Republic of Pirates,golden age of piracy in 18th Century

Pirate Code

The Republic of Pirates is not a formal name. Normally it refers to the pirate society in Nassau between 1706 and 1718, which adopted the Pirate Articles as code of conduct. Also known as the Pirate Code, the Pirate Articles is constantly improved in practice.

The Ten Articles

Essentially the so-called “Pirate Code” is the rules set by pirate captains. It is generally believed that the first pirate leader who set up such rules in written form was Henry Morgan, who was later appointed as the Lieutenant Governor of Jamaica.

The widely-recognized ultimate version was the “Ten Articles” created by Captain Bartholomew Roberts.

Details are as follows:

  • Every man has a vote in affairs of moment, but eventually must obey captain’s orders.
  • If any Man shall steal any thing in the company, he shall be marooned.
  • No person to game at cards or dice for money.
  • The lights and candles to be put out at eight o’clock at night.
  • To keep their piece, pistols, and cutlass clean and fit for service.
  • No child to be allowed amongst them; if any man were to be found seducing woman, he was to suffer death.
  •  To desert the ship or their quarters in battle, was punished with death or marooning.
  • No striking one another on board, but a duel was to be allowed with the presence of witness; the one who killed a companion shall be tie up with the dead and cast into the sea.
  • If any man should lose a limb, or become a cripple in their service, he was to have eight hundred dollars, out of the public stock.
  • The Captain and Quartermaster to receive two shares of a prize; the master, boatswain, doctor, and gunner, one share and a half, and other officers one and quarter.


Pirate necklace

What the Pirate Code and Republic of Pirates interest us most is, they provide a condensed sample reflecting the formation of an Anglo-American-civilization society, although it is not mainstream in economic aspect. As Caribbean pirates were individually free and marine operations were difficult and complex, more cooperation and coordination were required than land-based operations. In the aspect of organizing principle, pirates seemed to be more “democratic” than contemporaneous European countries. No matter the selection of captain or distribution of benefit, equal rights were guaranteed. On the level of civilization, the Caribbean pirates also demonstrated how to form a set of rules which manifest individual rights while operating efficiently, in a social environment where there is both extreme chaos and the need for close co-operations.

Pirate jewelry

In general, the Pirate Code, as well as many characteristics of “Anglo-American civilization” and even the whole western civilization, is related to their marine background. When looking back the history, we can find that over two thousand years ago the ancient Greek civilization represented by Athens formed a similar civilization system in the Aegean area, their geopolitical stage. In light of this, it is a consensus to regard ancient Greece as the beginning of western civilization.

But the Pirate Code makes it clear to us that, with or without the ancient Greek civilization, the development of western civilization after the Age of Discovery will not be impacted substantially. Just as you might know, the Cuju that Chinese played over a millennium ago is very similar to modern football, but it would be far-fetched if you take that as the beginning of modern football. Similar cases tell that, when there is no fundamental changes in physical environment and humanity, many things happen as a result of natural selection (even if the same selection is made, it doesn’t mean there will be influence on each other).

Spanish Armada

Finally, let’s get back to the ending of Republic of Pirates. Between 1701 and 1713, the Habsburgs ruling Spain became extinct. To contend for the throne of Spain, European countries like France, Austria, England and Netherlands were involved in a 13-year war.

Certainly, the essential reason of this crisis for Spain is that, its strength was fundamentally weakened after the rise of “backward countries” such as Netherlands, England and France. Judging from the result, Spain was the only loser in this war as nearly all of its overseas territories were carved up by enemy countries. Even England which had no intent to fight over land in European continent, gained the marine dominance after the war.

Royal Navy

The takeover of the marine dominance means that strategically England did not need an asymmetric warfare conducted by these “royal pirates”. In other words, for the English Empire, now these pirates had more negative effects than the positive effects. In this case, Nassau, which was regarded as the reservoir of “royal pirates” by English Empire before, also lost its value. On the other hand, the change of attitude by the English Empire provoked the revolt by pirates in Nassau.

In the past Nassau pirates would consciously avoided attacking English ships, but they had no scruples any more after English Empire became tougher on them. Nassau pirates, represented by Edward Teach the Blackbeard, even launched active attacks on English warships.

In 1718, the English Empire decided to resolve the riot in Nassau by force. After being grinded by the state apparatus, the Republic of Pirates fell. The legendary era of the Caribbean pirates also came to its end following the arrests of pirate leaders.