In our first post in this series, we learned about Henry Avery and his arrival in Nassau. In our second post, we saw how his legend inspired the next generation of pirates and began the Golden Age of Piracy.
In this post, we will find out how this Golden Age ended, and who was responsible.
In 1711, Captain Woodes Rogers returned to England after an expedition that took him the entire way around the world. This privateering voyage against the Spanish would lead to his first major encounter with fame, but also to his first bout with financial ruin. These two twists of fate would become recurring themes for the rest of his life
More than anything, though, Woodes Rogers was a skilled and respected captain. In The Republic of Pirates, Colin Woodward notes, “In an era when most captains ruled their ships through terror, Rogers would eventually take a more lenient, fair-minded approach. Winning the crew’s respect proved a much more reliable method of control than keeping them in a state of fear.”
While Rogers may not be a household name today, you may be more familiar with his influence than you think. He and his crew were the sailors that discovered the marooned Alexander Selkirk, who had lived as a castaway alone on an island off the Pacific coast of South America for four years. His story is believed to be the inspiration for the novel Robinson Crusoe.
Back in England after his expedition, Rogers suffered a series of financial setbacks. His wealthy father-in-law had died, and he had been unable to recoup his business losses through his latest privateering efforts. But as a successful captain, he decided to try again, this time with an expedition against pirates.
He first wanted to lead a fleet to Madagascar, under the guise of slaving, but his ulterior motive was to overthrow and reform the pirates who were hiding out on the island. This plan was vetoed by the Crown, and so he instead acquired a commission from the King to rid The Bahamas of pirates in exchange for a share of the British colony’s profits. This would lead to his becoming the first Royal Governor of Nassau.
Days before Rogers arrived in Nassau, a pirate by the name of Charles Vane was planning to leave the town. He had recently consolidated power on the island and declared himself governor, and he led a fleet of at least nine ships. Vane was a notoriously violent and vengeful man, willing to do anything to survive—and amass his fortune.
He planned to set sail for Brazil, where he could meet up with other pirates and, per Woodward, perhaps set up a new pirate kingdom in South America.
By now, the King’s Pardon had arrived in the Caribbean and The Bahamas. The British Crown was willing to grant clemency to any pirate who surrendered before September 5, 1718. This was the first major blow to the Golden Age of Piracy. Hundreds of pirates who believed they would be criminals and fugitives until they died were suddenly free to return to society. The offer was simply too good for many to pass up.