Decline of Piracy

Golden Age of Piracy - Chapter Decoration

Piracy around the world was on the decline by the 18th century. Even in areas such as the Indian Ocean and the Barbary Coast would see the end of pirates before the century was out. This paralleled a decline in the use of mercenaries (privateers) and the increase and growth of Imperial armies in European nations.

During the 18th century, with the end of the Thirty Years War nations sought to rebuild their influence and the navies of the European powers was expanded in order to combat piracy and create order in the realm. After 1720, piracy in the classical sense became something of legend as the Royal Navy had developed too much power and influence to combat successfully. Many pirates were killed or jailed and hung as a result of the increasing pressure by the royal powers. Also very important to the end of this era was the loss of the pirates last home base at Nassau in the Bahamas.

By 1718, the British had approximately 124 ships in the Royal Navy, compared with two in 1670. These British ships were given specific missions to hunt down and kill all remaining pirates and nearly almost always won. Pirates who got captured by the British were tried in a court of law and often hung. There were so many pirates that needed to be tried during this era that the British government created seven new commissioners whose sole purpose was to try all piracy related cases.

Decline of Piracy - Stede Bonnet Hanging: A General History of the Pyrates (1724)

Stede Bonnet's Hanging - A General History of the Pyrates (1724)

These new trials, which were much faster provided little to no legal representation to pirates and eventually led to the hanging and execution of nearly 10% of the pirates in the Caribbean or around six hundred pirates.

However, ultimately it was the threat that the pirates made on the slave trade that determined their fate. By releasing slaves and turning them into fellow pirates, these men directly impacted the profits. This caused the navies to patrol the American and African coasts and hunt down pirates with increasing frequency. This however, caused the pirates to respond in kind, burning merchant ships, blockading towns and often blowing themselves and their ships to kingdom come before being captured. However, the fate was already spelled out for the few remaining pirates who either gave up or died fighting.

Golden Age of Piracy

Periods

Geography

West Indies

East Indies

Sources

Primary Sources

Secondary Sources