Pirates and Privateers in the Bahamas

Photograp[h of PiratesIn 1666, New Providence was settled by a second group of Englishmen. They, too, arrived from Bermuda seeking a better life. By then, however, other adventurers had already realized that the Bahamas, close to the already busy shipping routes from the New World to Spain and Portugal, offered quick and easy pickings. By 1660, privateering (officially sanctioned and often royally commissioned piracy) was already an established industry.

A Voyage to Remember

Sir John Hawkins had already made several journeys to the Caribbean selling slaves when he was joined in 1567 by Francis Drake, still a teenager, who made the journey as captain of his own ship, Judith. Their voyage ended in disaster when Hawkins and Drake, with a fleet of five ships, took refuge from a storm in the Spanish port of San Juan de Ulua, now called Vera Cruz. There, they were treachorously attacked by a superior Spanish fleet under the command of the new viceroy and Captain General of New Spain, Don Martin Enriquez. Hawkins’ flagship, Jesus of Lubeck, and two other English ships were destroyed. Only the Minion and Drake’s little bark returned to England. Thus began Drake’s life-long personal war with Spain.

Drake and Hawkins were followed by an endless stream of privateers and pirates that, by the turn of the 18th century, included such notables as Sir Henry Morgan, Blackbeard and Captain Kidd. Captain Henry Jennings established a base in the Bahamas from which to raid the Spanish treasure ships sometime around 1714. Major Stede Bonnet, a wealthy French landowner of Barbados, turned to piracy simply for the adventure. He equipped a 10-gun sloop, Revenge, and in 1717 began to raid ships off the Virginia coast. He was hanged for piracy in November 1718.

Calico Jack

Captain John Rackham, called “Calico Jack” for the striped trousers he wore, was a pirate captain for the two years 1718 to 1720. During this short time he plundered many ships. He and his men were captured by the crew of a government ship and brought to trial at St. Jago de la Vega, Jamaica. Among Rackham’s crew were his mistress, Mary Read, and Anne Bonney. They are the only female pirates on record. Rackham and Read were hanged in Port Royal on November 17, 1720.

The pirates were finally driven out of the Bahamas after Captain Woodes Rogers was appointed Royal Governor in 1718. When he arrived at New Providence, about 1,000 pirates were living on the island. Rogers blocked the harbor with two ships so that the outlaws couldn’t escape. A fierce fight followed, during which the pirates set fire to one of their own ships and sailed it toward the English ships, forcing Rogers’ ships back out to sea. Nevertheless, Rogers finally took possession of the island and the pirates were driven away. A statue of Rogers stands in front of the British
Colonial Hotel in Nassau.

Captain Jean Lafitte, who died in about 1826, was the last colorful figure in the history of piracy. Lafitte, a patriot as well as a pirate, privateer, and smuggler, was enormously successful, but eventually he too lost his land base and his power dwindled.


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Getting There:

For visitors arriving by air, the Bahamas are served through Nassau by most US airlines and by international airlines from Canada and Europe, and to a slightly more limited degree through Freeport.

The Out Islands are served mainly by Bahamas Air via connections in Nassau and Freeport.

The Bahamas is also a major destination for the cruise ship industry

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