Why are Pirates of the Caribbean so Well Known?

M. Dee Dubroff

Many of the pirates who pillaged the shores of the Caribbean Sea during the Golden Age of Piracy are well known today because their activities were both sanctioned and recorded by the ruling nations of the day. The world powers, mostly England and Spain, hired them to walk the fine line between piracy and privateering, legalizing their thirst for blood and plunder and guaranteeing them a percentage of the spoils. But many pirates were greedy, and a piece did not look as attractive as the whole pie, so to speak. By killing all the passengers and crew of a captured vessel and working for no one, save their own despicable souls, these cutthroat pirates of the Caribbean garnered enormous profits from their notorious avocation.

Woman standing behind a stack of books
Woman standing behind a stack of books

The colorful legacy of the pirates of the Caribbean as depicted by the modern cinema clouds the reality of the true criminal nature of many of these seafaring men. Many pirates of the Caribbean were common thieves, murderers and citizens of the wind. They were well known in the same way that an all-points-bulletin or a wanted poster warns today’s citizenry and police about criminals at large. Competing governments hired the best of the lot, such as Captain William Kidd, for example, to plunder the ships of those countries with whom they were at war. Royal records document their exploits.

The Golden Age of Piracy began at the end of the 17th century and lasted until approximately 1730. During this period legends were born, of Jolly Rogers, buccaneers, free flowing rum and damsels in distress. The pirates of the Caribbean, however, continued to pillage and murder until well into the 19th century when other forms of transportation made sea piracy no longer a profitable venture. Piracy can be compared today to Internet scams, theft and other illegal machinations that attract the dregs of society such as pornographers and pedophiles.

Piracy was no secret affair. In early New York, pirates flaunted their spoils as they did their weapons. They were known to parade down near the wall that gave Wall Street its name with guns belted into colorful silk waistcoats, spending their gold in local taverns and brothels as if it were quick flowing silver. Local merchants and businesses prospered with their booty, and learned to ask no questions from the horde of unsavory men who invaded their premises and would just as soon slit all their throats as buy them a beer with their ill-gotten gains.

The pirates of the Caribbean live on only in the Disney franchise of amusement park rides and popular films, and it is just as well. The world today in these perilous times has more than enough problems to deal with without throwing a bunch of murderous pirates into the mix!

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