Historical Context Paper on Atlantic Piracy

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In 1742, a pirate ship attacks a Spanish ship off the coast of Georgia in a battle known as the Battle of Bloody Marsh. It was a fight to gain control of Florida and the Carolinas. During this time period, exploration was in full swing and countries were building their empires at a rather fast pace. Some, like the Spanish, did it for military supremacy while others like the Dutch and English did it for colonialism and imperialism. The picture I used as a primary source is tied to piracy because the Spanish over-expanded and other empires wanted a piece of their wealth. All this piracy started when the Spanish got rich off of trading minerals and expanding their empire.

Cortes’ exploration to the Americas in search of gold started in the 1500s because of the rumors and legends of gold brought back by explorers like Christopher Columbus. His discovery and gains inspired King Philip to expand his military is one of the main reasons Spain fell into poverty. While some ships and pirate operations were run by vagabond privateers like the Famous Captain Henry Morgan, others were actually licensed to raid Spanish Ships. One author, Lane uses statistics of taverns that were opened in Port Royal Jamaica as popular pit stops for pirates. He even talks about the town of Tortuga as a “trading post for buccaneers who established trade routes mostly in hides and cured meats (Lane, 97).” So, the port city of Tortuga was an important location for pirate activity and port cities like are a treasure trove of history in the story of pirates.

Besides pirate towns, we need to understand who the real pirates actually were. Richard Blakemore, author of “The Politics of piracy in the British Atlantic” makes his point clear when says the problem with defining pirates like “Francis Drake to Blackbeard [who] have been seen as both champions and murderers, and scholars have interrogated piracy as a historical concept (Blakemore, 159).” What he means by this is we associate pirates as these brave and dangerous individuals whereas scholars beg to differ. In addition, Shannon Lee Dawdy and Joe Bonni also describe how history pirates are viewed as “predators, outlaws, opportunists, raiders [and even] liberators (Dawdy and Bonni, 674). They were definitely opportunists as “they took advantage of Brazil’s rich trade (Klooster and Padula, 73).”

In contrast to raiding ships, one element of piracy is often overlooked and that is the sugar cultivation in the Canaries and Madeiras. “Sugar Islands” by Alberto Vierira explains the cultivation of sugar and the model it set up for colonialization and mercantilism set the precedent for turning to piracy in the Atlantic. Ample water sources, the soils and the establishment of plantations sparked the sugar movement in the Atlantic in places like the Caribbean and became an important commodity in Atlantic trade. One component of the history of pirates that stems from food is the fact that before they were raiders, they actually used to cook meat on the beaches of the Caribbean Islands. They would kill pigs on the islands and grill them over a fire pit made of sand called a boucan. The men tending this boucans were known as boucaniers by the French. But, the taste of money proved to be a lot stronger than the smell of pork on the beach. As a result, they turned to piracy around the 1600s and became known as buccaneers.

Lastly, pop culture has made a lasting impression on pirates thanks to movies like Disney`s “Pirates of the Caribbean” with Captain Jack Sparrow, a bumbling klutz of a pirate. In contrast, pirates were nowhere near as lovable because they were deadly in their tactics. We need to understand the real history of pirates because it will continue to detract from the real pirates when we keep sugarcoating and advertising Disney pirates because it will now be effective in telling the true story of these swashbucklers of the Atlantic. Pirates should only be portrayed as they appeared in history because it will keep any kind of perception of them accurate with history and help people understand they were not to be taken lightly at all. That way, “Pirates of the Caribbean” won`t brainwash some people into thinking the wrong way about these greedy opportunists of the Atlantic. To sum it all, the history of piracy in the Atlantic is the story of the European empires.


Blakemore, Richard J. “The Politics of Piracy in the British Atlantic, C. 1640–1649.” International Journal of Maritime History. 25, no. 2.: 159-172. 2013.

Dawdy, Shannon Lee, and Joe Bonni. “Towards a General Theory of Piracy.” Anthropological Quarterly. 85, no. 3: 673-699. 2012.

Klooster, Wim and Alfred Padula. The Atlantic World: Essays on Slavery, Migration, and Imagination. N.J.: Pearson/Prentice Hall. 2005.

Lane, Kris E. Pillaging the Empire: Piracy in the Americas, 1500-1750. N.Y.: M.E. Sharpe. 1998.

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