THE   PIRATE   LIFE   1690 -1724

An Introduction  to ‘The Golden Age of Piracy’

This feature has been abbreviated by Richard Rutherford-Moore from his notes for a prospective new book Dead Men Do Tell Tales : Life at Sea during ‘The Golden Age of Piracy’ and his illustrated lecture ‘The Truth about Pirates’

After the passing and introduction by the British Government of The Piracy Act in 1721, pirates found it increasingly impossible to find a place to sell their stolen plunder and also find a secure port or harbour to re-fit or re-supply their ships, finally forced to use several small islands, coastal creeks or rivers instead, all of which duly became well-known as pirate haunts
- it was by being forced to do this that Blackbeard was caught at anchor by the Royal Navy, and both caught by an ex-pirate turned pirate-hunting privateer Jack Rackham’s crew offered little resistance as they were all drunk at the time and George Lowther’s crew were caught whilst ‘careening’ their ship.

A section from a period English map showing the ‘World of the Buccaneers’ - and of course Early 18th Century Pirates - but note it isn’t to scale and hence inaccurate.

From a rising yearly average from 1690 of 1500 pirates reported to be operating in the Caribbean Sea between the years 1713 and 1718, the average between 1718 and 1720 had fallen to 1000 and by 1724 had dropped to 250.  From the figures available there seems to have been around 1000 pirates operating in 1700, rising to a maximum of around 2500 pirates operating at any one time between 1713 and 1718. The sheer vastness of the ocean and the relatively small numbers of pirates during ‘The Golden Age of Pirates’ always made it hard for legal authority to find, but the serious damage they did to shipping and commerce and the sheer value of their thefts was never in relation to their numbers. Where all the pirate loot actually ended up remains a complete mystery - in today’s figures, a conservative estimate of the total value of their thefts between 1690 and 1724 puts it at £1000 million pounds sterling. Using the above figures, a pirate ashore after just one cruise with £500 in his pocket would be richer than 99.9% of the population of Europe and America at that time. Never have so Few robbed so Many of so Much !

What was the great attraction of piracy for a common seaman within this period ?  The average wage in this period per month for seaman was £1-10 shillings (Royal Navy seamen were paid a little better) but in an age where a common seaman’s life aboard a ship in terms of work, food and conditions is reflected in a common proverb aboard ship being “Slavery for eleven months, a Free Man for one month ....”. Bartholomew Roberts sums piracy up pretty well from a seaman’s point of view : “ In honest service there is thin commons, low wages and hard labour. In this, plenty and satiety, pleasure and ease, liberty and power. And who would not balance creditor on this side, when all the hazard that is run for it at worst is only a sour look or two at choking ? No : a merry life and a short one shall be my motto ! Damnation to him who ever lived to wear a halter !

Continued in - PIRATE  LIFE  : 1690 – 1713


All images supplied by & all text © Copyright of Richard Rutherford Moore.


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