I have been asked about pirates. Where they a problem in Virgin Islands?
Many pirates began their careers with a nod from their sovereign. They were called privateers or buccaneers. So England, for example, had its Henry Morgan and Sir Walter Raleigh who went after Spanish and French ships. Particularly Spanish. Spain, after all was the first country on the scene. They hit the jack-pot with their incursions into Mexico, Central and South America. Their ships were hauling a lot of gold, which is why the Caribbean became known as the Spanish Main.
Most of the action was taking place around the larger islands of Cuba and Hispaniola, in the Gulf of Mexico and off the Florida coast.
Pirates roamed the waters for nearly 150 years. They used the smaller islands of the Lesser Antilles as places to careen their ships, get water and hide out. But by 1671-72, when St. Thomas was settled by the Danes, pirates were in decline.
So what about stories of pirates in the Virgin Islands? Those I know are more the stuff of legend than truth.
The names Captain Kidd, Blue Beard and Black Beard most always come to mind when one talks or writes about pirates.
On St. Thomas there are two watch towers built by the Danes, one is called Black Beard’s Castle, the other Blue Beard’s Castle. Neither “castle” has anything to do with the pirates. In fact it seems Blue Beard never existed at all.
Captain Kidd did sail through Caribbean looking for a place to land but was denied entry at various ports, including St. Thomas. So, yes, he came into the harbor, but was not allowed sanctuary.
As for Black Beard…There’s a story that he marooned 15 men on a small cay in the British Virgin Islands called Dead Chest. It is told he left them there with only a sword and a keg of rum. Supposedly they all died after getting drunk and getting into a fight and washed ashore on Peter Island at a place now called Dead Man’s Bay.
Perhaps the most endearing story (and my personal favorite) is that Robert Louis Stevenson passed through the area and on hearing the story of Dead Chest was inspired to write a novel which he named Treasure Island. The pirate song, “Sixteen men on a dead man’s chest, Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum…” is supposed to have been taken from the tale of Black Beard’s marooned men. And Treasure Island is thought to have been modeled after Norman Island, a cay with caves along the shore line, where pirate treasure surely must have been hidden.
It’s all very romantic, but I haven't been able to find anything on RLS that confirms he ever came through the islands.
However, as a kid, pirates figured prominently in the games my best friend and I played. Indeed, how could they not?