Benjamin Hornigold

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Captain Benjamin Hornigold, an English privateer who afterward turned pirate in the 18th century, later became a pirate hunter for the British government. Along with his contemporaries John West, Daniel Stillwell, John Cockram, and Captain Napin, he was one of the most well-known pirates active during the end of the Golden Age of Piracy. He also served as a tutor to later-famous pirates like Edward “Blackbeard” Teach, Sam Bellamy, and Stede Bonnet. He founded the “Pirates’ republic” in Nassau and offered security to several pirates operating in the Bahamas. He is renowned for not engaging British warships despite being one of the most formidable pirates of the age. This ultimately cost him his ship and crew, who overthrew him in a mutiny; as a result, he was pardoned by the King and went on to become a pirate hunter. He chased his former companions, including Blackbeard, in his final years and was successful in capturing Nicholas Woodall and John Auger. At the age of 39, he passed away from getting caught in a hurricane.

Early Childhood & Life

According to legend, Benjamin Hornigold was born in the English county of Norfolk in 1680. It is assumed that he began his overseas naval career in either King’s Lynn or Great Yarmouth based on his likely birthplace.

Later Years of Benjamin Hornigold

Some sources claim that Benjamin Hornigold participated in the War of Spanish Succession as a privateer operating off of Jamaica. All English letters of marquee provided to privateers when the war ended in 1713 became invalid, which left many seamen like him without employment and eventually leading them to turn to piracy.

Jonathan Darvell’s vessel with the name “Happy Return” was the first sloop he ever sailed. In the future, Hornigold and two of his associates purchased a yacht from an Eleutheran because he was dissatisfied with his profit-sharing percentages.

They were able to capture two Cuban vessels with a combined estimated worth of 46,000 pieces of eight thanks to their new craft (old Spanish Peso de Ocho silver coin). The gang preyed on Spanish merchant ships as well as offshore plantations as they paddled big canoes down the Cuban coast and through the Florida Straits.

He came in New Providence in November 1715 aboard Augustine Golding’s sloop “Mary,” which had 140 crew members and was outfitted with six guns, eight patteraroes, a breech-loading swivel gun, and other weapons. The next month, he returned “Mary” to Golding in Jamaica while capturing a stronger sloop-of-war with a larger capacity and renaming it “Benjamin.”

He was among the first pirates to set up shop in Nassau, the capital of New Providence, which had been completely destroyed during the battle and had since developed a reputation as a refuge for pirates. He apparently continued to view himself as a privateer, though, and, possibly out of loyalty to his country, he only ever attacked enemy ships.

He had founded a “Privateers” or “Pirates” republic at Nassau, Bahamas, and served as a mentor to well-known pirates including Edward Teach, a.k.a. “Blackbeard,” Sam Bellamy, and Stede Bonnet. Hornigold not only released Daniel Stillwell after Thomas Walker, the governor of the Bahamas at the time, had arrested him and his ship, but he also proclaimed that all pirates were under his protection.

A hurricane on the Florida coast on July 30, 1715, drowned 11 of a fleet of twelve Spanish treasure ships carrying wealth from Spain’s New World territories. The episode encouraged a large number of new pirates to the area to challenge the dominance of earlier pirates, even though the Spanish government recovered much of the gold in the following year.

Despite his assertion that he would look out for all the pirates in New Providence, Nassau in 1716–17 lacked a clear pirate commander. However, Henry Jennings and Benjamin Hornigold, each of whom mentored a large number of potential future pirates, controlled the area.

Despite Thomas Walker’s early objections, he took control of what was left of the nearby fort and attempted to strengthen Nassau’s fortifications at the time by putting artillery weapons in the fort in 1716. He took control of a 40-gun ship on December 6th, 1716, and gave it the name “Ranger,” which significantly strengthened his authority in the area.

Some accounts claim that the Spanish ship he berthed in the harbor only had 32 cannons; it is unknown if he dismounted any of them. When he took over the helm of the “Ranger,” he gave his second-in-command Edward Teach, who had immense potential and subsequently rose to fame as “Blackbeard,” command of his former ship.

He took the ship “Lamb” on December 13, 1716, for goods including pork, beef, onions, and oysters, but he also left some biscuits and meals so the crew could survive until they reached Jamaica. The Governor of South Carolina despatched an armed merchant ship to the Bahamas in March 1717 to look for pirates, which he eventually stopped.

A surgeon named John Howell was protected by Benjamin Hornigold in April 1717 after French pirate Jean Bonadvis attempted to compel him onto his ship. He and Captain Napin robbed numerous ships together at Puerto Bello, Jamaica, and Cuba during this time, but they split up in July when they were pursued away by the vessel “HMS Winchelsea.”

In November 1717, Samuel Bellamy took over as captain after he was ousted by his crew because they disapproved of his choice to refrain from attacking British ships. After learning about the mutiny, Edward Teach, who was in charge of his second ship, sent him a single sloop and a small crew to travel to New Providence.

In January 1718, he boarded a ship towards Jamaica to accept the pardon that King George I had promised. Woodes Rogers, the newly installed governor of the Bahamas, had also hired him as a pirate hunter. Throughout the following 18 months, up to his death after being caught in a cyclone, he assisted the governor by looking for his old colleagues.

While he was unable to catch his main targets, Charles Vane and Blackbeard, nine of the 10 pirates he captured—including Vane’s companion Nicholas Woodall—were put to death on December 12, 1718. Along with Woodall, John Auger was also seized. Like Woodall, Auger originally accepted the pardon but eventually returned to piracy.

Demise and Legacy

When Benjamin Hornigold’s ship was destroyed by a hurricane in 1719, it happened somewhere between the Bahamas and Mexico.

He was at one time the captain of five ships with a combined crew of about 350 pirates, making him one of the most powerful pirates active in the Caribbean during the 1710s. He reputedly influenced the careers of over 3200 pirates, including Edward “Blackbeard” Teach, Sam Bellamy, and Stede Bonnet, who either trained with him or at some point sailed with him as a member of his fleet.

He made a significant contribution to Woodes Rogers’ effort to drive out pirates from the Bahamas as a pirate hunter. He assisted in the capture of numerous pirates and members of their crew, most notably Nicholas Woodall and John Auger.

Estimated net worth

The estimated net worth of Benjamin Hornigold is unknown.


Stacy Keach’s 2006 television miniseries “Blackbeard” and Patrick Lyster’s 2014 television series “Black Sails” both featured characters named Benjamin Hornigold.