By Kimberly Ison
Benjamin Hornigold, Pirate’s Pirate
Usually we begin a story with a person’s birth or early life, but with Benjamin Hornigold, that’s not the case. There is no mention of him in historical records until 1713, after the War of the Spanish Succession; a conflict involving Spain, France, the Netherlands, and Britain.
He and his crew are reported to have once attacked a ship off the coast of Honduras, just to steal the hats of their fellow pirates.
After the War, Privateer Benjamin Hornigold, an Englishman; now taking on the role of pirate, sailed from Jamaica to New Providence to stake out new hunting ground. This area was located near the Straits of Florida, the main shipping lane for vessels bound for Latin America.
The Lord Proprietors had basically abandoned the Bahamas in 1703, which made it easier for the pirates to gain control. Of all the pirates of the Caribbean, Benjamin Hornigold was one of the most influential.
The Pirates’ pirate
He taught many young men to be pirates. In fact, between men he trained and men who sailed with him in convoy or under his command in pirate fleets, he may have guided the careers of over 3,200 pirates.
Among his pupils were Charles Vane, Black Sam Bellamy, called the “Prince of Pirates” by his contemporaries, and a man named Edward Teach, later known as Blackbeard. Hornigold became so infamous that news of his exploits spread to Boston and England.
He was one of the first to see Nassau as a self-contained pirate country. The place still had a nominal governor, but Hornigold publically called the man, “A troublesome old fart” and commanded him to get out of town, or the pirates would kill him and whip the whole family senseless.
He then went on to re-arm the town’s abandoned fort, supplied the materials, and raised the manpower necessary to drag the heavy guns up the hill, install them, and repair the fort’s stonework by the simple method of providing his workers with all the free liquor they could drink.
The hat raid
Always the fan of a practical joke, he and his crew are reported to have once attacked a ship off the coast of Honduras, just to steal the hats of their fellow pirates. Apparently in a drunken stupor the prior evening, Hornigold’s men had tossed theirs overboard, and a gentleman simply cannot be without a hat.
The pirate “problem” was getting out of control for the British government and they thought it wiser to offer a pardon rather than engage in battle (smart choice).
The English sent an emissary, Woods Rogers, with a promise to pardon all the pirates, if only they would stop their piratical ways. Rogers bribed his way into Nassau in 1718, with a war ship and papers pardoning any pirate who was willing to promise to rob no more.
Hornigold decided to take the pardon, even convincing several contemporaries to do the same. The morning of 26 February 1718 and for the next two days, the pirates ventured out to the Phoenix to surrender. Hornigold was one of the first to do so. In all 209 pirates received certificates of protection.
Not only were pirates granted a clean slate on their record, but they were also offered a large sum of money for the capturing of other pirates who were guilty of piracy, murder, and treason against His Majesty.
The Pirate’s Pirate had become a Pirate hunter. Hornigold was to spend the next eighteen months cruising the Bahamas, hunting his former associates. He died in late 1719 after his ship crashed into a reef most likely after having encountered a hurricane.