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Tuesday, August 01, 2017

Negotiating a Pardon for Piracy

300 years ago today...

August 1, 1717:
Mr. Attorney General [Edward Northey] to the Council of Trade and Plantations. Your Lordships informed me that when I should send the draught of the Proclamation for pardoning of pirates (v. July 15), you would give me your assistance, etc. When the draught of the pardon was made, all piracies were excepted, nevertheless such pirates. who should surrender themselves by a day to be prefixt were to be pardoned. But on further consideration thereof, the Nevertheless etc. was left out, and the exception of pirates remained absolute, it being then intended to issue a pardon by Proclamation for pirates, on such terms as should be thought proper. Whereupon I was commanded to prepare the Proclamation for that purpose with your Lordships' assistance etc. (v. July 15). I have now prepared the draught, which is submitted to your Lordships, etc. Signed, Edw. Northey. Endorsed, Recd, 2nd, Read. 7th Aug., 1717. 1 p. Enclosed,
1. i. Draught of H.M. Proclamation for suppressing of pyrates, referred to in preceding. 2½ pp. [C.O. 323, 7. Nos. 104, 104 i.; and 324, 10. pp. 127–131.]

Proclamations against piracy and pardons for such piracy had been issued since the Glorious Revolution of 1688. British officials, however, were faced with a recent increase in this activity that was detrimental to trade. Still, they were reticent about restricting the mercantile freedoms of their substantial citizens - mariners, for instance, who brought profit to the realm - even if those merchants might engage in piracy. Piracy, of course, was an act that was long-accepted "beyond the lines of amity" in America, even if not accepted at home in England.

Another issue facing Britain at this time was one of loyalty among the various colonies. The new king, George I of Hanover, was German, spoke no English, and was not looked upon favorably by much of the Stuart Tories that flooded America. Every act of this new dynasty was a matter of diplomacy at a time of upheaval at home (Stuart-Jacobite rebellions) and abroad (pirates who held Jacobite sympathies). The king could not chance angering these wealthy gentlemen too much. In an effort to calm the gentlemen in his realm, he intended to issue yet another proclamation to pardon pirates who had recently committed these acts in American waters. The king had hopes that these gentlemen would return to their quasi-legal mercantile professions (those that did not involve piracy of English ships).

There were personal matters to consider - matters that might upset these angry "wayward" gentlemen - such as whether or not they would be allowed to keep the plunder, or their proceeds from such illegal profiteering. The attorney-general, Edward Northey, in drafting this pardon, needed to consult with the Board or Council of Trade and Plantations closely to determine how these gentlemen might react.

Thus, pirates like the wealthy Bermudan Henry Jennings, from a family of smugglers, were eventually allowed to keep their treasure, so long as they surrendered and stopped attacking English ships. The proclamation was officially issued a month later, September 5, 1717:

By the King, A PROCLAMATION for the Suppressing of Pyrates

Whereas we have received information, that several Persons, Subjects of Great Britain, have, since the 24th Day of June, in the Year of our Lord, 1715, committed divers Pyracies and Robberies upon the High-Seas, in the West Indies, or adjoyning to our Plantations, which hath and may Occassion great Damage to the Merchants of Great Britain, and others trading unto those Parts; and tho' we have appointed such a Force as we judge sufficient for suppressing the said Pyrates, yet the more effectually to put an End to the same, we have thought fit, by and with the Advice of our Privy Council, to Issue this our Royal Proclamation; the said Pyrates, shall on, or before, the 5th of September, in the year of our Lord 1718, surrender him or themselves, to one of our Principal Secretaries of State in Great Britain or Ireland, or to any Governor or Deputy Governor of any of our Plantations beyond the Seas; every such Pyratee and Pyrates so surrendering him, or themselves, as aforesaid, shall have our gracious Pardon, of, and for such, his or their Pyracy, or Piracies, by him or them committed, before the fifth of January next ensuing. And we do hereby strictly charge and command all our Admirals, Captains, and other Officers at Sea, and all our Governors and Commanders of any Forts, Castles, or other Places in our Plantations, and all other our Officers Civil and Military, to seize and take such of the Pyrates, who shall refuse or neglect to surrender themselves accordingly.

And we do hereby further declare, that in Case any Person or Persons, on, or after, the 6th day of September, 1718, shall discover or seize, or cause or procure to be discovered or seized, any one or more of the said Pyrates, so refusing or neglecting to surrender themselves as aforesaid, so as they may be brought to Justice, and convicted of the said Offence, such Person or Persons, so making such Discovery or Seizure, or causing or procuring such Discovery or Seizure to be made, shall have and receive as a Reward for the same, viz. for every Commander of any private Ship or Vessel ,the Sum of 100 l. for every Lieutenant, Master, Boatswain, Carpenter and Gunner, the sum of 40 l. for every inferior officer, the Sum of 30. and for every private Man the Sum of 20 l. And if any Person or persons, belong to, and being Part of the Crew, of any Pyrat Ship or Vessel, so as he or they be brought to Justice, and be convicted of the said Offence, such Person or Persons, as a Reward for the same, shall receive for every such Commander, the Sum of 200 l. which said Sums, the Lord Treasurer, or the Commissioners of our Treasury for the time being, are hereby required, and desired to pay accordingly.

Given at our Court, at Hampton-Court, the fifth Day of September 1717, in the fourth Year of our Reign.

George R.

God save the King


Hopefully, at the end of 2017, I will be finished with my newest book: Dictionary of Pyrate Biography, 1713-1720 which will attempt for the first time ever to re-discover pirate history without using A General History. I guarantee a lot of surprises!

Please keep up with updates on my website at

Meanwhile, visit my Lulu page for already published material, including Quest for Blackbeard! 

Quest for Blackbeard is 15% OFF ALL PRINT FORMATS now at:

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