Benjamin Hornigold was the founder of the pirate republic in the Bahamas and a mentor to both Blackbeard and Sam Bellamy. A leader of one of the largest pirate factions at Nassau, he ultimately switched sides, becoming a leading pirate hunter and a trusted lieutenant of the pirate’s arch nemesis, Woodes Rogers.
As revealed in The Republic of Pirates, Hornigold’s piracy career began in August 1713, far earlier than previously thought, and just months after the conclusion of the War of Spanish Succession. Hornigold is thought to have served as a privateer out of Jamaica during the war, and he apparently shared the concerns of many Englishman about continued peacetime attacks by Spanish privateers. Likely motivated by a combination of patriotism and profit-seeking, Hornigold and two accomplices took up residence at Nassau, which had been utterly destroyed during the war. Operating out of large sailing canoes, his gang preyed on Spanish merchant vessels and plantations off the coast of Cuba and in the Florida Straits, quickly amassing a considerable fortune.
In several fits and starts, Hornigold and his colleague, John Cockram, built the foundations of the pirate society in the Bahamas. Cockram took up the business end, moving to Harbour Island (50 miles north of Nassau), marrying the daughter of the leading merchant there, and setting up a sophisticated smuggling, supply, and money-laundering operation for Hornigold and his growing cohort of pirates. Hornigold purchased several of his early pirate vessels — sailing canoes and small sloops — from local settlers. Edward Thatch — alias Blackbeard — was likely a member of his early gang.
Throughout his career, Hornigold avoided attacking English vessels, but he made no pretense of acting lawfully. As pirates streamed into Nassau following the wreck of the Spanish treasure fleet on the nearby coast of Florida in 1715, Hornigold threatened British authorities who tried to confront and arrest the pirates. By early 1716 his own pirate gang numbered more than 200, and the pirates’ control of the Bahamas was uncontested.
Hornigold and Henry Jennings were rivals and detested one another, a legacy of an April 1716 incident off the coast of Cuba, when Hornigold sheltered two upstart pirates — Sam Bellamy and Paulsgrave Williams — who had just stolen a large quantity of treasure from Jennings’ gang. Hornigold, Bellamy, Williams and French pirate Olivier La Buse operated together throught the summer of 1716, but they broke ranks when the other pirate captains grew weary of Hornigold’s refusal to attack English vessels. He remained active throughout 1716 and 1717, and was a leading figure at Nassau. Blackbeard was among his most loyal followers, and continued to sail with Hornigold even after being given his own command.
Pirate Hunter, And Possible Death
When word of the King’s pardon reached Nassau in late December 1717, the pirates split into two camps, one wishing to take the amnesty, the other intending to carry on to the bitter end. Hornigold emerged as the leader of the pro-pardon camp, and he and his closest followers sailed to Jamaica to take the pardon in January 1718.
When Woodes Rogers arrived to take control of the Bahamas, Hornigold organized a formal welcoming party and later volunteered his services as a pirate hunter, pursuing Charles Vane and capturing many recalcitrant pirates with the help of his old colleague, John Cockram. Later, in the War of the Quadruple Alliance, Hornigold obtained a privateering commission from Rogers and again sailed out against the Spanish. He was captured near Havana in the spring of 1719 and apparently died in captivity, as he was never heard from again.