Golden Age of Piracy - Skull and Crossbones

Pirate Havens

Port Royal Economy

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Port Royal Economy

Golden Age of Piracy - Chapter Decoration

Background

One of the lesser regarded aspects of piracy was the wide scale blackmarket that grew facilitated by a network of pirate merchants. These merchants grew fabulously wealthy supplying goods to the New World as well as smuggling stolen goods and integrating it into their stock. From its very conception Port Royal was founded on the proceeds of buccaneering and the entire city was built around servicing the privateers needs. As another bonus the wealth the buccaneers brought back to the colonies benefited them early on as well.

Most of the time when the buccaneers got a great haul they spent it very quickly and gave new meaning to the phrase "spent like a drunken sailor". Following the raid of Henry Morgan on Portobello in 1668 the 300 buccaneers each brought back an equivalent of £60 and spent it on the local economy. This is about two or three times the amount of money of a yearly plantation wage and instantly brought a ton of coins and wealth to the town.

Selling the Goods - Book of Pirates (1921)

While the buccaneers would spend their money on prostitutes, alcohol and other things the money would circulate among the colonists on the island and they could use it to upgrade their shop, purchase plantations and anything else they desired. The buccaneers indirectly made everyone in the city very wealthy and this soon attracted many more buccaneers to partake in on the action. This economic model is called forced-trade and became a way of life in the city of Port Royal. In fact cities and colonies that were once buccaneering or pirate havens were much wealthier than their counterparts in the West Indies who based their economy on sugarcane plantations.

For example, to illustrate simply how much wealth the buccaneers drew out of the Spanish cities when Henry Morgan captured Portobello the buccaneers stole an amount equal to about £75,000 in one shot. The entire value of the sugar exports for British Jamaica in a year was about £10,000 so this was about seven and a half times the entire value of the sugarcane plantation yield for a year. The buccaneers returned to the city and spent their loot which boosted the local economy by an untold amount at the time.

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Sources

Primary Sources

Secondary Sources

Haring, C. H. (1910). The Buccaneers in the West Indies in the XVII century. Hamden, Conn: Archon Books.

Cruikshank, E. A. (1935). The Life of Sir Henry Morgan: With an Account of the English settlement of the Island of Jamaica. Toronto: Macmillan.

Texas A and M University: The Port Royal Project