Mel Fisher Maritime Museum Reefs Wrecks and Rascals
The end of the seventeenth century saw the greatest outburst of piracy in the history of seafaring. Ironically called “the Golden Age of Piracy”, the era lasted from around 1700 until 1730. Although the most troubled area was the Caribbean, piracy was also rife off the Eastern seaboard of America, in the Indian Ocean and off the West Coast of Africa (where the “Pirate Round” followed the trade routes from India to America via Africa).
Pirates such as Blackbeard and Bartholomew Roberts now seem larger than life. What we really know of them is surprisingly little, the recollections of ex-pirates, former victims, naval officers who encountered them or the records of courtrooms and confessions. One other source is the book “A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the most notorious Pyrates”. The author, alleged to be Charles Johnston had extensive first-hand knowledge of piracy, and it is suggested that Johnston was the nom-de-plume for Daniel Defoe, ex-privateer and author of “Robinson Crusoe”.
The outbreak was the result of circumstances – valuable cargoes were being shipped across the Atlantic, including gold, silver, and slaves. Meanwhile, a long period of conflict between England, France and Spain had been resolved, allowing the respective Navies to downsize and leaving ports full of unemployed sailors with no job prospects. Most pirates were American or English, and lack of strong colonial government made the American coast an ideal pirate hunting ground.
Slowly judicial and naval pressure put and end to the outbreak, and by 1730 it was all but over. Although later outbreaks of piracy occurred, this short era would remain lodged in popular culture as the “Golden Age of Piracy”.
Mel Fisher Maritime Museum 200 Greene St. Key West, FL 33040 (305) 294-2633