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The GOLDEN AGE of Piracy came about in the late 1600's, almost 200 years after Columbus had first sighted the Bahamas, and lasted until about 1722. Although a brief period (just over thirty years), it was filled with marauders, pirates, and scoundrels of every kind, all attempting to acquire immense wealth and vast riches.

Any robbery or other violent action, for private ends and without authorization by public authority, committed on the seas or in the air outside the normal jurisdiction of any state. Because piracy has been regarded as an offense against the law of nations, the public vessels of any state have been permitted to seize a pirate ship, to bring it into port, to try the crew (regardless of their nationality or domicile), and, if found guilty, to punish them and to confiscate the ship.

Pirates Buccaneers Privateers

Piracy has occurred in all stages of history. In the ancient Mediterranean, piracy was often closely related to maritime commerce, and the Phoenicians appear to have engaged in both, as did the Greeks, Romans, and Carthaginians. In the Middle Ages, Vikings from the north and Moors from the south also engaged in piracy. At the conclusion of European wars during the Renaissance and after, naval vessels would be laid up and their crews disbanded. From among these men, pirates recruited their crews. A common source of piracy, for instance, was the privateer, a privately owned and armed ship commissioned by a government to make reprisals, to gain reparation for specified offenses in time of peace, or to prey upon the enemy in time of war, with the right of the officers and crew to share in prize money from captured vessels. The temptation was great to continue this profitable business after the war without authorization. During the Elizabethan wars with Spain in the late 16th century, treasure-laden Spanish galleons proceeding from Mexico into the Caribbean were a natural target for privateers, and the line between privateering and piracy became difficult to draw.

From the 16th to the 18th century, after the weakening of Turkish rule had resulted in the virtual independence of the Barbary States of North Africa, piracy became common in the Mediterranean. Morocco, Algiers, Tunis, and Tripoli so tolerated or even organized piracy that they came to be called pirate states. In the early 19th century they were suppressed by successive actions of American, British, and French forces.

The increased size of merchant vessels, the improved naval patrolling of most ocean highways, the regular administration of most islands and land areas of the world, and the general recognition by governments of piracy as an international offense resulted in a great decline in piracy in the 19th and 20th centuries. Piracy has, however, occurred in the 20th century in the South China Sea, and the practice of hijacking ships or airplanes has developed into a new form of piracy. Source: (c) 1994, Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc.

The Golden Age

In the 16th century, and for hundreds of years after that, the Caribbean sea was the Mare Nostrum of piracy. A numbrer of countries that were enemies of Spain, especially France and England, coveted the wealth the Spaniards were obtaining from their American colonies and authorized their seamen to attack ships under the Spanish flag and loot them.

The corsairs, protected by the laws of privateering passed by their rulers, attacked and massacred not only the crews of the Spanish galleons but also pounced upon cities and towns, robbed them and laid them waste. Aware of the benefits accruing to their governments from the booties they took, the corsairs began to pocket a share of the riches and thus became pirates. The pirates grouped and formed fleets that roamed the Caribbean Sea, mainly around Cuba.


True pirates stole from anyone. They were criminals and if caught, faced certain death. Most British pirates were hanged. Their bodies were then chained by the River Thames as a warning.

Spain considered what privateers did as piracy so as far as they were concerned there was no difference between a pirate and a privateer. A pirate was a sea robber that for one reason or another looted under no jack (flag) other than "Captain Death" (the Jolly Roger) for the most part they organized their ship just as a privateering crew but with some exception. Many a privateer became pirates when they continued to stay on the account during a time when England decided to be at peace with Spain.

Many pirates, particularly English pirates would not attack ship belonging to England. Their stated reasons were that they would never attack a British ship out of respect for the king or queen or because they were not at war with England,or they were pirates but not traitors. Their main reason, of course, was that they hoped that by not attack British ships they would be given safe harbor or passage from the British. Sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn't.


During the 1600's, a group of runaway men (slaves), criminals and refugees were living in the Caribbean. Mainly Dutch, English and French, they hated the Spanish, who ruled much of the Caribbean at that time. They enjoyed attacking the Spanish ships and did so whenever they could.

Buccaneers were (mainly French) settlers in the Caribbean who used to barbecue or "smoke" wild boar and oxen. Boucanier literally means one who hunts wild pork. It is a term used to describe the pirates and privateers who had their roots in the Caribbean. Many of the Buccaneers found more profitable life styles hunting Spanish Doubloons instead of wild pigs.


Sponsored by their government, privateers had permission to rob ships. Privateers had letters of marque. These letters could save them from punishment.

A privateer was a ship under papers to a government or a company to perform specific tasks. The men who sailed on a privateer were also called privateers. The papers were usually referred to as a Marque of Letters. Some times these letters would give the captain to act in the behalf of a certain company or government to obtain slaves or perhaps bread fruit trees. Often the limits of the Marque were vague, leaving it up to the captain and crew to determine what they could take. sometimes the privateers ignored the Marque and just did what they bloody well pleased.

During times of war, some governments would commission privateers to seek out and attack the ships of hostile nations. This was especially true of England. In this case, the Privateers would sail "on the account". That is they would loot, pillage, and plunder England's enemies for King and Country.For their efforts the Captain and crew would receive a portion of the plunder, between 1/5 and 1/2 the rest going to the crown. In return the Captain and crew had safe harbor and was protected by England. Henry Morgan was a privateer.

Privateers often worked beyond the limits as detailed by their letter of Marque, often attacking neutral countries as well as hostile nations. Rarely would privateers attack their own country's ships. This would have been an act of high treason.

Countries would often complain about the actions of privateers but most of the time England would ignore the complaints unless they were in the middle of delicate negotiations, in which case the head of privateer may have proven a small payment for what could be a large and generous reward.

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