17th Century Pirates. In NYC.

Glynn Marshes writes:


In addition to rewarding his friends with the crown’s territories [New York governor Benjamin] Fletcher gave them free reign in the piracy business. As Kind William’s War dragged on — it didn’t end until 1697 — both Britain and France bolstered their regular navies by relying on privateers, privately owned warships empowered by “letters of marque” to despoil enemy shipping. The law required that captured ships and cargoes — known as “prizes” — be legally condemned in a proper court of law before they were disposed of. Privateering proved so lucrative that many captains and owners dispensed with the formalities and turned to out-and-out piracy, attacking the vessels of any country, including their own. There were only two details to worry about. One was being caught and hanged. The other was disposing of loot.

Fletcher rolled out the red carpet for pirates, allowing them and their crews to enter New York without fear of arrest, dispose of their treasures, and refit for another voyage — all for a mere one hundred Spanish dollars each. Over the next four or five years he hosted a remarkable collection of villains and cutthroats. When pirate captain Thomas Tew put into port in 1694, the governor invited him to dinner, escorted him around town, and presented him with a gold watch as an inducement to return. Taken aback, the Lords of Trade in London asked for an explanation. Tew was “what they call a very pleasant man,” Fletcher answered serenely. “When the labours of my day were over it was some divertisement as well as information to me, to heare him talke. I wish’d in my mind to make him a sober man, and in particular to reclaime him from a vile habit of swearing.”

That’s from Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898, Edwin G. Burrows and Mike Wallace.

btw, the reference to “rewarding his friends with the crown’s territory” refers to gifts Fletcher made of enormous parcels of land — tens of thousands of acres at a time in northern Manhattan, Westchester, and Long Island (one gift comprised 50 miles — 50 MILES — of northern Long Island shoreline) — in exchange for the “fealty of the colony’s . . . ogligarchs.”

But don’t pick on Fletcher. They were all doing it — his predecessors, his successors. New York was an utterly lawless place, by which I mean that the “laws” were enacted to serve the narrow interests of whoever was in power, only to be overturned a few years later by the next regime. Mix in ongoing tension between the working and merchant classes, more tension between religious factions, and spillovers from European wars, and wow. What a crazy place it was . . .

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1 Response to 17th Century Pirates. In NYC.

  1. Pingback: Early December Mini-Linkfest | Patriactionary

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