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The appeal of pirates to our imagination results in large measure from their image as portrayed in the movies. Actor Johnny Depp joins Errol Flynn as the latest in a long line of Hollywood actors who have embellished their careers, careering about the Spanish Main in search of galleons loaded with gold and silver. While the cinema and story books are largely responsibe for sustaining our interest in these rogues and their riotous escapades, there is nothing imaginary about pirates. The sea dogs did exist and had real reputations for vice and violence second to none.

Errol Flynn
The Sea Hawk

Piracy - Robbery At Sea

THE CARIBBEAN - Pirate Paradise

Portrait of a Pirate - the blood of buccaneers was in his veins


Take Care!

From time immemorial, freebooters have haunted the highways of trade and travel, even holding young Julius Caesar for ransom in 78 BCE. "Bretheren in inequity" cruised the seas, pillaging and plundering with gay abandon. Often they were so successful, that travel and trade were reduced to a standstill.

Despite all attempts to put a stop to their raids, they kept on coming, preying on gold and silver, plunder taken from the Aztecs amd Incas and carried off by conquistadores in shiploads to Spain. Such loot led to two centuries of buccaneering on the Spanish Main, the Golden Age of Piracy.

Priceless objet d'art melted to make money.

Pieces of Eight.

Coins were minted by the Spanish from the gold and silver objet d'art stolen from the natives in the New World. Familiarly known as pieces of eight or pesos equal to eight reales, coins commonly used for trading in the colonies durng the 17th and 18th centuries.

Jolly Roger

The mere glimpse of the icon of piracy Jolly Roger sent shivers of fear and apprehension up the spines of seagoing travellers. This pirate pennant on the mast served notice to all that, "no quarter will be given."

To attempt to put a stop to the ballooning buccaneering, naval forces were increased and amnesties offered to entice the culprits to cease and desist, but to no avail. The freebooters, sea rovers and corsairs resisted all enticements and persisted in terrorizing travellers across the briny deep. The fierce fellows who infested the Caribbean Sea were a hardbitten, greedy breed of men, who failed to qualify for the quality of mercy. Plunder was their aim, but cruelty was their game and they played it to the full, inflicting devilishly dirty deeds upon their unlucky captives.

Francis Drake elevated piracy to a higher plane. In 1577 he circumnavigated the globe and in the process, seized a wealthy Spanish galleon. Despite the outraged objections of the Spanish ambassador to England, Queen Elizabeth granted Drake an audience on his return because of his outstanding accomplishment. She questioned him for six hours about his epic trip and then bestowed a knighthood on him aboard the Golden Hind. Henceforth she referred to Drake as her "pirate." This unqueenly behaviour encouraged others to weigh anchor and try their luck at looting Spanish ships on the high seas.

Sir Francis Drake in 1591 five years before his death from dysentry in the West Indies

Land A Hoy

photo by
G. Wilson


Piracy reached its peak in the decade 1714 to 1724. In this short period as many as 5500 men were engaged in the business of bombarding and boarding all passersby. Sailing under what was called the Banner of King Death were such rascals as Henry Morgan, Jean Lafitte, Richard Hawkins, Bartholomew Roberts, who captured 400 ships, and the best known buccaneer of all, William Kidd.

Henry Morgan

The pirate picture tends to be a highly romantic one of the handsome swashbucklers like Errol Flynn armed with sword and a brace of pistols about to swing into action. These dashing daredevils lived lives of high adventure, amassing in the meantime fortunes of gold, silver and jewels which they buried in secluded coves for quieter days to come.

Captain Kidd Burying His Treasure by Howard Pyle

They were more likely fierce, foul-mouthed men leading hard, savage lives, who inspired fear and dread in those luckless enough to be looted. Their victims had every reason to wonder who these inhuman devils were, for they were quick to maim and murder in pursuit of treasure and perhaps even pleasure. Firing broadsides into helpless merchant ships, they boarded and began with grim, savage satisfaction to kill captives in heinous ways too horrible to mention.

Walking the plank must have been preferred to the agonizing torture that seemed to last forever. While some sources say it was not widely used, it was peculiar to pirates. The captive was blindfolded and his arms tied to his sides. Unable either to see or to balance himself, he was then made to walk up and down before the crew on a narrow, wobbly, wooden plank fastened so that it projected out over the raging sea. The amusement ended when he fell into the water, there to float and finally to sink into the sea. Another way of killing by drowning was by keelhauling. The victims feet were bound by a long, thick rope. He was then thrown overboard and pulled under the ship several times. He was raised and released only when he had drowned.

Walking The Plank
Howard Pyle

Scholars in recent years yearn for a more civilized picture of pirates. Their rogues were more courtly and kind and they affirm that much of the meanness and malevolency is mythology. They found in the late 17th and early 18th centuries, that piracy was peopled by raiders who were less cruel and more egalitarian than previously portrayed. This kinder, gentler view of pirates is personified more by the portrait of the following young fellow.

A Kinder, Gentler, Younger Rogue

Newly discovered pirate artifacts are shedding more light on this lost age. Spoils appear to have been carefully divided for distribution among crew members including rare jewellery from the African gold trade. Weapons like primitive hand grenades were found that appear to have been meant more to intimidate than devastate. They were used more for waging psychological warfare than blasting galleons to bits. Their finds open up a whole new world of real piracy that belies the stories of monsters and mayhem. Their sea rovers had no time for tiresome talk of walking the plank. It was still difficult to kill kindly, however, and some of the captives were hacked to death or simply tossed overboard. Some favoured few did live to tell of the tolerable treatment they received and they were expected to pass on the word to other worthies. There was method to this madness, for any tales of their mercy meant potential victims would prefer to surrender rather than go down to the depths and to death fighting.

Tell that to the crew of HMS Scarborough, a 30-cannon British man-of-war that beat a hasty retreat to its base in Barbados after a brisk fight with the scourge of the Caribbean, Queen Anne's Revenge, a vessel often sought but never caught because of its cagey captain, Edward Teach, the infamous 'Blackbeard'. He took no prisoners.

Behold the Bounding Main
photo by
G. Wilson

Buccaneers, whose name comes from the French word Boucanier meaning 'smokers of meat' from their practice of cooking meat this way, were freebooters who attacked only French, Spanish and Dutch vessels, never English. Despite this, pirates were neither patriotic nor particular. They robbed and ravaged without discrimination, their only concern the capability of those attacked to take revenge. Privateers on the other hand were licenced looters. sea-fairing civil servants, so to speak, who turned in their take to government coffers from where their share was parcelled out.

Barbados suffered severely from the depredations of the privateers who oftimes struck at the very doorstep of the island's capital. Captain Martel's pirate ship sank a sloop at the entrance to Carlisle Bay. He in turn was pursued, caught and connonaded into oblivion off the east coast of the island. All pirate pursuits did not end so successfully, however, and the island's governor complained bitterly, "These parts are infested with pirates."

Ready, Aim, Fire
photo by
G. Wilson

In a commanding position on the east coast of Barbados overlooking the Atlantic is the castle of Sam Lord. This beautiful regency mansion was built on the ill-gotten gains of piracy, but of a slightly different nature. Legend has it that on dark nights, Sam and his slaves would bedeck trees, the castle walls and even the horns of the cows grazing in the fields with lanterns. These beacons of light tricked sea captains into thinking they had reached Bridgetown harbour. In their haste to find safe haven, they ran aground on the coral reefs that stretch along Sam's shoreline. The wrecks were then leisurely looted by Sam and his servants.

Sam Lord's Castle

Aye Matee,
Rum Enough for Us All
photo by
G. Wilson

Female freebooters were well represented by Mary Read and Anne Bonny, whom witnesses described as "ready, willing and able" for anything. They were caught and convicted but both claimed to be pregnant. They appealled to the judge, "My Lord, we would like to plead in the names of our unborn children." Executions were deferred for them, but not Calico Jack Rackham, who, it was said, heard the horrid sentence and strode to the gallows, "without the least remorse." Mary Read died before the birth of her child. Nothing is known of Anne, however, it is thought she escaped the rope, because her freedom was purchased by her wealthy father.

The Time-Honoured Death Sentence For Piracy

"Ye are adjudged and sentenced to be carried back to the place from whence you came, from thence to the place of execution and there to be hanged by the neck till you are dead, dead, dead. And the Lord have mercy on you soul."

Mary Read

A great many famous people have found their paradise in Barbados. Popular activities include sailing the bounding main and snorkeling in the blue waters of the Caribbean.

Aye, Aye Captain, Mam!
photo by
B. Wilson
a low rating

Shiver me timbers.

Commonly associated with pirates, it is difficult to know whether, in fact, this expression was ever used by freebooters. The word 'shiver' means to "break into fragments or splinters," and 'timbers' refers to the wooden support forms of old sailing ships. Hence, "shiver me timbers" most likely alluded to the shock of a wave or cannonball smashing into the ship and causing its hull to shudder and split asunder.

Shiver me timbers, if pirating wasn't perpetuated in this family by one Thomas Baxter, a privateer turned pirate who preyed about the Caribbean causing untold trouble. This freebooter is an ancestor of the Wilsons and his DNA abounds in the corsairs who came after whose folly it was to follow in his footsteps.

10 x great-grandson, Malcolm
photo by
8 x great-granddaughter, Geri

9 x great-grandson, Jason
photo by
8 x great-granddaughter Geri

9 x great-grandson, Shane
photo by
8 x great-granddaughter Geri


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