British Empire > Anguilla

Anguilla

Golden Age of Piracy - Chapter Decoration

Background

The island of Anguilla is one of the Leeward Islands and part of the Lesser Antilles in the Caribbean Sea. The island itself is located about 60 miles (100 km) northwest from Saint Kitts and about 12 miles (19 km) north of the island of Saint Martin. The capital of the island is called The Valley and its total area is about 25 square miles (91 km2).

Prior to the arrival of the British the island was settled by the Arawaks around 2000 BCE who called it Malliouhana and were originally from mainland South America near the Orinoco River basin. By the time the British arrived in the mid 17th century all of the Arawaks were gone. Eventually the island was colonized by the British Empire in 1650 by settlers from the island of Saint Kitts and became known as one of the British Leeward Islands.

The early years of being a colonist on Anguilla were not pleasant and six years into the establishment of the first settlement in 1656 on the island it was wiped out by Amerindians from a neighboring island. In addition to facing Amerindian raids the British also encountered the hostile French in 1666 and twenty-two years later a joint Irish and French military expedition forced all of the colonists to seek refuge at nearby Antigua.

Much of the development of politics and the economy in Anguilla was affected by the many European wars which often spilled over into the West Indies colonies. The French would attack the island again in 1745 but were unsuccessful due to the local militia. They would attempt again in 1796 and cause great destruction to the island but never manage to capture it.

Economy

The economy of Anguilla was mostly centered around the cultivation of tobacco which became the islands premier cash crop along with cotton. However, during the later half of the 17th century poor yields from tobacco coupled with an increasing demand for sugar in Europe fueled the growth of the sugar cane industry on the island using slave labor. Sugar as a crop yielded much higher than tobacco and cotton and transformed the island of Anguilla from mostly small working farmers to a plantation economy like much of the rest of the West Indies.

Anguilla and Piracy

The island of Anguilla played an important role in the Golden Age of Piracy and the island was once called ‘a nest of pirates and smugglers and outlaws, dangerous to every neighbouring island, and a disgrace to the British name’ (Public Record Office/National Archives CO 230/59). The earliest historical record of a famous pirate entering Anguilla was during the Pirate Round when the Council of Nevis wrote that William Kidd had landed on the island. It would be here that Kidd would first learn he was being designated as a pirate by the British authorities.

Falsely believing that he would be pardoned Kidd sailed to New York City and turned himself in. However, instead he was arrested and sent to England where he was tried, convicted and hung for piracy. His body was then gibbeted over the River Thames as a warning for all other pirates. Despite all of this, centuries later it was proven that Kidd did indeed have the evidence that would exonerate him and it was conveniently lost for his trial by his political opponents. Some people even believe that Kidd buried some of his treasure at Anguilla.

Following this the island would have a reputation of piracy for years to come. In 1701 the governor of the island Codrington Jr wrote to the Committee for the Colonies that the men of the island were perfect outlaws. In 1706 the Deputy Governor of the island named George Leonard was accused by Richard Oglethorpe of knowingly dealing with stolen goods from Captain Kidd. The whole situation was quite confusing though as Oglethorpe married the widow of one of the associates of Kidd named Tempest Rogers who was the same person that Oglethorpe accused of being owed money by the Governor.

Another famous pirate that would come to Anguilla is Woodes Rogers who landed there in 1718 after his retirement from privateering. It was then that he would attempt to get all of the 1,800 blacks and whites that lived on the island to move to his new colony in the Bahamas. Two years later in 1720 at the height of the Post Spanish Succession Period six pirates from the Royal Rover landed on Anguilla to attempt to flee detection from colonial authorities and begin a new life. However, their true identities were discovered and they were sent to Nevis where they were tried and convicted for piracy and then executed.

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