S1 E6: Republic of Pirates transcript
Updated: Oct 12, 2020
Listen to the full episode here.
Welcome to Countries that don’t exist anymore. The historical entertainment show about countries that don’t exist anymore. This wee k, a country that puts the loot into revolootion, the goal into gold and the naughty and cool into nautical. It’s The Republic of Pirates*
What was the Republic of Pirates?
The Republic of Pirates was the pirate takeover of Nassau on New Providence island in the Bahamas between 1706-1718.
The Bahamas was an excellent area for piracy. For one thing it was a region heavily contested by several different empires, so it was easy to evade one empire by straying into the waters of another and, because these empires were often at war wit3h each other, international cooperation was not too readily forthcoming.
It was also a hub for the transatlantic slave trade. Ships were taken from Britain to Africa where slaves were purchased, these were then3 transported to the Americas and sold and then huge loads of fabulous wealth were bought back to Britain. And everybody was at it. This meant that there was always a ship weighed down with valuables for the robbing.
The geography of the area was also perfect for smash and grab raids. Shallow draft pirate sloops could rob a merchant ship and then nip off via shallow water and hide away on small islands until the large ships of the Royal Navy gave up the chase.
Was the Republic of Pirates really a country?
Possibly not. Or certainly, it wasn't recognised as one at the time but, that said, nor technically was the Republic of West Florida. Even though they went to some trouble to look the part, with a constitution, a leader, a flag and even an unofficial anthem.
Phil (advert voice with theme music): Listen to Episode 2 of CTDEA: The Republic of West Florida. Subscribe to CTDEA wherever you get your podcasts (abrupt ending)
But the Republic of Pirates is worth covering, because it was in part a rejection of the state as it existed at this time. As we'll see, a lot of these pirates had escaped a pretty miserable lot under one of the powerful European empires that jostled for position with each other in the Caribbean.
As we'll also discover, conditions for pirates within their rogue state were surprisingly liberal. Arguably, the pirate republic wasn't just enforcing the absence of oppressive government but was was about substituting in something which they considered a better arrangement. For them at least.
The RoP is probably going to be the loosest “country” we feature, but it’s definitely worth covering, because the Republic of Pirates was almost an anti-country. Like a squat with a washing up rota, it was pretty well orga nised anarchy. But this is also an excellent excuse to talk about pirates, so let's just say that this podcast is going to be hijacked for an episode. Fitting, because pirates love hijacking stuff.
Pirate suddenly bursts into studio.
I’m taking yer podcast off ye. Yer scurvy metropolitan bubble-dwelling land-lubbing scallywags.
Are you even qualified to do a podcast?
Well, I’ve TED talk at TEDx Barbados
[SFX TED theme, applause]
Did ye know that Piracy is spelt with 7 Cs? (hasp) I’m joking of course. But seriously the 7 Cs of a piracy business for the 18th century needs. Consultancy, Corporate Responsibility, Creativity, Connectivity…. Crow’s Nest…. Cutlass…. Um [audience murmer] stow yer mumuring ye salty dogs or I’ll slit yer throats and take a jacuuusi in your still warm gizzards
[cut to studio]
They didn’t ask me back. Still, over a thousand views! I think that makes me a micro-influencer
But what about me seven Cs?
Pirate: I’ll be back… with a content and cascading strategy [door]
Ed: Sorry about that listeners.
What are Pirates?
Pirates have been around ever since people realised that it was easier to float valuable stuff across water than carry it by land. Pirates were major problem for the Phoenicians as far back as 1550 BC, the Egyptians and the later Greeks and Romans.
A young Julius Caesar was actually kidnapped by pirates and was so defiant and strong-willed that they came round to liking him. When they received his ransom, he turned to them and said, “I'm going to find you and kill you.”
And they would have said: “Lulz. Sure you are Julius. Classic Caesar. Pull the other one, mate. It's made of wood.”
But it was and he did.
Then there were other sea-going smash and grab experts like Chinese pirates and the Vikings and, in the 80s and 90s, British white van drivers on booze cruises to Calais.
The way we think of Pirates these days comes from a combination of sources like Robert Louis Stephenson's Treasure Island plus Disney’s take on Captain Hook. And they typ33ically sound something like:
“Ah ha jimlad mcmatey. Hoist the...big sail, plank the walk, go left a bit, drink some Bacardi and eat maggoty Riveta. Forget about personal hygiene and mortgage payments.”
Nice research, Phil.
That arrrrr stereotype actually comes from the characters that lived in the early 18th century period when the Republic of Pirates were at large, which is often called the Golden Age of Pirates.
Spain had dominated the Caribbean for a long while, which is why it was known as The Spanish Main or Spanish Pond. England had long employed the use of privateers, basically state-sanctioned pirates, against its enemies. The most famous of these privateers was Sir Francis Drake, who made a career plundering Spanish treasure galleons and was knighted for basically being a big bearded bastard. Remember: State sanctioned. Privateers. Not state sanctioned. Pirates. Ditto soldiers, terrorists, cultist, bishops. Nationhood is basically a con, dressing crime up as a virtue when it suits them. Always the same.
The Spanish called pirates in the Caribbean buccaneers, which comes from the word boucan meaning a type of rack barbecue used for smoking meat. The reason was that groups took up residence on Caribbean islands, hunting pigs, smoking the meat and selling it to Spanish sailors.
They should have called them baconeers.3
For effective hunting, these buccaneers used long-barrelled rifles with deadly long ranged accuracy, which would make them formidable during ship to ship combat.
Now, while some were undoubtedly happy to live as castaways, hunting pigs and smoking meat, others decided that perhaps an easier life may come from pinching one of the huge Spanish treasure ships that in turn had looted South America and were on their way to Spain, loaded with gold melted down into crude gold coins called pieces of eight.
Why did pirates become pirates?
To understand why there were pirates in the early 18th century and why they had enough strength to go ahead and form an informal Republic, we should take some time to understand the conditions at the time...
What was life like in the Royal Navy? Was it awesome?
Being in the Royal Navy in the 17th and 18th century wasn’t fun. Eminent lexicographer Samuel Johnson compared it to being a prisoner but with the added disadvantage of drowning.3
Men were forcibly enlisted or captured by Press Gangs whose job was to knock you out on land and have you wake up on a naval ship leaving harbour. But why were recruitment tactics so desperate?
Life in the navy for the common man was horrible.
Discipline was harsh.
Fresh food and water was scarce.
Disease was rife onboard - it wasn't unusual for a ship to lose half its crew to actual death. And not the “surrounded by loved ones in your bed at home after a long, fulfilling life” either. No. The nasty kind of death.
Pay was kept from the sailor in a deliberate policy to stop them going anywhere!
As soon as I get paid, I’m off this BEEPING ship. Now, Can I get paid?
If you were wounded in combat, falling from the mainsail or just loading and unloading massive cargo, wounds could be horrendous and the wounded sailor would be left to make their way as a beggar without any kind of pay off or pension. Basically, my future.
Now contrast this with the Pirate code:
On turning pirate, a code of conduct was drawn up covering rules for discipline, division of stolen goods, the right to bear arms and compensation for injured pirates, like a pirate version of social security before that really existed in actual countries.
Pirates had to sign or make a mark on these articles, swearing on either a Bible or an axe...or pistols or swords, while sat astride a canon or on a human skull or fax machine or squatting on a table tennis table or pretty much anything really.
Pirates were also well paid. Treasure was shared out amongst the crew, regardless of their race or background, with the captain only receiving a double share. That's a very progressive executive pay structure.
Onboard Pirate Captain Samuel Bellamy's ship, for example, the quartermaster kept treasure in a chest with the instruction that “if any man wanted money, he might have it” with the withdrawal deducted from his balance on a ledger.
Phil: “Pirate Banking. We put the sea into HSBC…. The arr into RBS…., the shiver me timbers into sh-”
Ed: Alright, that’s enough
When famous pirate captain Samuel Bellamy and his crew robbed a ship called The Whydah, his pirates boasted to the Wydah’s captured crew how Bellamy’s men (including a 9-year-old boy and an ex-slave) could expect a £100 share of the treasure worth £20-30,000. This is vast amounts of money when you consider that the average annual wage of Royal Navy sailor in the late 1700s was something like £11. CHA-CHING.
Is it any wonder that defections from captured ships and the Royal and Merchant navy were commonplace?
Why did slaves become pirates?
We can't understate the impact that slavery had during this period. The wealth of colonies and the transatlantic trade was based upon it. The conditions for African slaves were unimaginably monstrous, but it's such a gigantic subject that we won't be able to do justice to it here.
It’s a fairly obvious statement that, for your average black individual in this region, a life in a pirate crew could be a massive improvement to labouring to death on a plantation. Black crew members received the same treatment as whites and the freedom this offered was enticing. That's not to say that the RoP was some righteous freer of slaves. They often seized slaves and sold them on as cargo. BUT slaves could often join crews and, it was noted, that when they did they could be fierce fighters as they attacked the very ships that had kidnapped them and made them endure unparalleled misery. You can see why they'd be willing to put in some overtime.
Little wonder that colonial governors saw the pirate state as such a threat to the order of things.
To quote the Governor of Bermuda:
“The negro men have grown so impudent and insulting of late that we have reason to suspect their rising against us. We can have no dependence on their assistance, but to the contrary, on occasion should fear their joining the pirates.”
And why would that be, I wonder. Hmm.
This was also a similar story for indentured servants. Indentured servitude was how Britain’s labourers and landless were attracted to settle in the colonies. The idea was to become indentured to a land owner for a number of years, to save up your meagre pay and then you'd hopefully acquire your own plot of land after years of hard toil. The reality was that in a plantation era dominated by cash crops and slavery, the prospects for an 18th century indentured servant wasn't great. In the Barbados, South Carolina and Virginia, there was little room for small farmers amongst the plantations. So piracy may have seemed like a much better option.
We should also say that, to average people, pirates weren't generally seen as vile criminals. The problem for the authorities is that local people would often harbour pirates and, despite being painted as devils, captured crews were often pr etty well treated. Many of the pirates in the Republic associated themselves with Robin Hood, as they too robbed from the rich and….well...kept the money.
What was the War of Spanish succession?
Over to you, Phil…
What? Oh. (rustles papers). Thanks for asking, Ed. The War of Spanish Succession was a war. Obviously. That’s straightforward. War of...the of indicating there that it was a war about something. Spanish. Something in Spain. Success..so the Spanish won it? Or didn’t win it. Certainly they were involved. Then there’s “ion.”
What is it you do round here, Phil? Because it’s hard for me to remember.
You should be nice to me, because I can control what you say.
Oh, can you?...(Phil’s voice) yes you can Phil. You’re so great and I (i.e. Ed) am a big dickbag.
And don’t you ever forget that Phil.
The War of Spanish Succession lasted from 1701-1714 and was a war between great European powers over who was to sit on the Spanish throne. France backed a Bourbon candidate while most other powers (including the newly formed Britain) backed a Hapsburg. While most of the fighting took place in Europe, it also stretched to the Bahamas and was the reason that there were so many privateers operating in the area. These privateers got excellent training in hijacking ships, and many of them didn’t want to give up just because of a small detail like the war ending.
Some of the key players in the Republic of Pirates were privateers who, under the unofficial patronage of Lord Archibald Hamilton, Governor of Jamaica, were sent fishing for coins around the wrecks of the Spanish treasure fleet, which, in 1715, were transporting huge loads of gold and silver back to Spain when the weather turned against them and they were shipwrecked. Of course, the Spanish authorities said “Umm...this is actually our treasure?” but treasure hunters flocked from all over the region in a free-for-all because the money was scattered far and wide. So much so that the Spanish used Native American divers to dive deeply to retrieve the money because...well they didn't care about them dying in the process.
If Hamilton's privateers also encountered French or Spanish smugglers, they could technically seize their ships. However, they soon started seizing foreign ships that weren’t smuggling and, rather than fishing for gold, they instead invaded the beaches held by shipwrecked Spanish sailors guarding the treasure they’d salvaged and basically just robbed them.
But these acts weren’t just cynical. Many of the former privateers, such as one Henry Jennings, had fought the Spanish and saw themselves as carrying on that battle. And many English settlers were symp athetic to this. Some were from communities that had been destroyed by the Spanish and felt they hadn’t been compensated.
At a time of peace with Spain and as the governor of a quote unquote legitimate colony, British Governor Hamilton couldn’t be seen to be backing piracy, but seemed willing to turn a blind eye to the looting of Spanish treasure and the taking of foreign ships. Especially where overflowing treasure chests were concerned.
Hamilton wanted more than just to get rich for the sake of it. He was part of an aristocratic Scottish clan who wanted to overthrow the Protestant Pretender on the British throne - the recently installed Hanoverian George I - and replace him with the more direct claim held by James Stuart - who was bilked out of his inheritance due to the Act of Succession in 1707, only allowing a Protestant to become monarch.
“It’s time to get rid o f the Pretender, that foul sausage-sucking, German-speaking, so-called King George and replace him with James Francis Edward Stuart, who is the rightful king and can actually speak English. Isn’t that right your majesty?”
And Hamilton wasn’t the only one. Many Scottish Jacobites found their way from Scotland to the Caribbean, muttering about restoration and porridge - like Braveheart meets Waterworld: “Freeedom.” *underw ater*
SFX: Tape recorder click:
Idea for Disney for a 15-movie episode franchise starring Kevin Kostner, Mel Gibson and oh... let's say Lady Gaga.
So, there was also a political element to the Golden Age of Piracy and the Republic of Pirates. Pirate holdout Charles Vane was certainly one of these, once toasting “Damnation to King George, the government and all higher powers” and the famous Blackbeard (aka Edward Thatch) had a ship called Queen Anne's Revenge.
Queen Anne being the last of the Stuart dynasty.
Was she… well well….
So there we have it. There were also Scottish Jacobite pirates. Maybe very prone to sunburn but, having never looked at a vegetable in their life, totally immune to scurvy.
So...taking all of these conditions together, whether that was naval conditions, slavery servitude, war, politics or simply an escape from poverty into better conditions, in the e33arly 18th century, eeeeverybody wanted a job as a pirate in the Caribbean….
[Pirate bursts in]
Arr! Carribean! The 6th C!
Oh not him again!
Actually, stick around… we could use you for the next sketch.
FX: Creeking of ship timbers
Can ye recall a time when ye worked officially as part of a crew?
Are ye able to prioritise cargo placement?
What do ye know if the dietary habits of parrots?
Which would ye say is your least favourite leg?
What do ye know about streaming?
You mean viewing media online?
No, I mean sailing in streams. And what do ye know of torrents?
Err...like Pirate Bay?
Arrgh...so ye know your stuff! You’re hired! I’ll ask Sandy from HRRRRRRRR to get a scan of your boarding papers.
That was very good, Pirate. Nice sketch
Pirate: Thank ee! And I added “cargo” and “crew” to the seven Cs! So me podcast is ready and I’m takin’ over yours!
What’s your target audience, USP and [some other marketing jargon please Ed]
Arr… I don’t know. I’ll come back later [door]
What kind of government did the Republic of Pirates have?
Well, it was called a republic, though obviously had very few of the institutions. If it did have a government, then this can be separated into three parts. Firstly, an executive (that was loosely held by Benjamin Hornigold as governor though, as with all things pirate, didn't mean he was in absolute command because secondly, there was an informal law code and thirdly a voting system where all crew members enjoyed full and equal enfranchisement.
Typically, pirates weren't tremendously bothered about authority. Many had taken the step into piracy to specifically escape it. However, they were supposed to live by a Code of Conduct.
The voting system was surprisingly liberal: pirates got to vote for their officers and even the decisions that their captains wanted to take, known as “affairs of the moment”...more bloody referendums.
Which way are you voting on Brexit?
I'm voting to stay within the EU to make sure that free trade between Britain and the EU keeps flowing.
What's free trade?
It's trade that's free to me. OR I steal gold.
So, pirates got to vote on issues, a share of the wealth and social security. Aside from the scurvy, seasickness and amputation...it sounds like a pretty sweet deal.
What was the Republic of Pirates economy like?
Stealing. Robbing. Nicking. Especially French and Spanish moving through the busy highway that was the Caribbean.
But, the Pirate Republic on New Providence required support networks,, so it wasn't just pirates who came to New Providence but also….farmers, merchants etc.
The island also attracted prostitutes, who undoubtedly saw their fair share of seamen [rim shot]
Phil: Huh, says “rim shot” in the script there, Ed. [rim shot]
(Ed)….. as well as “wives” who settled on the island, tending alehouses, mending clothes, cooking meals and being gender stereotyped. But even then, women weren’t necessarily totally subjugated. Female pirates included Mary Read and Anne Bonny, who traded skirts for shirts when she went into battle with Jacobite pirate chief, Charles Vane.
Anne Bonny was like the Beyonce of the sea…
“I bought a raft with a broken aft which I carved from a rotton tree
So I walked the plank but me boat did sank and now it’s under the sea
If you like it then you shoulda putta a sail on it,
If you like it then you shoulda putta a sail on it.
If I liked it then I shoulda put a sail on it
Yea h I probably should’ve gone and put a sale on it
Yo, ho, ho, ho, ho, ho.
Ho, heave, ho, ho, ho, yp.”
Merchants got obscenely rich off the pirate trade, bringing in provisions in exchange for the goods stolen from ships. yes - there were huge profits to be made, but they could easily trade with one pirate but be robbed by another.
Some merchants had protected status because of their links to top pirates, e.g. John Cockham, a former pirate colleague of blackbeard, ran a successful trading syndicate shipping pirate goods to Charleston and sugar and provisions back to Nassau.
Ja, I used to be in piracy but now I’ve got into the trading game as a consultant. Ja.
Anyway, must mingle.
Trade was ESSENTIAL to the success of the Republic of Pirates. As the pirates were spending their days on one long bender and weren’t producing anything, they basically had to import everything they needed. As one colonial official reported in 1718:
“The pirates themselves had often told me that if they had not been supported by traders bringing them ammunition and provisions according to their directions, they could never have been formidable, nor arrived to the degree of strength that they have.”
Basically, they were like the Blue Apron of their day. Delivering fresh ingredients and easy-to-follow recipes for the busy buccaneer or a range of comfortable hammocks from Casper. Apply for an advert on this podcast now.
Background to the Nassau vacuum
New Providence on Nassau Island was the capital of the English Bahamas. During the War of Spanish Succession, the island was often attacked by the Spanish, leaving burnt out houses and the inhabitants hiding in the woods. No governors were dead keen on actually governing such a ruined and ruinous place, so the power vacuum was filled with pirates. First, pirate OG Henry Avery and then later the Flying Gang, including pirate figures such as Hornigold, Edward Thatch and Charles Vane.
As we’ve mentioned, the Bahamas Island s were perfect for pirates. Nassau Harbour was too shallow for big ships and there were channels for shallow draft ships that could provide escape routes if the port was blockaded. The little Islands in the area provided perfect stopovers for the cleaning and repairing of ships, dividing loot and hiding from naval ships. One example was the Spanish Island of La Blanquilla (The White One) with its gently sloping sands for the gentle beaching of vessels and reassuring privacy, the only inhabitants being parrots and sea birds called boobies. Only one of which, you could write out upside-down on a calculator.
2138008 if you didn't go to primary school in Britain.
What was Nassau like at the height of the Republic of Pirates?
Imagine a tropical bay filled with pirate canoes (called periaguas), launches and sloops sheltered inside Hog Island, which lies just off the coast.
The bay was also filled with ships of Spanish, French, English and Dutch origin. Many of them merchant vessels which had been captured and turned to more illegal ends. On the beach lay the hulks of unwanted sloops and up the beach, am3ongst the palms were hundreds of huts, tents and hovels made of driftwood, decking and old ship parts covered with thatch or sailcloth.
Nice description, Ed. You’ve really upped your game.
Yes, I got it from Colin Woodward’s Republic of Pirates and changed some of the words around to avoid plagiarism. It’s a key skill I picked up in my history degree.
Colin Woodward’s Republic of Pirates is available from all good bookshops. Support the author.
Or you can download it illegally to boost piracy. Your choice.
The hovels of the Republic of Pirates housed black and Native Americans slave on the run.
Second class accommodation was nabbed by wreckers and former mariners. The very best wooden frame houses belonged to merchant smugglers and leading citizens of the Republic of Pirates. These houses HAD belonged to colonists, but many of these had fled in fear of harassment from the pirates.
Now don’t forget, Cedric, we’re having our new neighbours Captain Bluebeard and Salty Sailor Slasher McCutlass round for dinner this evening. [doorbell] Ooo, here they are now
SFX: [Door open]
CB+SMC: Arr…. good evening to thee….
Pack the bags dear, we’re leaving.
What was the Republic of Pirates foreign policy?
Mainly robbing other nations and breaking international law, which is the cornerstone of any respectable foreign policy. While times were high in the Republic of Pirates, Hornigold realised that 3 or 4 large ships from any major power could probably put an and to the informal Pirate state. So, he went about ordering Teach and company to fortify Nassau. At various times, all of the key pirates looked for a ship-of-force which could take on Royal Navy ships like the HMS Scarborough and maintain the Pirate Republic's control of the area. At the height of its power, very few naval ships wanted to tangle with the pirates. Sometimes even sheltering in ports.
What did citizens of the Republic of Pirates get up to?
Singing, dancing, drinking and fornicating. And when the money ran out...there were ships to capture, plantations to loot and treasure wrecks to salvage.. For many, the Republic of Pirates was a freelance dream come true.
*Need a pirate song here*
I’d like to be
Next to the sea
On a Republic of Pirates with free slaves.
We would trade
And drink all day
And never attend meetings of AA.
I’d ask freed crews to come and be
Plank walking swashbuckling pirates with me.
I’d like to be
Next to the sea
On a Republic of Pirates with free slaves.
What did they eat in the Republic of Pirates?
Welcome to Pirate Pete’s. What can I get for you today?
What’s on the specials plank today?
Fresh fish and pineapples, fresh pork and chicken. Not the kind of salted barrel meat you get onboard ship, right?
I’ll have a Maggotty Biscuit.
Ah, the Maggotty Biscuit. Good choice. That cocktail’s made with madeira wine and Barbados rum.
I’ll take a Jolly Roger too.
How dare you! (slaps him)
Always worth a try.
The diet was pretty good for the region with an abundance of fresh and wild produce available. In contrast the residents of Kingston, Jamaica had a penchant for barrels of four, grains, salted pork and cured beef imported from Ireland. The 18th century equivalent of a Pot Noodle.
Who needs tropical fruit and fresh fish, right? If Jamie Oliver ever gets his hands on a time machine, they should expect a visit.
SFX Master mind theme
What was the basis for the values and culture of the Republic of Pirates?
The life of Henry Avery
Correct. What was the occupation of Henry Avery
17th Century Sailor
Correct. Which Hungarian Poet wrote the Bards of Wales in 1857? Oh, sorry, wrong cards
Hey! This is my job. Get out of it Magnusson.
Henry Avery was a 17th century sailor who knew the hardships of the navy and had excellent credentials, largely thanks to him coming from a prominent Devon family.
To avoid further grueling service, Avery joined a privateering expedition in which the British joined the Spanish against the French.
Whispers: In case you can't tell, European nations like allying with their former enemies to attack former allies.
Phil: What? When has that ever happened?
Ed: Well…. [patter song listing all the times it has happened… probably too much work]
The privateering expedition seemed like a great deal too! Promise of regular wages, one month’s pay in advance and money sent home to the wife.
You join up, I’ll see you right and what’s more, I’ll get your wife a laverly frock!
However, the expedition was a disaster! A short sail over to Spain took months instead of weeks. Like a family holiday involving parents trying to round up indiferent teenagers, it took them ages to get anywhere.
The privateers found themselves unpaid and their wives were told in London that their husbands were now answerable to the King of Spain who could pay them or hang them as he saw fit.
Avery instead decided to mutiny with a bunch of supporters, seize a ship and went off to do some privateering on a private basis, which is also known as “piracy.”
It was Avery who introduced the idea that the carrot was better than the stick, especially when it comes to coleslaw. Tales were told of Avery's generosity, chivalry and liberality to both his crew and those he captured.
The peak of Avery’s career came when he captured a Royal ship in the Indian Ocean. Onboard was a betrothed princess, her huge chest...of treasure...and a bevy of beautiful handmaidens.
It was reported over pints of beer on the south coast of England that Avery proposed to the princess, was accepted, and then his ship was turned into a Tinder scenario in which his crew happily found their soulmates amongst the random bevvie of beautiful, exotic women who were well out of their league. They were then all married, like a rubbish Richard Curtis film. With that, the wedding party set sail on a love boat of matrimonial bliss. That’s account A.
Account B comes from eyewitnesses telling of rape, murder and suicides on a terrifying scale. Which is more likely? I’ll leave that to you….it’s B.
In other adventures, Henry Avery and his men went to Philadelphia and paid off the governor there with a substantial amount of loot in a hat passed round both himself and his crew. Instead of arresting them as he clearly should have, the Governor of Pennsylvania entertained them at his mansion.
But it didn’t stop at dinner. Not only were these pirates fed and entertained, but one of them even married his daughter. Everybody else stuck to After Eight Mints.
Who were these leading pirates?
Three of the most famous pirates of the Caribbean: "Black Sam" Bellamy, Edward "Blackbeard" Teach, and Charles Vane.
Samuel “Black Sam” Bellamy. Known for his kindness. Known for his charitableness. On one occasion, for example, he simply traded ships with another Captain who had a better one. On another occasion, he had a caught a sloop and wanted to let its captain, Captain Beer, keep it, but Bellamy's crew had voted to burn it, particularly as the captain and crew had refused to join them. Bellamy said to the captain…
"I am sorry they won't let you have your sloop again, for I scorn to do any one a mischief, when it is not to my advantage; damn the sloop, we must sink her, and she might be of use to you. Though you are a sneaking puppy, and so are all those who will submit to be governed by laws which rich men have made for their own security; for the cowardly whelps have not the courage otherwise to defend what they get by knavery; but damn ye altogether: damn them for a pack of crafty rascals, and you, who serve them, for a parcel of hen-hearted numbskulls. They vilify us, the scoundrels do, when there is o nly this difference, they rob the poor under the cover of law, forsooth, and we plunder the rich under the protection of our own courage. Had you not better make them one of us, than sneak after these villains for employment?" [Beer replied that his conscience would not let him break the laws of God and man, and Bellamy continued] "You are a devilish conscience rascal! I am a free prince, and I have as much authority to make war on the whole world as he who has a hundred sail of ships at sea and an army of 100,000 men in the field; and this my conscience tells me! But there is no arguing with such snivelling puppies, who allow superiors to kick them about deck at pleasure." — Captain Bellamy
Possibly the most famous pirate of all was unoffical Republic of Pirate’s governor Benjamin “horny for gold” Hornigold’s right hand man, Edward Teach AKA Edward Thatch is more commonly known a Blackbeard.
A contemporary historian of the time said of Blackbeard.
“His beard was black, which he suffered to grow of an extravagant length. As to breadth, it came up to his eyes like a frightful meteor, covered his whole face, and frightened America more than any comet.”
Blackbeard twisted his beard into tiny braids, each tied off with a ribbon similar to an infantry man’s powdered wig. Who needs a protective helmet when you have a powdery wig? BB might have been, and I quote, a “light-skinned mulatto” with curlier African hair. Thatch was apparently a slang term for bushy hair. His eyes were said to be “fierce and wild.” When he went into battle, he stuck slow burning fuses into his beard, like a terrifying Victorian Christmas tree. With his ferocity and cunning, Blackbeard went on to become the most powerful pirate in the Atlantic.
Charles Vane had worked with Henry Jennings when they had looted Spanish treasure in 1715. Vane was more committed to the Jacobite cause than the others and held out as a pirate even after others saw the tide turning against them and took the King’s pardon issued in 1718.
Also worth mentioning was Calico Jack Rackham who had a penchant for flashy, colourful “calico” coloured clothes. The reason we think of pirate chiefs wearing such fine clothes was that they looted them off the aristocractic members 3of ships they hijacked. Even wearing such finery sent a message to other ships that they were experienced robbers and shouldn’t be tangled with. Who needs prison tattoos when you have silky pantaloons?
How did the fall of Governor Hamilton help speed up the fall of the Republic of Pirates in a way that involv33ed Scottish pretenders to the throne?
Very specific question, but I handily have just the answer.
Back in Britain, the Jacobite Rebellion had been a bit of a non-starter but, even so, had finished with the defeat of a small force of Jacobite troops at Preston, Lancashire in 1715. Meanwhile, James Stuart had landed at Sc3otland, looked around, said, “bugger this” and went back to France.
All over the place, Jacobites were being rounded up and arrested and even members of the Jamaican elite were denouncing Hamilton, presenting evidence that he had been supporting and protecting pirates.
The major indictment against him was that he and his “privateers” had robbed the Spanish treasure fleet. Hamilton can’t have been that careful about covering his tracks because money from the wreck was traced directly to his household. These were the days when money laundering was done by hand with a washboard and bucket.
One of his denouncers, a Captain Escoubert, pointed to the fact that his stolen ship, the St Marie, which Jennings had relieved him of - was parked in Port Royal Harbour seemingly completely ignored by Hamilton’s administration.
The conclusion, and it wasn’t way off, was that Hamilton was gathering ill-gotten treasure and an army of privateers, to secure Jamaica and the surrounding colonies for King James when the rebellion came up trumps.
As it hadn’t come up trumps, Hamilton was forced to order the arrest of Jennings and other captains to look like he was doing something about piracy. At the same time, however, a message came from King George that Hamilton should be arrested and returned to England in chains.
But after that? He was released and had a distinguished political career.
Gentlemen, to wealth.
With the removal of Hamilton, Peter Heywood was made Governor of Jamaica and immediately started to clamp down on piracy. Jennings went into hiding to avoid a hiding, i.e. amongst the Republic of Pirates and JUST IN TIME because along came another proclamation from the king saying that Jennings and others were pirates.
So, in the wake of the failed Jacobite Rebellion, Hamilton was replaced and a policy of “looking the other way” was replaced with an administration determined to come down hard on piracy. And that brings us to pirate hunter, Woodes Rodgers?
Who was Woodes Rogers?
Woodes Rogers was the pirate hunter extraordinaire which helped spell the end of the Republic of Pirates. Woodes’ first bit of pirate hunting was when he went to Madagascar to try and shut down (or at least co-opt) the legendary Pirate Kingdom of Henry Avery. The only problem was that it was a little bit too legendary, i.e. made up.
The Pirates that Rogers found on Madagascar were a handful of semi-naked folk living in shacks hidden away in the middle of protective forest with several native wives. Although living the life of tropical ease in the sun-drenched paradise, when asked if they would like to seek Queen Anne’s Pardon and return to grey and drizzly England, they said: “Oh yes please!”
Because despite the boiled offal and high rate of infant mortality, England at least had pubs and you could get a pint of proper beer. And, after all, what’s so great about sweating all the time?
There was great accord until Rogers found out that the pirates had been planning to steal his ship. But pirates will do that. Steal other people’s ships. Some might say that it’s their favourite thing.
Stealing a ship and hoisting my flag there
Robbin’ the crew and all the scalleywags there
Walkin’ the plank
And stealing their bling
These are a few of my favourite things
[song, “these are a few of my favourite things…” lootin and raping and pillaging and maiming…]
After his experience in Madagascar, Woodes Rodgers believed that pirates were desperate to return to king and country and only really needed a prod off of the plank of piracy and into the wet salty, suffocating embrace of law and order.
And by the time Rodgers turned his attention to the Bahamas, the Republic of Pirates (at its height) had become a massive threat to British commerce, taking half of the ships bound for Jamaica. This was more than just a “nest of pirates.” Even the Royal Navy was afraid to go cannon to cannon with the Republic of Pirates.
Rodgers came up with a plan to form a public-private partnership to send a flotilla of ships, soldiers and colonists to clear out the pirates and restore the islands to a lawful, profitable colony under his governorship. The venture was approved on Sep 3 1717 and given the name “The Copartners For Carrying On a Trade and Settling The Bahamas Islands.” This name was created by “The Committee of Naming Things Way to literally and in the longest way possible.” Presumably sign makers charged by the letter.
Rodgers arrived in Nassau with the King’s Pardon in 1718, but word had already arrived that the Pardon was coming, and this split the Republic of Pirates between those who wished to take it and those who were very happy to carry on piracy or didn’t recognize King George as monarch anyway.
The Republic held a council to resolve differences and come up with a decision, but this mini-parliament was noisy and clamorous and nothing was agreed upon.
I say we give up piracy and take the pardon. All in favour say ARRRR.
I say we keep a-piratin. All in favour say ARRRR.
The Arrrs have it.
Ever the Jacobite, Charles Vane said they should fortify the island and await the support of James III. Henry Jennings said they should surrender and hand the island over to the coming Governor Woodes Rodgers.
After this, people seemed to start to pack up and move on. The Jacobites looked to shelter with the Spanish Empire. Pro-pardon pirates prepared to hand themselves in with Jennings sailing off to Bermuda for that reason. Benjamin Hornigold actually sent a sloop off to Jamaica to request the presence of a warship to protect them against the anti-Pardon pirates.
Just because Pirates wanted to take the pardon, it doesn’t mean that they had suddenly become loyal subjects and seagoing Ned Flanders types. Hornigold suggested that even anti-Pardon pirates should take it to buy themselves time. Pirates like Blackbeard wanted to take it so they could keep their ill-gotten gains and simply transfer into money lending or smuggling. With Royal Navy reinforcements on their way, a lot of pirates realised that there’s no point being pirates if you were never safe to enjoy your riches.
But piracy didn’t just stop because Woodes Rodgers was on his way. When an official named Vincent Pearse turned up before Rodgers to offer out pardons, Vane rather took the piss by getting up to more piracy in front of his very eyes and, when Pearse decked out his ship to celebrate the Prince of Wales’ birthday, Jacobites set fire to an English merchant ship in Nassau harbour in protest. Members of Pearce’s crew were actually defecting to join Vane too!
Pearse in fact was so afraid of Vane that he left, leaving Vane to become the big cheese of the Pirate Republic, but even he realised that the game was up. He escaped from the clutches of the Royal Navy by setting a ship on fire and sending it in their direction in an audacious escape, taking another crew off to do some piracy in other waters - this time meting out violence and cruelty to the crews he captured. #notallpirates. He was eventually captured and hanged.
Hornigold went from Pirate Governor to Pirate Hunter before his ship was captured in a hurricane in 1719 and was destroyed.
Henry Jennings survived the end of the Golden Age of Pirates and probably died in a Spanish jail thirty years later.
Blackbeard headed off to3 colonial America when he bribed his way into a comfortable life, but eventually colonial forces caught up with him and he went down in a heroic last stand, pistols blazing.
Woodes Rodgers arrived on Nassau on July 24th 1718 and took up his governorship over 700 ex-pirates and 200 bedraggled islanders who had been pretty much been hiding in the woods the whole time.
Did the end of the Republic of Pirates mean the end of piracy in the Bahamas?
In short, nope!
The new governor complained about the culture of his new subjects, who he tried to turn into militia men:
“These wretches can’t be kept to watch at night and when they do they come very seldom sober and rarely stay awake at night.”
He was also concerned that should pirates at large like Charles Vane ever try to reconquer the island, those under his command were unlikely to remain loyal to him. Rodgers sent a ship called The Buck to the Spanish governor at Havana to assure him that Nassau was now a legitimate colony again BUT, on its way, the crew of the Buck turned pirate!
He needn’t have bothered! In March 1719, Britain went to war with Spain again (this time in the War of the Quadruple Alliance. They did have better war names back then, didn’t they? I mean...World War 1? Where’s the poetry in that?) and Woodes Rodgers started handing out privateering commissions to former pirates, who were DELIGHTED to be state-sanctioned pirates once more!
Obviously it would have been cool if the Republic of Pirates had all decided: “Stuff the pardon, stuff the King. It’s the Pirates life for me” and then went out in a blaze of glory as the forces of the Crown came swarming onto the beach, but the RoP was less a state with one purpose and more a confederation of people who didn’t like to be told what to do.
The Republic of Pirates could only ever exist because of the circumstances of the time. The lack of government on Nassau, the ending of the War of Spanish Succession which left a lot of privateers suddenly very unemployed, the harsh conditions for the many under the yolk of the European empires and the allure of the lives of pirates like Henry Avery. The pirates of the Republic obviously had an excellent time and an enviable life, but many only carried on that life because they felt that there was no way back from them. With the crackdown on pirates and the failure of the Jacobite Rebellion, the sudden offer of the King’s Pardon seemed like a lifeline for many. Why live a life constantly on the run from the reinforced Royal Navy when you could turn yourself in, become a legitimate c itizen and keep your loot into the bargain?
Fortunately, these days the Bahamas is now a law-abiding place where there are absolutely no sinister men using the place as an off-shore haven to stash their ill-gotten gains. So, we can all be relieved that that kind of things doesn’t go on anymore…
But what about tax-evading multinational corporations?
This series of Countries that don’t exist anymore is over! No further questions.
*drops mic and storms out of room*
[pirate bursts in]
Right, I’ve sorted out my USP [other marketing jargon please Ed]
Sorry, he’s gone