The Neatest Little Paper Ever Read ®

Issue 974



By Kathy Wolfe

Aarrgh! September 19 is Talk Like a Pirate Day, and Tidbits is making sure you have all the facts about pirates close at hand.

• Many pirates got their start as privateers, engaging in raiding and looting other ships, but while under orders of the state. Privateers were respected ship captains, and received a commission or letter of marque from a government official or monarch, empowering the privateers to capture merchant ships belonging to an enemy nation. In fact, they were often considered reserve naval forces. Although privateers could not technically be charged with piracy, their actions, which were considered legal, were much the same as the criminal pirate. However, if privateers were taken into custody by a foreign government, they could very well be executed, as was the case with Spanish authorities who hanged privateers with their letters of marque tied to their neck.

• English explorer Sir Francis Drake was actually one of the most renowned privateers of his time. Although hailed as the first Englishman to circumnavigate the globe, he had been commissioned by Queen Elizabeth I (who nicknamed Drake “my pirate”) to attack Spanish vessels and ports. When he returned from his 1580 voyage with a ship loaded with plunder, the Queen immediately knighted him.

• Sir Thomas Cavendish was another English explorer who used circumnavigation of the globe as a method of capturing riches. He completed his voyage in 1588, having spent two years and 49 days raiding Spanish ports, towns, and vessels throughout his journey. One 600-ton ship captured by Cavendish was filled with gold, silk, and other treasures from the Pacific and the Philippines. He also was knighted by Queen Elizabeth I upon his return at the age of 27. Cavendish set out a few years later for a repeat of his first raiding expedition, but died at sea at age 31.

• The career of Henry Every, a pirate known as Long Ben, started out respectably with a position in the British Royal Navy. He then joined up with the Spanish Expedition Shipping Company, and through a mutiny became a pirate captain, who developed into one of the most feared and successful pirates. Every became the richest pirate after capturing a ship in the Indian Ocean that was loaded with gold and jewels. He retired before he could be captured, and his whereabouts were never discovered.

• Captain Henry Morgan was a Welsh pirate who raided the Caribbean colonies in the late 1600s, sanctioned by England as a privateer. It’s believed he looted more than 400 ships during his career. His largest plunder was achieved in Panama City, where he captured 30 ships and 1,200 men. However, this raid resulted in his arrest and extradition to England. Yet Morgan dodged the sentence, and was instead knighted by King Charles II, who not only pardoned and released Morgan, he appointed him deputy governor of Jamaica, where Morgan lived out his days as a wealthy planter.

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