Pirates Became Agents of Emancipation
Pirates known to attack slave vessels became unwitting emancipators of African slaves. Their attacks weren’t necessarily fueled by a moral aversion to slavery: they just wanted the benefits of having the slave ship. In many cases, pirates would go below the holds and free the slaves, and then they would encourage the slaves to join the pirate crew. Piracy was a better option than slavery, and if the pirates were successful in convincing the slaves that life as a pirate was better than life as a slave, they could increase their numbers exponentially.
Some pirates didn’t re-enslave the captives they found on slave vessels: it was too much trouble to try and find sellers interested in them. They often would forego the difficulty of selling slaves and just let them join their crew, quickly discovering that the Africans were fierce warriors. Although pirates had a practical reason for freeing the slaves they found in the holds, some pirates did show evidence of anti-slavery sentiments. There was an egalitarian spirit to pirate life that was the complete opposite of slavery. Some pirates were known to attack fortresses that were used in the slave trade. Peter Scudamore, a surgeon on a pirate vessel, encouraged a slave rebellion, insisting that he could sail the ship himself.
Although most pirates were respectful of human life and would avoid murder and violence if they could help it, there were some cases of brutality by pirate captains. The pirate Black Bart Roberts once burned almost one hundred slaves alive in a ship. This was the exception as opposed to the rule: the join-or-die rule was very rare. Most pirate captains would release the former slaves who didn’t want to join the pirate crew at the next port, although it isn’t known what happened to them once they were on land.