Piracy and Smuggling

Piracy and smuggling went hand in hand during the Golden Age of Pirates. Besides, how would pirates make any profit on the goods they looted if they could not get their stolen merchandise onto land unseen by the eyes of the authorities?



Smuggling is and was the act of importing goods into a country illegally, whether to avoid import taxes, to ship in products that were illegal in the country or (as was the case of pirates) to avoid anyone asking questions as to the origin of the products for sale. Many smugglers were involved in more large scale corruption involving governors and port officials, as authorities turned a blind eye to smuggling operations, while other smugglers performed small scale smuggling operations “importing” to private buyers in the dead of the night in quiet coves.

The Golden Age of Smuggling

A pirate captain of any worth and his quartermaster would have been expert smugglers during the period between the 1690s and 1720s when piracy was at its height along the coast of North Africa and the Caribbean. By the end of the 1720s, following growing suppression of pirate activity by the Royal Navy of Great Britain and other sovereignties, piracy was a thing of the past, although smuggling continued.

Pirate Ship Plunders

Such was the success of many pirates during the Golden Age of Piracy that even legitimate merchants would await the arrival of pirate ships returning from the Caribbean or from the Pacific and Indian Oceans who would sell silks, spices and other commodities. Great profit was made both ways as pirates sold their wares at low prices and merchants got great deals. The most savvy pirates would cut out the middle man selling directly to traders on land, smuggling strategic loads on land at certain points along the coast of North America and Europe.


Another way that pirates performed their trade avoiding having to hit land and face the risk of capture was to barter their loot. Stolen commodities would be exchanges for food supplies and drinks as well as weaponry and spare parts for the pirate ship.

What is clear is that pirates were not just menaces of the seas, but shrewd businessmen with an aptitude for trade, bartering and import tax evasion.