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Captain Misson, described by Johnson as founder of Libertalia
Captain Misson, described by Johnson as founder of Libertalia

Libertatia (also known as Libertalia) was a purported pirate colony founded in the late 17th century in Madagascar under the leadership of Captain James Misson (last name occasionally spelled "Mission", first name occasionally "Olivier").


Libertalia was a legendary free colony founded by pirates led by Captain Misson,[1] although most historians have expressed doubts over its existence outside of literature. Libertalia got its name from the Latin word liberi which means "free". Misson's idea was to have his society be one in which people of all colors, creeds, and beliefs were to be free of any scrutiny. He wanted to give the people of Libertalia their own demonym, not one of a past country of origin.[2]: 417  Historian and activist Marcus Rediker describes the pirates as follows:

These pirates who settled in Libertalia would be "vigilant Guardians of the People's Rights and Liberties"; they would stand as "Barriers against the Rich and Powerful" of their day. By waging war on behalf of "the Oppressed" against the "Oppressors," they would see that "Justice was equally distributed."[3]

The pirates were against the authoritarian institutions of their day, including monarchies, slavery, institutional religion, and the abuses associated with wealth. Like some historically documented pirates, they practiced direct democracy, where the people as a whole held the authority to make laws and rules, and also used systems of councils composed of delegates who were supposed to think of themselves as "comrades" of the general population, not rulers. They created a new language for their colony and operated a socialist economy.[4]

The pirate utopia's motto was "for God and liberty," and its flag was white,[5] in contrast to a Jolly Roger.

Captain James Misson

According to the account in the General History of the Pyrates,[2]: 383–389  Misson was French, born in Provence, and it was while he was in Rome on leave from the French warship Victoire that he lost his faith, disgusted by the decadence of the Papal Court. In Rome he ran into Caraccioli – a "lewd Priest" who over the course of long voyages with little to do but talk, gradually converted Misson and a sizeable portion of the rest of the crew to his way of thinking:

he fell upon Government, and shew'd, that every Man was born free, and had as much Right to what would support him, as to the Air he respired... that the vast Difference betwixt Man and Man, the one wallowing in Luxury, and the other in the most pinching Necessity, was owing only to Avarice and Ambition on the one Hand, and a pusillanimous Subjection on the other.[2]: 389 

Embarking on a career of piracy, the 200 strong crew of the Victoire called upon Misson to be their captain. They shared the wealth of the ship, deciding "all should be in common."[5] All decisions were to be put to "the Vote of the whole Company." Thus they set out on their new "Life of Liberty." Off the west coast of Africa they captured a Dutch slave ship. The slaves were freed and brought aboard the Victoire, Misson declaring that "the Trading for those of our own Species, cou'd never be agreeable to the Eyes of divine Justice: That no Man had Power of Liberty of another" and that "he had not exempted his Neck from the galling Yoak of Slavery, and asserted his own Liberty, to enslave others." At every engagement they added to their numbers with new French, English and Dutch recruits, and freed African slaves.[citation needed]

Sigil of Thomas Tew, a significant figure in the proposed growth of Libertalia
Sigil of Thomas Tew, a significant figure in the proposed growth of Libertalia

After the foundation of Libertalia, Misson's ship stumbled upon Thomas Tew who followed Misson back to Libertalia. Tew had no idea such a society could be established, and Tew had lost his quartermaster and 23 men of his crew when they had left to form a settlement further up the Madagascan coast. The Libertalians would capture slave ships and allow the slaves to join their colony. Off the coast of Angola, Tew and his men captured another English slave ship along with 240 men, women, and children. Many slaves were reunited with their family members at Libertalia. Most of the freed slaves were eager to join the colony that gave them a second chance. Captain Misson sailed off the coast of Cape Infantes, where his sloop was engulfed in a storm and sank.[citation needed]

Misson was known for his role as founder of Libertalia and the radical ideas it represented. These radical ideas and stories that were associated with Misson resonated throughout the world, perhaps most importantly among actual historical pirates. Misson and the rest of his pirate community were strongly opposed to the various forms of authoritarian social constructs prevalent at the time, such as monarchies, slavery, and mercantilism. These same pirates practiced forms of direct democracies that bear some resemblance to the representative democracies of 21st century. They envisioned a society where the people as a whole held the authority to make laws and rules, and used systems of councils with elected delegates. Pirates opposed the dispossession that followed the historical ascent of wage labor and increased state control. The society that they established was a form of direct democracy intertwined with a socialist economy. They believed that "Every man was born free, and had as much right to what would support him, as to the air he respired." They also believed that vices of wealth created "wretchedly miserable" people. They spoke of the "natural right" to "a share of the earth as is necessary for our support." They saw piracy as a war of self-preservation, which justified their actions.[6][unreliable source?]


The consensus of modern scholarship is that Libertalia (or Libertatia) was not a real place, but a work of fiction.[7] Journalist Kevin Rushby toured the area seeking descendants of pirate inhabitants without success, noting “others have tried and failed many times”.[8] There were pirate settlements on and around Madagascar, on which Libertalia may have been based: Abraham Samuel at Port Dauphin, Adam Baldridge at Ile Ste.-Marie, and James Plaintain at Ranter Bay were all ex-pirates who founded trading posts and towns. These locations appear frequently in official accounts and letters from the period, while Libertalia appears only in Johnson's General History, Volume 2.[9] Johnson writes about the overall set up of Libertalia. The settlement was proposed to have an elevated fort on each side of the harbor with 40 guns in each fort, from the Portuguese. Below the fort, under the protection of the forts, was where the living quarters along with the rest of the town was located. Libertalia was located roughly 13 miles east-south-east of the nearest town.[2]


Johnson's “Libertalia” has been treated as completely fictional,[10] as apocryphal,[11] or as a utopian commentary.[12] The inclusion of fictional accounts such as Misson's in A General History has caused some modern scholars to discount the entire work as a reliable source, though other portions of it have been at least partially corroborated by various sources.[13]

Libertalia in popular culture



Video games


See also


  1. ^ Simon, Ed, Return to Pirate Island, JSTOR Daily, August 4, 2021 with several references
  2. ^ a b c d DeFoe, Daniel (26 January 1999). A General History of the Pyrates. Toronto: Dover Publications. ISBN 0-486-40488-9.
  3. ^ Rediker, Marcus (2004), Villains of All Nations: Atlantic Pirates in the Golden Age, Beacon Press, Beacon, Massachusetts. ISBN 0-8070-5024-5.
  4. ^ Cordingly, David (1996), Pirates: Terror on the High Seas from the Caribbean to the South China Sea, 9th ed, World Publications. ISBN 1-57215-264-8.
  5. ^ a b Philip Gosse (1924). "Misson, Captain". The Pirates' Who's Who. Burt Franklin. pp. 211–219. Retrieved March 24, 2014.
  6. ^ "James Misson". Retrieved 2019-05-08.
  7. ^ Little, Benerson (2016). The Golden Age of Piracy: The Truth Behind Pirate Myths. New York: Skyhorse Publishing, Inc. ISBN 9781510713048. Retrieved 15 September 2017.
  8. ^ Rushby, Kevin (2011). Hunting Pirate Heaven: In Search of Lost Pirate Utopias. New York: Bloomsbury Publishing USA. ISBN 9780802779779. Retrieved 4 October 2017.
  9. ^ Vallar, Cindy. "Pirates & Privateers: the History of Maritime Piracy - Pirate Havens Madagascar". Retrieved 4 October 2017.
  10. ^ Sanders, Richard (2007). If a pirate I must be: the true story of Bartholomew Roberts, king of the Caribbean. London: Aurum. pp. 154–155. Retrieved 18 September 2017.
  11. ^ Leeson, Peter (2009). "The Invisible Hook" (PDF). NYU Journal of Law and Liberty. 4: 155. Retrieved 5 June 2017.
  12. ^ Fox, Edward Theophilus (2013). 'Piratical Schemes and Contracts': Pirate Articles and Their Society 1660-1730. Exeter UK: University of Exeter. Retrieved 8 September 2017.
  13. ^ Kuhn, Gabriel (2010). Life Under the Jolly Roger: Reflections on Golden Age Piracy. Oakland CA: PM Press. ISBN 9781604860528. Retrieved 4 October 2017.
  14. ^ "Ye Banished Privateers - The Legend Of Libertalia". Discogs.
  15. ^ "Jake and the Infernal Machine - Rise Like Fire". Bandcamp.
  16. ^ "Ja, Panik - Libertatia". Discogs.