Black Pirates of the Golden Age

Who was Long John Silver

Pirates: Iconic for their skull and crossbones flag, eye patches and love of gold; infamous for their cold blooded swordfights and looted treasures. Pirates have existed throughout history and arguably still do. However, we might refer to the Golden Age of Piracy as the era which ran roughly from 1620 to 1720. Pirates from this period are often seen as anarchists sailing to plunder, pillage and exercise their freedom. This image being spurred on by popular culture with characters such as Jack Sparrow from the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. However, something more overlooked about this period is the relationship that existed between piracy and slavery.

Slavery of the Golden Age

While today we recognize it as an atrocity, the slave trade ran from as early as the mid-17th Century until the early 19th Century. These transatlantic trading patterns began in Europe where ships set sail to the coast of West-Africa to trade manufactured goods for captured African people. These ships would then continue, full of human cargo, to the Americas or the Caribbean. Piracy particularly thrived in the latter location due to the presence of pirate seaports in places like Haiti, the Bahamas and Jamaica. Slaves who survived the treacherous journey would be sold into slavery, usually to work on the plantations found at their destination. The ships would then complete their journey on the last leg back to Europe, packed with luxury goods such as tobacco, cane sugar and rum.

Slaves ships captured by pirates

On the slave ships bound for the Americas and Caribbean, conditions were less than humane and the poor captured Africans would be crammed in to fit as many bodies as space would allow. For pirates, happening upon one of these ships gave the opportunity for a major raid to then sell on captured slaves for financial gain. In addition, it could be opportune for gaining strong and valuable crew members for future invasions. Equally, for enslaved Africans, being raided by a pirate ship may have been a blessing in disguise. Many went on the become pirates themselves, which offered more freedom than the destiny of an enslaved plantation worker. 

Black pirates of the golden age

Every crew member had an equal say regarding dealings on the ship, arguably nominating the pirate society as one of the most democratic of its kind at that time in history. Perhaps the most well-known example of this eventuality is Black Caesar, a former slave who rose through the ranks to become a high serving and trusted member of Blackbeard´s crew. Indeed, Blackbeard himself is rumored to have inherited such a name due to his famous beard originating from African roots.

Fate of black pirates

In common pirate law most captured pirates would be hanged, however if a black pirate was captured they would be sold back into slavery again. Although race did affect the dealings between pirates and slaves, the main reason for a pirate´s dalliance in the slave trade would be more financially guided.