Was My Ancestor A Pirate?

15 July 2022

Pirates were some of the most notorious criminals in history, from Edward Teach (better known as Blackbeard) to Jack Ward (whom Captain Jack Sparrow is based upon), many of them are now seen as legendary historic figures. They sailed the world’s seas and stole from ships, towns and people in order to get their hands on more gold, trade goods and treasure.  

But how do you know if your ancestor was a pirate? In this blog, we will cover a rundown of the pirate’s life during the golden age of piracy, along with helping you find out more about your potential pirate ancestors! 


The Golden Age of Piracy 

The Golden Age of Piracy was an era in history between the 1650s and the 1730s when maritime piracy played a significant part in the histories of the Caribbean, the United Kingdom, the Indian Ocean, North America, and West Africa. 

There were three ‘time periods’ during this era, that can be roughly broken down to being: 

  • The Buccaneering Era (circa 1650 to 1680) 
  • The Pirate Round (circa 1690s) 
  • The Post-Spanish Succession Period (circa 1715 to 1726) 

The Buccaneering Era (circa 1650 to 1680) saw the rise of the ‘Brethren of the Coast’, a pirate government formed by a group of buccaneers in the West Indies. The pirates forming this council came from a whole manner of backgrounds: some were backed by wealthy European investors, some held ‘Letters of Marques’ (these were licenses to commit acts of piracy legally, under their respective leader’s permission), and some were simply outlaws. 

Most of these pirates were located in Tortuga or Port Royal – and, unlike the future pirates, the buccaneers of this time often fought land battles, frequently sieging Spanish towns – sometimes even razing them to the ground. 

During these times, these buccaneers – who were often English, French, Dutch or Danish – formed the first large group of non-Spanish new world inhabitants. Many of these men would set out looking for riches and wealth, targeting the Spanish ships that would be carrying treasures and wares back to Spain. With Spanish resources spread so thin as they hope to claim the entirety of this new continent for themselves, many a time their precious cargo was left lightly defended and vulnerable to attack. 

The Pirate Round (circa 1690s) refers to a travel route that many pirates started to take to plunder loot from trade vessels. Ships would sail around the Cape of Good Hope of Africa to reach the Indian Ocean, and here they would look for vulnerable targets that they could raid for their valuable cargo. 

The pirate that was responsible for popularising this route was Thomas Tew – who found remarkable success on his first voyage. This led other pirates to follow the same route, with hopes of finding equally as good an opportunity. 

The Post-Spanish Succession Period (circa 1715 to 1726) was the period following a series of peace treaties that ended the War of Spanish Succession. Many privateers were relieved of their duty – meanwhile, cross-national trading was booming. With such a large reserve of seafarers who were now out of job, many began to take this opportunity to pirate from the rich. Pirate captains were able to build up large crews – consequently, many of the legendary pirates that are household names today sailed during this period. 

The slave trade triangle was also targeted by many pirates during this time – the legendary Blackbeard actually captured his famous ship, Queen Anne’s Revenge, during this time, which was being used as a French slave trip before its capture. 


So, was my ancestor a pirate? 

Although it’s hard to say on a case-by-case basis, there is reason to believe that people with certain surnames are more likely to descend from pirates than others. Some surnames to note with particularly more likely links to pirates are: 

  • Teach 
  • Kidd 
  • Morgan 
  • Rackham 
  • Read 
  • Bonny 

If you happen to have any of these surnames, you could possibly be related to a legendary pirate of the past! 


For more genealogy-related reading, take a look at our other blogs! 

© 2024 Family Wise | Privacy Policy | Website created by: stellasoft