The History of Florida’s Pirates
Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum! Welcome to Florida, matey. Florida is known for many things: beautiful beaches, blue salt waters, white sands, watersports, family fun, relaxation and beautiful homes. And pirates! Yes, Florida is definitely known as a haven for pirates. The history behind Florida’s pirates is very interesting….
After being discovered by Ponce de Leon on Easter Sunday in 1513, Florida became a strategically important location for Spanish vessels. While there was no great treasure or Fountain of Youth as some explorers had hoped, it became a “staging convoy” for Spain and her heavily-loaded “plate fleets” that sailed up the Gulf Stream next to the Florida Keys. And where there is money, pirates will follow! Aware of the all the loaded ships along Florida’s shores, pirates preyed upon the fleets.
Spain decided to fortify her possessions in Florida, especially after the English invaded along the St. Johns River in 1564. Therefore, Spain’s greatest admiral, Don Pedro Menendez de Aviles, became the Spanish governor of Florida. It was his job to drive out all pirates or settlers from other nations, and he had a lot of work to do. Bandits, belligerent merchantmen, disinherited young men, cutthroats, and runaway slaves all flocked to Florida’s shores and lands since it was know as a recruiting center for privacy and privateers in search of bloody plunder. And the ships and towns of Spanish Florida were easy plunder! Some of the most famous pirates in Florida’s history are a romantic-yet-menacing crew:
- Anne Bonny — Though she never commanded a ship, Anne Bonny is remembered as one of few female pirates in history.
- Edward Teach — Better known as “Blackbeard,” he was known for his fearsome appearance; his life was romanticised after his death so he became inspiration for a many pirate-themed works of fiction.
- John Rackham — Known as “Calico Jack,” he had two female crew members, Mary Read and his lover Anne Bonny.
- Mary Read — Born in England to the widow of a sea captain. After her husband died, she dressed as a man, was captured by pirates, and became a pirate herself!
- Sir Francis Drake — He sacked the Spanish army in Florida many times on the order of Queen Elizabeth I herself.
- William Kidd — Known as “Captain Kidd,” the rumor of his buried treasure has created a legend around this notorious pirate.
- Stede Bonnet — He was called “The Gentleman Pirate” because of being born into a wealthy family.
- Black Caesar — A captured slave turned into a pirate, active off the Florida Keys, he was a lieutenant to Blackbeard.
- John LaFitte — A French-American pirate and privateer in the Gulf of Mexico during the early 19th century, a persistent rumor has always been that Lafitte rescued Napoleon from exile so both ended their days in Louisiana.
The history of Florida’s pirates is still fascinating people from all over the USA and the world, but piracy is no longer a serious threat in the waters around Florida. Though there are still some pirates and smugglers here and there, the U.S. Coast Guard takes care of them!