Many were indentured servants, most were teenagers, and quite a few were black.
We learn this information from A History of St. Kitts: The Sweet Trade by Vincent Hubbard. He provides an excellent overview of who the real “Pirates of the Caribbean” were:
“Many pirates began life in the islands as indentured servants rather than seaman…In those times a man could survive in England on £3 a year and it is difficult to blame a young man facing a difficult life to take the opportunity to make as much in a year in piracy as he would in a lifetime of honest labour.” (p. 64)
Somebody always wants to get paid more and do less (as we can see from the aforementioned quote). Piracy was a shot at quick money, a lottery ticket on the open sea. Even though you were an indentured servant – a glorified slave – you still had the chance to make more than an English freeman.
The desire for easy money is timeless and universal. We still see it today…like the man that smuggles heroin instead of working at Burger King. Or the woman that prostitutes instead of working at Foot Locker. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
“In age the average pirate crewman was in his late teens or early twenties,”(p. 64).
These were not the old men with eye patches and white beards that we see in Hollywood. They were English youth, many without facial hair. A few years earlier, they were only children. But when they became teenagers, they were the pirates of the Caribbean (a band of roaming thieves, essentially). On some level, they were like an El Salvadorean street gang: only they lived on a boat instead of a Los Angeles street corner.
A considerable number of pirates and privateers were black…As an example, the English frigate Francis captured and burnt the 32-gun French La Trompeuse in Danish St. Thomas in 1673 and noted that of the crew captured on board, 33 were white and 16 black.
Interesting. In the movie The Pirates of the Caribbean, there were a few black pirates. But as with everything in Hollywood, you can never tell what’s real and what’s virtue signalling. Well, it appears they undershot the number. Black piracy was a common thing. Clearly, a black man could make more money as a pirate than as a slave.
Hubbard’s book is an excellent read. It’s entertaining, informative, and interesting. I’ve been learning more about the Caribbean than I ever did in school. It’s a tremendous history, laying the foundation for the history of the Americas.
But most importantly, I’m reminded of something important…
Never get your historical facts from Hollywood.