British Empire > Province of Massachusetts Bay

Province of Massachusetts Bay

Golden Age of Piracy - Chapter Decoration

Background

A general fear of pirates permeated Boston throughout the Golden Age, and it was because of this fear that the pirates were able to be so successful in Massachusetts. In April 1717, the Whydah Galley, a former slave ship commandeered by pirates, was wrecked off of the port of Boston, and most of the crew was captured and jailed. Nearly three months later, a Boston captain by the name of Thomas Fox was taken by pirates, and those ashore were warned that if the pirates in jail from the Whydah Galley “suffered they would kill everybody they took belonging to New England” 9. Massachusetts, like most of the other colonies, wielded to the power that the pirates undeniably enjoyed on the Atlantic. From Massachusetts, however, hailed the notorious Thomas Cromwell, an embodiment of the privateer / pirate debate. A native Bostonian, Cromwell received a commission from the Earl of Warwick to harass the Spanish traders sailing in the Caribbean. Upon his return, Cromwell presented a jewel-encrusted chair to Governor Winthrop of Massachusetts, presumably in return for his cooperation concerning Cromwell’s pirate-related activities6. Governor Winthrop continued to blatantly support piracy to a point where the Crown decided it was time to intervene. Edward Randolph, a customs official, arrived in Boston in the late 1670s, responsible for the job, among other things, of outlining all of Winthop’s wrongdoings. The result was a twenty-five paged indictment of Massachusetts and its complete disregard for the Navigation Acts. Historian Anthony Burgess emphasizes how Randolph pointed out that the close relationships between colonial governors and notorious pirates was a major clue that the colonies were distancing themselves from English rule6. Piracy was one of the first major issues to pit the Old World against the New World; proving to colonists that what was beneficial to the economy of Massachusetts was not necessarily beneficial to England, and given the chance, England will always act out of her own interests.

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