11. A Pirate’s Last Minute Change of Sides Helped End the Golden Age of Piracy
Benjamin Hornigold (1680 – 1719) was licensed with letters of Marque to legally prey upon French shipping during the War of the Spanish Succession. After the war, he switched from privateering to outright piracy. Eventually, he became one of the Caribbean’s most notorious pirates, and 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 operated mainly near 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 End of the Pirates’ Republic
In 1718, a new British governor offered a royal pardon to all who turned themselves in abandoned piracy. Hornigold came in at the last minute before the offer expired, and the governor commissioned him to hunt down those who had failed to accept the pardon. Accepting the commission, Hornigold turned upon his former friends 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, 1718, Hornigold had captured 10 recalcitrant pirate captains, of whom 9 were executed. His actions effectively brought the Pirates’ Republic in Nassau to an end, and reestablished 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.