Golden Age of Piracy - Skull and Crossbones

Pirate Havens

Madagascar

Pirate Havens > Madagascar

Madagascar

Golden Age of Piracy - Chapter Decoration

Background

Madagascar was a popular pirate haven off the coast of South Africa in the 17th and 18th centuries. Known for helping to facilitate the Pirate Round, Madagascar was an island that featured secluded coves for discreetly repairing ships along with good weather, fresh food and fresh water. This made it ideal for ships as a stop over point after rounding the Cape of Good Hope and before heading into the Indian Ocean.

Origins

The island was populated by small tribes of native people, however most of them were friendly and they were geographically dispersed. The Europeans arrived in 1500 when Portuguese captain Diogo Dias spotted the island after becoming separated from his convoy. The island was left untouched for nearly 150 years until the French East India Company tried to create a settlement on the island.

Madagascar - Madagascar Map

Madagascar Map

In 1655, Francois Caron, Director General of the French East India Company moved to establish a major port on the island for their colonial dealings around the Indian Ocean. The initial settlement failed however the French built nearby ports at Ile Bourbon and Ile de France that was built atop the previous settlement of Dutch Mauritius.

First Pirate Round

See First Pirate Round

By the 1690s Madagascar became heavily populated by pirates who operated on the first Pirate Round. It was rumored the colony was started by Thomas Tew and his crew. Pirates used the island as a port where they could stock up on supplies, offload goods and also stage attacks on the Mughals and the various East India Companies in the Indian Ocean.

Madagascar - Southern Africa Map (1670)

Southern Africa Map - Dampier (1670)

Madagascar was a sort of last resort haven for pirates. In the 1690s the buccaneering era and piracy were on the decline in the Caribbean. Port Royal was destroyed for good by the 1692 Port Royal Earthquake and Tortuga was becoming increasingly under French control and the area was generally becoming less friendly to 'privateers'.

Thus some pirates under the command of Thomas Tew decided to try their hand at a new location. These pirates decided to make the longer trip around the horn of Africa in order to plunder the even more rich targets of the Indian Ocean. These pirates were often more successful than their Caribbean counterparts in fact. In response to tightening Imperial grip in the New World, pirates flocked to Madagascar by the sloop-load. The crews would each establish settlements on the island with the captain being referred to as 'King' on the island. Around the 1700's there were about 1500 pirates living on the island and the island was becoming a force to be reckoned with in the area. See the Indian Ocean was different than the Caribbean.

While there was at least the pretense of governors and rule of law in the Caribbean, the Indian Ocean was mostly ruled by the Mughal Empire at this point and the British East India Company was just allowed to 'trade' with them. It was not until the 19th century that the Empire collapsed and India really became part of the rule of the British Empire. This meant that the islands of the Indian Ocean were pretty much fair game, the only increased threat here was more heavily armed Trade Company ships. This is what spurred the massive growth of Madagascar. The best known pirate port on Madagascar is the disputed Libertalia. This settlement is debated by many people (what isn't) and is rumored to have been started by Captain James Misson and even the great Henry Every sat as King after his escape.

At the height of its power there were seventeen fully armed pirate ships in the harbor, more than a match for anything the Royal Navy could present at the time. While contemporary historians debate this settlements existence, it was described in Captain Charles Johnson's primary source book A General History of Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pirates and pretty much the entire public opinion was that this place existed. The authorities deny it but thats also what governments do when there is an entire pirate nation living in Africa.

Ile Saint-Marie

See Ile Saint-Marie

Ile Saint-Marie was a major pirate haunt off the coast of Madagascar and was established by the pirate merchant Adam Baldrige. It grew to be quite successful during the first pirate round however, following assaults on the village by natives and the War of the Spanish Succession the pirates were all able to get legal work as privateers and thus the settlement fell into steep decline.

There was a known economic trade link between Madagascar and New York City that involved the trade of exotic goods for regular supplies that would be traded to the pirates for their stolen goods. This type of infrastructure could not exist if there was not the demand for it. However when the War of the Spanish Succession started in 1701 the pirate port of Madagascar saw perpetual decline. Many of the pirate crews living in Madagascar could now get Letters of Marque from governments and be legitimate privateers in the Caribbean and elsewhere. Privateering was often less dangerous and sometimes more lucrative so many pirates took the pardon and went back to plundering for the Crown. By 1711 the island was pretty much done. The Mughals and Trade Companies boosted their warship presence and many of the pirates flocked back to the Caribbean.

Pirate Government

See Pirate Governments

Second Pirate Round

See Second Pirate Round

Madagascar was reduced to about one hundred pirates by the early 1700's. The island would not see growth again until 1718 when Woodes Rogers delivered the Kings Pardon. This pardon was a final effort to eliminate piracy around the world that was threatening to halt global trade. However, many of the pirates had no intentions of going quietly into the night so they staged an escape from Nassau and a few went back to Madagascar to start a second Pirate Round.

Madagascar - Captain Condent

Captain Condent - Pirates of the Spanish Main (1888)

At this time Madagascar was home to members of the Flying Gang such as Charles Vane's quartermaster Edward England along with other pirates such as Christopher Condent. Madagascar would see resurgence during this period and even the capture of the greatest prize ever taken off the coast of the French owned Ile Bourbon by John Taylor and La Buse in 1721.

Following this second pirate round the pirate haven of Madagascar would cease to become a popular spot for pirates. In fact, piracy overall would decline throughout the rest of the century signaling the end of the golden age of piracy as the worlds powers cracked down on their overseas colonies. The outlaw pirates of the 18th century had begun disrupting economic trade for all empires that was not favorable to anyone so it was determined they had to go. While they were once viewed as an easily mobilized privateer army when necessary and an essential tool of maritime power the pirates had become dispensable to the imperial powers at the time.

Ranter Bay

See Ranter Bay

Ranter Bay was a pirate haven established by James Plantain in 1715 a few miles north of the previous pirate settlement at Ile Saint-Marie. He was called the "King of Ranter Bay" and ruled until 1728 when he was forced to flee due to an inevitable rebellion against him because of his savage rule.

Following the exile of Plantain the Golden Age of Piracy really spiraled into decline. While the trade of piracy would persist even into the modern era for the most part the tide had been turned against them and the increased presence of Imperial navies signified the end of organized piracy. There would be a few smugglers and pirates that would defy the authorities through the 18th century however, by the end of the 19th century they were all but stamped out around the world.

Pirate Havens

Settlements

Fortresses

Governments

Sources

Primary Sources

Johnson, C. (1728). A General History of the Pyrates (2nd Ed., Volume II). London, Great Britain: T. Warner.

Secondary Sources