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The Golden Age of Piracy

Golden Age of Piracy

Most scholars on Piracy in the Caribbean agree that the Golden Age of Piracy extends from the height of Sir Henry Morgan career until the death of Bartholomew Roberts. This would mean the beginning might be as early as 1668 and the end coming around March 1722 when the crew of the Good Fortune was put on trial.

A more concise time might be from 1710-1725 which is when most of the piracy was taking place.

If one were to paint with broader strokes the Golden Age of Piracy would coincide with the rise and fall of the Spanish Main. The Spanish Main was the area that comprises Central America and the Northern Coast of South America. In other words, the Spanish colonies in the Americas. Ground zero for the Spanish Main would probably be Darien on the Isthmus of Panama.

As Spain conquered and colonized the Americas, her treasure fleets brought the wealth of area to Spain. The plunder of the Main included silver, gold, gems, spices, cocoa and other exotic goods. By 1520, Spain had began a systematic method of convoys to protect the fleets from pirates (or privateers) The last treasure fleet to leave the Main for Spain was in 1790.

For the purposes of this web site, the Golden Age of Piracy covers the period from 1520-1790. By doing so a greater perspective can be discovered on the brief period of intense pirate activity in the early 1700s.

Determining the beginning and the end of the Golden Age is more difficult that finding the turning point of Caribbean piracy. No single event in history would change the face of privateering and/or piracy in the Caribbean more than the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713. Before the treaty was signed Spain and France were at war with the Great Britain and the Dutch. The war was known as Queen Anne's War or the War of Spanish Succession. With the signing of the treaty, among other things, Spain recognized England's right to colonies in the New World and Great Britain ceased attacks on Spanish ships. Almost over night, English privateering was disbanded. The buccaneers were out of honest work and those who continued to attack Spanish commerce could be hanged as pirates instead of hailed as heroes.

Unfortunately for most of the privateers, there was no honest work to turn to and so the obvious choice was to continue to do what they did best. Only now instead of giving a share to the crown, the former privateers kept it all and divided the booty among themselves. The once honest privateers went to with war with all nations and the hunters became the prey. The beginning of the end was near.

* On a side note, most movies that depict piracy in the Caribbean set the movie historically around 1690-1720 while using ships and weapons from a much later time (1740-1800) For instance Captain Blood is set during the reign of King James II (1685-1689). However the weapons and even costumes portrayed come from a later time.

Profile picture for user Tobias Gibson

The only author and editor of all pages on the site. Most of what I write about is based on years of book reading on the topic. My first web page was published back in 1994.

Updated: 04 September 2022