The Bahamas were a favoured hunting ground of Pirates:
It is a well known fact that Nassau and New Providence itself were considered to be a "pirates proven" as declared by the Governor of Cuba in 1684. Essentially there was degradation of freebooters from cow catching buccaneers and privateers to down right pirates who eventually made Nassau their home.
The late 1600s through the early 1700s were the notorious age of the pirates. Privateers were distinguished from pirates (but often times worked at different times as both) by plundering enemy ships at the request of their government and sending the booty to their monarch. Pirates were indiscriminate and preyed upon any passing vessel. There were also "wreckers" who would use false "lighthouses" to lure vessels upon the reefs and then reaped the spoils from the stranded ship.
The popularity of The Bahamas by pirates was due to the numerous islands and islets with complex shoals and channels providing places for them to hide while waiting to plunder ships. Moreover the islands were within and close to many well traveled shipping lanes such as the Windward Passage. Therefore The Bahamas quickly became favoured to sit and wait passing merchant ships to plunder.
The original "boucaniers" who were the precursors of the "Brethren of the Coast" were on north Hispaniola and originally from France, Holland and England. They hunted wild cattle, dried the meat over open files and sold the product, "boucans", along with the hides to passing ships until the wild herds declined in numbers. Amidst the opposition of the Spaniards and the lack of cattle they left initially in canoes, then to large ships and finally to flotillas. The took part in Spanish commerce and in about 1650 took up residence on Tortuga, a rocky island off the north coast of Hispaniola, claimed jurisdiction and appointed a Governor. Tortuga was only 55 miles SSE of Inagua in The Bahamas. They had their own code of ethics, which was somewhat brazen. As the English buccaneer strong hold dispersed from Jamaica the English freebooters of Tortuga now had to rely upon the French for protection. Severe acts were passed against them by Carolina legislature and Jamaica and they became less scrupulous of their prey. Even their own people were calling them pirates by 1685. At this time they commenced plundering Bermudian ships that would stop at Inagua to trade salt. While they preferred the safety of their Tortuga they became more brazen and began plundering the ships of the mainland of the colonies especially in light of the slackness of the Governors within The Bahamas and before long they cast their eyes upon New Providence.
The Bahamas became the ideal facility for pirates to lurk about, surprise, attack and then escape. Preying upon passing ships of any nation safe in the waters from reprisal and the ineffective government. Grisly tales are told of the Bahamian pirates who lacked even a thief's honor, as did the buccaneers.
Henry Morgan who was a Welsh privateer was famous for his exploits of the Spanish. He led many successful raids including an attack on Panama City in 1670 that earned him knighthood. One of his preferred hunting grounds was in and around the island of Andros whereupon at the highest point of the island it was named Morgan's Bluff in his honor. Myth and legend has it that Morgan would hang a lantern up upon the bluff to lure in ships onto the reef however this isn't factually based.
The Spanish galleons, which were weighed down with riches, were easy plunder for the pirates. The pirates could then hide their booty in the caverns of the many islands of The Bahamas or buried it there. William Catt who was a British pirate is said to have buried his treasure upon Cat Island, which was named for him. Pirates were abundant in the cays of Exuma. Of special fame, Shark Lady who's all female crew took to sea topless.
After the Spanish raids of 1684, New Providence remained empty with no permanent settlers until 1686. At which point colonists from Jamaica and from Bermuda ventured back and built a fort. They made a council of 12 in 1687. Pirates were a great concern and efforts vain to keep them from watering in the islands. The likes of John Thurber, Thomas Wooley and Christopher Goffe were particularly difficult to keep out especially in that many of the settlers were not above reproach.
In July of 1688 Bridges was confirmed Governor of New Providence but shortly thereafter he was succeeded by Cadwallader Jones who arrived in the colony in June 1690. It is reported in history that he sold gunpowder to known pirates and failed to prosecute the theft of guns. It is said that he and his agent reigned in terror the citizens and imprisoned them without trials, practiced censorship and oppressed traders. He forced the General Assembly to adopt his previous proclamations by having his son point the guns of his ship on the Council Chamber from the harbour during the session. There was then rebellion and imprisonment of Jones followed by the leader of that faction being arrested and tried by a Grand Jury who convicted him. The jury was said to contain six pirates, two drunks and one man accused of unnatural vice. Much of this is taken from personal accounts by either side in writing but if there is a portion of truth it makes one aware of the climate the pirates created.
Because of the stronghold of the pirates upon New Providence and the ravaging of the Spanish galleons by the likes of Blackbeard, Henry Morgan and Calico Jack, the Spanish army wiped out Nassau in 1695. But within two years privateers revisited to rebuild the capital for similar purposes.
In 1696 there occurred the scandal of Capt. Avery. His career has been glamorized in the play "The Successful Pirate". The year prior he seized a ship called the Charles off Corunna and re-christened it the Fancy and turned it to piracy. He was lucky enough to encounter and capture a ship belonging to the Great Mogul and looted it of its riches and great jewels of the Mogul. He then traveled with the Indian Princess before landing upon Eleuthera and gaining permission from the then Governor Nicholas Trott to water in Nassau. He divided his loot with his crew and this resulted in the embarrassment and dismissal of Trott.
In 1703 the French and Spanish navies joined forces and wiped out Nassau again because of the continued plundering by the privateers and pirates. Once again the city was reestablished for use by privateers, pirates and wreckers.
The plundering was brutal and often times murderous. In 1714 when Charles Vane captured the ship of Samuel Cooper of Bermuda, he hung one of the crew at the yardarm and cut him down prematurely to slash him to death with a cutlass. Upon boarding the ship of Capt Edward North he tied a man to the bowsprit with matches burning down to his eyes and a loaded pistol to his mouth to force him to disclose the ship hiding place for money.
However Vane while the captain of Treasure refused to attack a French man-of-war, enraging much of his crew. John Rackham, referred to as Calico Jack for his striped coat and pants, led a protest and fellow crewmembers joined him in overtaking the ship. They sent Vane and his followers on a small sloop and Calico Jack took over as.
Calico Jack met Anne Bonny in New Providence and convinced her to leave her husband and run off with him. She dressed as a man and worked as a fellow crewmember. Mary Read was also on board as a crewmember and disguised as a man. They were famed for being female pirates who performed with all the vigor and fought with the fierceness of the men in the crew. In 1720 when Woodes Rogers came to govern New Providence he formed an attack to drive the pirates out. They verged upon Calico Jack's ship while the he and the rest of the crew were drunk and cowering in the hold. It was Anne and Mary who fought off the attackers but alas they lost the battle. Calico Jack was sentenced and hung. Anne and Mary were tried as well as the rest of the crew for piracy and sentenced to death. However claiming pregnancy Anne and Mary were able to avoid immediate hanging. Mary died in prison and Anne gave birth to her child and was granted a reprieve after which she was never heard of again.
By far the most fierce and notorious pirate of all was Blackbeard. Edward Teach was a very large man who wore his black beard in plaits. He would weave kemp into his beard before battle and have it smoldering and kept fuming slow matches in his hatband all to light his pistols. As he approached battle standing on the deck with his menacing size, smoldering beard, six pistols in a special belt and three sabre-thrusts he instilled fear into the merchant ships. Most would surrender and he would remove the booty and allow them to leave with their vessels. However should any crew of a merchant ship resist he would kill or maroon them.
He was a menace for only two years but in that time plundered so many vessels that he became the largest pirate nuisance. He didn't gain his own ship until 1716 and became so well know for being cut throat his own men feared him. While he lived in Nassau fellow pirates voted him as the Privateers' Republic magistrate. He was said to have had fourteen wives and to have filled his ship (a captured merchantman) with guns and cutthroats.
In 1718 he was cornered by a British ship on a sand bar off the coast of Virginia. He is said to have gone on fighting with five pistol balls in him and three sabre-thrusts before perishing.
the 1720's Woodes Rodgers did eventually clean up the privateers of
Nassau and New Providence.