Monday, December 12, 2016

America's Dusty Files - December 12, 1718 - Republic of Pirates Ended


December 12, 1718 - Republic of Pirates Ended
A British government tired of pirate raiding and fearful of growing pirate power, sent new governor Woodes Rogers to New Providence Island to end the Republic of Pirates and restore safety to the Caribbean.
Woodes Rogers (c. 1679 – 15 July 1732)
A native of Poole, England, Woodes was the son of a successful merchant ship's captain, Woodes Rogers. In 1697, his father sent him to Bristol mariner John Yeamans to apprentice as a seaman. In 1702, the European powers went to war in a conflict known as the War of Spanish Succession. During conflicts, it was common practice for governments to issue letters of marquee to sea captains, authorizing them to attack the enemy's merchant shipping. These "privateers" then captured merchant ships of the enemy, taking the booty that was shared by the captain, crew and host government. When the war broke out, England granted Rogers a letter of marquee, authorizing him to attack Spanish shipping. Rogers chose to take the unusual step to attack Spanish shipping on the Pacific side of their colonies, a strategy for which they were unprepared. During this successful raiding expedition, Rogers rescued Alexander Selkirk, whose unusual story inspired the story of Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe. When the war ended, the British government decided to end the pirates nest on New Providence Island that had come to be known as the Pirate's Republic.
New Providence Island
New Providence Island lies about 200 miles southeast of Florida. The island originally belonged to the Spanish, but in lieu of them actually taking possession, the British settled it, beginning around 1648. The British showed little interest in it, and allowed the defenses to lag. Pirates began to infest the island around 1680, forming a stronghold there. A French and Spanish fleet attacked the main town, Charles-Town, destroying it. The island languished until Jamaican immigrants settled there and formed a colony. They rebuilt the town and the fort, dubbing them both Nassau. The Spanish attacked the town in 1700, causing heavy damage. Most of the colonists left the island, leaving the remains of the fort and town. The nearly empty island attracted pirates in large numbers.
Republic of Pirates
By the time the War of Spanish Succession ended in 1714 the pirate population had reached a height of around 1000, outnumbering the permanent population by two to one. The pirates had declared a sort of "Pirate Republic, which used the Pirate Code to form a loose government. Two notorious pirates, Benjamin Hornigold and Henry Jennings, dominated this Republic. The pirates had assembled so many men and ships that they even attacked British warships without fear. This situation became intolerable to the English government, which set about to resolve it.
The End of the Republic
In 1718 King George I gave command of seven ships to Rogers and the governorship of Nassau with instructions to clean out the pirate's nest. Rogers arrived at Nassau and extended the King's Pardon to all pirates that willingly gave up the profession. Many did, but many defied Rogers authority. Hornigold accepted the offer and turned into a pirate hunter. Many pirates, including Blackbeard, escaped him. But Horngold captured ten pirates and brought them to Rogers. Rogers promptly executed nine of them, striking fear into the hearts of the remaining pirates and reestablishing British control. The Pirate Republic had ended.
A Year of Colonial American Frontier History

© Paul Wonning 2016

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