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The Golden Age of Piracy:
The Truth Behind Pirate Myths

By Benerson Little

The truth behind the great pirate myths and
legends of the Golden Age (1655-1725).

In print: hardcover & ebook, in stores & online.
Skyhorse Publishing, 2016.

Updates, comments, & errata may be found at the foot of the page.

Published Reviews

“Little (Fortune’s Whelp),a former Navy SEAL, takes the wind out of many a pirate’s sail in this charming examination of the many myths surrounding the seafaring rogues… Little has a deep affection for his subject that occasionally leads him to affectation, but his use of piratical jargon is more charming than jarring; clearly he’s having a good time, and so will readers. Packed with insight and adventure, Little’s book is sure to strike a note with armchair swashbucklers of all ages.”

 Publisher’s Weekly, September 11, 2017

“While a few other volumes discuss pirate myths, The Golden Age of Piracy goes far beyond these. Little sifts through the popular mythology and purposeful ideological speculation to introduce readers to the real pirates without turning a blind eye to their cruelty and crimes. That he does so in language that any reader will understand makes this a valuable resource and worthwhile addition to any pirate aficionado’s or historian’s library.”

—Cindy Vallar, Pirates and Privateers: The History of Maritime Piracy


"The Pirate Was a Picturesque Fellow."

Romantic, largely imagined painting of a buccaneer. From Howard Pyle’s Book of Pirates.


From the Publisher

For thousands of years, pirates have terrorized the ocean voyager and the coastal inhabitant, plundered ship and shore, and wrought havoc on the lives and livelihoods of rich and poor alike.Around these desperate men has grown a body of myths and legends—fascinating tales that today strongly influence our notions of pirates and piracy. Most of these myths derive from the pirates of the “Golden Age,” from roughly 1655 to 1725. This was the age of the Spanish Main, of Henry Morgan and Blackbeard, of Bartholomew Sharp and Bartholomew Roberts.

The history of pirate myth is rich in action, at sea and ashore. However, the truth is far more interesting. In The Golden Age of Piracy, expert pirate historian Benerson Little debunks more than a dozen pirate myths that derive from this era—from the flying of the Jolly Roger to the burying of treasure, from walking the plank to the staging of epic sea battles—and shows that the truth is far more fascinating and disturbing than the romanticized legends.

Among Little’s revelations are that pirates of the Golden Age never made their captives walk the plank and that they, instead, were subject to horrendous torture, such as being burned or hung by their arms. Likewise, epic sea battles involving pirates were fairly rare because most prey surrendered immediately.

The stories are real and are drawn heavily from primary sources. Complementing them are colorful images of flags,ships, and buccaneers based on eyewitness accounts.



“Francisco Lolonois”–Jean David Nau aka L’Ollonois or L’Ollonais–depicted in the first Spanish edition of Exquemelin work: Piratas de la America, translated by Alonso de Buena-Maison. Cologne: Lorenzo Struickman, 1681.


Associated Blog Posts

The Authentic Image of the Real Buccaneers of Captain Blood: His Odyssey by Rafael Sabatini

The Authentic Image of the Boucanier

An Early Skull & Crossbones at Sea

Walking the Plank: An Associated Image

Of Buccaneer Christmas, Dog as Dinner, & Cigar Smoking Women

Keelhauling, in Living Color

Pirates & Earrings

Did Pirates Wear Eye Patches?

Gunpowder Spots: Pirates & “Tattoos”

Of Pirates & Parrots (& Monkeys, Too)

Of Pirates & Wooden Legs

Pirate Books & Patereros: the Pirate’s Version of Fahrenheit 451

Jack Sparrow, Perhaps? The Origin of an Early “Hollywood”Pirate, Plus the Authentic Image of a Real Buccaneer

Pirates & Puritans

Notes, Commentary, & Errata

Chapter 1, an early black flag with skull and bones. Detailed on my An Early Skull & Crossbones at Sea, and More post is an imagined “Jolly Roger,” although it had yet to receive the name, dating to the 1640s.


Detail from “Das Schiff der Kirche” by Jacob Gerritsz.


Chapter 1, Barbary and Turkish sea roving flags and flags of no quarter: I’ve since publication identified earlier images of these red flags of the Islamic corsairs, one dating to 1711, the others probably 1707 to 1711. Clearly these sea-going flags were around prior to the Anglo-American pirates who used similar flags, as were others I’ve noted in the book itself.

Turkish and Moorish Rovers 1711

Schouw-park aller Scheeps-vlaggen des geheelen Water-Waerelds, 1711. The flag is shown among Barbary and Turkish sea flags. This flag is popularly, and incorrectly, attributed to the pirate Christopher Moody. (Rijksmuseum.)

Turkish or Ottoman Rover circa 1707

Ottoman corsair flag from Nieuwe Tafel van alle de Scheeps Vlaggen des Gehele Water-Waerelds op Nieus Vermeerdert en Verbeeterdt, probably dating 1707 to 1711, possibly slightly later, based on some of the English flags shown.  The Rijksmuseum incorrectly dates it 1650 to 1700.

Algiers Rover

Algiers red banner with death’s head, from Nieuwe Tafel van alle de Scheeps Vlaggen des Gehele Water-Waerelds op Nieus Vermeerdert en Verbeeterdt, dated as immediately above.


Chapter 1, the only real pirate flag of the early 18th centuryof which we have any detailed information on what one might actually have looked like:

The only real “Golden Age” pirate flag we have an image of (there are no existing examples of real pirate flags from this era), just barely makes it into the era, as at 1729 it’s late for the period generally is regarded to end at 1725 or 1728. It’s also not the flag of an Anglo-American pirate, but a French one, from France and returning to France. The pirate in question is Jean-Thomas Dulaien, whom I’ve discussed along with his flag in the The Golden Age of Piracy. The first image below was reportedly created from the original flag, which was reportedly destroyed by order of Louis XIV; the second is of a woodblock or woodblock print made from the image.

Dulaien Original

The purported Dulaien original, copied from the actual flag. Clearly, if the image is accurate (there’s no reason to believe it is not), the skull, bones, and man with cutlass and hourglass was painted on. The original flag was, according to reports at the time, destroyed.


Dulaien Wood Block

The purported woodcut image made from the original illustration. Clearly it is only a representation of the original image, and not an entirely accurate reflection.


Chapter 1, Blackbeard’s purported but mythical flag origin: Historian Ed Fox has pointed out that, according to The Mariner’s Mirror (1912, vol. 2, no. 3) the horned Blackbeard flag first appears in The Book of Buried Treasure by R. D. Paine (Ralph Delahaye)1911. The book was reprinted in 1981 by Arno Press. The drawing is fanciful but is based on a legitimate period description of a pirate flag. A later artist or publisher ascribed it, with minor modification emphasizing devil horns, to Blackbeard.

Jolly Roger


Chapter 12, the flibustier attack on de Mergar’s treasure salvors: The flibustiers were commanded by Pierre Bréha, the diminutive of his real surname Bart, and who is sometimes referred to as Abraham. He sailed a very small frigate named the Saint-François armed with 2 guns and manned with 70 rovers. Some accounts report that Bréha was accompanied by the French flibustier Jean Blot who commanded a small frigate with 2 guns and 44 men. However, given the Spanish accounts, it’s likely that only one of the flibustier vessels was present during the action. Both were together in the aftermath. Note: some authorities have confused Michel Andresson aka Michiel Andrieszoon, with Pierre Bréha.)

Copyright Benerson Little, 2016, 2018

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