Pirates & Privateers of the Virgin Islands

Pirate Prince Rupert using Careening Cove

The history of the Virgin Islands is deeply rooted in piracy and privateering and is just one of many significant chapters in the story of the Caribbean.

Starting with the first preserved records of the New World, we find the Spanish plundering and enslaving the local native Taino and Carib people. The Sir Francis Drake Channel, which separates Virgin Islands National Park from the British Virgin Islands, is testament that by the mid-500s, all of the islands in the area were strategic bases for staging expeditions to plunder treasure from the Spanish.

In the first half of the 1600s, many an English Sea Dog was here, including Prince Rupert of the Rhine, documented as being in Hassel Island's Careening Cove. By the mid-600s, Dutch, French, and English pirates, and the Spanish battle for possession of the Virgin Islands; often annihilating each other. When the Danes arrived in 1672, their settlement was a base of operations for pirates and privateers. Even their forts were built to protect them from other pirates! Pirates were allowed to settle in the Danish colony and were encouraged to trade here. A few of the early governors lost their heads for their involvement in pirate affairs . At one point, St. Thomas harbor was blockaded and plundered by the notorious pirates of Tortuga. Our neighbors across the (Sir Francis) Drake Channel, the British Virgin Islands, were originally taken from Dutch pirates. Only debtors and pirates dared approach the dangerous pirate settlements on these islands until 1773, when a government was finally established.

The known list of pirates that were operating in the islands is long.A few notable ones include Captain Kidd, Jean Hamlin, Stede Bonnet, Tempest Rogers, Bartholomew Sharp, and Black Sam Bellamy. Just off the east end of St. John is Norman Island (named for a pirate), the setting for Robert Louise Stevenson's Treasure Island and nearby is Stevenson's Dead Chest Island. The archaeology of piracy in the park is underway and we have found two sites that just may very well be 17th century pirate hideouts.

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    Last updated: September 15, 2018

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