Barbary Pirates
Captain Kidd
Captain Levasseur
Ching Shih Pirate
I Sailed With Chinese Pirates
Pirates & Parrots
Queen Anne's Revenge
Somali Pirates



The Barbary Wars

The Barbary Pirates were based in North Africa, and were the scourge of both the Mediterranean and Atlantic seas. They were active from shortly after the Christian conquest of Granada in 1492 until about 1830, when the pirates were finally brought under control after repeated attacks from, and treaties with, various Western powers. The 17th century, was the period during which the activities of the Barbary Pirates reached their peak.

While the Barbary pirates were not averse to acquiring property, their main focus was on capturing people - both on the sea and on land, to sell as slaves. Historically, it is said that most of the Barbary pirates were followers of Islam. Yet, a vast number of the pirates where actually Christian renegades from England, Holland, and from throughout Europe. Many of these Christian renegades started their careers as privateers (basically pirates sanctioned by a government to prey upon enemy vessels), before turning to unsanctioned piracy. Many of these renegades eventually 'turned Turk' (i.e., converted to Islam) and went a-pirating, more out of avarice and a sense of adventure than for any religious or political purpose.

Slavery and the slave trade saw primarily white Europeans being sold into slavery in North Africa by the Barbary Pirates, at the same time during which Europeans were capturing and enslaving Africans.

History of the Barbary Pirates

Admiral, naval hero, privateer, warrior and empire-builder, Kheir ed-Din or Barbarossa, as he was known in the West, was a legendary figure. He was born on the island of Midilli, Greece, to a Turkish father and Greek mother. He rose to become High Admiral of the Ottoman Navy, Sultan of Algiers and friend and advisor to Suleiman the Magnificent. The term "Barbary" derives from Barbarossa (red beard) and refers to the early days of Barbarossa’s career when he and his three brothers turned privateers in the Mediterranean to counteract the privateering Knights of St. John of the Island of Rhodes.

In February 1538, a Holy League comprising the Papacy in Rome, Spain, the Holy Roman Empire Under Charles V, and the Maltese Knights of St. John of Jerusalem, arrayed themselves against the Ottomans. But Barbarossa defeated its combined fleet, commanded by Andrea Doria, at the Battle of Preveza in September 1538. This sea battle secured the eastern Mediterranean for the Turks (until their defeat at the Battle of Lepanto in 1571). Thereafter, Barbarossa Hayreddin Pasha became one of the great figures at the Court of Constantinople until his death on the 4th of July, 1546, at his palace in Istanbul. Turkish records recorded 'The King of the Sea is dead'.

The Barbary States was a collective name given to a string of North African seaports stretching from Tangiers to Tripoli. These ports were under the nominal control of the Ottoman Empire,

Barbary Pirate

The USS Intrepid, loaded with explosive ordinance, and sailed by a crew of volunteers into Tripoli`s harbor, was an incendiary ship, ordered to burn the Barbary Fleet, but was instead destroyed  by Tripoli's cannons, and exploded killing its entire crew.

but their real rulers were sea rovers or corsairs who sallied forth from the coast cities to plunder Mediterranean shipping and capture slaves for labor or ransom.

By the middle of the seventeenth century, piracy along the Barbary Coast had become a relatively easy, publicly acclaimed way of making a living. The pirates were technically corsairs, who were given a government license to steal, for piracy was profitable to the pashas who ruled these coastal cities as independent and absolute monarchs. They answered to no one and considered violence and piracy a tradition.

European nations chose to  pay tribute to the Barbary Pirate strongholds for their ships safe passage while traversing  the Mediterranean Sea. The focus being always upon the gold and other fantastic profits of the Americas. The tribute was mere pittance compared to the riches of the colonies.

The mighty British navy could easily have defeated the pirates. During the colonial period, the British had also paid tribute for any

"Old Ironsides" August 3, 1804
Leading squadron in an attack on the pirate lair at Tripoli

vessels from the colonies, and France had done so during the American Revolution.

By the time the United States gained its independence in the late 1700s, the Barbary States had come to regard the Mediterranean as their own private lake. It was a shock to the newly independent United States when one day in 1785 an American ship was seized and its crew jailed by a pirate ship in the employ of Algiers.

The Barbary Pirates became the incentive for the newly created United States to establish a navy in 1794. One of the six frigates built was the USS Constitution, which is still in service today and puts to sea upon occasion.

After ten years time and a hefty ransom of one million to recover some of the poor souls taken captive, with all attempts at diplomacy rejected, the United States refused to pay further extravagant tribute. As a result, Yusuf Karamanli, the Pasha of Tripoli, declared war on the US on May 10, 1801. To make his point, Yusuf had his soldiers chop down the flagpole in front of the American consulate, which meant war.

Seven U.S. warships were sent to the Mediterranean and through 1803 the U.S. maintained a blockade of the Barbary ports and attacked Barbary pirate ships. A turning point in the war came in 1805, at the Battle of Derna, by a combined force of United States Marines and Arab, Greek and Berber mercenaries. The Marines wore leather around their necks as protection from sabers, leaving them with the name leathernecks.
On June 10, 1805, Tripoli's pasha signed a treaty ending hostilities with the United States.

In 1815, a Second Barbary War was waged against Tripoli, Tunis, and Algeria known collectively as the Barbary states, after the Pasha of Algiers had resumed attacks on American vessels and the seizure of American sailors. The U.S. therefore responded by sending a naval fleet back into the Mediterranean. The fleet, under the command of Steven Decatur, captured several Algerian ships and forced the Pasha to sign a treaty agreeing to return all captives and to cease attack on American shipping. This marked the end of the Barbary domination of the Mediterranean Sea.

White Slaves of Barbary

Much attention and condemnation has been directed towards the tragedy of the African slave trade, which took place between the 16th and the 19th centuries. However, another equally despicable trade in humans was taking place around the same time in the Mediterranean.  It is estimated that up to 1.25 million Europeans were enslaved by the so-called Barbary corsairs, and their lives were just as pitiful as their African counterparts. They have come to be known as the white slaves of Barbary.

Slavery is one of the oldest trades known to man. We can first find records of the slave trade dating back to The Code of Hammurabi in Babylon in the 18th century BCE. People from virtually every major culture, civilization, and religious background have made slaves of their own and enslaved other peoples.

However, comparatively little attention has been given to the prolific slave trade that was carried out by pirates, or corsairs, along the Barbary coast (as it was called by Europeans at the time), in what is now Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and Libya, beginning around 1600 AD.
Anyone travelling in the Mediterranean at the time faced the real prospect of being captured by the Corsairs and taken to Barbary Coast cities and being sold as slaves. 

However, not content with attacking ships and sailors, the corsairs also sometimes raided coastal settlements in Italy, France, Spain, Portugal, England, Ireland, and even as far away as the Netherlands and Iceland.  They landed on unguarded beaches, and crept up on villages in the dark to capture their victims.  Almost all the inhabitants of the village of Baltimore, in Ireland, were taken in this way in 1631.  As a result of this threat, numerous coastal towns in the Mediterranean were almost completely abandoned by their inhabitants until the 19th century.

Captured Arrive on the Barbary Coast to be Sold as Slaves

In the 13th and 14th Centuries, it was Christian Pirates

They were primarily from Catalonia and Sicily, and dominated the seas, posing a constant threat to merchants. It was not until the expansion of the Ottoman Empire in the 15th century that the Barbary Corsairs started to become a menace to Christian shipping.

Around 1600 AD, European Pirates brought advanced sailing and shipbuilding techniques to the Barbary Coast, which enabled the corsairs to extend their activities into the Atlantic Ocean, and the impact of Barbary raids peaked in the early to mid-17th century.

While the Barbary slave trade is typically portrayed as Muslim Corsairs capturing white Christian victims, this is far too simplistic.  In reality, the corsairs were not concerned with the race or religious orientation of those they captured. Slaves in Barbary could be black, brown or white, Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox, Jewish or Muslim. And the corsairs were not only Muslim; English Privateers and Dutch Captains also exploited the changing loyalties of an era in which friends could become enemies and enemies friends with the stroke of a pen.

In comments which may stoke controversy, historian Robert Davis claims that white slavery had been minimized or ignored because academics preferred to treat Europeans as evil colonialists rather than as victims.

"One of the things that both the public and many scholars have tended to take as given is that slavery was always racial in nature," said historian Robert Davis,. "But that is not true," he added.

Life as a Barbary Slave

The slaves captured by the Barbary pirates faced a grim future. Many died on the ships during the long voyage back to North Africa due to disease or lack of food and water. Those who survived were taken to slave markets where they would stand for hours while buyers inspected them before they were sold at auction.

After purchase, slaves would be put to work in various ways. Men were usually assigned to hard manual labour, such as working in quarries or heavy construction, while women were used for housework or in sexual servitude.  At night the slaves were put into prisons called 'bagnios' that were often hot and overcrowded. However, by far the worst fate for a Barbary slave was being assigned to man the oars of galleys.

Galley Slaves of the Barbary Corsairs

Rowers were Shackled to the Seats

They never allowed to leave; sleeping, eating, defecation and urination took place at the seat. Overseers would crack the whip over the bare backs of any slaves considered not to be working hard enough.

The End of the Barbary Corsairs

Corsair activity began to diminish in the latter part of the 17th century, as the more powerful European navies started to force the pirates to cease attacking their shipping. However, it wasn’t until the first years of the 19th century, that the United States of America and some European nations began to fight back more fervently against the Barbary pirates.

Algiers was frequently bombarded by the French, Spanish and Americans, in the early 19th century. Eventually, after an Anglo-Dutch raid in 1816 on Algiers, the corsairs were forced to agree to terms which included a cessation of the practice of enslaving Christians, although slave trading of non-Europeans was allowed to continue.

Occasional incidents continued to occur until another British raid on Algiers in 1824, and finally, a French invasion of Algiers in 1830, which placed it under colonial rule. Tunis was similarly invaded by France in 1881. Tripoli returned to direct Ottoman control in 1835, before finally falling into Italian hands in the 1911 Italo-Turkish War. The slave trade finally ceased on the Barbary coast when European governments passed laws granting emancipation to slaves.

A Sea Fight with Barbary Corsairs . . . Circa 1681 (Photo Right)

Ching Shih (1775-1844) translates “Widow of Zheng”. She was born Shih Yang (or Shi Xianggu) and was a member of the Danjia (boat-dwelling) people of Guangdong (Canton) Province. Nothing is known about her early life.

A prominent pirate from a family of pirates was Zheng Yi. His family had been raiding and terrorizing the Chinese coast with impunity since the mid-seventeenth century. During the late Ming era, four prominent Danjia Clans; Shi, Ma, Zheng and Xu, dominated the piracy trade at the mouth of the Pearl River.

In 1801, Shi Xianggu of the Shi clan married Zheng Yi of the Zheng clan. Zheng was the leader of the Red Flag pirate fleet, and Shi became known as Zheng Yi Sao (literally "wife of older brother Zheng Yi"). They adopted a son named Chang Pao.

First off, they went to Annam (Vietnam) to fight in the Tay Son Rebellion. After returning to Guangdong, China, they conducted joint operations with another pirate, Wu Shi'er.

The pair rapidly extended their scope of influence and eventually established the Cantonese Pirate Coalition. Prior to forming the coalition, the Zhengs already had 200 ships under their command. The size of their fleet expanded to 600 ships after the coalition was established. By 1806, virtually every Chinese vessel passing the coast paid protection money. Their fleet ranged afield all the way from Korea to Malaysia.

Chinese Junk

When Zheng Yi was put to his death in 1807 by a raging Typhoon, Ching Shih took control of the fleet. The Red Flag Fleet was then comprised of more than 1,200 ships, manned by 60,000 pirates, to terrorize the South China Seas. The fleet was vicious and deadly, and she was said to rule with an iron fist, imposing harsh punishments.

The Red Flag Fleet was one of the largest navies in the world and nothing could stand against it. Ching Shih extorted tribute from merchants all over the China Seas and from coastal towns from Macau to Canton. She began to impose taxes and levies and enforced her own laws.
Chinese naval forces attempted to end Ching Shih's reign, but her massive pirate fleet kept defeating the Chinese ships in battle. When forty ships were dispatched she sank all but 28, which she added to her fleet. One admiral committed suicide to avoid being taken prisoner. The Chinese navy couldn’t catch Ching Shih. British and Portuguese bounty hunters were called in. They were mercilessly defeated.

Running out of options to stop Ching Shih’s reign of terror, the Chinese government offered a truce in 1810. Ching Shih could keep her treasure and would not be punished if she surrendered. She agreed to the terms, and most of her pirates were given the same deal. Out of all her men, only 126 were executed. The rest were given government jobs or military positions. Some people believe that Ching Shih was part of a powerful family that actually controlled the government, but this has never been confirmed.

When the Opium War broke out, Ching Shih, now in her sixties, was still active in resistance fighting against the British, helping Lin Zexu with his battle plans.

Chinese Pirates Canton

In retirement, Ching Shih remarried and had children. When her new husband died in 1822, she moved back to Canton and opened a combination casino and brothel which she operated until her death at the age of 69, cause unknown.

I Sailed with Chinese Pirates
by Aleko E. Lilius

Book Review

"Yo ho ho and a bottle of Maotai! Lilius's forgotten classic reads as boldly and bloodily as a Chinese 'Treasure Island'. What is perhaps most remarkable about this extraordinary piece of journalism is that the writer lived to tell the tale."
Adam Williams author of The Dragon's Tail

It is 1930 and piracy is rampant on the South China seas. Murderous bands of cutthroats roam the Pearl River Delta and coastal shipping routes, an ever-present menace to the trade of Hong Kong and beyond. Globetrotting journalist Aleko E. Lilius sets out to infiltrate these mysterious pirate gangs and is eventually taken into the confidence of South China’s notorious pirate queen, Lai Choi San. Lilius lives, eats, sleeps and of course sails with the pirates, witnessing their harrowing misdeeds and delivering a sensational, rollicking tale of adventure.

Who is Aleko E. Lilius?
Aleko E. Lilius (1890-1977) was a journalist, writer of fiction and adventurer born in St. Petersburg in 1890. Constantly on the move, his flair for the exotic led him to explore Asia, North Africa and Mexico. He is best known for his thrilling exploits with the Pirate Queen of South China in I Sailed with Chinese Pirates and the Smuggling Queen of Tangiers in Turbulent Tangiers. Lilius spent much of his later life in America before retiring to Finland to paint.

Pearl River - Canton

Journalist Aleko E. Lilius came to the Far East seeking adventures to write about. He found them, and published lurid accounts of piracy and murder that became his 1930 best seller I Sailed with Chinese Pirates.

In many ways Lilius was an old-school foreign correspondent; ranging far and wide and often out of touch for months on end, leaving his editors tearing their hair out and his audience anticipating his next adventure. Then he would suddenly reappear in one fantastical and thrilling situation after another. Most of the 1920s and 1930s found Lilius roaming around North Africa, Asia and Mexico. In Mexico he was the photographer accompanying the linguist Rudolf Schuller investigating American-Indian languages and dialects; then he appeared in Morocco among the souks and bazaars; then in China sailing with pirates and lodging in opium dens.
While researching I Sailed with Chinese Pirates, Lilius lived much of the time in the Philippines, using his home in Zamboanga as a base to explore the South China Sea region.

In 1931 the New York Times reviewed the book:

A meeting with a mysterious woman pirate chief, Lai Choi San, with several thousand ruthless buccaneers under command, is described in the volume I Sailed With Chinese Pirates, which is published today by D. Appleton & Co. Aleko E. Lilius, English journalist, while traveling in the Orient, according to the publishers, succeeded in winning the confidence of this unusual woman, and he accompanied her and some of her desperadoes on one of their expeditions on a junk equipped with cannon. Mr. Lilius's publishers describe him as the only white man who has ever sailed with these pirates...

Lilius provided graphic portraits of the cut-throat pirates and readers were especially thrilled by the idea of Lai Choi San, the female pirate queen.

Canton Docks - Loading River Boat

I Sailed with Chinese Pirates is a useful history of the period and the lawlessness of the southern China coast in the 1920s, but above all Aleko Lilius's book is an adventure with a capital A. There are facts and eye-witness accounts for the historian but for the casual reader he hits all the notes required to ensure a bestseller — opium dens, casinos with endless games of fan-tan, cutlass-wielding pirates and real Spanish doubloons recovered from sunken treasure. Lilius himself described I Sailed with Chinese Pirates as "a page from the Book of Almost Unbelievable Adventures". It's as thrilling now as it was to his readership in 1931.
It should also be noted that Lilius isn't exaggerating the threat of piracy in the South China Sea and particularly around Hong Kong and southern China in the 1920s. The area was indeed infested with pirates who menaced both commercial and passenger shipping as well as vulnerable coastal communities. Lilius provides us with a detailed list of ships attacked during the 1920s to prove the point (Photo Right).

Excerpt from "I Sailed with Chinese Pirates", Chapter One
by Aleko E. Lilius

It happened that she was going in the direction of Bias Bay, she said, and she was willing to take me there and bring me back. But there would be some delay, for she had business to transact on the way — very serious business. The delay, however, would be insignificant, she explained. Then as an afterthought, did I know that the trip would be rather dangerous?

"Dangerous? Why?"

She smiled, but did not answer.

* * * * *

Here was I, an American journalist, getting the chance of a lifetime, to sail with Chinese pirates to the central nest of the most merciless gang of high-seas robbers in the world, in an armoured junk commanded by a female pirate. Small wonder that I could hardly believe in my luck. What a woman she was! Rather slender and short, her hair jet black, with jade pins gleaming in the knot at the neck, her ear-rings and bracelets of the same precious apple-green stone. She was exquisitely dressed in a white satin robe fastened with green jade buttons, and green silk slippers. She wore a few plain gold rings on her left hand; her right hand was unadorned. Her face and dark eyes were intelligent — not too Chinese, although purely Mongolian, of course — and rather hard. She was probably not yet forty.

Every move she made and every word she spoke told plainly that she expected to be obeyed, and as I had occasion to learn later, she was obeyed.

What a character she must be! What a wealth of material for a novelist or journalist! Merely to write her biography would be to produce a tale of adventure such as few people dream of.

Chinese Pirate Ship Deck - Circa 1930's

A junk is a Chinese sailing vessel. The English name comes from Malay. Junks were originally developed during the Han Dynasty (220 BC-200 AD) and further evolved to represent one of the most successful ship types in history

That evening I heard from an American who had sailed the waters around Macao for fifteen years, the following story, about this remarkable woman.

"Her name is Lai Choi San," he began, "So many stories centre about her that it is almost impossible to tell where truth ends and legend begins. As a matter of fact, she might be described as a female Chinese version of Robin Hood. They have much in common. Undoubtedly she is the Queen of the Macao pirates. I have never seen her. I have almost doubted her existence until you told me of meeting her. She is said to have inherited the business and the ships from her father, after the old man had gone to his ancestors 'with his slippers on' during a glorious fight between his men and a rival gang. The authorities had given him some sort of refuge here in Macao, with the secret understanding that he and his gang should protect the colony's enormous fishing fleets and do general police duty on the high seas. He even obtained the title of Inspector from somebody in authority, and that, of course, placed him morally far above the other pirate gangs."

"He owned seven fully-armored junks when he died. To-day Lai Choi San owns twelve junks; nobody seems to know how or when she acquired the additional five, but it is certain that she has them. She has barrels of money, and her will is law."

"You may ask," he continued, "why I call them pirates, since their job is only to 'guard' the numerous fishing craft. However, the other gangs want the same privileges as the present 'inspectors' have, therefore they harass and plunder any ship or village they can lay their hands upon. They kidnap men, women and children, hold them for ransom, ransack their homes, and burn their junks and sampans. It is up to the protectors to undo the work of these others and to avenge any wrong done them. Naturally, there is bitter and continuous warfare between these gangs."

"This avenging business is where the piratical characteristics of the 'protectors' come in. There is frequent and profitable avenging going on wherever the various gangs meet. Lai Choi San is supposed to be the worst of them all; she is said to be both ruthless and cruel. When her ships are merely doing patrol duty she does not bother to accompany them, but when she goes out 'on business' she attends to it personally. When she climbs aboard any of her ships there is an ill-wind blowing for someone."

Chinese Pirate Gun Boat - 1931

An orange-colorred haze hung over the hills of Lappa. Slowly the brown sails of our ship crept up, while the barefooted crew scurried back and forth upon the decks. Finally the junk was clear to heave away.

On a nearby junk a Taoist priest in demon-red robes kowtowed and burned fire crackers to his special deity in order to drive away the evil spirits — all this for a few cents silver. I was dazed! It was difficult to believe in my luck.
At last I was actually tramping the deck of an honest-to-goodness pirate ship! Our junk lay hidden among many other similar craft. It would have been impossible to pick it out from the shore, and I wondered how the captain would maneuver us out from such a crowded jumble of boats. But I did not remain in ignorance long. Members of the crew lowered a dinghy, rowed out some distance, and dropped an anchor. Then the dinghy returned, and all hands hauled upon the anchor line until the junk began to move slowly forward. Then the maneuver was repeated until we had worked ourselves out into the open water. Hardly a sound was to be heard on board-only the shuffling feet of the crew.

I took a look at the crew. Here in South China I had been used to small, narrow-chested, almost effeminate men; but these fellows were almost giants — muscular, heavy-chested, half-naked, hard-looking-real — bandit types. Some of them wore the wide-brimmed hat such as one sees all over Southern China. Some had tied red kerchiefs around their heads and necks.

Captured Pirates - Circa 1930's

There was nothing for me to do but climb up on the poop and make myself as inconspicuous as possible. I felt in the mood to do just that too—a white man, an intruder, searching for unusual "copy." What right, after all, had I to pry into their secrets? I was not a Secret Service man, nor a government employee...

 Chinese Pirate

After publishing "I Sailed with Chinese Pirates" Lilius later went on to other parts of the world and to other thrilling adventures and remained popular with readers. His 1956 book Turbulent Tangier, an account of the chaos of post-war Tangiers featuring gold traffickers, the Smuggler Queen of Tangiers and the last days of French rule, sold well but it was "I Sailed with Chinese Pirates" that remains his best-known tale of adventure.

Chinese Pirate Trident

Red Hand Ship

Angry Pirates Proliferate

The piracy business has changed a lot since 2010, when it had reached levels of activity not seen in over a century. But over the next three years that all changed. By 2013 attacks on ships by Somali pirates had declined 95 percent from the 2010 peak. It’s been over two years since the Somali pirates captured a large commercial ship, and even smaller fishing ships and dhows (small local cargo ships of traditional construction) are harder for them to grab. The rapid collapse of the Somali pirates since 2010 was no accident. It was all a matter of organization, international cooperation and innovation. This came to consist of over two dozen warships and several dozen manned and unmanned aircraft, as well as support from space satellites and major intelligence and police agencies.

Back in 2010 the Somali pirates got most of the publicity but they only carried out 44 percent of the attacks. What was newsworthy was that the Somalis accounted for 90 percent of the hijackings, and some 80 percent of the piracy was in and around the Indian Ocean. Some 44 percent of all attacks involved the pirates boarding the ships, while in 18 percent the pirates just fired on ships, without getting aboard. There are still pirates out there, but they are more into robbery than kidnapping.

The trend, was definitely up for two decades, with the big increase coming in the last decade

1991: About 120 known cases of real or attempted piracy
1994: over 200 cases
2000: 471 cases
2005: 359 cases
2010: over 400 cases

Piracy hit a trough from the late nineteenth century into the later twentieth. That was because the Great Powers had pretty much divided up the whole planet, and policed it. The pirates had no place to hide. Piracy began to revive in a modest way beginning in the 1970s, with the collapse of many post-colonial regimes. Note that what constitutes an act of piracy is often not clearly defined. What most people agree on is that piracy is non-state sanctioned use of force at sea or from the sea. This could include intercepting a speedboat to rob the passengers, but that's usually just thought of as armed robbery. And something like the seizure of the Achille Lauro in 1985 is considered terrorism, rather than piracy. In the past, some marginal states have sanctioned piratical operations, like the Barbary States, but that is rare today.

Pirates usually function on the margins of society, trying to get a cut of the good life in situations where there aren't many options. This is usually in areas where state control is weakest or absent, in failing and "flailed" states. A flailing state is something like Nigeria, Indonesia, or the Philippines, where the government is managing to keep things together but is faced with serious problems with areas that are sometimes out of control. In a failed state like, where there isn't a government at all, pirates can do whatever they want.

The solution to piracy is essentially on land; go into uncontrolled areas and institute governance. This has been the best approach since the Romans eliminated piracy in the Mediterranean over 2,000 years ago. Trying to tackle piracy on the maritime end can reduce the incidence of piracy, but can't eliminate it because the pirates still have a safe base on land.

USS Farragut

In the modern world the "land" solution often can't be implemented. Who wants to put enough troops into Somalia to eliminate piracy? And flailing states are likely to be very sensitive about their sovereignty if you offer to help them control marginal areas.

But while there have been far fewer attacks off Somalia there has been a big jump in attacks in the Straits of Malacca (sevenfold increase since 2009) and off Nigeria (a similar increase). The big difference is that only off Somalia could ships and crews be taken and held for ransom for long periods. Everywhere else the pirates were usually only interested in robbing the crew and stealing anything portable that they could get into their small boats. Off the Nigerian coast pirates sometimes take some ship officers with them to hold for ransom or force the crew to move small tankers to remote locations where most of the cargo (of oil) can be transferred to another ship and sold on the black market.

Meanwhile there are two areas where pirates still thrive. Piracy in the vital (most of the world's oil exports pass through here) Straits of Malacca was largely an Indonesian phenomenon. It bothered the Singaporeans a lot, the Malaysians a little, and the Indonesians not much. But as Indonesia began stabilizing itself over the past decade (the 2004 Aceh Peace settlement, the institution of a more democratic government, defeating Islamic terrorism), the rate of piracy declined. This decline was facilitated by the combined police effort of Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia itself, which didn't come about until a lot of issues among the three states were resolved. Neither Indonesia nor Malaysia were all that upset about smuggling, which bothered Singapore. Indonesia and Singapore still have some problems, as Singapore more or less encourages sand stealing in enormous volumes from Indonesia. Since 2010 there has been an increase in piracy off Indonesia, largely because the Indonesians reduced their anti-piracy patrols without warning or explanation. There are lots of targets, with over 50,000 large ships moving through the Straits of Malacca each year. That’s 120-150 a day. Lots of targets. The shallow and tricky waters in the strait forces the big ships to go slow enough (under 30 kilometers an hour) for speed boats to catch them.

There are some regional constraints on piracy. There seems to be little or no piracy in the Red Sea and Bab al-Mandeb. Apparently this was because the smugglers decided the pirates interfered with their business (by bringing in coalition naval forces), and so shut down any pirate operations themselves.

The Gulf of Guinea has become another hot spot for modern (non ship-napping) piracy. Nigeria is badly run and most of the oil revenue is stolen by corrupt officials, leaving people living in the oil producing areas near the coast very angry. More piracy has been one result of all that anger.

Golden Age of Piracy

The Golden Age of Piracy - A period lasting from, in the broadest sense, the mid-1600s through around 1730, encompassed a few different major geopolitical and economic movements that created a space for pirates. For one, the discovery of the Americas and Australia led to a boom in exploration, which in turn led to an absurd amount of money and valuables being ferried across oceans. Money, gold, slaves, spices, and other highly prized goods (“goods,” in the case of slaves) traveled back and forth. They were comparatively unprotected, the vastness of the oceans and the miserable conditions of trans-oceanic journeys leaving them weak and vulnerable. And many former sailors, with deep knowledge of the sea, wondered why they should bother the difficult slog of ferrying goods when they could simply steal them. And so came the pirates.

The Pirate Parrot is almost certainly 'Grounded in Reality'

Long John Silver

Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson

Since Long John Silver - Clomped around on a wooden leg with a parrot on his shoulder, the literary and pop-culture conception of pirates has involved the parrot.

Long John Silver - Was the star of Robert Louis Stevenson’s "Treasure Island". Long John was the first major fictional pirate character to walk around with a pet parrot. This was based on real truths. And the reasons why the parrot became associated with pirates gives us a pretty good glimpse at the true-life existence of a pirate.
Pirates - Depending as they did on robbing ships, mostly had to go where the ships were. They followed trade routes, which means they ended up in specific places; you didn’t see pirates flocking to deep South America or anywhere in the Pacific Ocean. They stayed with the ships, and ended up largely in the Caribbean, West Africa, and the Indian Ocean’s coasts.

On long trips, whether conducted legally or illegally, pets were desired but would need careful vetting. These long voyages, remember, could last weeks or months, and mostly, they were incredibly boring and uncomfortable. A companion animal could help ease the way. What kind?

Any large pet would be difficult to keep on a seagoing vessel, but cats might very much be prized for their ability to catch vermin like rats in the holds, etc of a vessel. Never any references in documents to dogs. Dogs as pets was more of an aristocratic thing in the early modern period.

Pirates were traveling to exotic lands, had quite a bit of free time, had disposable income, and thus had no particular reason to restrict themselves to ordinary European pets like cats and dogs. Monkeys were not uncommon, and the concept of a pet monkey made its way into fiction as well.

A parrot was more sensible. They don’t eat much, compared to a dog or a monkey, and what they do eat (seeds, fruits, nuts) can be easily stored on board. They’re colorful, and intelligent, and funny, and for a pirate (or a legal sailor) wanting to show off in port, a parrot would do nicely.

Parrots - Would have been part of the exotic pet trade. Back home people would pay good money for parrots and other exotic creatures, and sailors could easily buy them in many Caribbean ports. Some were kept, but most were sold, when the ship reached home. They were colorful, they could be taught to talk. They were always entertaining and they fetched a good price in the bird markets of London.

It might be tricky for a pirate to legally sell anything, especially an attention-grabbing item like a parrot from the New World. Cities like Boston and Charleston, where a parrot might be sold, were much smaller in those days, and pirates were often well-known and hunted criminals who would have a hard time entering the waterways of more populous cities like London.

Early 18th Century - William Dampier, a British explorer, noted that the best parrots came from near Vera Cruz, a coastal region of Mexico. Pirates may have changed but humans have not. Vera Cruz remains a hotspot for the illegal parrot trade, a place where thousands are illegally poached each year.

The 17th Century British Privateer and Legendary Pirate
Celebrated in English Literature as one of the 'Most Colorful Outlaws of all Time'
Only a select handful of Pirates are as famous as Captain Kidd
These Include: Blackbeard and "Black Bart" Roberts
'Fortune Seekers' have hunted his Buried Treasure for Centuries

Captain Kidd. . . by Howard Pyle

Captain Kidd. . . by Helen Maitland Armstrong

Captain William Kidd (1645-1701) was born in Greenock, Scotland, a busy seaport. Some accounts claim his father was a minister, but others claim he too was a seaman, who eventually became lost at sea.

Captain Kidd knew the West Indies. In his early youth Captain Kidd was a member of various Buccaneer crews and eventually captained a Privateer ship that was commissioned to protect the English colonies in the Caribbean against French attacks.

For the English, sailing was very dangerous at the time. England was at war with France, and piracy was common. Piracy in this age was a murky affair. While countries hired Privateers like Captain Kidd to protect their investments, it was also understood that these same privateers could reap the bounty from the loot confiscated by enemy ships. This was the age in which Captain Kidd cut his teeth as a young sailor. It was an age that was coming to a close.

Captain Kidd's Brick House - Pearl & Hanover Streets in New York City

Captain Kidd in New York Harbor. . . by Jean Leon Ferris

In 1689, sailing as a Privateer, he took a French vessel. The ship was re-named the "Blessed William" and Captain Kidd was put in command by the Governor of Nevis. He sailed into New York just in time to save the governor there from a conspiracy. While in New York, he married a wealthy widow. Not long after, in England, he became friends with the Lord of Bellomont, who was to be the new Governor of New York.

Marauding Pirates were constantly disrupting English shipping traffic. To solve this problem it was decided that Captain Kidd would sail to pirate infested waters and take pirates into custody. Captain Kidd would then "recover" the booty the captured pirates had plundered from other ships, and would divide it among himself and several investors, who would include King William of England.

King William would enthusiastically support this plan, because the Pirates were cutting off England's shipping and because he would receive a cut of the profits. The key, Captain Kidd knew, was to leave untouched English ships, and to prey only on those of other countries; particularly Portugal, France, and Spain. Under this scheme, they could continue to enjoy a life of Piracy while remaining protected by the official sponsorship of the King of England.

Captain Kidd was given the 34-gun ship "Adventure Galley" and he set out in May of 1696. A Privateer, his job was to catch other Pirates, namely Captain Thomas Tew, John Ireland, Thomas Wake, and Milliam Mze/Mace. Captain Kidd set sail for Madagascar and the Indian Ocean, then a hotbed of Pirate activity.

Captain Kidd and his crew sailed continuously, scarcely ever putting in to port for repairs, and eventually the Adventure Galley was close to sinking. Too worn to be of any further use, the pirate ship was run aground. Captain Kidd transferred his booty and possessions to the Quedagh Merchant, which he had captured.

Captain Kidd - Burying Treasure

The "Adventure Prize"

January 30th, 1698, Captain Kidd came across the Quedah Merchant, Moorish ship, who's cargo was silk, calico, sugar, opium, and iron. The ship was in Bengal, and its captain was John Wright an Englishman. The Quedah Merchant was owned by an Armenian and its cargo was to be shipped to a senior official at the court of the Mogul of India. Of course the British owned the East Indian Company, and were trying to keep India as friends for their commerce.

The holds of the Adventure Galley were already full when Captain Kidd decided to plunder the Quedagh Merchant. The Quedagh Merchant was a huge treasure ship of 400 tons (the Adventure Galley weighed only 284 tons). As the Pirates approached the merchant, the captain of the vessel gave the sign of surrender; however, the captain of the merchant was secretly preparing for battle.

Sails were trimmed, sand was poured for better footing, ammunition was readied, and buckets were filled for fire fighting. As the pirates neared, the merchant vessel fired, but due to a sudden ocean swell, the shot missed its mark. The Pirates immediately threw their grappling hooks, bringing the two ships together. The Pirates rapidly boarded the ship, and soon Captain Kidd was in the possession of one of the greatest pirate treasures ever, and renamed her the "Adventure Prize".

Captain Kidd was arrested upon his return to New York by the former sponsor of his privateering enterprise, Governor Lord Bellomont. He was taken back to England and put in the notorious Newgate Prison in London, to await his trial. The trial was held on the 8th and 9th of May, 1701. Captain Kidd was found guilty at Old Bailey, London, England.

Captain Kidd was hanged on May 23rd, 1701 at Tilbury Point (Execution Dock). Following tradition the crowds passed him rum and Captain Kidd was blind drunk when he swung from the gallows.

It was said that Captain Kidd died hard, as the rope broke from his weight and he fell to the ground. He was tied up a second time, rehung, and died. This is why there is a legend of Captain Kidd being hung twice. After he was dead, his body was put in a harness of iron hoops (a gibbet) and chains so that all mariners could observe his rotting, crow-pecked corpse for more than an hour, as they swept around that wide and desolate part of the Thames River. This was a warning to other seamen regarding what happens to Pirates. Captain Kidd was tarred so as to hold the skeleton together longer, thus his body was totally blackened.

Newgate Prison Manacles

Captain Kidd's Flag

Captain Kidd's Treasure

Legendary Pieces of Eight

50kg Silver Bar Found in Madagascar
Treasure of Captain Kidd?

Underwater explorers in Madagascar have made an incredible discovery. It is a 50 kg block of silver with inscriptions. It is now under armed guard on Sainte Marie Island off the east coast of Madagascar. The valuable treasure may be from the wreckage of a pirate ship belonging to the notorious Scottish Pirate William Kidd.

The silver bar was found in shallow waters off Sainte Marie Island by an underwater investigator who discovered the remains of Captain Kidd’s ship the 'Adventure Galley' fifteen years ago.

The bar is imprinted with letters and numbers the meaning of which is currently unknown.

The silver bar, which was presented to the President of Madagascar in a special ceremony on Sainte Marie Island, is believed to have its origins in Bolivia, while the ship is thought to have been built in England. Work will now be carried out to verify the origin of the treasure.

There is much excitement in Madagascar about the discovery and no doubt that the discovery is genuine.

Captain William Kidd was tried and executed for Piracy after returning from a voyage to the Indian Ocean. He is typically perceived as either one of the most notorious pirates in history, or as one of its most unjustly vilified and persecuted Privateers.

The latter view comes from the fact that his actions were allegedly less destructive and less lucrative than other Pirates, yet he met a rather brutal end, as he was hanged twice before being covered in tar and hung from a gibbet over the river Thames.
William Kidd was a Buccaneer and a captain commissioned to sail to Madagascar on his ship the Adventure Galley.
When Captain Kidd learned that he was a wanted pirate, he deposited some of his treasure on Gardiners Island, hoping to use his knowledge of its location as a bargaining tool. A small cache of Captain Kidd’s treasure was eventually recovered from Gardiners Island in a spot known as Cherry Tree Field, however it was sent to England to be used as evidence against him.

Captain Kidd was captured in Boston in 1699 and sent to Newgate Prison. The treasure found on his ship was valued at £30,000 (around £10 million today), but the remainder of his treasure was never found.

The belief that Captain Kidd had left buried treasure contributed considerably to the growth of his legend and has also given impetus to constant treasure hunts in places Captain Kidd is known to have visited.  

Captain William Kidd - Supervision of the Burial of Treasure at Gardiner's Island

"Captain Kidd" is Today a Facet of the Popular Culture

Frenchman Captain Olivier Levasseur
Born 1680 - Died 1730 by Execution

On July 7th, 1730
Pirate Olivier Levasseur was Hanged at Reunion Island
Legendarily Hurling into the Crowd Cryptic Directions to his Vast Hidden Treasure

“My treasure is buried here . . . find it who may.”

These were the dramatic words shouted out to the crowd gathered around the foot of the gallows on the Isle de Bourbon, known today as Reunion Island, as the noose tightened around the neck of a notorious French pirate. He was Oliver Levasseur, nick-named La Buzze (the Buzzard).
A bourgeois son of Calais France, Levasseur made his start as a French naval officer turned Privateer during the "War of Spanish Succession". Later transitioning to fulltime Buccaneer after that conflict ended in 1714.

By the 1720s, Levasseur commanded a mixed-race crew, raiding across the east African Coast and the Indian Ocean.

Descending upon the Portuguese Galleon "The Virgen of Goa"; fat with gems, gold bars and loose guineas, silks, a gigantic decorative cross, and a noble’s diamond encrusted sword, Levasseur’s crew was able to plunder a vast fortune, equal to a sum of around a billion dollars in today's currency.

This stupendous fortune, even after dividing it with the crew, would cinch Levasseur’s fame, and his fate. For the Pirates were later disarmed at anchor off Reunion Island after having barely survived a great storm.

The reason we’re still talking about Levasseur three centuries on is that he’s alleged, just before was hung, to have hurled a bundle of parchments and/or a cryptogram necklace into the crowd assembled to watch him die, crying “find my treasure, who can!” or “my treasure for he who understands!” And that’s pretty tantalizing stuff, considering the treasure has never since been found.

Levasseur’s treasure is thought to be stashed somewhere on the Seychelles Island of Mahe. The slow and tantalizing unraveling of the Pirate's mysterious clues have seduced generations of treasure hunters.

Captain Levasseur is today only a minor cinematic figure. Basil Rathbone portrayed him loosely in a 1935 Errol Flynn movie. In 'Captain Blood', Rathbone (Levasseur) dies by Flynn’s hand in a swordfight.

"Captain Blood" Pirate Duel - Basil Rathbone as Levasseur (right)

Movie Poster - 1935

"... let's jump on Board and cut them to pieces"  (Battle cry of Edward "Blackbeard" Teach)

Blackbeard's "Queen Anne's Revenge" Wreck Found

Blackbeard's ship, Queen Anne's Revenge, now being explored by marine archeologists off the coast of North Carolina, is giving up more than just its treasures, it's also revealing the infamous pirate's terrifying tactics. And what researchers are finding are an ingenious array of improvised weapons, designed to injure and incapacitate as many people as possible, while leaving ships and their valuable cargo intact. The wreckage has yielded cannon that fired canvas bags filled with glass, nails, and spikes, or batches of nine-inch bolts—devastating to humans, but not so much to ships.

"These weapons would terrorize the enemy," said the expedition's leader. “This vessel is heavily armed but the crew are not using that many cannonballs. Mostly, they seem to have used these improvised missiles that can be used to take out the crew or disarm the other ship’s sails." But more than just maiming people, Blackbeard's goal appears to have been to win without fighting at all. "Their aim was to capture a ship by intimidation and leave it in pristine condition," said one expert. "They didn’t want to damage the ship or its cargo."

He was a real-life pirate of the Caribbean, who carefully cultivated a bloodthirsty reputation that struck fear through seafarers. Now, almost 300 years after Blackbeard's death, marine archaeologists have discovered a huge anchor and an arsenal of "improvised" ammunition from the wreck of his flagship, Queen Anne’s Revenge.

The ship ran aground on a sandbank about a mile from shore on June 10 1718, as Blackbeard’s flotilla of four vessels was heading for Beaufort Inlet, in the then British colony of North Carolina.

The shipwreck lies in about 25ft of water just off the coast of the state of North Carolina and the expedition to recover artifacts is being led by the state’s Department of Cultural Resources.

The leader of the expedition and deputy state archaeologist, Dr Mark Wilde-Ramsing, said: “This vessel is heavily armed but the crew are not using that many cannonballs. Mostly, they seem to have used these improvised missiles that can be used to take out the crew or disarm the other ship’s sails.

“These weapons would terrorize the enemy. It is all part of Blackbeard’s terror tactics. It has been claimed that he deliberately cultivated a fearsome reputation so enemy sailors would not put up a fight, allowing him to seize vessels without the need for violence.

On earlier dives, the researchers have found evidence of a range of “makeshift” devices, such as canvas bags filled with a lethal mass of lead shot, nails, spikes and glass and then fired from the cannon, pouring a deadly hail of projectiles onto opponents. This type of bundled ammunition was known as “langrage” and was not used by Royal Navy ships, according to 18th-century documents.

The ship’s unusual arsenal already identified also includes nine-inch bolts, which were pushed down in the barrels of cannons and would by fired out by a cannonball loaded behind them, as well as “double-headed” cannonballs – where two are linked together by a bar or chain – and which produced a spinning effect when fired from cannon and were effective at bringing down rigging.

Angus Konstam, author of Piracy: The Complete History, said: “The improvised charges show a lot of ingenuity on the part of the pirates. These would have been anti-personal charges. They wouldn’t do much damage to a ship but would do a lot of damage to people in it. Their aim was to capture a ship by intimidation and leave it in pristine condition. They didn’t want to damage the ship or its cargo.”

Blackbeard is believed to have been born Edward Teach, or Edward Thatch, in Bristol, in 1680. He fought as a privateer for the British, attacking Spanish and French ships in the War of the Spanish Succession, before turning to piracy. His troop captured a French slave ship called La Concorde near the Caribbean island of St Vincent in November 1717 and renamed it Queen Anne’s Revenge. It became his flagship, sailing alongside three smaller sloops.

Blackbeard’s striking appearance and character has inspired many subsequent depictions of pirates. He is said to have had 14 wives, and would tie burning fuses into his long beard before battle to give himself a demonic appearance. His flag depicted a skeleton spearing a heart while toasting the devil.

After the loss of his flagship, Blackbeard sought and was granted a pardon. But he continued to seize ships, and the Royal Navy were sent to track him down. He was killed in a battle in November 1718, after which his head was cut off and his body tossed overboard.

According to legend, his headless corpse swam around his ship five times before he finally died. His head was attached to the bowsprit of a Navy ship and his skull was later used as a punch bowl.

To keep his ship going Blackbeard had to have a healthy, functioning crew

Recently unearthed from the wreckage various medical devices
Some of them looking terrifying

Thanks to the medical artifacts found aboard the flagship, we are learning more about how Blackbeard's crew treated not only small wounds and ailments, but also chronic illnesses. They were seeking relief for any kind of ailment, and certainly if there was warfare on the water, there were wounds among other injuries that needed treatment.

A Urethral Syringe used to Treat Syphilis
Ship 'Queen Anne's Revenge'

Various Sized Cups to Measure Medicine
Ship 'Queen Anne's Revenge'

A Mortar and Pestle - Used to Grind Ingredients to Make Medicine

In the end, Blackbeard's efforts to keep up his crew's health didn't change the pirate's own fate when he was hunted down in November 1718 by the Royal Navy.

Blackbeard was in good enough shape that he is said to have put up a terrific final fight while trying to board an enemy ship. "He stood his ground and fought with great fury, till he received five and 20 wounds, and five of them by shot," Johnson wrote. "At length, as he was cocking another pistol, having fired several before, he fell down dead."