Pirate's Isle, a watercolor painting by David Cox

Pirate havens are ports or harbors that are a safe place for pirates to repair their vessels, resupply, recruit, spend their plunder, avoid capture, and/or lie in wait for merchant ships to pass by. The areas have governments that are unable or unwilling to enforce maritime laws. This creates favorable conditions for piracy. Pirate havens were places where pirates could find shelter, protection, support, and trade.[1]

These havens were often near maritime shipping lanes. Although some havens were merely hidden coves, some were established by governments who employed privateers to disrupt the overseas trade of rival nations. Some of the most famous island strongholds included Tortuga in the Caribbean, Madagascar in the Indian Ocean, and the Sulu Archipelago in the South China Sea.[2]

Some historic pirate havens included Barataria Bay, Port Royal, and Tortuga. These provided some autonomy for privateers and buccaneers.


Pirate havens had significant impacts on the history and development of maritime trade and warfare. Some of these impacts include:

Disruption of trade

French trading ship attacked by pirates during the Golden Age of Piracy

Pirate havens enabled pirates to launch frequent and effective attacks on merchant ships that carried valuable goods across the oceans. This caused losses and damages to traders and shippers who had to pay higher insurance premiums or avoid certain routes or regions altogether.[3]One of the major effects of pirate havens on the emerging economic system of the Atlantic world was the disruption of trade and commerce. By attacking and capturing merchant vessels of all nations, pirates interfered with the flow of goods and people across the Atlantic basin, which connected Europe, Africa, and the Americas. Pirates targeted valuable cargoes such as sugar, tobacco, spices, textiles, slaves, and gold. They also seized ships and equipment that were essential for maritime navigation and communication.[4]

Pirate havens influenced the relations and conflicts among various colonial powers, who competed for control over trade and territory in different parts of the world. Some pirate havens served as allies or enemies to certain nations, depending on their interests or alliances. Some pirate havens also challenged the authority and legitimacy of established governments by asserting their own sovereignty or autonomy.[5]

Dealers who had set up their business in various locations in the Caribbean and the Indian Ocean purchased goods from pirates. They paid a lower price for these goods than they would have paid to merchant ships in any other port, and the pirates accepted their money, even if they sold at a lower price than the value. The dealers then transported their goods into ports where they sold them through the same channels that they would have followed if the trade process had not been interrupted by the pirates. This created competition and influenced the market prices of many products. [6][7]

Some colonial officials cooperated with pirates and offered them better prices for their loot than they could get in a safe port. One of the most well-known of these officials was Charles Eden, the governor of North Carolina, who granted pardons to famous pirates like Edward Teach (also known as Blackbeard) and Stede Bonnet. He even let Teach set up a pirate base at Ocracoke Island. This cooperation weakened the authority and legitimacy of colonial governments and increased piracy.[8][3]

Influence on politics

Social and cultural aspects of pirate havens

Pirate havens contributed to the creation and dissemination of pirate culture and mythology that have fascinated generations of people around the world. Pirate havens inspired stories, legends, songs, movies, books, games, and other forms of art and entertainment that depict the lives and adventures of pirates.[9]

  1. Cosmopolitanism and cultural exchange: Pirate havens were home to a diverse mix of people from various backgrounds and cultures. This diversity led to a rich cultural exchange, with people sharing ideas, languages, and customs, as well as forming new hybrid identities. [10]
  2. Religious tolerance: In contrast to the religious intolerance that characterized much of Europe during this time, pirate havens were often marked by a high degree of religious tolerance. While Christianity was the dominant faith in many of these communities, Muslims and Jews were often allowed to practice their religion freely.[10]
  3. Egalitarianism: Pirate utopias tended to be more egalitarian than the societies from which their inhabitants came. Hierarchies based on birth, wealth, and social status were less important in these communities, and many pirates adhered to a code that emphasized equal distribution of wealth and power.[10]
  4. Democracy and self-governance: Some pirate havens functioned as self-governing communities, with pirates electing their leaders and making collective decisions on matters of governance and strategy. This democratic ethos contrasted sharply with the monarchical and authoritarian systems that prevailed in Europe at the time.[10]
  5. Resistance and autonomy: Pirate utopias were often seen as bastions of resistance against European powers, with pirates engaging in acts of defiance and rebellion against the prevailing order. These communities served as a symbol of autonomy and freedom, challenging the hegemony of the European states.


Pirate havens had some common characteristics that made them attractive to pirates. These include:

Barbary Coast

Historically, the Barbary Coast contained a number of pirate havens, notably Salé, Algiers, and Tunis. These pirate havens were used by corsairs from the 16th to the 19th century. The pirates ravaged European shipping and enslaved thousands of captives. The Pirate Republic of Salé, in 17th century Morocco, was a micronation with its own seaport argot known as "Franco", since like other pirate states, it from time to time made treaties with European governments, agreeing not to attack their fleets.

Mehdya (La Mamora) in Morocco was a pirate haven in the early 17th century.[11] Another notable base for Barbary corsairs was Ghar al Milh (Porto Farina) in Tunisia.

The United States Navy was founded, in part, to counter the activities of the Barbary pirates, and the United States fought the First and Second Barbary Wars (1801–1805, 1815) to end this threat to its shipping.


In the early 17th century in Munster (Ireland's southernmost province), Leamcon (near Schull[12]) was a pirate stronghold, while pirates traded easily in nearby Baltimore and Whiddy Island.[13] Munster's coast provided favorable geography in the form of harbors, bays, islands, anchorages and headlands, while the province's remoteness made it difficult to control from London or Dublin.[14] Literate pirates in Ireland could, till 1613, escape secular trial (making their prosecution much more difficult) by pleading "benefit of clergy".[15] The coast of Munster complemented Mehdya as a base for piracy since, during summers, Mehdya became less safe as the calmer waters favored the galleys used to suppress piracy.[14]


"Discovery of the Madagascar pirate colony by Captain Woods Rogers", from 1892 book The Story of Africa and its Explorers

One of the earliest rumored places where pirates collected was on the island of Madagascar, off the east coast of Africa. This was their base of operations for their pecking of the Mughal Empire. Here they could prey on the successes of the East India Companies while being a world away from any authority. These are the same outlaws that were plundering the West Indies. The English pirate Henry Every plundered a Mughal ship, gaining immense wealth.[16]: 49  Every was said to have settled on Madagascar and was never heard from again, though it was rumored he retired in Ireland. Some writers speculate that this event put in motion a series of events that would help lead to the multitude of laws passed for decades to come.[17]: 202–215 

Madagascar was an island off the coast of Africa that became a refuge for pirates who operated in the Indian Ocean in the late 17th and early 18th centuries. It was a place where pirates could find abundant food, water, wood, and slaves. It was also a place where pirates could establish their own settlements and communities, such as Libertatia.[1]

Madagascan pirate havens included Fort-Dauphin, the town of Saint Augustin, and Sainte-Marie.

A Madagascan pirate colony was established by a group of English and French pirates who sailed to the island in 1698 under the command of Captain William Kidd. They settled on the east coast of Madagascar, near Sainte-Marie. They built a fort and a town, and traded with the local Malagasy people. They also raided ships that passed by the island, and amassed a large amount of treasure. The colony lasted for about 25 years, until it was destroyed by a French expedition in 1723.[18]


New Providence was an island in the Bahamas that became a base for pirates who operated in the Atlantic Ocean in the early 18th century. It was a place where pirates could find friendly merchants, governors, and judges who were willing to trade with them or protect them from prosecution. It was also a place where pirates could form alliances and associations, such as the Flying Gang.[1]

Somali Coast

In the early 2000s, piracy off the coast of Somalia became commonplace. During this period, pirate havens included Eyl, in the Puntland region of northern Somalia, and Harardhere (Xarard-heere), in the Mudug province of Somalia. During this same time period, the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia was believed to be unable to enforce maritime laws.[19] Other modern havens included Garaad and Hobyo in central Somalia.[20]

List of examples



Pirate utopias

Main article: Pirate utopia

The American anarchist Peter Lamborn Wilson identified pirate societies as being spaces temporarily outside of the control of states, and consequently proto-anarchist societies. This forms part of his thesis of Temporary Autonomous Zones, spaces or polities in which anarchist conceptions of freedom were briefly enacted during various historical periods.[22]

See also


  1. ^ a b c David, Cordingly (2006). Under the black flag : the romance and the reality of life among the pirates. Random House Trade Paperbacks. ISBN 978-0-8129-7722-6. OCLC 70067406.
  2. ^ Pennell, C. R. (2001). Bandits at sea a pirates reader. New York University Press. OCLC 937283136.
  3. ^ a b c d e f Cartwright, Mark. "Pirate Havens in the Golden Age of Piracy". World History Encyclopedia. Retrieved 2023-04-06.
  4. ^ Lane, Kris (2010-05-10). "Piracy". Oxford Bibliographies Online Datasets. doi:10.1093/obo/9780199730414-0077. Retrieved 2023-04-07.
  5. ^ "Conclusion: The Legacy of Pirate Politics for Moral-Practical Reasoning", Pirate Politics, The MIT Press, 2014, doi:10.7551/mitpress/9205.003.0008, ISBN 9780262320146, retrieved 2023-04-06
  6. ^ Jacque, Brian (2007). "Piracy in a Mercantilist Society" (PDF). Western Oregon University.
  7. ^ Cartwright, Mark. "Pirate Havens in the Golden Age of Piracy". World History Encyclopedia. Retrieved 2023-04-09.
  8. ^ Hanna, Mark G. (2015-06-15), "Piratical Colonization, 1603–1655", Pirate Nests and the Rise of the British Empire, 1570-1740, University of North Carolina Press, pp. 58–101, doi:10.5149/northcarolina/9781469617947.003.0003, ISBN 9781469617947, retrieved 2023-04-09
  9. ^ Woodard, Colin (2007). The Republic of Pirates: Being the True and Surprising Story of the Caribbean Pirates and the Man Who Brought Them Down. Pan Macmillan. ISBN 9781509841912.
  10. ^ a b c d Wilson, Peter Lamborn (2004). Pirate Utopias: Moorish Corsairs & European Renegadoes. Autonomedia. ISBN 1-57027-158-5. OCLC 56437784.
  11. ^ Senior 1976, pp. 29, 40, 50, 53, 73, 76–77, 145.
  12. ^ Senior 1976, pp. 41, 68.
  13. ^ Senior 1976, pp. 54–57.
  14. ^ a b Senior 1976, pp. 53–54.
  15. ^ Senior 1976, p. 54.
  16. ^ Daniel Defoe, A general history of the pyrates (Mineola N.Y.: Dover Publications, 1999).
  17. ^ Bradley Nutting, "The Madagascar Connection: Parliament and Piracy, 1690–1701". The American Journal of Legal History, Vol. 22, No. 3 (July 1978).
  18. ^ Brown, Robert (1892). The story of Africa and its explorers. London: Cassell. doi:10.5479/sil.788570.39088018042580.
  19. ^ Mazzetti, Mark; Otterman, Sharon (2009-04-09). "U.S. Captain is Hostage of Pirates; Navy Ship Arrives". New York Times. Retrieved 2009-04-09.
  20. ^ http://www.tiede.fi, the Finnish science magazine Tiede, no 5/2011
  21. ^ Rogozinski, Jan (1999). Dictionary of Pirates. Ware, Hertfordshire: Wordsworth Editions Ltd. pp. 85–87. ISBN 1-85326-384-2.
  22. ^ Wilson, Peter (2003). Pirate Utopias: Moorish Corsairs & European Renegadoes. Autonomedia. ISBN 1-57027-158-5.