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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.
Stede Bonnet (c. 1688 – December 10, 1718) was an early 18th-century Barbadianpirate, sometimes called "the gentleman pirate" because he was a moderately wealthy landowner before turning to a life of crime.
Bonnet was born into a wealthy English family on the island of Barbados, and inherited the family estate after his father's death in 1694. In 1709, he married Mary Allamby, and engaged in some level of militia service. Because of marital problems, and despite his lack of sailing experience, Bonnet decided to turn to piracy in the summer of 1717. He bought a sailing vessel, named it Revenge, and traveled with his paid crew along the American eastern seaboard, capturing other vessels and burning other Barbadian ships.
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...)
Image credit: G. H. Maynadier's The Works of Daniel Defoe
Captain Avery captures the Great Mogul's grand-daughter, an early twentieth century painting depicting a scene from Henry Every's capture of the Mughal trading vessel Ganj-i-sawai in 1695. Every retired from piracy after successfully evading the world's first worldwide manhunt, and his exploits served as a potent source of inspiration for later pirates. Few imitators were able to replicate Every’s successes, however, and Ganj-i-sawai remains one of the richest prizes ever taken by pirates.