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Pirate Facts

The pirate flag

The pirate flag was designed to strike fear into victims and encourage a hasty surrender, however, the black Jolly Roger, commonly associated with pirates, was not as greatly feared as the red flag which meant that no mercy would be shown in battle. 

The Jolly Roger often depicted symbols of death (a skull and crossbones was commonly seen on grave stones) and may have gotten its name from the devil - Old Roger - but is more likely derived from the French name for the red flag - Jolie Rouge



PRE 1500s

Since humans first set sail on the worlds seas and oceans the pirate has sailed with them. They preyed on the trading ships of ancient Greece in the 6th and 7th centuries B.C., the great Roman empire (200 B.C. - A.D. 476) was forced to act against pirates to protect their grain imports and the Scandinavian Viking ships terrorized 9th century northern Europe.

1500 - 1550

This was the period when the Barbarossa (Redbeard) brothers, Aruj and Kheir-ed-din roamed the Mediterranean. These corsairs were responsible for establishing the power of the Barbary states, and were feared throughout the Mediterranean for heir ferocious attacks on Christian shipping and coastal settlements.

1550 - 1600

In the latter half of the 16th century Privateers such as Sir Francis Drake and Sir John Hawkins came to the fore to challenge the Spanish claim to the New World and its riches. The success of their voyages encouraged others who, desperate to become rich, may have acted as pirates rather than privateers not restricting their attacks to Spanish ships.

1600 - 1650

By the end of the 16th century an uneasy stalemate had been reached after centuries of war between the Muslims and Christians. Stalemate did not mean peace and so seeking to maintain economic power both sides attacked each others ships and settlements, justifying this piracy as acts of war.

Buccaneers (1650 - 1700)

King James I's withdrawal of all letters of marque in 1603 led to the replacement of privateers by bands of lawless buccaneers such as Sir Henry Morgan and the cruel Francis Lollonais. The late 1600s also saw the beginning of the classic era for pirates with the likes of Captain William Kidd and Henry Avery active in the 1690s.

Pirates (1700 - 1750)

The classic era continued into the 18th century when many of the most notorious pirates roamed the seas. The two women pirates Mary Read and Anne Bonny, who sailed with Jack Rackham, were active between 1710 and 1720, Samuel Bellamy, the central character of the Quest for a Pirate exhibition, roamed the coast of Colonial America from early 1716 to mid 1717, and the infamous Blackbeard was killed in 1718 after two years of terrorizing Caribbean seafarers.

1750 - 1800

Privateers came into their own curing the American Revolution (1775 - 83) when hundreds boosted the small American Navy and attacked the merchant shipping of the English rulers, crippling trade. Scots-born John Paul Jones daring raids on the behalf of the American Navy made him an American national hero.

1800 - 1850

At the beginning of the 19th century the navies no longer needed the help of the privateers. The introduction of steam powered ships which did not rely on wind meant that pirates could be easily pursued and caught. By 1850 there were only a few small pirate crews left.

1850 - Present Day

In 1856 a treaty, the Declaration of Paris, was signed by most of the maritime nations which banned letters of marque. Today, piracy has been largely eliminated along the main trade routes but still flourishes in Southeast Asia and in some parts of the Caribbean. It seems likely that while seaborne, pirates will survive in one form or another.


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