There Were Active Attempts By Governments to Stop Pirates from Robbing Merchant and Slave Ships
Pirates were not always the criminals and ne’er-do-wells that popular history has made them out to be. At first, many European powers used pirates that operated in the Atlantic and the Caribbean for their own ends, officially sanctioning pirates as privateers, agents of the government who engaged in legal piracy. Countries were able to enrich themselves by hiring pirates to steal the wealth and materials from merchant ships and bring them back to the country that hired them. Pirates were at the center of the economic warfare that was at the center of European diplomatic relations.
Once the New World colonies had sufficiently developed, the European powers wanted to focus on legitimate activities, but piracy was already in full swing. Former alliances made no matter when it came to stealing goods and plundering ships. By the beginning of the eighteenth century, piracy against merchant and slave vessels had become such a problem that the leaders of the New World colonies reached out to their home countries for protection against them.
By the 1720s, there were almost ten warships in the Caribbean whose only job was to catch pirate ships and arrest the pirates on board. In 1724, merchants who often traded with Jamaica wrote a letter to the Council of Trade and Plantations in London about the pirate activity and how it created “havoc and destruction of the ships employed in the negro trade on which the being of our Colonies chiefly depends.”
European powers also hired the Barbary pirates as privateers. The Barbary pirates from the North African coast were much closer to home, and they had no shortage of European powers willing to hire them: the French hired them to attack Spanish ships, and the British and the Dutch hired them to attack French ships. This continued until the end of the seventeenth century, as European navies grew in influence and they were able to use their power to force the Barbary pirates into peace treaties. The Barbary Wars of the early nineteenth century began when the pirates violated these peace treaties and were still attacking ships and settlements to kidnap slaves to bring back to North Africa. The Barbary threat wasn’t completely contained until the nineteenth century.