Pirates: Piracy and Golden Age
The Golden Age of piracy arose during an increase of trade goods through the Americas as well as large profit margins in Europe. The increasing production rates caused by the triangle trade gave England, France, and Spain incentives to invest more. The Britishunderstood the needs for each continent, and could support those needs while profiting greatly. During the Golden Age, many more goods traveled through unprotected waters making piracy an attractive profession. In addition, Piracy became very popular because of its democratic rule and tremendous acquired wealth for its crew members.
Increased trade circulation of valuables during this period caused the ‘Golden age’ because piracy boomed. When more money was invested in shipping fleets, the pirate’s had more opportunities to steal. The production rates of the traders far outweighed the stolen goods and money, but the pirates did cause severe losses for the traders that was consistent and damaging enough to be threatening. The created demand in Europe was vital to the English in order to continue profiting from their trade investment. The amplification of “trades in tobacco, sugar, slaves, and manufactures led English merchant shipping to expand” (Rediker &Linebaugh, 2001, 146).
Without a need for these goods, England would not have invested in the triangle trade and slavery in the West Indies would not have existed. The high demand of sugarcane caused slavery, piracy, and sugar plantations throughout the Caribbean. Slave trading made sugarcane production possible in the West Indies. As more sugar was demanded in Europe, more money, slaves, and goods would be circulating in the triangle trade. Williams described the triangle trade as a “triple stimulus to British industry” (Williams, 1994, 52). The West Indies had soil that was conducive to growing sugar. This crop gave the British a high marginal profit from the cheap labor of the increasing number of slaves.
Tars and pirates understood the social and economic construction of the trade. Even with a rising percentage of ships where pirates stole booty, the quantity of ships that the Europeans added compensated greatly. The downside to having more ships on trade routes was that the pirates could seize them more easily. Due to investors needing more ships, “shipbuilding in England received a direct stimulus from the triangular trade” (Williams, 1994, 58). The shipwrights in Liverpool had an extra investment in the trade because “they themselves were slave traders” (Williams, 1994, 58).
Many of the investors in the triangle trade actually monopolized more than one aspect of it. Those who had capital to invest in larger vessels were the ones who made their money from the plantations. The growth of wealth for the British investors was exponential because the profits automatically stimulated other related investments. The pirates and merchant sailors were not fond of one another, yet they each understood the economic system that was occurring. The European investors became extremely wealthy while their sailors were simply serving the government. The pirates negatively impacted the profits that Europeans earned, but the trade business was so profitable that the Europeans remained rich. Piracy had advantages and disadvantages for individual sailors, but the act of piracy had tremendous impact of the triangle trade, profits for European investors, and slavery in the Caribbean.