Portal:Piracy

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The Piracy Portal

Introduction

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Piracy is a robbery committed at sea, or sometimes on the shore, by an agent without a commission from a sovereign nation. The Golden Age of Piracy occurred mostly in the Caribbean, the American coast, the Indian Ocean, and the western coast of Africa. As British imperialism spread across Europe it brought about many drastic structural changes due to which many sailors and privateers found themselves unemployed. Factors contributing to piracy included the rise in quantities of valuable cargoes being shipped to Europe over vast ocean areas, the weakness of European navies in peacetime, the training and experience that many sailors had gained as conscripts in European navies (particularly the Royal Navy), and the weakness of European government in overseas colonies.

Seaborne piracy against transport vessels remains a significant issue (with estimated worldwide losses of US$13 to $16 billion per year), particularly in the waters between the Pacific and Indian Oceans, off the Somali coast, and in the Strait of Malacca and Singapore, which are used by over 50,000 commercial ships a year. A recent surge in piracy off the Somali coast spurred a multi-national effort led by the United States to patrol the waters near the Horn of Africa to combat piracy. While boats off the coasts of North Africa and the Mediterranean Sea are still assailed by pirates, the Royal Navy and the U.S. Coast Guard have nearly eradicated piracy in U.S. waters and the Caribbean Sea.


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Selected biography

Anonymous oil on canvas portrait, said to be of Jean Lafitte, early 19th century, Rosenberg Library, Galveston, Texas
Jean Lafitte (ca. 1776 – ca. 1823) was a pirate and privateer in the Gulf of Mexico in the early 19th century. He and his elder brother, Pierre, spelled their last name Laffite, but English-language documents of the time used "Lafitte," and this is the commonly seen spelling in the United States, including for places named for him. Lafitte is believed to have been born either in France or the French colony of Saint-Domingue. By 1805, he operated a warehouse in New Orleans to help disperse the goods smuggled by his brother Pierre Lafitte. After the United States government passed the Embargo Act of 1807, the Lafittes moved their operations to an island in Barataria Bay. By 1810, their new port was very successful; the Lafittes pursued a successful smuggling operation and also started to engage in piracy.

Though Lafitte tried to warn of a British attack, the American authorities invaded Barataria in 1814 and captured most of Lafitte's fleet. In return for a pardon, Lafitte helped General Andrew Jackson defend New Orleans against the British in 1815. The Lafittes then became spies for the Spanish and moved to Galveston Island where they developed the colony there. Lafitte continued pirating around Central American ports until he died trying to capture Spanish vessels in 1823. Speculation around his death and life continue amongst historians.

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Treasure-Island-map.jpg

A treasure map is a variation of a map to mark the location of buried treasure, a lost mine, a valuable secret, or a hidden locale. More common in fiction than in reality, "Pirate treasure maps" are often depicted in works of fiction as hand drawn and containing arcane clues for the characters to follow. Regardless of the terms literary genesis, anything that meets the criteria of a "map" describing the location of a "treasure" could appropriately be called a treasure map. Although buried pirate treasure is a favorite literary theme, there are very few documented cases of pirates actually burying treasure, and no documented cases of a historical pirate treasure map.

One documented case of buried treasure involved Francis Drake who buried Spanish gold and silver after raiding the mule train at Nombre de Dios — after Drake went to find his ships, he returned six hours later and retrieved the loot and sailed for England. Another case in 1720 involved British Captain Stratton of the Prince Eugene who, after supposedly trading — rum with pirates in the Caribbean, buried his gold near the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay. One of his crew, Morgan Miles, turned him into the authorities, and it is assumed the loot was recovered. In any case, Captain Stratton was not a pirate, and made no map. (more...)

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A merry life and a short one shall be my motto.

Bartholomew Roberts

Did you know...

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  • ...that English pirate Henry Every, who was sometimes known as Long Ben, was one of the few major pirate captains to retire with his loot without being arrested or killed in battle?
  • ...that red Jolly Roger flags were the most feared of all; all prayed they never encountered the "Bloody Red," which boldly declared that no mercy would be shown and all victims would be killed?
  • ...that, while it is unknown if pirates actually kept parrots as pets, it is thought that at least some captains kept cats aboard to keep populations of rats and other vermin down?
  • ...that, unlike traditional Western societies of the time, many pirate clans operated as limited democracies, demanding the right to elect and replace their leaders?

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Target practice.jpg
Image credit: Randy C. Bunney

A merchant seaman practices with a 12 gauge shotgun to repel pirates. Pirates often operate in regions of developing or struggling countries with smaller navies and large trade routes. Pirates sometimes evade pursuers by sailing into waters controlled by their enemies. With the end of the Cold War, navies have decreased size and patrol, and trade has increased, making organized piracy far easier. Modern pirates are sometimes linked with organized-crime syndicates, but often are parts of small individual groups. Pirate attack crews may consist of 4 to 10 sailors for going after a ship's safe (raiding) or up to 70 (depending entirely on the ships and the ships crew size) if the plan is to seize the whole vessel.

Selected Jolly Roger

skull over crossbones, with hourglass
Flag of Emanuel Wynn

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