Piracy and the Slave Trade
Americas, piracy and the slave trade were close from the
beginning. John Hawkins, one of the first English privateers, used his
country’s enmity with Portugal to legitimize stealing slaves
from Portuguese traders off the coast of Africa, stealing a ship
to transport them in, and selling the slaves in Spanish ports on
As time went
on, pirates captured the fast sleek ships used in the
transatlantic slave trade for their own use.
They were also very interested in African cargoes.
Not only enslaved people were to be found aboard these
ships, but gold, ivory, and spices—cargoes that would all
fetch a high price in the right market.
Every attack on a slave ship yielded a different result.
Some pirate crews taught the Africans to become sailors;
others treated them as slaves or servants but usually affording
them some share of the booty.
Greedier pirates felt no sympathy for their plight but
sold them to the plantations, just as their original shippers
number of Africans became pirates. One
newspaper reported bands of African and African American pirates
marauding the Caribbean and eating the hearts of the white men
they captured. More often they sailed in integrated crews, where Africans
were considered the most trusted and fearsome of the crew—they
had the most to lose by capture, knowing that if they were not
hanged they would be enslaved.
ships sank in the Florida Keys, most notably the Henrietta
Marie (1700) and the Guerrero (1827).
The transatlantic slave trade was declared illegal in
1808. By 1820,
Americans taking part in the trade could be prosecuted as
pirates. By 1860,
illegal slavers had become a serious problem and the US Navy
sent a squadron to Cuba to arrest American vessels taking part
in the trade. During
the short period in which they were active before the Civil War,
they captured three ships and brought 1,432 captive Africans in
to Key West—the closest American port.
These people were freed and eventually sent to Liberia.
Porter and the Mosquito Fleet
the Slave Trade