When you think of the word pirates, what comes to mind? Probably eye-patches, hooks, large ships, and a speaking parrot. A lot of what most of us know about pirates are informed by pop culture movies like the Pirates of the Caribbean, and fairytale stories like Peter Pan. But Pirates were more than just mindless barbarians who raided, raped, and killed the innocent.
When it comes to Black pirates especially, one of the major things that stand out is the fact that they were equal to white pirates, during a time when slavery was rampant. Several pirates played a significant role in making this possible. But even so, not many of them are known or spoken about in history. That is why this article will focus on speaking about the Famous Pirates who helped empower black pirates.
Interesting Facts About Black Pirates
Over the years the true untold story of Pirates, especially black pirates, has slowly been discovered and pieced together based on the evidence found on sunken ships. Today, there is a substantial amount of data, although not enough, that you can read on. But we will just summarize the main interesting facts you out to know about them, and they are as follows:
Black Pirates Of The Golden Age
Piracy is believed to have been in existence for quite some time now, even though no one can point to the exact date of origin. That is why most scholars use the golden age as a reference point. The golden age of piracy is believed to have been from 1680 to 1725. Around this time about 100,000 pirates were roaming the sea, and a third of them were made up of black pirates.
This was also a period when black slaves still had no hope of freedom, but believe it or not Pirate ships were the first place in modern times where blacks were treated as equals. They were allowed to carry weapons, vote on matters, get an equal share of the booty from the raids, and even get elected to be captain of a predominantly white crew. A great example is Black Caesar, a slave who gradually rose through the ranks to become one of the most trusted and highly regarded crew members in Blackbeard’s ship.
The pirate ships were a place where they felt most empowered. But for pirates, it is highly unlikely that their choice not to see or judge by color was predominantly for the sake of social justice. It is more likely that they simply needed able and hardworking crew members, and it did not matter what their race was.
Fate Of Black Pirates
But even though we speak of black equality among pirates, many historians dispute to what extent this was true. While black pirates did enjoy certain privileges they would not have been otherwise afforded as a slave, there still were some distinctions made between the white and black pirates.
To begin with, it is true black pirates were extended the same democratic privileges as other crew members on the ship. This included compensation if they were injured while on duty or to their families if they happened to die. It is also true that most black pirates were kept on board to do the most difficult jobs. Pirates also raped the black women they held captive, which proves the point that for pirates it wasn’t about respecting color but just that they valued hard workers.
Another distinction is that the punishment awarded to black pirates was different from the others. While the rest were taken to the gallows, blacks were returned to their previous owners or sold back into slavery.
Slaves Ships Captured By Pirates
Among the places most raided by pirates, slave ships were the most popular. But before you think that pirates were some sought of vigilante, you should know that they acted purely on financial gain. It was an opportunity for them to find able workers to add to their crew or gain handsomely from selling the captured slaves themselves.
For slaves ships bound to the Caribbean and America, the slaves were crammed to fit as many of them as possible. So, you can imagine the conditions were less than favorable. So, while the pirates did not have their best interest at heart, their raids were regarded as a blessing. At least, there they had a chance of freedom by becoming pirates.
Famous black pirates in history
Now that you are familiar with the main facts about black pirates and how they lived, let us take a look at the main ones who aided them and are worth mentioning in History.
Black Caesar is the most mentioned name when it comes to famed black pirates. It is only right given his story. He was an African chieftain, with great strength, intelligence, and cunningness. For many years he managed to keep his people away from slavers. It wasn’t until one slaver, lured him with the promise of immense treasure that he and his men were finally subdued. During his captivity on the ship, he made friends with one of the sailors who was the only one to show him kindness. Luckily for him, his days in captivity were short-lived. The ship he was on got hit by a hurricane along with the Florida Keys. This gave Black Caesar the opportunity he needed to escape, along with his sailor friend.
They took a longboat and packed it with supplies and ammunition. Finally free, Black Caesar and his friend began raiding passing ships by pretending they shipwrecked sailors. Among the ships they raided were slave ships. They would then hide their booty somewhere in Elliot Key. He was also said to have created a harem for the women he rescued from those ships.
They went on like this for years, gaining a great deal of wealth. Later on, as legend would have it, Caesar had a falling out with his friend over a woman and ended up killing him and keeping the woman. He continued with the raids on his own until later when he was able to acquire a crew and several ships to help him.
Eventually, he joined Blackbeard’s ship, the Queen Anne’s Revenge as his lieutenant. They roamed the coasts of North Carolina for almost two decades until they were attacked and defeated by Lieutenant Robert Maynard. A different account, however, states that the Black Caesar who joined Blackbeard’s ship was a different man. He started as a slave of Tobias Knight in North Carolina and rose the ranks to be Blackbeard’s lieutenant.
Blackbeard was not a black pirate but he was the most notorious of them all. He gained his name because of his frightening appearance and thick black beard. His actual name was Edward teach, an infamous English pirate whose activities were mostly around North America and the Western Indies. His career as a pirate started around 1716. A year later he managed to capture a French ship and turn it into his famous 40-gun warship, the Queen Anne’s Revenge.
He later set up his base at a North Carolina inlet, where he raided ships, especially slave ships. But this wasn’t his act of justice. He simply targeted slave ships because of their sizes. He did, however, give the slaves a chance to join his crew, even though he sold most of them at auctions on the mainland. Regardless, throughout his life as a pirate, his crew members were made up of around 65 black pirates out of the 114 that existed. His lieutenant was the infamous Black Caesar. Blackbeard, however, met his end during his battle with the British Navy, led by Robert Maynard.
Samuel Bellamy, alias, Black Sam, was quite the exception from other Pirates. He wasn’t known as an aggressive or violent brute. Instead, he was famed for his generosity towards his crew, and his fairness towards those he raided. He always made a point of returning what wasn’t useful to him and was considerate about what he took. He also democratically led his ship. His appearance added to his contrast as a pirate. He favored neat and expensive clothes and was always well-mannered.
Looking at this, one would think that he wasn’t a pirate, and the truth is, it was never his intention to be one. At a very young age, poverty pushed Sam to become a sailor. His pursuit of riches and wealth is what pushed him into piracy. He was voted as Captain while aboard the Maryann ship because he was more willing to raid the British ships. His alias, Black Sam, wasn’t because he was black, but because he preferred his long black hair tied with a simple band as opposed to the powdered wig.
His career as a pirate was short, lasting for only a year. But within that short period, he was able to be one of the wealthiest pirates in history, having raided 53 ships. Among these ships were also slave ships. He recruited most of the slaves as his crew member. Most of the people on his ships were slaves, Indians, and sailors who had been pressed into service. Out of the 180 men he had in his service, 27 of them were black and they were all treated equally. Black Sam, might be the one pirate who helped the slaves out of a sense of social justice and not just financial gain. Unfortunately, he died at 28, after his ship got wrecked off the coasts of Massachusetts.
Another Pirate with a generous heart was Edward England. His real name was Edward Seeger, and he was born in Ireland. Edward hadn’t planned on being a pirate but was initiated into it when the ship where he worked was captured by the pirate Captain Winter in Jamaica. He soon grew accustomed to pirate life and eventually became the quartermaster of one pirate called Christopher Vane, who gave him his ship to run. Later when all other pirates accepted the King’s pardon, Edward refused and was forced to move to the coasts of Africa.
He found great success there, raiding ship. Some ships he collected into his fleet, some he released after looting and some he burnt down. He is said to have plundered many of the slave ships, along the Caribbean and Africa. His reasons may not be known but he managed to save many from a life of slavery. Out of the 180 men in his crew, about 50 of them were said to be black pirates.
Edward however, met his untimely death because of one of his acts of generosity. He chose to pardon, Captain Macrae, who was responsible for the death of 90 men in his crew. His crew weren’t in agreement with him and chose to maroon him on the shores of Mauritius along with his three loyal followers with little provisions for them to survive. After four months of scavenging, they managed to build a raft to help them sail across the Indian Ocean to Madagascar. He died shortly after a poor beggar, despite his success and acts of generosity.
Of all the pirates that existed, Edward Low goes down in history as being the most notorious and diabolical pirate. He was known for his acts of violence and torture towards his victims. They described him as the pirate of Amazing brutality. Born into a poor family in Westminster, London, Low was forced into a life of crime at a young age. As he grew older his crimes became more sinister. Eventually, he chose to leave England and try his luck in North America. There he found love and settled down with his wife Elizabeth who died shortly after giving birth to their only daughter. Aggrieved, Low left his daughter on the mainland and took up a job as a rigger on a ship.
Because of the cruelty of his captain, he along with his fellow crew members ganged up to overthrow him and make Low the captain, and so his pirate career began. They moved to the coasts of Boston and New York where they raided and captured trade ships, giving them enough resources to relocate to the Caribbean. There he later advanced to being the lieutenant of a veteran pirate called Captain George Lowther, who gave him control of a 6-gun ship called Rebecca.
Soon enough, the Caribbean authorities grew tired of Low’s abominable deeds and sent Captain Peter Solgardand to attack his ship. Low was defeated. But he managed to escape with the majority of his wealth and a small remainder of his crew. After that, he became more viscous to a point his crew members had no choice but to maroon him on an isolated island where he was discovered by French authorities who executed him about learning who he was.
But despite his bad reputation, Low wasn’t as bad as he seemed. He may have just been a man in pain, grieving the death of his wife and being apart from his only child. That is why he never assaulted women nor demanded that married sailors be a part of his crew. He also allowed a few black slaves to join him, specifically, 9 out of the 23 men on his ship.
It is ironic that the group of people expected to be heartless brutes, ignorant of the value of human life, were the first with a decent mind to extend equality to those deprived of it. They gave slaves a second chance by becoming black pirates. The life of a pirate wasn’t glamorous, but it was better than the torture of slaving away on a plantation. Black pirates had the chance and right to rise the ranks and make a name for themselves.