Golden Age of Piracy

Topics: Piracy, Blackbeard, Stede Bonnet Pages: 8 (2980 words) Published: December 4, 2011
With canons blaring in the distance, Captain Edward Teach sits in his quarters, preparing for battle. To his belt, Teach straps pistols, daggers, and his cutlass. Across his chest, a sling with six pistols all loaded. Then, slowly, Teach braids his bushy, pitch-black beard that would come to give him his name. Finally, Teach places several slow burning fuses under his hat, lighting each one by one[i]. With wisps of smoke billowing around his face, Blackbeard, the most treacherous pirate in history, emerges from his cabin to join the fight. In the golden age of piracy, Captain Edward Teach, more commonly known as Blackbeard, stands out as the fiercest and most important figure. Blackbeard and his crew successfully controlled commerce along the North Carolina and Virginia coast from 1717-1718. Blackbeard influenced government in Bath, North Carolina, ultimately controlling the governor during this period.

Contrary to the modern romanticized image of a pirate, pirates of the late 1600’s to early 1700’s were quite the despicable group. Movies and stories often portray pirates as misguided individuals with a good cause deep at heart. In reality, this could not be further from the truth. Pirates were the scum of the earth. Today they would be considered common criminals, gangsters.[ii] The majority of pirates started off as ordinary, honest sailors. Unfortunately, during the 1700s, jobs were few and pay was poor. Though the majority of sailors settled for the low pay and unfavorable conditions, a greedy few turned to the life of the pirate. Often, the intermediate step was the job of a privateer. Privateering was essentially legal piracy.[iii] Privateers were legally sanctioned, private ships licensed to prey on enemy ships. Privateering lured many sailors because of its massive payoffs. Captured enemy ships were sold and profits were split up between the crew. In times of war, the role of the privateer was crucial but, in times of peace, many privateers were out of work. The absence of jobs and money, mixed with the lavish lifestyles privateers longed for, lead to the golden age of piracy.

Historians have dubbed the time period from the start of the 18th century to approximately 1730 the “Golden Age of Piracy”. Unlike the Buccaneers of the 17th century, who had gradually been brought under government control, pirates in the 18th century controlled the seas and influenced commerce throughout the Americas.[iv] Prior to the start of the 18th century, England, France, and Spain, were at constant maritime war.[v] There was a massive need for privateers and the majority of sailors served this role. Privateers captured enemy merchant ships and would split the bounty with their affiliated government. When England, France, and Spain reached peace in the early 1700s, these sailors were left crippled. The nautical life was all they knew, so many continued to perform the role of privateer, only this time without proper sanction of a government. Most of the pirates during the golden age were former merchantmen or privateers, though an occasional logger or fisherman would become part of a crew.[vi] The bulk of seamen became pirates when the merchant sloops, single-masted, fore-and-aft-rigged sailing vessels, they were serving on were captured. The men were given the option to join the pirates or be killed.[vii]

As more and more pirates arose, a need for a certain amount of economics between pirates came to light. Unlike pirates of previous centuries, the piracy was very structured, with the rules very plainly laid out.[viii] Pirates laid out a democratic system and checks and balances. Leaders were elected democratically.[ix] When a new captain was required, members of a crew would essentially campaign, giving speeches in hopes of persuading his fellow pirates that he was deserving of becoming a captain. After the vote, the elected captain would, much like the Presidential Inauguration, address the crew, promising to faithfully...
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