Encounters with Pirates and Privateers


In seeking to establish and maintain her colonies and trade relations in the Americas, the English faced several threats across the 17th century. Aside from the issues that arose with the native peoples over the European colonization of their land, and the wars with other European powers that played out on the American stage, one of the most fearsome forces posed against the English merchants and colonists in the area was the pirates that dominated the South Seas.

European merchant ships quickly became targets for piracy in the 17th century, in the years that have since been crowned the golden age of piracy. Demands from the merchant fleets for naval accompaniment eventually were met, though the quality of the England’s naval power had to be sacrificed to meet the merchant’s demands for security.  

The Commission of Robert Holmes

Published January 20 1688 under James II, this proclamation details the commission of Sir Robert Holmes, a then-retired royal navy officer to be sail to the West Indies and North America to suppress the pirate threat that the English faced. However, there is no evidence that Holmes ever actually set sail out of England to carry out this commission, though there is some evidence suggesting that he did not.

Trade in the Americas
Encounters with Pirates and Privateers