Pirates, Buccaneers, Privateers
What is a pirate? The word pirate comes from the ancient Greeks. A pirate is a robber with a ship, who uses their ship to attack and rob other ships and coastal towns. Not all pirates were as scary as the famous Blackbeard the Terrible. But most were violent, and died as violently as they lived. There were women pirates as well as men.
How long have pirates been around? There is nothing new about piracy. Piracy has been the chosen profession of sea going criminal adventurers since ancient times. Pirates attacked the ships and coastal towns of all the ancient cultures with a coastline, including the ancient Greeks and Romans. The most famous pirates during the early Middle Ages were the Vikings.
The Golden Age of Piracy: From 1650 to about 1750, there were thousands of pirates on the high seas. It was the Age of Exploration. Merchant ships were heavy with goods traded with China, India, Africa, and the New World. Pirate ships were heavy with treasure stolen from these ships and from coastal towns all over the world. The seas swarmed with pirates of all kinds. This was the age of famous pirates like Blackbeard and Captain Kidd.
Are buccaneers and privateers other names for pirates? Ordinary pirates were criminals. Buccaneers is another name for a pirate. Privateers were different. Privateers were permitted, if they had written permission from the government of their home country, to attack enemy ships at sea and rob their cargo. Privateers were supported by their government or by a group of investors who provided ships and stocked them with provisions. Privateers were supposed to bring back treasure, and when they did the treasure would be divided between the government and/or investors and the privateer and his (or her) men. It did not always work out that way, but that was the plan.
What did pirates consider treasure? Pirates wanted anything of value - tobacco, rum, sugar, spices, gold, silver, jewels, food, tools, weapons. Coins were popular because they had a set value and were easy to distribute amongst the crew.
Why did a pirate ship often win a battle against a merchant ship? Pirate ships were designed to fight. They had more men and more cannons. They were fast and could sail in shallow water. They also had a reputation. That's one reason they flew a pirate flag - to scare people. The crews of some merchant ships did not even put up a fight. Instead, rather than being killed in battle or killed once pirates had boarded their ship, they surrendered. They were usually thrown overboard not that far from land. Pirates wanted their victims to live and talk about how terrifying a particular pirate was.
What is a pirate haven? Pirates captured a few coastal towns and made them into pirate havens, places they could go to relax or find a crew or fix their ship. Some havens were established by the government so that privateers had a place to tie up on shore. Pirates also had secret coves where they could relax and repair.