Pirates Traded Slaves of All Ethnicities
Even though most pirate ships had black pirates in their crew, many pirates engaged in the slave trade. Not only did they buy, steal, and trade slaves, these slaves were of every nationality: some were even white Europeans. While Europeans were raiding the coasts of Africa and buying slaves who were prisoners of war from African chieftains, the Berber pirates of North Africa were attacking merchant ships, taking the crew members into slavery to major cities like Algiers and Tunis.
It is estimated that between one and one-and-a-quarter million white slaves were sent to North Africa. In some cases, these white slaves, especially the ones who came from prominent families, were ransomed back to freedom. The pirates sent the slaves who didn’t have families who could pay for their release to North Africa for sale in the slave markets. By the 1500s, the Barbary pirates began to increase their involvement in the slave trade by raiding the coastal cities of many European countries, including Italy, France, Spain, the Netherlands, and Portugal, kidnapping the people they found there and selling them into slavery.
The Barbary pirates were not the only pirates who were involved in the slave trade. Many pirates who operated in the Atlantic and the Caribbean also traded slaves. In the peace negotiations that ended the War of Spanish Succession, England had to provide Spanish colonies with slaves. This new arrangement provided pirates with more access to slave ships that they could rob. In a time when piracy was declining, it led to an increase in pirate activity in the western Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean.
Many Atlantic and Caribbean pirates, such as John Martel, Benito de Soto, Nathaniel Gordon, Captain Kidd, and John Hawkins, all plundered slave ships or bought their own from Africa and found buyers for them. When Captain Henry Morgan died in Jamaica, there were over one hundred slaves included in his estate. In 1619, the Portuguese slave ship San Juan Bautista was robbed by two pirate ships, each one taking about 20-30 slaves. The two pirate ships, the Treasurer and the White Lion, both landed in Jamestown about four days apart, selling the first African slaves to the New World colonies.