Historical piracy and today’s multi-cultural society

The stories of Captain Kidd and other famous names from the Golden Age of Piracy (around 1650 – 1730) are not just interesting in themselves. They have far more relevance to today’s multi-cultural Britain than many people realise.

Until the late sixteenth century, the big international traders were France and Spain. But when Sir Francis Drake returned from his historic circumnavigation of the world, he also had 28 tons of treasure in his ship the Golden Hind.

English merchants realised that there was big money to made from worldwide trade, and in 1600 they established the East India Company. English cloth was traded for eastern spices, fur and cotton from North America, spices and silks from India, tea from China and sugar from the Caribbean.

This meant that there was a large increase in merchant ships and the numbers of sailors. The big demand and the global reach of trading meant that suddenly sailors from all over the world were crewing English ships, including many West Indians and numerous sailors from the Indian subcontinent, known as lascars.

And with such rich pickings, it’s no surprise that some of these sailors turned to piracy…

Pirates and the dawn of the British Empire

As piracy became more widespread, the government in the 17th century could not obtain convictions against pirates as they were operating far from British shores. To overcome this, the government introduced the phrase “British Empire” in a legal sense in order to extend their jurisdiction across the oceans.

In so doing, they also extended British protection. This meant that many people from overseas now had access to the UK and started coming here in significant numbers – not just sailors, but servants and ordinary workers, some of whom settled here and married local European women.  It was an early form of today’s multi-cultural society.

In time, the government took over the trading posts of the East India Company and other joint stock companies like it. These became staging posts in the rise of the British Empire. London, meanwhile, became the financial capital of the world on the back of this vast maritime trade – and the pirates that accompanied it.

Pirates and diversity

Captain Kidd’s original pirate crew was a mixture of French and English sailors, and its believed that his quartermaster aboard the Adventure Galley may have come from Africa.

The pirates of the time really did come from all over the world, and many were Spanish, Portuguese, Swedish, Dutch, Irish or from colonial America.

The pirate captain Black Caesar was from West Africa, and Caesar’s Rock near Florida’s Key Largo is named after him. Augustin Blanco hailed from Cuba and was known for having a crew of many colours and creeds, as did several other pirate captains.

The origin of the eyepatch-wearing pirate dates back to an Arab pirate, Rahmah ibn Jabir al-Jalahimah.

There were also at least 50 female pirates during the Golden Age of Piracy. They included Jacquotte Delahaye, who led a gang of several hundred pirates in the Caribbean, even taking over a small island and naming it ‘the Freebooter Republic’.

Pirates were surprisingly democratic. If a captain fell out of favour with his crew, they could take a vote and oust him if they decided to – in fact that happened to Kidd himself at one point.

The lessons for today

Diversity and democracy – if you wanted to find them 300 years ago, a pirate ship was a good place to start. And it’s one of the key aims of the Captain Kidd Pirate Ships Experience to recognise this fact, and to demonstrate that, wherever we or our parents might be from, we have more in common than we might realise.

More details about what we are doing can be found on our Mission Statement

If you are interested in finding out more about our pirate ships as we build them – and maybe joining the crew for a few hours or days, please sign up for our mailing list

We would also love to hear from any potential sponsors – please contact us now.