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Florida Gulf Coast golden age of piracy

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The Gulf Coast of Florida was a common hiding place for pirates. The pirates used the many inlets, bays, rivers and marshes as hideouts. The warships that hunted the pirates generally did not know the channels as well as the pirates, so when chased, the pirates would head to the coast. There they could disappear among the rivers and the marshes.

In Pasco, the town of Anclote, positioned on the north side of the mouth of the Anclote River, was said to be a pirate hangout. Maps show this location dating back to the 1500s. It was said to have good water from the Spanish Well which is in existence to this day. Ships often needed more water and this source was close to shore. Sailing up a river was usually not an option, so the pirate would have had to row up the river to find a spring or other source of freshwater.

The golden age of piracy in the Gulf of Mexico was from 1650-1730. There were ships filled with treasures from the Americas, because of disagreements between the powers in the new world, there was no single authority. Some scholars estimate that nearly 5,000 pirates sailed the Florida Straits and the Gulf Coast between 1715 and 1726. Piracy returned on a smaller scale in the late 1700s and early 1800s, because of the unrest between the French, English and the United States. 

During this time there was even a pirate/privateer stronghold named Barataria near New Orleans. Captured goods could be sold by pirates/privateers in Barataria and then smuggled to New Orleans and sold in shops. The town was run by Jean and Pierre Lafitte.

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Pirates often needed remote places to stash their loot. The rivers and marshland of Hernando County would have provided ample opportunities to hide treasure or just hide out. There would have been little record of any pirates in the area, since the first settlers only arrived in the 1830s. 

Another thing about pirates is that much of the perceptions we have about them is wrong. For starters, many of them were privateers, so they were working for their country. Although, the road from privateer to pirate was slippery. Pirates did not say things like “Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum.” They did however probably use ‘arr’ as that was a popular term for ‘yes’ in the West Country of England where many pirates and privateers hailed from including Blackbeard and Sir Francis Drake.

Piracy declined because of the end of hostilities between the European powers. The privateers lost their commissions which allowed them to seize enemy merchant ships. They had to retire or become pirates. The navies and bounty hunters were quickly able to curtail the piracy once they were no longer fighting each other.

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