Benjamin Hornigold (1680 – 1719) started off as a privateer during the War of the Spanish Succession, licensed with letters of marque to legally prey upon French merchant shipping, and after the war, turned from privateering to outright piracy. Eventually, he became one of the Caribbean’s most notorious pirates, before accepting a royal pardon in 1718, after which he turned against his former friends and colleagues and became a successful pirate hunter.
Hornigold’s first recorded act of piracy dates to 1713, when he used sailing canoes and a small sloop to capture and loot merchant ships around the Bahamas. By 1717, he commanded the most powerful ship in the region, a 30 gun sloop, the Ranger, which allowed him to prey on shipping with impunity. His first mate was Edward Teach, later known as Blackbeard, and his proteges and acquaintances included other future notorious pirates such as Black Sam Bellamy and Stede Bonnet.
Hornigold’s operated in the main around the Bahamas, and his base of operations was Nassau, which had become a notorious pirates’ nest. Hornigold and a bitter rival, Henry Jennings, transformed Nassau into a de facto Pirates’ Republic, governed by its own code of conduct and regulations. The piratical depredations and havoc issuing from there finally forced the British authorities in London to send a governor, with a Royal Navy squadron, to restore order in the Bahamas and end the scourge of piracy.
Arriving in 1718, the new governor brought a royal pardon for all who turned themselves in and refrained from further acts of piracy, and Hornigold was one of those who accepted. The new governor commissioned him to hunt down those who had failed to turn themselves in and accept the royal pardon, and accepting the commission, Hornigold turned upon his former friends and colleagues and fell upon them with a will.
He turned out to be an even better pirate hunter than he had been a pirate, and by December of 1718, Hornigold had captured 10 recalcitrant pirate captains who had failed to accept the pardon, of whom 9 were executed. His actions effectively brought the Pirates’ Republic in Nassau to an end and re-established British control, and law and order, in the Bahamas. He was sailing about, hunting more pirates when he drowned after his ship was caught in a storm and wrecked on an uncharted reef in late 1719.