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The original pirates of the Caribbean – Barbados’ unconventional buccaneers

Article by Paul Buchanan

From Long John Silver in Robert Louis Stevenson’s famous novel, “Treasure Island”, to Jack Sparrow, the star of the successful Hollywood film franchise, “Pirates of the Caribbean”, pirates have long been a subject of fascination. During the late 17th and early 18th century, pirates flocked to the Caribbean, eager to enjoy the spoils of the New World. The excavation of gold and silver and the transportation of goods from the Caribbean to Europe offered a golden opportunity for lawless buccaneers.It can be difficult to distinguish between fact and myth with infamous figures such as Blackbeard, who reportedly struck fear into the hearts of his enemies by placing slow-burning fuses in his beard which emitted ghastly wisps of smoke and created a demonic impression. However, some little-known pirates of the Caribbean are less shrouded in legend but equally fascinating.Stede Bonnet (1688-1718) was a retired English Major living in Barbados with a novel and unprecedented approach to piracy. Known as the ‘gentleman pirate’ because of his respected status as a sugar plantation owner, Bonnet made a sudden career change in 1717 and abandoned his genteel lifestyle in favour of piracy (rumour has it that he was desperate to escape his nagging wife!). Rather than following the conventional pirate route of plundering and capturing a ship, he bought one specifically for piracy and sailed around the east coast of the United States in search of other ships to capture and burn. Despite a complete lack of sailing experience, Bonnet hired a crew of over 70 men for his vessel ‘the Revenge’ and operated an original policy of paying wages rather than a percentage from his plunders. However, once his crew discovered his lack of experience and wealthy background, they labelled him a ‘dandy’ and he quickly lost their respect. During his seafaring adventures Bonnet crossed paths with Edward Teach, better known as Blackbeard, a fearsome and rather more successful pirate. After initially getting on fairly well, Bonnet was double-crossed by Blackbeard who went on to take over his ship during the siege of Charleston. After being pardoned by the governor of North Carolina, Bonnet returned to a life of piracy and tried to avoid detection by using an alias and changing the name of his ship to ‘Royal James’. In 1718 after a five hour battle with an anti-piracy naval crew, he was caught and sentenced to death. He managed to escape for a brief period but was recaptured and hanged in Charleston. His corpse was left swaying in the breeze for several days as an ominous warning to other pirates.Bonnet was not the only wealthy plantation owner with alternative pirating techniques. Sam Lord (1778-1844) is reputed to have devised a crafty plan for plundering ships. He would hang lanterns from coconut trees on his estate to trick unsuspecting sailors who believed that the lights were guiding them to Barbados’ capital of Bridgetown. After luring them to the surrounding reefs which wrecked their ships, Lord would then plunder the damaged vessels and rumours suggest that he hid his newly acquired treasure in tunnels beneath his castle.Sam Lord’s Castle – a lavish converted Georgian mansion – was one of Barbados’ national treasures and a must-see for visitors on Barbados holidays before it was sadly destroyed by a fire in 2010. Blackbeard’s Castle still stands on the US Virgin Island of St Thomas and a number of shipwrecks from the ‘golden age’ of piracy remain scattered around the Caribbean.

About the Author

Paul is a part of the digital blogging team at who work with brands like Kuoni. For more information about me, or to keep up to date with the latest in travel news, check out my posts at or visit my Twitter account, @dcrosstalk

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