Pirates


Facts about Fictional and Real Pirates

thewayofthepirates.com is a place where you can find everything you want to know about famous pirates and piracy! This site offers a basic introduction to the world of pirates, and lots of accurate information about pirate history and legends, as well as reviews of pirate books, movies, and other fiction.


Edward Teach: The Pirate Blackbeard

Edward Teach (about 1680–1718) wore his thick, black beard long, adorned with ribbons. It gave him his nickname, and before battles he hung smoldering fuses from his beard to terrify his enemies.

In the early 1700s, Blackbeard captured dozens of merchant vessels in the Caribbean and along the Atlantic Coast. In 1718, he raided Charleston, South Carolina, seized many ships, and demanded a ransom for &ldquoseveral of the best inhabitants of this place.&rdquo Later that year, he was killed in a battle with the British Navy. The British fleet commander, Lt. Robert Maynard, brought Blackbeard’s head back to shore to claim a £100 reward.

From Captain Charles Johnson, A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pyrates . . . (London, 1724)

Courtesy of the Rare Books Division, The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations

Blackbeard’s Jolly Roger

Pirates hoisted the skull-and-bones flag to show what their prey could expect if they resisted capture. The flags could also be plain black or plain red without any pictures&mdasheveryone knew what they meant.

Courtesy of North Carolina Maritime Museum

Explore other stories of Dangerous Waters:

Photograph by Julep Gillman-Bryan

Courtesy of the North Carolina Dept. of Cultural Resources

Blackbeard’s Flagship, the Queen Anne’s Revenge

Blackbeard captured a French slaver named Concorde in the Caribbean in November 1717. He renamed it Queen Anne’s Revenge and used it as his flagship for the next seven months. In June 1718, Blackbeard deliberately ran the ship aground in Beaufort Inlet, North Carolina. He abandoned much of his crew and fled with a smaller group, probably so he could keep more of his loot.

Divers discovered the wreck in 1996. Since then, thousands of artifacts from the early 1700s have been recovered, providing a remarkable window on life aboard a pirate ship.

From Jean Boudriot, Le Mercure, 1730 (Paris, J. Boudriot: 1991)

Courtesy of Jean Boudriot

French Merchant Ship, 1730

There are no contemporary images of Queen Anne’s Revenge, formerly the French slave ship Concorde. Archaeologists believe that the 1730 French merchant ship Mercure, shown here, was close in size and rig to the pirate ship.

Courtesy Chris Southerly, Underwater Archaeology Branch, North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources

Site Plan Drawing of the Wreck Site, 2008

This illustration details all the known features of the wreck, as the sand covering it is gradually removed. Site plans constantly evolve, as new objects are revealed during ongoing excavations. They are the most accurate and permanent rendition of the site itself, as it is carefully recorded, photographed, and dismantled.


The birth of the gay buccaneers

Most of our modern pirate myths stem from the Golden Age of Piracy, from the 1650s to the 1730s. This period was the inspiration for the Disney Pirates of the Caribbean film franchise.

It was born on the island of Hispaniola (which is nowadays Haiti and the Dominican Republic) in the Caribbean.

By 1605, Spain had abandoned its colonies in the impoverished north of the island. So runaway slaves, mutinous soldiers and sailors, almost anyone who had a reason to hide, could find safe haven there.

Many of them were protestants, either French Huguenots or English, and therefore fiercely opposed to the Catholic Spanish. Together, they formed a society which they dubbed the Brethren of the Coast.

Initially they hunted pigs and cattle, which they smoked over a wooden barbecue called ‘boucan’. That earned them the name ‘buccaneers’.

It was an almost entirely male society, so they lived in same-sex couples. Two men would disappear into the tropical forests for between six months and two years. When they emerged, they would be dressed in animal skins and covered in blood. Then they would sell smoked meats and hides to passing ships.

They may have turned to piracy to subsidise this meagre income. But the Spanish tried to wipe out not only the buccaneers but the animals they hunted. And this just made them more dependent on piracy.

Eventually, the Spanish persecution forced the buccaneers to move to the smaller island of Tortuga, off the north coast of Hispaniola. This was more defensible but had even fewer natural resources. So piracy became their main source of income.


Pirate History,Pirate Biographies,History of Piracy,History of Pirates,Pirates History,Famous Pirates

Welcome to Pirates! Fact and Legend a web site devoted to martime pirate history and all topics related to piracy. Our site is divided into serveral sections: Famous Pirates, History of Pirates, Pirate Facts and Pirate Legends. Also check out our Pirates Message Boards and Pirate Books. Use the links at the top of this page to navigate or scroll down for a description below.

Visit our History of Piracy section for links to articles about pirates throughout important time periods. Read about popular subjects such as Pirates of the Caribbean and how pirate history affected government, life, trade, and more. Read about Ancient Pirates and learn about the first mention of piracy in 1350BC. Almost everyone is familiar with, a period popularized by books and media, the Golden Age of Piracy. Many people are surprised to know that Middle Age Piracy was rampant and a serious problem for trade. Julius Caesar struggled with the Roman Era Pirates and today many seas are still plagued as Modern Piracy is common off the coast of Somalia. There is no doubt that pirates had and will continue to have a tremendous impact on the history of civilization! View all of our History of Pirates content.

For every pirate fact there are scores of pirate legends. With numerous fictional pirate stories came also romantic idealized interpretations of pirate life. Treasure Island, one of the best known fictional accounts of piracy, still instills ideas of pirate parrots, eye patches and peg legs into the imaginations of new generations of readers. Learn the truth and origins of these misconceptions about pirates. Was it a common practice to fly pirate flags, like the Jolly Roger, on pirate ships? Did Johnny Depp get it right with his portrayal of pirate life and pirate clothing? Find the answer to these questions and more on our Pirate Facts and Pirate Legends section.

Read about famous pirates that have left their mark on history. Learn about the female pirates, Mary Read and Anne Bonny, and a few other women pirates! Acquaint yourself with exciting swashbuckling tales about Edward Teach, also known as Blackbeard the pirate! Read over 20 different pirate biographies on our Famous Pirates page.

Pirate books for kids and adults available for purchase and also readable on-line. Get recommendations for adult and children's pirate books which are written by renowned authors. Our suggestions are made not only based on educational merit, but also on whether or not the books are enjoyable and fun to read. Save some time by browsing our selection. Check out all of our recommendations for adult and kids Pirate Books.

Pirates message boards with a massive archive of messages on scholarly, and other pirate related topics. Great place to ask other pirate enthusiasts about research issues related to piracy. We also provide a section for children, regarding homework, a section on pirate movies, and lots more. Check out our feature rich pirate discussion with over 40,000 messages. A lively pirates community! View Pirates Message Boards.

You may be interested in buying a Pirate Costume for your Halloween party. You can also browse a selection of Jolly Roger Pirate Flags and other pirate related products.


Pirate History Facts

Pirates believed that piercing their ears would improve eyesight.

If a Pirate Captain thought there was a chance that he would be captured, he would change out of his expensive, fancy clothes. That way he could pretend they were just a part of the crew, and not the leader of the Piracy operation.

Most Pirating happened between 1690 and 1720.

The black “Jolly Roger” flag with white skull and crossbones was designed to be frightening, but had a version with a red background instead of black that was even more terrifying. Red meant no mercy would be taken!

Each Pirate Captain had his own Code of Conduct. Even though Pirates stole to get their treasure, on most ships stealing between shipmates was strictly forbidden and had harsh punishments.

No one has ever actually found a hidden Pirate treasure map. Pirates usually did not live long full lives, and tended to spend all of their riches quickly. If there are Pirate treasure maps still out there, they are hidden very well!

There’s no historic proof that Pirates were ever made to walk the plank. It is thought to completely be a Hollywood myth.

So many Pirates had eye patches and wooden legs, because ships were extremely dangerous places to work and Pirates often lost limbs and eyes.

A gang of Pirates from 1714 called the “Flying Gang” were the inspiration behind Jack Sparrow and Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean movies.

Piracy dates back as far as ancient Greece, and still exists today. Modern Pirates attack container ships, tanker ships, and sometimes even cruise ships in the sea outside areas like Somalia, and the Straits of Malacca.

Real historical Pirates didn’t say “Arrr” and “Matey” as much as you think they did! Early Hollywood movies about Pirates featured an actor with a thick accent, which caused the ‘R’ to roll. This created a style for Pirate speech, but it is not historically accurate.


Blackbeard’s Crew and Williamsburg, Virginia

Back in the early 1700s, ruthless scoundrels known as pirates ruled the ocean in an era known as, “The Golden Age of Piracy.” Pirates struck fear in the hearts of their enemies and many tradesmen were afraid to sail on the ocean. During this time, Virginia was the second most important British colony on the American mainland, and pirates were no strangers to this territory.

Pirating connections in Williamsburg, Virginia date back to 1693, when pirates would wait for trade ships to pass through to rob them of whatever they were carrying. The most feared and respected pirate of this time was Blackbeard.

Not only did Blackbeard make Virginia a regular stomping ground, but the last of his crew were tried, found guilty, and hanged in Williamsburg, Virginia. People have said throughout the centuries that these pirates still haunt the site of their death. Ghosts are scary enough, but can you imagine encountering ghosts that were once ruthless pirates?

Blackbeard: The Legend

“…Blackbeard in battle array was an awesome sight and, to sailors of the day, as feared as the devil himself…”

Blackbeard became captain of a large fleet during the height of piracy, and when he died, piracy died with him. Described as the embodiment of pure evil, he struck fear in the hearts of many.

Blackbeard’s real name was Edward Teach, and not much is known about his early life. Most historians agree, however, that he was born in Bristol, England around 1680. He began his career at sea at a young age when he set sail for Jamaica as a merchant seaman in the early eighteenth-century. His taste for crime came during Queen Anne’s War when he served as a privateer in Kingston, Jamaica, preying on French ships.

He eventually settled in the Bahamas, where the notorious pirate Captain Benjamin Hornigold resided. Shortly after the government revoked the privateer’s license, around 1716, Teach joined forces with Hornigold. Teach was strong,courageous, and had a devil-may-care attitude that Hornigold grew to respect and admire. Hornigold took him under his wing and taught him everything he knew about taking ships. Teach was eventually placed as commander of a sloop (sailing boat) that he and Hornigold had captured, known as the Ranger.

Hornigold was overthrown by his crew in November 1717. They then elected Teach as their new Captain, and Blackbeard, history’s most notorious pirate, was born.

After obtaining these ships, Blackbeard’s reputation began to develop. This is especially true in areas along the shores of North Carolina and Virginia. Blackbeard spent much of his time in these territories beginning in March 1718 when he became tired of the Caribbean and left for North America. When Blackbeard arrived in Charleston, in May of that same year, he had nearly seven hundred men under his command. This is because he had stopped nearly every ship on its way to Charleston and looted them all.

Teach’s appearance is what gave him his nickname. He had a very long, coal-black beard that he tied into small pigtails during battle. The pigtails were held together with colored ribbons that he used to light the matches that were stored underneath his hat. He was a tall, muscular, and very large man, which attributed to his dreadful appearance and intimidated his enemies. He always dressed in black, with pistols, daggers, and a cutlass on his belt. Across his chest was a bandolier which he used to carry six ready-to-fire pistols. He was, “the embodiment of impregnable wickedness, of reckless daring, a nightmarish villain so lacking in any human kindness that no crime was above him…the living picture of an ogre who roamed the seas and withered all before him with his very presence.” He developed a reputation for being the cruelest pirate on the seven seas and was not only feared by his enemies, but by his own crew and officers as well.

This reputation was further developed through Blackbeard’s passion for fighting. His unmatched sword skills prompted people to say that he could cut a man in half with a single blow. The evil fame he acquired resulted in quick surrender with minimal resistance.

In June, England offered pirates a pardon, forcing Blackbeard and his crew to retire. Blackbeard bought a house in Bath, North Carolina and married a woman named Mary Ormond (unbeknownst to her, she was one of his still living ten wives there were fourteen in all). He became very close with the Governor, John Holloway, and his house became a popular place for the members of high society to gather. He won them over with plentiful gifts of rum and sugar.

However, a short time after he settled in Bath, Blackbeard, and his crew became restless and returned to pirating. Many people believed that the governor assisted Blackbeard with this endeavor. The two seemed to have formed a friendship and the people of North Carolina feared their Governor was deeply corrupt. In an act of desperation, they turned to the Governor of Virginia, Alexander Spotswood, for help with their problem. The downfall of Blackbeard and his crew was near.

The Battle to End it All

Governor Spotswood sent troops by sea, led by Lieutenant Robert Maynard, to capture Blackbeard. On November 21st, 1718, Maynard noticed the disabled ship in the open water and gave the order for an attack. They hid below deck to lure the pirates to their ship, giving them the upper hand. When Blackbeard and his crew boarded, they were immediately surrounded. The battle began.

In the end, Maynard and his men were victorious, and the legendary Blackbeard met his end. He went out swinging, however he was stabbed 20 times and shot 5 times during the battle (25 hits) before his eventual death. An excerpt from Pirates on the Chesapeake by Donald Shomette describes Blackbeard as being,

“…struck time after time, spewing blood and roaring imprecations as he stood his ground and fought with a great fury. One mighty arm swung his cutlass like a deadly windmill while the other fired shot after shot from the brace of pistons in his bandolier.”

Maynard and his crew defeated Blackbeard on the morning of November 22, 1718. They cut off his head and threw his body into the ocean. They placed his head on a high pole at the mouth of Hampton River (known today as Blackbeard’s Point) as a way to dissuade anyone considering piracy. After a while, locals took Blackbeard’s skull down and fashioned into a drinking cup that was kept at the Raleigh Tavern in Williamsburg, Virginia.

Blackbeard died in North Carolina, but his crew, who surrendered very shortly after his death, awaited trial in Virginia and “The Golden Age of Piracy,” was over.

The Public Gaol (pronounced jail)

After the battle in North Carolina, 15 or 16 of Blackbeard’s crew members survived and were brought to Virginia to await trial. They were kept in Williamsburg’s famous and primary jail, simply called The Public Gaol (pronounced jail).

Built in 1704, the jail was very small because it was only supposed to house prisoners temporarily, however, this wasn’t the case. Because of the small size of the prison, this lead to horrible living conditions (especially true in the Revolutionary War). The prisoners, which included runaway slaves, murderers, cutthroats, pirates, marauding Indians, political and debtor prisoners, and even the criminally insane, only had piles of straw to sleep on. The jail smelled and was infested with rodents, cockroaches, and lice. The food was horrible and a disease known as Gaol fever (typhus) wasn’t uncommon. There was no glass on the windows, so prisoners, chained in heavy leg irons and handcuffs, weren’t protected from the elements. The poor living conditions and overcrowding caused more inmates died of starvation and disease than at the gallows.

The trial for Blackbeard’s crew began on March 19, 1719, at the Capitol building. Virginians sentenced all but two to death Samuel Odell was acquitted because he had only been on Blackbeard’s ship one day and Israel Hands (Blackbeard’s chief aide) was pardoned. He died a homeless man on the streets of London years later.

In late March 1719, the remaining pirates left the Public Gaol and walked down the streets of Williamsburg. They rode on top of their own coffins (custom at the time) from the jail. They traveled down present day Nicholson Street, which was referred to as Gallows Road, and were hanged along Capitol Hill Road known today as Capital Landing Road. Their bodies were hanged in cages along the entrance to the city to deter would be pirates and inspire confidence in the government’s ability to deliver justice and order. The death of Blackbeard and his crew marked the end of “The Golden Age of Piracy.”

It’s not uncommon to hear strange sounds coming from where Blackbeard’s crew and many other people were hanged. Hanging was terrifying back then for the guilty parties. A cart drove them to the gallows and they had to sit on their own coffins.

Hangings were public events, so when they reached their destination, there was a crowd there waiting for them who would shout and jeer at them. The cart would stop right beneath the gallows, the man/woman would say their last words, and then the cart would move immediately afterward. To make matters worse, people didn’t always die right away. Sometimes it took a little while.

Sounds coming from what locals call the Wagon of Death have been heard on Nicholson Street, Hangman’s Road, also known as Gallows Road, which is present day Capital Landing Road. People have heard a horse and wagon as well as cheering from a crowd. No one has physically seen the wagon, but people swear that they’ve heard it and that it exists.

There have also been sounds heard coming from the old Public Gaol (use of this building stopped in 1910 and restoration began in 1936). The sounds of voices and thumping of heavy shoes come from a deserted room on the second floor, as well as moaning and whispers late at night. It should also be mentioned that the jail’s location is along Nicholson Street, which is one of the locations where the Wagon of Death has been heard.

Blackbeard was a ruthless, cruel, but also brilliant and fearless, man. His crew and his enemies respected and feared him. In fact, the crew respected him so much that they lost their lives for him because of this, Blackbeard’s crew and Williamsburg, Virginia are connected until the end of time.

Sounds have been heard coming from the jail and from where the crew was hanged along Capital Landing Road in Williamsburg. As for Blackbeard, there haven’t been any reports of seeing or hearing his ghost in North Carolina. This, however, is probably a good thing. Said to have been the embodiment of evil when he was alive, one wonders what it would be like to meet his ghost.


Pirates of the Caribbean

The explorer Christopher Columbus established contact between Europe and the lands that were later named America at the end of the 15th century. As he was working for the Spanish monarchy, these 'new lands' were claimed by the Spanish, who soon discovered them to be a rich source of silver, gold and gems.

From the 16th century, large Spanish ships, called galleons, began to sail back to Europe, loaded with precious cargoes that pirates found impossible to resist. So many pirate attacks were made that galleons were forced to sail together in fleets with armed vessels for protection. As Spanish settlers set up new towns on Caribbean islands and the American mainland, these too came under pirate attack.


Somali Pirates

Although the tales of Golden Age of Piracy are still fresh in our minds, full of swashbuckling captains, treasure ships and fierce naval battles, the modern age still has one area of the world where pirates rule the sea – Somalia. After the collapse of their government in 1991, fierce civil war, and the birth of the inefficient new government, the country of Somalia became birthplace of the new age of piracy. Set on a strategic point on the Horn of Africa, Somalian-fisherman and ex-militia begun to raid the shipping lanes in the narrow sea channel known as The Gulf of Aden. These attacks created massive economic impact, and international military fleets patrol these waters daily.

The first organized pirate attack carried on by Somali pirates started shortly after the start of the second phase of the Somali Civil War in 2005. Although exact cause of those attack are not known (some claim that fisherman wanted to protect their waters from foreign ships, or that foreign toxic dumps created massive loss of sea life which forced fishermen to violence), as time went on more and more pirates started attacking shipping lanes traveling from Suez to India, and vice versa. As the international warships became more and more present, so did Somalia pirates started using more and more advanced techniques (as of now, they use naval mother ships that allow them to organize large scale attacks on a distant targets on open sea). The lack of strong government, poverty and ever present crime created situation where pirates started to work for local crime lords, under the guise of serving as coast guards. Successful pirates live much better than the remainder of the country, which fuels the constant arrival of new pirates hungry for glory and wealth. According to some pools, over 70 percent of local Somali population supports their pirate fleet as one of the main protectors of the nation fishing grounds.

In 2008, pressure from international commerce gave birth to the organized military defense of trade routes. The first warship that entered the waters of Gulf of Aden came from India, which was soon joined by Russian forces. The current military effort is organized into “Combined Task Force 150” which guards waters around Somalia and enforces new multiyear defense plan that includes better protection of trade ships and preventive attacks on the pirate coastal strongholds. The immediate effect of international warship was clearly visible – pirates soon gave up on the local attacks near Somali coast and focused their efforts on the wider Indian Ocean, and the horrifying kidnaping of Kenya’s tourist from their beaches.

The main goal of pirates remained same throughout all these years remained same – ransom. Just in the 2010, over 1100 hostages were captured by Somali pirates, and by the fall of 2011 they captured another 300. Also, they collected various amounts of ransom for captured ships – ranging from 500.000 to 2 million dollars. Even though pirates try to keep their captives alive in the hope of receiving ransom, over 60 seafarers have died in their prisons.

International governments are still trying to come to the solution to this serious problem, and first step must be creation of the stable Somali government.


Pirates - HISTORY


though pirates are romanticized today as swashbucklers, they were primarily thieves and murderers
Source: Pixabay

Pirates are often romanticized as resourceful entrepreneurs on the fringes of the wilderness, taking daring risks while creating egalitarian communities on ships that honored a code of behavior. More accurately, pirates were thieves who stole from ships, seized entire ships, and raided plantations on land. Pirates were (and are) highway robbers operating on water.

In the 1500's, Spain was a dominant military power with full control over all colonies in the Western Hemisphere except Brazil. Those colonies, and the ships going to and from them, were the primary targets for pirates.

Francis Drake seized Cartegena in 1586 and looted it. His ships may have been loaded with 200 enslaved people when Drake stopped at Roanoke Island in 1586. Almost all of the colonists accepted his offer of a return trip from Roanoke Island to England, and Drake may have left those enslaved people there or on a nearby island.

Capturing a ship in the Treasure Fleet bringing silver and gold to Spain was a pirate's dream, but ships headed west to the colonies were also an attractive target. English pirates brought the first enslaved Africans to Virginia in 1619, after seizing them as human cargo from a Portuguese ship headed to Mexico.

French, Dutch, and English pirates preyed on Portuguese and Spanish ships - and on ships from any nation when convenient. In addition, pirates raided towns and poorly-defended plantations on shore.

Far inland in Caroline County, Peumansend Creek is reportedly named after a French privateer or pirate. Sometime before 1670, according to local lore, Captain Peuman raided up the Rappahannock River one too many times. Local colonists blocked his escape back to the Chesapeake Bay, and he ended up trapped in a creek near the town of Port Royal. Peuman was killed there, and today the place where he "met his end" is called Peumansend Creek. 1


Peumansend Creek supposedly memorializes where a privateer/pirate named Peuman was killed
Source: ESRI, ArcGIS Online

Pirate ships were the equivalent of modern get-away cars of bank robbers. Nonetheless, at times the English government authorized ships to be "official" pirates called privateers, to attack Spanish, French, and Dutch ships and colonies. Interrupting the merchant trade of a rival weakened its ability to generate revenue and pay for troops and supplies, and created internal pressure from a country's business elites to conclude a war.

Other nations authorized their own privateers to attack the English in a form of undeclared-but-official economic warfare. In the 1600's and 1700's, certain ship captains were authorized by different European monarchs through a document called a letter of marque to use private ships to seize merchant vessels of enemy nations. As Spanish colonies in Central and South America sought independence in the 1800's, groups claiming to be governments issued letters of marque which justified capturing Spanish merchant vessels in the Gulf of Mexico. The documents provided a thin veneer of legitimacy to pirates based in Louisiana, including Jean and Pierre Lafitte.

Captured ships were known as "prizes." Privateers could sail them back to an American port, where a judge would oversee an auction of the ship and its cargo and distribute the revenue to captains and crew.

Sailors could engage in a shifting cycle of illegitimate piracy, intermixed with legitimate privateering (legal piracy) and private operations: 2

In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. national navies of even the strongest maritime states were small. Instead, littoral states - strong and weak alike - relied on private vessels for maritime support. Those private vessels, known as privateers, were invested with power to act on behalf of a state through letters of marque and reprisal.

Instead of oceans policed by national navies, private vessels and their captains sailed their vessels on behalf of states. Thus a vessel that had been private one day might carry a letter of marque the next. Once the term of the letter expired, that vessel might return to its prior private activities or it might renew the letter.

. The existence of shifting, largely private naval forces created chaos in itself. In addition, the power of private vessels opened the door for pirates - acting under the authority of no state.

Kings and queens "outsourced" to expand their navies by authorizing privateers, avoiding the political headaches of raising taxes to build more warships and find crews to staff the vessels. During the American Revolution, the Continental Congress did the same. The official letter of marque endorsement meant that privateers were enemy combatants, and should be protected as prisoners of war if captured rather than executed summarily as pirates.

Ship captains and crews with letters of marque could go rogue and seize merchant vessels without any official blessing in colonial times, ships sailing to and from Virginia suffered from unauthorized piracy as well as privateering authorized by hostile nations. When nations were at peace and letters of marque were scarce, captains and crews could switch to whatever unofficial opportunities were available.


in 1780, the Continental Congress issued letters of marque that authorized privateers to attack English shipping
Source: Library of Congress, Instructions to the captains and commanders of private armed vessels which shall have commissions or letters of marque and reprisal

The "rules of the games" were flexible. Determination of what was legal varied, depending upon who was making the decisions. Experienced captains and crews switched back and forth between privateer and pirate, or simply signed up for ordinary commercial trips, depending upon the demand for their services. Before coming to Virginia in 1607, even John Smith had served on a pirate ship in the Mediterranean. 3

For example, the transition of the colony of Virginia from royal to Parliamentary control between 1651-1652 created confusion regarding which laws applied in the colony. After Parliament passed the first Navigation Act of 1651, Dutch ships were banned from trading with the colony of Virginia. Virginia trips were banned from sailing to destinations other than England and its various possessions.

One Jamestown merchant was caught up in the change in policy, sailing The Fame of Virginia to the Netherlands when Virginia was loyal to the king but returning in 1752 after Parliament had seized control of the Virginia colony.

Upon the ship's return to Virginia, another sea captain seized The Fame of Virginia and claimed it as a prize, based upon the ship's violation of Parliamentary law. The Northampton County Court rejected that claim. When the captain who seized the ship left the court after losing his case, he promptly sailed away with his "prize."

County taxpayers feared they would be required to provide compensation, since county officials had made the mistake of releasing the captain who sailed away, but then a Dutch ship was captured. Colonial officials conspired together to claim that ship as property of the colony, then sell it at a great discount to the owner of The Fame of Virginia (with the arbiters making the decision getting compensated by that owner, as part of the deal). Clearly, the boundary between illegal piracy and legalized privateering depended upon the circumstances, and who got rewarded by different interpretations of the law. 4

Dutch privateers, not pirates, caused the greatest damage to Virginia shipping in the Chesapeake Bay area. In 1667, during one of the Anglo-Dutch wars, Dutch privateers disguised themselves as English ships. They sailed into the Chesapeake Bay, crippled the one English warship stationed there, and captured the fleet of merchant ships preparing to sail to England with full loads of tobacco.

The privateers had time to send landing parties to loot plantation houses along the James River. Before the militia under Gov. William Berkeley could organize a response, the Dutch sailed away with all the tobacco ships they could handle and burned the rest of the fleet.

In 1673, another set of Dutch raiders repeated their success. They spent days collecting tobacco from Virginia and Maryland merchant vessels, overcoming efforts of ship captains to flee up the Nansemond and James rivers. 5

Thanks to intimidation, robbery at sea was often a pretty easy way to make a living. Pirates consciously spread fear regarding their behavior, and announcing their presence by hoisting a blood-red flag. Blackbeard hoisted a black flag with a death's head, while variants used by other pirates are replicated today as the "Jolly Roger" flag with a skull and crossbones. 6

Captains and crews who quickly surrendered hoped to be treated better than those who fought back or tried to escape. Crew members from captured vessels ("prizes") would be invited to join the pirates, who at times created a fleet with multiple ships that required additional crew.

Those who refused were imprisoned with passengers in dark and smelly holds below decks or marooned on a plundered hulk from which sails and ropes had been removed. A quick surrender might result in gentle treatment, but pirates were mercurial and often undisciplined. Captains, crews, and passengers could be tortured or killed for information/entertainment, and the fate of captured ships varied


some pirates flew red flags to signal no quarter, while others flew black flags that intimidated captains/crew of merchant ships
Source: Library of Congress, Major Stede Bonnet.

Sometimes pirates simply stole valuables, and then released the crew and ship. At other times, pirates would trade their worn-out vessels for a captured merchant ship in better condition, in the maritime equivalent of stealing a faster car.

Ships not suitable for use by the pirates were often burned, or ship carpenters were forced to drill holes below the waterline so the wooden vessels would quickly sink. Putting captives on board, and sinking unneeded ships, enabled pirates to keep their location secret from any English warships patrolling the American coastline and from private vessels chartered by colonial governors to hunt down pirates.

Some pirate crews made decisions by democratic vote. Strong-willed captains made decisions for other crews, and mutinies were not uncommon when the decision process broke down. William Dampier, a pirate who lived for a part of his life in Virginia, captained one of several pirate ships sailing in the Pacific Ocean near Chile in 1704 when another pirate captain marooned a troublesome sailor on an isolated island there.

Four years later, Dampier was navigator on the ship that rescued the castaway, Alexander Selkirk. Dampier's descriptions of his experiences helped stimulate Jonathan Swift to write Gulliver's Travels and Daniel Defoe to write Robinson Crusoe. 7

Like modern burglars, pirates sought cash and goods easy to sell. They stole the personal possessions of captured crew and passengers, and resupplied their ships with rigging, food, and whatever wine, beer, and rum they captured.

Pirates might sail a captured ship to a port where officials winked at their presence, and sell the cargo to the equivalent of modern "fences" trafficking in stolen goods. Hogsheads of tobacco or other bulk cargo on captured ships would be thrown overboard if the ship itself was desired. Other ships with hard-to-sell cargoes were simply sunk or burned, after the easy-to-sell items were transferred to the pirate's ship.


the life of pirates and privateers has been romanticized and converted into tourist events and "Talk Like a Pirate Day" - aaargh!
Source: Library of Congress, A Pirate's Life For Me

Ten years after the successful 1673 Dutch raid in the Chesapeake Bay, the English began to station a Royal Navy guardship at the Virginia colony to protect the commercial shipping from privateers with letters of marque and from pirates. In 1688, the HMS Dumbarton seized four men who were suspected of being pirates. They were in a small boat on the Chesapeake Bay, and were thought to be pirates because the boat carried three chests loaded with gold coins and items of silver.

It turned out one of the four was Edward Davis, who had sailed out of Hampton in 1683 with William Dampier on a pirate expedition (though they also obtained letters of marque from the king of England). Davis ended up as captain of the Batchelor's Delight, which raided Spanish shipping and coastal villages on the west coast of South America until King James II issued a proclamation of amnesty for pirates in 1687. Davis obtained a royal pardon for the crew in Jamaica, but the pirates calculated that it would be wise to split up and seek to disguise their past.

The captain of the HMS Dumbarton and the colonial officials at Jamestown were not willing to accept the pardon granted by the royal governor in Jamaica. They hoped to claim a share of the treasure seized from the four men, and the officials also feared retaliation from other pirates if the four men were punished.

Ultimately, one of the four died and the other three were shipped to England for trial. Rev. James Blair, the commissary representing the Anglican church in Virginia, was visiting London in hopes of finding a source of money to start a college in Williamsburg. He helped the pirates negotiate a plea bargain.

The English judge agreed in 1692 to release the defendants and restore their confiscated treasure, if they made a substantial contribution to the colony where they had first been arrested. The three former pirates donated the equivalent of $1 million today, and it was used to start the College of William and Mary. 8


in 1688, James II granted amnesty to pirates who returned to England
Source: Library of Congress, British Attempt to Suppress Pirates

The HMS Dumbarton had been lucky enough to capture four trying-to-retire-in-peace pirates, crossing the Chesapeake Bay in an unarmed small boat. At times, the Royal Navy guardship was outgunned by the pirates. In 1699, the 16-gun Essex Prize warship was forced to evade and then finally flee from the pirate John James and his 26-gun Providence Galley. The pirates then plundered various merchant ships in Lynnhaven Bay and the Chesapeake Bay.

Despite the risk from pirates, colonists in Virginia and Maryland were not anxious to have an effective Royal Navy in the Chesapeake Bay. A ship capable of intercepting all pirates could also ensure all import and export duties were collected. As described in The Virginian-Pilot's series of articles in 2006 exploring the history of pirates in Virginia: 9

As governor of Maryland a few years earlier, Nicholson had asked the colony's residents to support his request for a royal navy ship to guard the coast from pirates. They had refused. "They are," he wrote bitterly, "afraid such cruiser would spoil the illegal trade."

But the guard ships themselves had a poor reputation. One had been burned in the James River by an attacking Dutch fleet that captured and sailed away with 14 tobacco ships. One was captained by a man who saw a chance to get rich quick and joined with the pirates. One was led by a drunkard and a thief.


Lynnhaven Bay, where pirate Lewis Guittar captured merchant ships in 1700 - but then was captured by the new guardship
Source: ESRI, ArcGIS Online

Occasionally, the small guard ship was capable of defeating even well-armed pirates. In 1700, the pirate Lewis Guittar captured a fast merchant vessel, the La Paix (Peace) in Barbados. After converting it into his pirate flagship, Guittar and La Paix seized other ships to assemble a pirate fleet. That pirate fleet captured multiple vessels off the Virginia coastline.

Lewis Guittar's success ended after he sailed into Lynnhaven Bay in April, 1700. He thought the only British warship in the Chesapeake Bay region was the dilapidated Essex Prize.

Some of the merchant vessels that were anchored in Lynnhaven Bay tried to escape, fleeing to the Atlantic Ocean and hoping they could sail faster than the pirates. One ship went the other direction, and sailed up the James River to alert the colonial authorities. The powerful warship Shoreham had arrived recently to strengthen the colony's defenses. Governor Nicholson went on board before the Shoreham quickly sailed to challenge the La Paix.

During battle in Lynnhaven Bay, the sails and rudder of the La Paix were shot away and the pirate flagship was disabled. Guittar threatened to blow it up, killing 50 or so prisoners that he had seized from other vessels rather than surrender unconditionally. To save the lives of the hostages, Gov. Nicholson agreed to grant quarter to the pirates, and assured them of a trial in England rather than in the colony.

One pirate, John Houghling, chose to jump off the La Paix and swim to shore in hopes of escaping. He was captured, and became the person tried for piracy in Virginia. Houghling was found guilty and hung, together with two other pirates who had been found asleep on one of their prizes. They had been excluded from the governor's offer of clemency, because they were not on board La Paix when Governor Nicholson agreed to sending the captured pirates to England for trial. 10

The presence of the 28-gun Shoreham had surprised Lewis Guittar. Sending the powerful guard ship reflected a change in colonial policy to increase protection of merchant vessels sailing between England and the Chesapeake Bay. The poorly-equipped, poorly-staffed vessels that previously served as guard ships had been ineffective in collecting revenue, but conflicts in Europe had increased the threat of authorized privateers and unauthorized pirates in the Chesapeake Bay.

Raids on French and Spanish vessels were no longer legitimized by English letters of marque after the end of Queen Anne's War in 1713, but English pirates based in the Bahamas ignored the peace and continued to seize foreign merchant ships. In 1718, after a new royal governor expelled pirates from the Bahamas, Virginia became a prime target: 11

Virginia's geography combined with its rich tobacco fleets to turn the waters off the capes and the lower Chesapeake into a choice target. Located near the northernmost reach of the Gulf Stream, the region was easily reached from as far away as the Caribbean - and the wealth of protected anchorages on its long coastline made it a haven for sea rovers intent on striking without being detected.

The most famous pirate associated with Virginia today is Blackbeard, one of the last pirates to pose a serious threat to Virginia's shipping. Blackbeard (Edward Teach) was a licensed privateer during Queen Anne's War and an unlicensed pirate afterward. The details of his life are hazy, but he may have been born in Jamaica, become a crewman on a merchant ship, and then joined the Royal Navy as a youth.

After the destruction of a Spanish treasure fleet during a 1715 hurricane, many Jamaicans began looting the wrecks off the Florida coast. Teach and other English privateers liked free treasure, and kept seizing merchant vessels from Spain and France - even though the Treaty of Utrecht had been signed in 1713 to end the War of the Spanish Succession.

Blackbeard reportedly presented a fearsome appearance that was a calculated part of his business style, not a coincidental characteristic. He may not have killed anyone, himself, until his last battle. His goal was to frighten victims into surrendering without a fight: 12

This Beard was black, which he suffered to grow of an extravagant Length as to Breadth, it came up to his Eyes, he was accustomed to twist it with Ribbons, in small Tails, after the Manner of our Ramilies Wiggs, and turn them about his Ears : in Time of Action, he wore a Sling over his Shoulders with three brace of Pistols, hanging in Holders like Bandaliers, and stuck lighted Matches under his Hat, which appearing on each Side of his Face, his Eyes naturally looking fierce and wild.


Blackbeard the Pirate
Source: A general history of the pyrates (1724)

In 1718, Blackbeard organized a blockade of the main South Carolina port, Charles Town (Charleston). He managed to get a pardon from North Carolina Governor Charles Eden. The governor of Virginia, Alexander Spotswood, was less forgiving.

Technically, Spotswood had no jurisdiction over piracy committed in the Atlantic Ocean south of the Virginia border, but pirates based on the Outer Banks of North Carolina threatened ships sailing in and out of the Chesapeake Bay. North Carolina ship captains requested help from Virginia, recognizing that Governor Charles Eden was allied with Teach and unwilling to stop his piracy.

King George I had issued pardons to pirates in 1717 and again in 1718, hoping they would voluntarily switch back to legal shipping activities. Spotswood was looking for an opportunity to improve his relationship with the powerful gentry in Virginia, who were resisting his authority as governor. A strong stand against piracy would enhance colonial commerce in Virginia, increasing profits of plantation owners and thus increasing Spotswood's political power in Williamsburg.

Governor Spotswood did not wait for Blackbeard to hear about the second pardon opportunity. He dispatched Lieutenant Robert Maynard from the Chesapeake Bay to Ocracoke Island, after learning that Blackbeard's ship Adventure had become stuck on a shoal there.

Maynard took two ships, Jane and Ranger. He found Blackbeard's ship on November 22, 1718 and demanded that he surrender, but the pirates chose to attack him.

Maynard tricked Blackbeard by having his crew on the Jane go below decks. The 10 pirates boarded Maynard's ship, thinking most of the crew had been killed. Maynard and his 11 crew members came back on deck, and in hand-to-hand combat with swords and pistols they killed or captured all the pirates. Blackbeard's head was cut off and hung from the bowsprit on Maynard's ship. That displayed the success of the mission on its return to Virginia, and the severed head was then hung on a pole in Hampton. 13


Blackbeard's severed head was carried back to Virginia
Source: The Pirates Own Book (p.217)

Today, marine archeologists have excavated the Queen Anne's Revenge, which sank on the Outer Banks near Beaufort Inlet six months before Lieutenant Robert Maynard defeated Blackbeard and his pirate crew on the Adventure. It was loaded with weapons. At least 30 cannon have been found so far, along with cutlasses and firearms. Archeologists even found grenades designed to be tossed by hand onto the deck or in the hold of a ship, plus the equivalent of a Molotov cocktail designed to set fire to a ships sails and rigging. 14

The pirate history has been romanticized. The City of Hampton holds an annual festival commemorating his exploits and his ship the Queen Anne's Revenge, converting a once-feared military threat into an excuse for a party. The festival started in 2000 as a Hampton event, to pull some tourists across the water during OpSail 2000 in Norfolk. The continued public response (with 50,000 visitors annually) surprised tourism officials, but they have scheduled events each year.

Hampton's connection to Blackbeard provides something unique to draw tourists to the city. As the Convention & Visitors Bureau Executive Director has noted: 15

No place else has a pirate story like ours to tell.


graphic from poster for 2013 Blackbeard Festival in Hampton
Source: City of Hampton, About the Festival

Hampton University adopted a pirate as the school's logo in 1979. The sketch of the pirate has been revised over time, but the athletic department sales items are still covered with pirate paraphernalia. 16


Hampton University has associated itself with the pirate history of the city
Source: Hampton University, Small Decal Hampton Pirates, 6 inches tall

Placing the bodies of executed pirates in public locations was thought to deter others from choosing to become pirates. Spotswood had bodies hung in chains at the harbors of Tyndall's Point (York River) and Urbanna (Rappahannock River). The return of Maynard's trophy to Hampton, a gruesome event in 1718, is now a high point of the city's annual Blackbeard Festival: 17

A presentation ceremony follows the sea battle, where Lt. Maynard presents Blackbeard's head and defeated crew to Virginia's Governor Spotswood. Visitors can participate in the festivities when they join Blackbeard's funeral parade, Hampton's version of Mardi Gras, and share in the booty from his treasure chest.


Blackbeard's Point, where Lieutenant Robert Maynard hung the pirate's head, is at the southern end of Eaton Street in Hampton
Source: ESRI, ArcGIS Online

Blackbeard was not the very last pirate in Virginia. In 1720, pirates captured a Virginia vessel near Barbados, and eight of the pirates sought to return to "civilian life" by sailing home with that vessel to the Chesapeake. The pirates were captured and six were executed, but that triggered a threat from other pirates to get revenge on Virginia. Governor Spotswood established lookout posts at Cape Charles and Cape Henry, plus fortifications at the mouths of the James, York, and Rappahannock rivers. Those defenses were not tested, but fear of being captured and tortured by pirates while sailing back to England kept Spotswood in Virginia even after he was replaced as governor. 18

Pirate treasure may be buried today somewhere on Virginia's coastline. Captain Kidd sailed from the Caribbean to Boston in 1699, supposedly burying gold, silver, and jewels on the shoreline during the journey. Perhaps his loot was recovered by other pirates soon after he was captured (and later executed in England), or perhaps whatever treasure he buried may be exposed one day after a storm shifts the sands.

The role of colonial officials in dealing with pirates ended in 1776 the new state of Virginia gained that responsibility. The state's navy and state-authorized privateers protected the Chesapeake Bay and nearby waters of the Atlantic Ocean from pirates and privateers from other nations, together with the tiny United States Navy created in 1775. Virginia also created an Admiralty Court to process cases involving crime on the high seas.

The new Federal government was granted exclusive jurisdiction over piracy in the US Constitution. Since Federal courts were established in 1798, the US Navy and Federal judges have had full responsibility for suppressing and punishing piracy. One significant reason for adoption of the new US Constitution was the need for consistent policies among the 13 states for managing interstate commerce and international trade. Language adopted in 1787 was clear: 19

The Congress shall have Power. To define and punish Piracies and Felonies committed on the high Seas, and Offences against the Law of Nations.

A July 1819 piracy trial in Richmond, United States v. Smith, is still relevant in defining the US approach to international law. The crew of the Creola mutinied, seized a faster ship named the Irresistible and started capturing ships. Though cargo was stolen and passengers/crews robbed, no one was murdered.

The Irresistible sailed to Baltimore, home of some crew members. Officials there arrested them. Two were tried and executed in Baltimore. Another 17 were tried in Richmond. One was acquitted and 16 were convicted of piracy, but the judges disagreed on whether the crews actions met the definition of "piracy" under the US Congress' 1819 Act to Protect the Commerce of the United States and Punish the Crime of Piracy.

The law described "the crime of piracy, as defined by the law of nations." Chief Justice John Marshall heard the case in Richmond, operating as a judge of the circuit court there. Sixteen prisoners were convicted, but Marshall and the other judge disagreed on whether the actions of the crew qualified as "piracy." Marshall noted: 20

The doubt I entertain is whether there is any such thing as Piracy as "defined by the law of nations."

The case was elevated to the US Supreme Court for final resolution. It ruled that the US Congress was entitled to reference international law when defining the crime, and that the crew was guilty of piracy. All 16 were sentenced to death, but President Monroe reduced the sentences and none were executed.

The US Congress has not updated the 1819 law since the Supreme Court found it sufficient, but Federal judges still interpret it differently. In 2010, different Federal judges in the Eastern District of Virginia disagreed on whether two failed attempts to seize a US Navy vessel off the coast of Somalia qualified as piracy. One judge ruled that actual robbery had to occur before the 1819 law could be applied. The appeal resulted in a ruling that a violent attack, even if repulsed before robbery occurred, qualified as an act of piracy as understood under international law. 21

In 1827, three pirates were captured in Virginia, then tried and executed. They had helped to seize a vessel sailing from Cuba, planning to use it as a slave ship to smuggle human cargo from Africa to the United States. The pirates sailed to Norfolk to resupply before crossing the Atlantic Ocean. At Old Point Comfort, the pirates sent the ship's mate ashore to purchase supplies, but he immediately alerted the officers at Fortress Monroe. The head of the pirates killed himself, but three others fled in a boat to Hampton. They walked to Newport News, used a canoe to cross to the south bank of the James River, and got 20 miles inland before being captured.

Chief Justice Marshall opened a special session of the Circuit Court in Richmond for trial of the three men. The trial was conducted on July 16, 1827. The accused pirates were Spaniards from Cuba, so an interpreter was used to translate proceedings for them and to communicate their testimony.

The defendants claimed they had been asleep when the captain of the brig Crawford, most of the crew, and some passengers were murdered and tossed overboard near the Bahamas before the ship sailed to Norfolk. The jury returned three guilty verdicts after just five minutes of deliberation for each defendant, and they were executed within three weeks. 22


in 1827, three pirates were tried, convicted, and executed in Richmond
Source: Library of Congress, A Treasure Trove of Trials

In 1856, as part of the negotiations at the end of the Crimean War, European nations signed the Declaration Respecting Maritime Law. It abolished privateering and the use of letters of marque. Private ships may still be converted to military use, but a government must accept responsibility for the actions of such vessels. 23

Confederates engaged in acts of piracy in 1861. The governor of Virginia sanctioned their plan to capture the USS Pawnee, then use it as a Confederate warship and disrupt Union shipping on the Chesapeake Bay.

The USS Pawnee commanded the three-ship Potomac Squadron that patrolled the Potomac River and interrupted smuggling between Maryland and Virginia. The Confederates planned to seize a packet boat, the St. Nicholas, which traveled regularly between Baltimore and the Patuxent River. That boat, pretending to still be under Union control, would be able to get next to the USS Pawnee.

The Confederate conspirators boarded the St. Nicholas as regular passengers. The commander was Richard Thomas, who adopted the last name of Zarvona. He got onboard disguised as a French lady, and inside her baggage trunks were weapons used to seize the boat. The St. Nicholas then stopped at the mouth of the Coan River in Northumberland County to unload passengers and crew, and to load 30 infantrymen sent by Governor John Letcher.

All three US Navy warships had returned to Washington, DC, so the Confederates had to settle for using the St. Nicholas to disrupt shipping in the Chesapeake Bay. There they captured ships loaded with coffee and ice, plus a coaling schooner which enabled a refueling while anchored in the Rappahannock River. The three captured ships and the St. Nicholas ended the pirate expedition by going to Fredericksburg. The 38 crew members of the four captured ships were taken by train to Richmond, then brought back to the Coan River and repatriated by a Confederate vessel to Point Lookout in Maryland.

After a legal proceeding in the Richmond District Court in Admiralty to determine the fair value of the St. Nicholas, the Confederate Government purchased the ship and delivered the funds to the owners in Baltimore. The ship was renamed the CSS Rappahannock, and burned to prevent recapture when the Confederates evacuated Fredericksburg in April 1862.

The Confederates tried to capture a second steamer, but ended up being caught. The Union Army did not give in to public demands to hang Richard Thomas Zarvona as a pirate, but also declined to consider him as a prisoner of war. His health deteriorated while imprisoned, and he was returned to Virginia as part of a prisoner exchange in 1863. 24


a Richmond newspaper celebrated Confederate piracy in 1861, while a District of Columbia paper had a different angle
Source: Library of Congress - Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers, The Daily Dispatch and Evening Star (July 2, 1861)

More recently, the wave of piracy in the Gulf of Aden off the coast of Somalia triggered trials in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. The first conviction in nearly 200 years was in 2010, for attacks on the USS Nicholas. By 2011, 26 pirates had been brought over 7,000 miles to Virginia for trial.

The largest group of pirates to be tried were captured in 2011, after Somali pirates with AK-47s and rocket-propelled grenades hijacked a 58-foot sailboat off the east coast of Africa. The American guided missile destroyer Sterett intercepted the seized Quest, but negotiations failed. The pirates executed the four American hostages on the sailboat. US Navy Seals swarmed onto the boat, killing four pirates and capturing 14 others.

Most pirates captured off the coast of East Africa recently have been tried in the courts of Somalia, Kenya, and the Seychelles. Because Americans were murdered on the sailboat, the US Navy brought the 14 captured pirates back to Norfolk for trial, where 11 pled guilty and were given life sentences. FBI and Somali security forces also captured the multi-lingual onshore negotiator, and after trial he was also given a life sentence.

The three pirates accused of shooting the Americans on the sailboat were tried in 2013 and faced the death penalty, but a Federal jury ended up giving them life sentences as well. One juror was apparently not convinced that the three men on trial were the ones who fired the guns and killed the four American hostages. 25

When the Maersk Alabama was seized in 2009, the captain was held captive in a small lifeboat until Navy sharpshooters killed the pirates with him. The movie Captain Phillips, starring Tom Hanks, dramatized that event. Other pirates on the Maersk Alabama were captured and brought to New York for trial.

The pirates who had seized the Quest tried unsuccessfully to get their trial moved out of Norfolk. They contended: 26

Simply put, the community in Norfolk has a very personal stake in piracy issues that prejudices the defendants. These prejudices will become that much more exaggerated in the event that defense counsel contends that the deaths occurred in this case partly because the Navy failed to follow proper protocol. There would be manifest prejudice if this trial is permitted to proceed in Norfolk

Importing the First Africans in 1619: The Piracy Story

Links

  • Chesapeake Bay Program
    • Pirates on the Chesapeake Bay
    • Exploring the Early Americas - Pirates and Privateers
    • The Difference Between Pirates, Privateers and Buccaneers - Pt. 1 and Pt. 2
      (The Regional Review, June 1939) (Fort Raleigh National Monument) (Cape Hatteras National Seashore)
  • References

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    in 1718, Governor Spotswood offered a reward for anyone to capture or kill pirates
    Source: A general history of the pyrates (1724)


    1 Recruitment


    Volunteers made up the bulk of pirate crews. It was a dangerous and unpredictable life, desertions and death were common, and ships constantly needed new people. As with any jobs, recruitment meant showing potential members the glamor of the job. Current pirates had to dress sharply and be clean to put on the external appearance of a life well lived. And if they couldn&rsquot get enough volunteers, pirates weren&rsquot above using force to get new crewmembers.

    Pirates saw an increase in the number of people seeking work after 1713, when privateers turned to pirating. When European nations were fighting at sea, privateers were able to work and earn a significant income. In 1708 they were even allowed by the English to keep everything they stole from other ships. A mere five years later, the Treaty of Utrecht brought relative peace to the ocean and thousands of privateers lost their jobs. Instead of turning to the land and becoming thieves, most joined pirate crews where they could put their skills to use.