Piracy is a robbery committed at sea, or sometimes on the shore, by an agent without a commission from a sovereignnation. The Golden Age of Piracy occurred mostly in the Caribbean, the Americancoast, 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.
William "Captain" Kidd (c.1645 – May 23, 1701) was a Scottish sailor remembered for his trial and execution for piracy after returning from a voyage to the Indian Ocean. Some modern historians deem his piratical reputation unjust, as there is evidence that Kidd acted only as a privateer. Kidd's fame springs largely from the sensational circumstances of his questioning before the English Parliament and the ensuing trial. His actual depredations on the high seas, whether piratical or not, were both less destructive and less lucrative than those of many other contemporary pirates and privateers.
According to most scholars, Kidd was born into a reputable family in Belfast, Ireland in 1645. However, recent genealogical research suggests that Kidd was born in Dundee, despite his 'death-row' claim to be from Greenock. According to myth or other stories, his "father was thought to have been a Church of Scotland minister". After the death of his father, when he was five-years old, Kidd moved to the colony of New York. It was here that he befriended many prominent colonial citizens, including three governors.
The Jolly Roger is the name now given to any of various flags flown to identify the user as a pirate. The most famous Jolly Roger today is the Skull and Crossbones, a skull over two long bones set in an X arrangement on a black field. Historically, the flag was flown to induce pirates' victims to surrender readily.
Since the decline of piracy, various military units have used the Jolly Roger, usually in skull-and-crossbones design, as a unit identification insignia or a victory flag to ascribe to themselves the proverbial ferocity and toughness of pirates.
The name "Jolly Roger" goes back at least to Charles Johnson's A General History of the Pyrates, published in 1724. Johnson specifically cites two pirates as having named their flag "Jolly Roger": Bartholomew Roberts in June, 1721 and Francis Spriggs in July, 1723. While Spriggs and Roberts used the same name for their flags, their flag designs were quite different, suggesting that already "Jolly Roger" was a generic term for black pirate flags rather than a name for any single specific design. Neither Spriggs' nor Roberts' Jolly Roger consisted of a skull and crossbones. (more...)
Howard Pyle's illustration of pirate buried treasure. Buried treasure is an important part of the popular beliefs surrounding pirates. According to popular conception, pirates often buried their stolen fortunes in remote places, intending to return for them later (often with the use of treasure maps). However, in reality, the only pirate known to have done this was William Kidd, who is believed to have buried at least some of his wealth on Long Island before sailing into New York.