During the turn of the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries many Scots sought their fortunes on the high seas.  Some became famed pirate hunters, others suffered terribly at the hands of pirates – many of whom were once their kinsman.

It is one of the quirks of Pirate History that many pirate crews sought to emulate the great pirate Captain Avery who had retired back to Britain with his fabulous treasure taken in the .  Once there, they too could vanish as rich men into the sprawling metropolis of London.  To minimise the risk of being identified and hanged, it was necessary to make a landing from a small vessel on deserted beach in a remote part of Britain.  After scuttling the vessel, the pirate company would then split up into small groups and walk to the nearby towns.  There, with a little prudent spending, they could transform themselves into gentlemen before heading for London.   

The west coast of Scotland provided the conduit for the retiring rump of ‘Black Bart’ Robert’s crew, the most determined and vicious group in Pirate History.  Under the command of his first mate - Walter Kennedy - they made a landing at Craignish Loch, Argyllshire, after absconding from Tortuga with Black Bart’s treasure hoard.  A number of them gave themselves away by their drunken and riotous behaviour on the road from Inverary to Greenock and found themselves in Edinburgh Castle dungeons.  Nine were later hanged on Leith Sands.  

Their trial is but one heard before the High Court of Admiralty of Scotland sitting in Edinburgh (1720) that provides the student of the ‘Golden Age of Piracy’ with an incomparable insight into the ‘New Providence Captains’.  It fills in the missing details of Howell Davis and ‘Black Bart’ Robert’s extensive cruises off the Caribbean, African and Brazilian coasts (1718-20). These were by far the most devastating and bloodiest cruises of the era.  

 

From their confessions and testimonies the events leading to the final showdown off Cape Lopez (1722) between Robert’s pirate flotilla and Captain Chaloner Ogle on HMS Swallow – that effectively ended the era can be pieced together.  All the pirate captains involved had traded up vessels and firepower on the course of their cruising.  At that great sea fight the three pirate ships were manned by hundreds of ‘Blades’ and commanded by the ‘aristocrats’ of piracy – who referred to themselves as the members of the ‘House of Lords’.  

A myriad of documents relating to piracy abound in the archives and libraries of Scotland on piracy. The greatest writers on pirates - Daniel Defoe, Robert Louis Stevenson and Sir Walter Scott - based their hair-raising tales on these real blood soaked cut-throats.

 

The last pirates convicted of piracy were hanged on Leith Sands in 1822 in front of a crowd estimated at 40,000.   

 

For the full story see - Seawolves: Pirates & the Scots in publications.