accomplice of Blackbeard, supposedly began to plunder ships along the Atlantic Coast, but was captured along the South Carolina coast in 1718.
This early 18th century resurgence of piracy lasted only until the Royal Navy and the Spanish Guardacosta's presence in the Caribbean were enlarged to deal with the threat. Also crucial to the end of this era of piracy was the loss of the pirates' last Caribbean safe haven at Nassau.
The famous pirates of the early 18th century were a completely illegal remnant of a golden buccaneering age, and their choices were limited to quick retirement or eventual capture. Contrast this with the earlier example of Henry Morgan, who for his privateering efforts was knighted by the English Crown and appointed the lieutenant governor of Jamaica.
In the early 19th century, piracy along the East and Gulf Coasts of North America as well as in the Caribbean increased again. Jean Lafitte was a pirate/privateer operating in the Caribbean and in American waters from his havens in Texas and Louisiana during the 1810s. But the records of the US Navy indicate that hundreds of pirate attacks occurred in American and Caribbean waters between the years of 1820 and 1835. The Latin American Wars of Independence led to widespread use of privateers both by Spain and by the revolutionary governments of Mexico, Colombia, and other newly independent Latin American countries. These privateers were rarely scrupulous about adhering to the terms of their letters of marque even during the Wars of Independence, and continued to plague the Caribbean as outright pirates long after those conflicts ended.
About the time of the Mexican-American War in 1846, the United States Navy had grown strong and numerous enough to eliminate the pirate threat in the West Indies. By the 1830s, ships had begun to convert to steam propulsion, so the Age of Sail and the classical idea of pirates in the Caribbean ended. Privateering, similar to piracy, continued as an asset in war for a few more decades and proved to be of some importance during the naval campaigns of the American Civil War.
Privateering would remain a tool of European states, and even of the newborn United States, until the mid-19th century's Declaration of Paris. But letters of marque were given out much more sparingly by governments and were terminated as soon as conflicts ended. The idea of "no peace beyond the Line" was a relic that had no meaning by the more settled late 18th and early 19th centuries.
Rules of piracy:
Aboard a pirate vessel things were fairly democratic and there were “codes of conduct” that reflect modern laws. Some of these rules consisted of a dress code, no women, and some ships had no smoking. The rules, the punishment for breaking them, and even the staying arrangements would be decided amongst everyone going on the ship before departure, which was a very abstract process compared to the authoritarianism that occurred in the Royal Navy. In further contrast to the society of Britain’s colonies, on board a pirate vessel racial divisions were usually unknown and in some instances pirates of African descent even served as ships' Captains. Another activity that had to be engaged in before the ship left the dock was swearing an oath to not betray anyone in the entire crew, and to sign what was known as the ship's Article, which would determine the percentage of profit each crew member would receive. Furthermore, some of the ways for deciding disagreements amongst pirate crew members were fighting till first blood or in more serious cases abandoning an individual on an uninhabited island, whipping them 39 times, or even executing them by firearm. Despite popular belief, however, the punishment of "walking the plank" was never used to settle disputes amongst pirates. There was, however, a division of power on a pirate crew between the captain, the quartermaster, the governing council for the vessel, and the regular crewmen; but in battle the pirate captain always retained all power and ultimate decision-making authority in order to ensure an orderly chain of command. When it came time to split the captured wealth into shares, profits were normally given to the person in each rank as follows: Captain (5-6 shares), individuals with a senior position like the quartermaster (2 shares), crewmen (1 share), and individuals in a junior position (1/2 a share).
Early and Golden Age pirates:
Born in Vatteville and financed by shipowner Jean Ango, French privateer Jean Fleury was Spain's nemesis. In 1522, he captured seven Spanish vessels. One year later most of Montezuma's Aztec treasure fell into his hands after he captured two of the three galleons in which Cortez shipped the fabled booty back to Spain. He was captured in 1527 and executed by order of Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. He had a very well equipped ship.
François Le Clerc:
François Le Clerc also nicknamed "Jambe de bois" ("Pie de Palo", "wooden leg") was a formidable privateer, ennobled by Henri II in 1551. In 1552, Le Clerc ransacked Porto Santo. One year later, he mustered one thousand men and caused havoc in the Caribbean with his lieutenants Jacques de Sores and Robert Blondel. They pillaged and burned down the seaport of Santo Domingo, and ransacked Las Palmas in the Canary Islands on his way back to France. He led another expedition in 1554 and plundered Santiago de Cuba.
He was born about 1680 in England as Edward Thatch, Teach, or Drummond, and operated off the east coast of North America, particularly pirating in the Bahamas and had a base in North Carolina in the period of 1714–1718. Noted as much for his outlandish appearance as for his piratical success, in combat Blackbeard placed burning slow-match (a type of slow-burning fuse used to set off cannon) under his hat; with his face wreathed in fire and smoke, his victims claimed he resembled a fiendish apparition from Hell. Blackbeard's ship was the two hundred ton, forty-gun frigate he named the Queen Anne's Revenge.
Blackbeard met his end at the hands of a British Royal Navy squadron specifically sent out to capture him. After an extremely bloody boarding action, the British commanding officer of the squadron, Lieutenant Robert Maynard, killed him with the help of his crew. According to legend, Blackbeard suffered a total of five bullet wounds and twenty slashes with a cutlass before he finally died off the coast of Ocracoke, North Carolina.
Henry Morgan, a Welshman, was one of the most destructive pirate captains of the 17th century. Although Morgan always considered himself a privateer rather than a pirate, several of his attacks had no real legal justification and are considered piracy. Recently found off the coast of what is now known as the nation of Haiti, was one of Captain Morgan’s “30-cannon oak ships,” which was thought to have aided the buccaneer in his ventures. Another Caribbean area that was known for the headquarters of Captain Morgan was Port Royal, Jamaica. A bold, ruthless and daring man, Morgan fought England's enemies for thirty years, and became a very wealthy man in the course of his adventures. Morgan's most famous exploit came in late 1670 when he led 1700 buccaneers up the pestilential Chagres River and then through the Central American jungle to attack and capture the "impregnable" city of Panama. Morgan's men burnt the city to the ground, and the inhabitants were either killed or forced to flee. Although the burning of Panama City did not mean any great financial gain for Morgan, it was a deep blow to Spanish power and pride in the Caribbean and Morgan became the hero of the hour in England. At the height of his career, Morgan had been made a titled nobleman by the English Crown and lived on an enormous sugar plantation in Jamaica, as lieutenant governor. Morgan died in his bed, rich and respected—something rarely achieved by pirates in his day or any other.
Bartholomew Roberts or Black Bart was successful in sinking, or capturing and pillaging some 400 ships. and like most pirate captains of the time he looked fancy doing it. He started his freebooting career in the Gulf of Guinea in February 1719 when Howell Davis' pirates captured his ship and he proceeded to join them. Rising to captain, he quickly came to the Caribbean and plagued the area until 1722. He commanded a number of large, powerfully armed ships, all of which he named Fortune, Good Fortune, or Royal Fortune. Aboard his vessels the political atmosphere was a form of democracy that depended on participation; in which was a rule that everyone aboard his ship had to vote on issues that arose. Efforts by the governors of Barbados and Martinique to capture him only provoked his anger; when he found the governor of Martinique aboard a newly captured vessel, Roberts hanged the man from a yardarm. Roberts returned to Africa in February 1722, where he met his death in a naval battle, whereby his crew was captured.
Probably the least qualified pirate captain ever to sail the Caribbean, Bonnet was a sugar planter who knew nothing about sailing. He started his piracies in 1717 by buying an armed sloop on Barbados and recruiting a pirate crew for wages, possibly to escape from his wife. He lost his command to Blackbeard and sailed with him as his associate. Although Bonnet briefly regained his captaincy, he was captured in 1718 by a privateering vessel that was employed by South Carolina.
Charles Vane, like many early 18th-century pirates, operated out of Nassau in the Bahamas. He was the only pirate captain to resist Woodes Rogers when Rogers asserted his governorship over Nassau in 1718, attacking Rogers' squadron with a fire ship and shooting his way out of the harbor rather than accept the new governor's royal pardon. Vane's quartermaster was Calico Jack Rackham, who deposed Vane from the captaincy. Vane started a new pirate crew, but he was captured and hanged in Jamaica in 1721.
Edward - or Ned - Low was notorious as one of the most brutal and vicious pirates. Originally from London, he started as a lieutenant to George Lowther, before striking out on his own. His career as a pirate lasted just three years, during which he captured over 100 ships, and he and his crew murdered, tortured and maimed hundreds of people. After his own crew mutinied in 1724 when Low murdered a sleeping subordinate, he was rescued by a French vessel who hanged him on Martinique island.
Anne Bonny and Mary Read:
Anne Bonny and Mary Read were infamous female pirates of the 18th century; both spent their brief sea-roving careers under the command of Calico Jack Rackham. They were also known to have been associated with other well known pirates: Blackbeard, William Kidd, Bartholomew Sharp, and Bartholomew Roberts. They are noted chiefly for their sex, highly unusual for pirates, which helped to sensationalize their 1720 October trial in Jamaica. They gained further notoriety for their ruthlessness—they are known to have spoken in favor of murdering witnesses in the crew's counsels—and for fighting the intruders of Rackham’s vessel while he and his crew members were drunk and hiding under the deck. The capstone to their legend is that all the crew including Rackham, Anne and Mary were tried in a Spanish town close to Port Royal. Rackham and his crew were hanged, but when the judge sentenced Anne and Mary to death he asked if they had anything to say. "Milord, we plead our bellies", meaning they asserted they were pregnant. The judge immediately postponed their death sentence because no English court had the authority to kill an unborn child. Read died in prison of fever before the birth of the child. There is no record of Anne being executed and it was rumored her wealthy father had paid a ransom and took her home; other accounts of what happened to her include that she returned to piracy or became a nun.
In the Caribbean the use of privateers was especially popular for what amounted to legal and state-ordered piracy. The cost of maintaining a fleet to defend the colonies was beyond national governments of the 16th and 17th centuries. Private vessels would be commissioned into a de facto 'navy' with a letter of marque, paid with a substantial share of whatever they could capture from enemy ships and settlements, the rest going to the crown. These ships would operate independently or as a fleet, and if they were successful the rewards could be great—when Jean Fleury and his men captured Cortes' vessels in 1523, they found an incredible Aztec treasure that they were allowed to keep. Later, when Francis Drake captured the Spanish Silver Train at Nombre de Dios (Panama's Caribbean port at the time) in 1573 his crews were rich for life. This was repeated by Piet Hein in 1628, who made a profit of 12 million guilders for the Dutch West India Company. This substantial profit made privateering something of a regular line of business; wealthy businessmen or nobles would be quite willing to finance this legitimized piracy in return for a share. The sale of captured goods was a boost to colonial economies as well. The main imperial countries operating at this time and in the region were the French, English, Spanish, Dutch and Portuguese. Privateers from each country were all ordered to attack the other countries' vessels, especially Spain which was a shared enemy among the other powers.
By the seventeenth century piracy and privateering became less-acceptable behaviour, especially as many privateers turned into full-blown pirates so they would not have to give part of the profit they made back to their country of employment. Corruption led to the removal of many officials over the years, including Governor Nicholas Trott and Governor Benjamin Fletcher. One way that governments found and discouraged active pirates and corrupt privateers was through the use of “pirate hunters” who were bribed with all or at least most of the wealth that they would find aboard pirate vessels, along with a set bounty. The most renowned pirate hunter was Captain William Kidd, who hit the peak of his legal career in 1695 but later saw the benefits of illegal piracy and made that his new vocation.
The most well-known privateer corsairs of the eighteenth century in the Spanish colonies were Miguel Enríquez of Puerto Rico and José Campuzano-Polanco of Santo Domingo.Miguel Enríquez was a Puerto Rican mulatto who abandoned his work as a shoemaker to work as a privateer. Such was the success of Enríquez, that he became one of the wealthiest men in the New World.
Pirates involved specifically in the Caribbean were called buccaneers. Roughly speaking, they arrived in the 1630s and remained until the effective end of piracy in the 1730s. The original buccaneers were settlers that were deprived of their land by “Spanish authorities” and eventually were picked up by white settlers. The word "buccaneer" is actually from the French boucaner, meaning "to smoke meat", from the hunters of wild oxen curing meat over an open fire. They transferred the skills which kept them alive into piracy. They operated with the partial support of the non-Spanish colonies and until the 18th century their activities were legal, or partially legal and there were irregular amnesties from all nations. For the most part buccaneers attacked other vessel and ransacked settlements owned by the Spanish.
Traditionally buccaneers had a number of peculiarities. Their crews operated as a democracy: the captain was elected by the crew and they could vote to replace him. The captain had to be a leader and a fighter—in combat he was expected to be fighting with his men, not directing operations from a distance.
Spoils were evenly divided into shares; when the officers had a greater number of shares, it was because they took greater risks or had special skills. Often the crews would sail without wages—"on account"—and the spoils would be built up over a course of months before being divided. There was a strong esprit de corps among pirates. This allowed them to win sea battles: they typically outmanned trade vessels by a large ratio. There was also for some time a social insurance system, guaranteeing money or gold for battle wounds at a worked-out scale.
The romantic notion of pirates burying treasure on isolated islands and wearing gaudy clothes had some basis in fact. Most pirate wealth was accumulated by selling of chandlery items: ropes, sails, and block and tackle stripped from captured ships.
One undemocratic aspect of the buccaneers was that sometimes they would force specialists like carpenters or surgeons to sail with them for some time, though they were released when no longer needed (if they had not volunteered to join by that time). Note also that a typical poor man had few other promising career choices at the time apart from joining the pirates. According to reputation, the pirates' egalitarianism led them to liberate slaves when taking over slave ships. However, there are several accounts of pirates selling slaves captured on slave ships, sometimes after they had helped man the pirates' own vessels.
In combat they were considered ferocious and were reputed to be experts with flintlock weapons (invented in 1615), but these were so unreliable that they were not in widespread military use before the 1670s.
Many slaves, primarily from places in Africa, were being exported to colonies in the Caribbean for slave labour on plantations. Out of the people that were forced into slavery and shipped off to colonies in the years from 1673 to 1798, approximately 9 to 32 percent were children (this number only considers Great Britain’s exports). While on the average 12-week journey to the colonies, the new slaves endured ghastly living conditions that included: cramped spaces too small to stand up in, hot temperatures, and poor diets; they were ravaged by disease and death. Many of those taken as slaves were victims or prisoners of civil war. Many aspects of being a slave overall increased the allure of the pirating lifestyle. During the 17th and 18th centuries, piracy was at its height and its symbolic interpretation of freedom was well received. This abstract ideal was very appealing to slaves and victims of imperialism. Even though the main European powers did not want slaves to find out about the freedom that piracy offered, “...30 percent of the 5000 or more pirates who were active between 1715 and 1725 were of African heritage.” Along with the opportunity of a new life and freedom, the indigenous people of Africa were greeted with equality when they joined pirating communities. Many slaves turned pirate “secured” a position of leadership or prestige on pirating vessels, like that of Captain. One of the main areas of origin for these slaves was Madagascar. Great Britain was one of the largest importers of slaves to American colonies such as Jamaica and Barbados.
Roberto Cofresí—a 19th-century pirate:
Roberto Cofresí, better known as "El Pirata Cofresí", became interested in sailing at a young age. By the time he reached adulthood there were some political and economic difficulties in Puerto Rico, which at the time was a colony of Spain. Influenced by this situation he decided to become a pirate in 1818. Cofresí commanded several assaults against cargo vessels focusing on those that were responsible for exporting gold. During this time he focused his attention on boats from the United States and the local Spanish government ignored several of these actions. On March 2, 1825, Cofresí engaged the USS Grampus and a flotilla of ships led by Capt. John D. Sloat in battle. He eventually abandoned his ship and tried to escape by land before being captured. After being imprisoned he was sent to San Juan, Puerto Rico, where a brief military trial found him guilty and on March 29, 1825, he and other members of his crew were executed by a firing squad. After his death his life was used as inspiration for several stories and myths, which served as the basis for books and other media.
Boysie Singh—a 20th-century pirate:
Boysie Singh, usually known as the Raja (the Hindi word for king), or just Boysie, was born on 5 April 1908 on 17 Luis Street, Woodbrook, Port of Spain, Saint George County, British Trinidad and Tobago to Bhagrang Singh (a fugitive who immigrated to British Trinidad and Tobago from British India) and his wife.
He had a long and successful career as a gangster and gambler before turning to piracy and murder. For almost ten years, from 1947 until 1956 he and his gang terrorized the waters between Trinidad and Tobago and Venezuela. They were responsible for the deaths of approximately 400 people. They would promise to ferry people from Trinidad to Venezuela but en route he would rob his victims at gunpoint, kill them and dump them into the sea.
Boysie was well-known to people in Trinidad and Tobago. He had successfully beaten a charge of breaking and entering which nearly resulted in his deportation before he was finally executed after losing his third case - for the murder of his niece. He was held in awe and dread by most of the population and was frequently seen strolling grandly about Port of Spain in the early 1950s wearing bright, stylish clothes. Mothers, nannies, and ajees would warn their children: "Behave yourself, man, or Boysie goyn getchu, allyuh!" Boysie Singh died in Port of Spain by being hanged in 1957 for the murder of a dancer, Hattie Werk.
1. The Barbarossa Brothers
Sailing from North Africa’s Barbary Coast, the Barbarossa (which means “red beard” in Italian) brothers Aruj and Hizir became rich by capturing European vessels in the Mediterranean Sea. Though their most lucrative early victims included two papal galleys and a Sardinian warship, they began targeting the Spanish around the time Aruj lost an arm to them in battle. By 1516 the Ottoman sultan had essentially put Aruj in charge of the entire Barbary Coast, a position that Hizir took over two years later following his brother’s death. Hizir, otherwise known as Khair-ed-Din, then spent the rest of his days fighting various Christian enemies, including a “Holy League” fleet specifically formed by the pope to destroy him.
2. Sir Francis Drake
Francis Drake, nicknamed “my pirate” by Queen Elizabeth I, was among the so-called “Sea Dog” privateers licensed by the English government to attack Spanish shipping. Drake sailed on his most famous voyage from 1577 to 1580, becoming the first English captain to circumnavigate the globe. On that same trip he lost four of his five boats, executed a subordinate for allegedly plotting a mutiny, raided various Spanish ports and captured a Spanish vessel loaded with treasure. A delighted Queen Elizabeth immediately knighted him upon his return. Eight years later, Drake helped defeat the Spanish Armada.
L’Olonnais was one of many buccaneers—a cross between state-sponsored privateers and outright outlaws—who plied the Caribbean Sea in the mid- to late 1600s. Also known as Jean-David Nau, L’Olonnais is believed to have begun raiding Spanish ships and coastal settlements—and cultivating a reputation for excessive cruelty—soon after arriving in the Caribbean as an indentured servant. Seventeenth-century pirate historian Alexander Exquemelin wrote that L’Olonnais would hack his victims to pieces bit by bit or squeeze a cord around their necks until their eyes popped out. Suspecting he had been betrayed, L’Olonnais supposedly once even cut out a man’s heart and took a bite. Karma came back to haunt him in 1668, however, when, according to Exquemelin, he was captured and eaten by cannibals.
4. Henry Morgan
Perhaps the best-known pirate of the buccaneering era, Henry Morgan once purportedly ordered his men to lock the inhabitants of Puerto Príncipe, Cuba, inside a church so that they could plunder the town unhindered. He then moved on to capture Porto Bello, Panama, in part by creating a human shield out of priests, women and the mayor. Over the next few years, other brutal raids followed against two towns in Venezuela and Panama City. Though Morgan was briefly arrested in 1672, he ended up serving as acting governor of Jamaica in 1678 and again from 1680 to 1682. Ironically, the Jamaican legislature passed an anti-piracy law during his administration, and Morgan even assisted in pirate prosecution.
5. Captain Kidd
Once a respected privateer, Captain William Kidd set sail in 1696 with the assignment of hunting down pirates in the Indian Ocean. But he soon turned pirate himself, capturing vessels such as the Quedagh Merchant and killing a subordinate with a wooden bucket. A massive defection left him with a skeleton crew for the journey home, which included a stop at New York’s Gardiners Island to bury treasure. Having run afoul of the powerful British East India Company, Kidd was arrested before making it back to England. He was then tried and executed, and his decaying body was displayed from the banks of the River Thames as a warning to other pirates.
Born Edward Teach, Blackbeard intimidated enemies by coiling smoking fuses into his long, braided facial hair and by slinging multiple pistols and daggers across his chest. In November 1717 he captured a French slave ship, later renamed the Queen Anne’s Revenge, and refitted it with 40 guns. With that extra firepower he then blockaded the port of Charleston, South Carolina, until the town’s residents met his demands for a large chest of medicine. After laying low for a few months in North Carolina, Blackbeard was killed in battle with the British Navy. Legend holds that he received 20 stab wounds and five gunshot wounds before finally succumbing. The so-called Golden Age of Piracy, of which Blackbeard was a major part, would only last a few more years. But countless books, plays and movies—from “Treasure Island” to “Pirates of the Caribbean”—would later bring a romanticized version of that era squarely into the public eye.
7. Calico Jack
John Rackam, better known as Calico Jack, received a pardon for previous piracy acts in 1719. Nonetheless, he headed back out to sea the following year after seizing a 12-gun sloop from Nassau harbor in the Bahamas. Among Rackam’s dozen or so followers were two of the only women pirates ever to ply Caribbean waters. One, Anne Bonny, had left her husband to be with Rackam, while the other, Mary Read, had purportedly been sailing for quite some time disguised in men’s clothing. In October 1720 a pirate hunting boat overtook Rackam’s drunken band. Only Bonny, Read and perhaps one man are believed to have offered any resistance. Though Rackam was executed the following month, his female crewmates escaped the hangman’s noose because both were found to be pregnant. Read died in prison soon after, and no one knows what became of Bonny.
8. Madame Cheng
In 1805 Madame Cheng’s husband, Cheng Yih, formed what quickly became the largest pirate confederation in history. Upon his death two years later, Madame Cheng took over the business and expanded it even further, commanding an estimated 1,800 ships and 70,000 men at the height of her powers. With the help of Cheung Po Tsai—the adopted son of her husband and also her lover—she demanded protection money from coastal communities, attacked ships in the South China Sea and once even kidnapped seven British sailors. Madame Cheng then took a pardon in 1810 when Chinese authorities began cracking down on piracy. A prostitute in her youth, she lived out her golden years running a large opium smuggling operation.
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01:02 Jun 07 2018
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