9/28/10 - war and crime

In today's excerpt - soldiers, demobilizing after the end of a war, are vulnerable to the lures of crime. They are largely young, have few marketable skills, are often unemployed, and are trained to fight. Two of the greatest periods of pirate activity in the Mediterranean and Caribbean followed the ends of two of England's long wars, and those periods of piracy died out soon after those generations passed:

"Two of the most dramatic increases in pirate activity took place when peace was declared after long periods of naval warfare and large numbers of seamen were out of work. 

"[The first such surge began] when fifty years of hostilities between England and Spain were finally ended in 1603, [and] hundreds of seamen from the Royal Navy and from privateers were thrown on the streets. Their only skill was in handling a ship, and many turned to piracy. For the next thirty years, shipping in the English Channel, the Thames estuary, and the Mediterranean was ravaged by pirates


"The second surge in piracy took place in the years following the Treaty of Utrecht of 1713, which brought peace among England, France, and Spain. The size of the Royal Navy slumped from 53,785 in 1703 to 13,430 in 1715, putting 40,000 seamen out of work. There is no proof that these men joined the ranks of the pirates, and Marcus Rediker has pointed out that most pirates were drawn from the merchant navy, not the Royal Navy; but many contemporary observers believed that the rise in pirate attacks in the years after the Peace of Utrecht was due to the large numbers of unemployed seamen. They particularly blamed the Spanish for driving the logwood cutters out of the bays of Campeche and Honduras after the Treaty of Utrecht, and they also blamed the privateers. Many privateering commissions had been issued in the later years of the seventeenth century, particularly in the West Indies. Peace put an end to this, and the Governor of Jamaica warned London of the likely outcome: 'Since the calling in of our privateers, I find already a considerable number of seafaring men at the towns of Port Royal and Kingston that can't find employment, who I am very apprehensive, for want of occupation in their way, may in a short time desert us and turn pirates.' "



David Cordingly


Under the Black Flag: The Romance and the Reality of Life Among the Pirates


Random House


Copyright 1996 by David Cordingly


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