The Golden Age of Piracy was often associated with the time period stretching from the 1650s until 1720s. In fact, between 1715 and 1725, the years witnessed the most dramatic increase in the number of pirates operating throughout the Caribbean, the American coast, the Indian Ocean, and the western coast of Africa. It was also within this period that modern interpretations of the term “piracy” became embedded into our current society and civilization. Piracy later became a subject that brings forward everybody’s attention and interests towards learning more about it.
There were many factors causing a sudden bloom in the number of Europeans and colonial American sailors and privateers becoming pirates during the early 18th century. It was believed that one of the main reasons was mostly connected to high level of unemployment happening during that time. Other contributing factors include higher number of vessels transporting valuable goods across countries using the sea that led to the reason on why robbing in the high sea is now a lucrative activity. Reduction in the size of European navies was also another point to consider as this has resulted in the large pool of experienced navy personnel (especially those in Royal navy) readily available to be recruited to become pirates. Finally, the emergence of Golden age of Piracy was also partly the result of lack of good governance in European oversea colonies and that attracted people to engage in piracy in order to avoid hardship.
According to historians, the year that marked the beginning of Golden Age of Piracy happened around 1650, after the Wars of Religion ended and this encouraged European country to go back to their olden ways of expanding their colonial empires. As all of these took place, it made sense now that piracy is looked upon as a much faster way to get rich with the increased seaborne trades, more money to steal and grab and furthermore all these are actually transported onboard ships.
The history of piracy reached its peak in the year 1713, and the most significant event or turning point that contributed to this is the signing of peace treaty known as the “Treaty of Utrecht”, which ended the War of the Spanish Succession (also called ‘Queen Anne’s War’). This has led to a lot of navy servicemen including Britain’s paramilitary privateers, who have nothing and nowhere to turn to after they were relieved of their military duties. The result has left a large pool of qualified and well-trained sailors ready to be recruited to become pirates and all these happened at the time when the cross-Atlantic colonial shipping trade was beginning to flourish. In addition, those Europeans who were originally involved in slavery were now more enthusiastic to join the more lucrative pirating activities and ship captains also never have any problem searching for the right men to become their crew members.
High number of trade traffics taking place between Africa, the Caribbean, and Europe began to increase significantly in the 18th century and the model was widely known as triangular trade, which was a rich target for pirates. The most lucrative trading activities at that time were those involving sales of goods and weapons from European countries in exchange for African slaves. After these were completed, the trader would then set sail to the Caribbean islands to sell off the slaves and then returning back again to European countries with all the needed goods such as sugar, tobacco and cocoa. Another type of popular trading activity involved ships carrying raw materials, preserved cod and rum from Africa to Europe whereby part of the cargoes would then be sold for manufactured goods. Along with the remainder of the original load plus the newly acquired manufactured goods, these would then be transported to the Caribbean for exchanges of sugar and molasses. The ships would then set sail for their next stop, New England. In other words, every stop was bound to generate returns and income from the trading activities.
As part of the agreement that led to the end of War of the Spanish Succession, the British were given asiento, a Spanish government contracts, to supply slaves to Spain’s New World colonies. This provided more open opportunities because traders and smugglers can now penetrate directly into the Spanish markets in America, which was previously closed to outside traders. This was also part of the reasons why piracy became even more rampant across the Atlantic at that time. Trades and shipping volume increased tremendously during the Golden age of Piracy and with the readily available pool of skilled mariners this caused merchant traders to take advantage of the situation to underpay their sailors, and at the same time ignore the terrible conditions that existed onboard their vessels. Because of these, servicemen suffered high death rates due to breakout of disease and shockingly based on historical analysis done by Rediker, 2004, the condition was even worse compared to transportation of slaves.
The decline of piracy was only seen happening during the early 1700s. While the excess supply of trained sailors did provide a room for piracy to expand, the higher number of ships getting attacked and robbed of their valuable goods increased proportionately as well, up to a level whereby the governments saw it as a worrying threat. As it goes on, this has again called for the need to recruit back the sailors and increase navy size to fight piracy. European nations especially took steps to bolster the strength of their navy fleet in order to protect their trade interests and to ensure that nothing would be jeopardized. All these efforts eventually led to the decline in piracy and it was not long after the years, which finally caused the decline of the Golden Age of Piracy.