The Real Pirates of the Caribbean

By | February 2, 2019

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Johnny Depp and Orlando Bloom in Pirates of the Caribbean. Source:(

There’s no Jack Sparrow or Black Pearl in the history of piracy; however, not everything about the Pirates of the Caribbean movie franchise is fictional. The pirates existed, though they were not the romantic heroes that movies make them out to be, nor did the open seas offer freedom from accountability. Most pirates were privateers, hired by the monarchy to sabotage enemy ships and ports.

Sir Francis Drake

One of the more well-known pirates of the Caribbean was Sir Francis Drake. He was born in the early 1540s, the son of a tenant farmer, and raised by relatives who were merchants and privateers. In 1567, he and his cousin John Hawkins sailed to Africa to join the slave trade. After most of their crew was killed in an attack by the Spanish, Drake returned to England with an intense hatred for Spain. Queen Elizabeth I used this hatred to her advantage, giving Drake a privateer’s commission and permission to plunder the Spanish at will. She also hired him to lead expeditions, claiming land for England and, in 1580, he became the first Englishman to circumnavigate the globe. After he returned to England, he was knighted by the queen.  

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The Spanish Armada and English ships in August 1588, (16th-century, English School). Source: (

In 1585, he commanded a fleet of 25 ships, plundering Spanish ports along the coast of Florida before picking up the failed colonists from Roanoke Island and heading home. In 1588, he served under Admiral Charles Howard during the famous defeat of the Spanish Armada. After several years on land, he embarked on one last expedition against the Spanish in 1596. The journey proved to be a failure in all aspects as Spain was able to fend off their attacks and Drake came down with dysentery and died in January of 1596.