Piracy Expelled, Commerce Restored: The Fearless Woodes Rogers

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woodes rogers

Next in my Leading Ladies and Gents series is an ordinary sailor who went on to become a ruthless pirate slayer and hero, (for some) of the nation… Woodes Rogers.

Rogers was born in Bristol c1679, beginning his career as a merchant sailor. In 1708 he led a privateering expedition, charged with the task of harassing Spanish ships throughout the Pacific. During the voyage, Rogers stumbled upon shipwrecked sailor Alexander Selkirk on one of the Juan Fernandez Islands, marooned there for four years. Selkirk’s story became the inspiration for Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe.

Rogers also raided a number of wealthy Spanish colonies along the coast of Peru, bringing vast riches and a Spanish ship back to England. As a measure of their esteem, the English government appointed Rogers as Governor of the Bahamas in 1717. At that time, the Bahamas was teeming with pirates who terrorised its waters and bribed the authorities to turn a blind-eye to their crimes. Rogers was about to change all that. His plan was to offer a Royal Pardon to all pirates who would take up the offer immediately. Many did, and were recruited by Rogers as privateers with commissions to plunder the Spanish ships, or as pirate-hunters tasked with bringing calm to the seas. One of his most faithful servants was former pirate Benjamin Hornigold who retired after a yearlong spree of villainy with the infamous Blackbeard.

Some pirates however chose to continue with their life of treachery, including John ‘Calico Jack’ Rackham who was offered the pardon but no commission, Anne Bonny, who Rogers had flogged for adultery, and the notorious Charles Vane who burned a captured ship right in front of Rogers and fired shots at his ship.

Over a three year period the seas became red as pirates were killed in battle, caught, sentenced and hanged. Rogers had become piracy’s biggest enemy.

Rogers died in Nassau aged 1732. A street there is named for Rogers. “Piracy expelled, commerce restored” remained the motto of the Bahamas until the islands gained independence in 1973.

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