18th Century Pirates Had An Elaborate Family Tree of Relationships

(Edward Teach, originally from an engraving by Benjamin Cole in A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pirates (1724), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons)


Pirate leaders in the Atlantic Ocean, specifically off the coast of the Americas, during the 18th century were frequently related in some way, shape or form. They were not tied together through family lines, but rather through crews and companionship. A pirate captain would often sail with other pirate captains, and disagreements in the crews of pirate ships could lead crewmates to splinter from their current Captain to serve under another. With all of these captains sailing together, and all of the captains who split from an earlier pirate ship, it is easy to see how the Atlantic was filled with pirates who knew each other.

One of the best examples is to trace the pirates related to Benjamin Hornigold. He sailed alongside other captains named Cockram, Barrow, West, Jennings and LaBouche. Hornigold and his friends set up their own ‘pirate republic’ in the Bahamas, where they rested between their hunts for loot. Besides Hornigold and his immediate associates, other famous pirates such as Blackbeard, Bonnet, Davis and Rackam set up base in the Bahamas alongside around nineteen other pirate captains (and all of their crews).

Hornigold was one of the original pirates from whom many of the later captains would descend. Blackbeard, along with the captains, Bellamy and Porter, came from Hornigold’s crew, directly. Blackbeard would go on to create his own alliance with other pirates and have his own successor.

A better example of the spread of pirate relations is Bartholomew “Black Bart” Roberts. He was the successor of Davis, who sailed alongside Labouche, who was a companion of Benjamin Hornigold. During Roberts’ record-setting reign of piracy, he, himself, spawned three splinter pirate crews, captained by captains Kennedy, Skyrm and Anstis (this last captain was succeeded by a man named Fenn). The lineages of the crews aboard the ships of Hornigold, Blackbeard and Black Bart Roberts show that the pirate world of the early 18th century Atlantic was one giant, complicated family.

Written by C. Keith Hansley



  • Outlaws of the Atlantic: Sailors, Pirates, and Motley Crews in the Age of Sail by Marcus Rediker. Boston: Bacon Press, 2014.

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