On the evening of July 26, 1717, Captain Woodes Rogers arrived at the harbor of Port Nassau in the Bahamas. He had just been declared Governor of the Bahamas, and he was dispatched from Bristol, England, with two Royal Navy sloops, a transport ship filled with supplies, another ship of colonist civilians, and a writ from King George granting him power over the colony. He was told not to expect reinforcements, extra funding, or any real support from the Crown whatsoever.
As he rolled into the harbor, he noticed the burning wrecks of two Bahamian merchant ships. They had been stripped of their goods, their crews captured or killed, and set ablaze in a daring twilight attack by one of the ballsiest pirate captains in all of the Caribbean. Has he got closer, the flagship of pirate Captain Charles Vane crossed right in front of Rogers’ ship, unleashed a volley of cannon fire at point-blank range, and then immediately sped off into the darkness beyond.
Woodes Rogers’ mission from the King was simple, straightforward, and utterly impossible: Clean up the pirate cesspool of Nassau, break the power of sea raiders during the absolute height of the Golden Age of Piracy, and turn the colony from a buccaneer-infested hellhole of face-shanking misery into a respectable colony worthy of the British flag. Oh, and also build up your coastal defenses because England is at war with Spain and there’s a very good chance the island will be attacked by a fucking gigantic Spanish invasion fleet sometime in the next couple of years.
Most people in this situation would have either quit, gone full-on corrupt pirate-bribed asshole politician, or found themselves shanked to death in their sleep by one of the 2,000 pirates that were believed to be using the Bahamas as a base of operation. Not Woodes Rogers. Fuck that. By the time this guy’s posting was over, he had made a name for himself as the man who single-handedly did more to bring about the end of the Golden Age of Piracy than any other man in the Caribbean.
Rogers was born in Dorset around 1679, the son of a wealthy merchant named Woods Rogers (which does very little to explain why the hell Woodes Rogers has such a weird and unpronounceable first name). He was a wealthy upper-class Englishman who wore those funny white powdered wigs, buckles on his shoes, knee-high socks, and a big expensive-looking gold-embroidered jacket, and in most of his official portraits, he’s shown sitting at a desk writing documents with a feather quill and a big smile on his face – to the modern observer this dude was about as badass-looking as the trailer for a made-for-TV romantic comedy about Marie Antoinette. He grew up wealthy, apprenticed as a sailor in Bristol at age 18, married a Rear Admiral’s daughter (rear admiral huh huh huh) , and when his dad died at sea in 1706 Woodes found himself running the family long-distance shipping merchant business.
Everything was on track for a nice, quiet, uneventful life, when at some point the trading ship Woodes named for his wife was attacked Africa by a group of French pirates off the coast of Madagascar who killed the crew and pillaged every valuable thing on board the ship.
Woodes Rogers lost his fucking shit. He swore revenge on these assholes who destroyed his ship and robbed him, and he went about hunting them down the way a true badass would – he fucking single-handedly raised money to build two badass pirate-hunting warships, outfitted them with dozens of heavy artillery cannons, and personally set sail to ruin the lives of any goddamn pirates he could get his hands on.
Using his own money and money he’d borrowed from investors, Woodes Rogers purchased the vessels Duke and Duchess, outfitted them with 36 cannons each, and went straight to the Caribbean on a mission. Yes, I know the pirates were in Madagascar, but this guy was going to take the long route, kick ass the entire way, and clean up the mean streets of The Ocean. Before he left England he picked up two things: a letter of marque commissioning him as a privateer who was legally allowed to beat the shit out of Spanish shipping, and a badass first mate – William Dampier, a dude so hardcore he became the first white man to explore the wilderness of Australia.
After beating down an attempted mutiny in the Atlantic (he put the leader in chains and sent him back to England on the first ship they encountered), Rogers started hitting enemy ships whenever he could. He quickly realized, however, that the Spanish were really good at guarding their shit on the Atlantic side of the ocean, so he the brilliant idea to sail around the south of Chile and attack their shit from the Pacific side where they weren’t expecting it. After rounding Drakes Passage (he took the turn around Chile so widely that he actually had gone further south than anyone in the world had ever been at this point), and heading up the Western side of South America, Rogers was pretty fucking shocked to see fire coming from the small uninhabited island of Juan Fernandez. He pulled in, checked it out, and discovered Alexander Selkirk, a Scottish sailor who had been fucking stranded on the island Gilligan-style for the last five years. Rogers was so jacked to find such an awesome addition to his adventuring party that he soon put Selkirk in command of one of the Spanish ships Rogers had captured along the way.
From this point on, Woodes Rogers starts fucking shit up. He attacks and captures the city of Guayaquil, Ecuador, and plunders the hell of it, going so far as to have his men snatch necklaces off of the city’s noblewomen. He hits pirate ships in the Philippines. He plunders two massive galleons off the coast of California. He takes a saber to the fucking face attacking a Spanish warship, a wound that would give him a gnarly scar that stuck with him for the rest of his life.
After blasting his way through the Pacific and Indian Ocean badass pirate-style, Rogers stopped over at Madagascar to see if he could figure out how to completely demolish the pirate havens that were set up on the island. These guys were his real target, and he wasn’t just going to attack and crush them – he was going to meet the guys face-to-face, pretend to be a slave trader, ask them questions and shit, and figure out their process so goddamn intensely that he could then return to England and present the King with a detailed report on how to utterly destroy all traces of piracy on the island.
And this is exactly what he did. He went all the way back to England via the Cape of Good Hope, completed his full circumnavigation of the globe, and submitted his report.
Rogers didn’t make a ton of money on his adventure (he owed a lot to the people who had helped him get his ship, plus the British East India Company sued him for “undertaking merchant operations in East India Company territory” or some shit) and had been permanently and badassily face-scarred in the process, but he was also a national hero and everyone agreed that he was seriously fucking awesome. He wrote a book about his story, which became a best-seller, and started hanging out with some guys who would eventually become well-known writers themselves – Daniel Defoe and Jonathan Swift. People attribute both Gulliver’s Travels and Robinson Crusoe to first-hand experiences the authors had talking to Woodes Fuckin’ Rogers, and inspiring two of the greatest pirate adventure novels of all time is no small achievement of awesomeness. Oh, and also, one of the guys on Rogers’ crew ended up getting captured by the Spanish during a battle, escaped, and his story ended up being the basis for the fuckin’ Rime of the Ancient Mariner, which is an awesome epic poem centered entirely around making a dick joke with the poem’s final line.
Even though he was a hero and a successful author, Rogers’ work still wasn’t done. And it wasn’t long before the King, impressed with Rogers’ report, decided to give him an opportunity to clean up the pirate fortress.
Only it was a different pirate hellhole than the one Rogers was gunning for.
Instead of Madagascar, he got sent to the Bahamas.
As I said, a ship was literally burning in the harbor when Rogers arrived. Nassau was home to an estimated 2,000 pirates, including guys like Blackbeard, Calico Jack, Charles Vane, and many others. Rogers was sent with two ships, a writ from the King, and basically nothing else at all. He could expect no help from the Crown, either in money or reinforcements, and the Spanish were pretty eager to come charging in and blast the British right off the islands. He faced disease, dangers at home and on the sea, and was immediately the primary target for all of the most vicious pirate captains in the Caribbean.
Instead of buckling under the pressure, Woodes Rogers stepped up.
His first move was genius – he offered a King’s Amnesty. Anyone who is a pirate can come forward, one time only, confess your sins, and be forgiven. That’s it. You’re free to go. Sure, this might seem like letting criminals off the hook, but three hundred pirates showed up the first day, signed their names, took vows to abide by the laws, and, by all accounts, went back to leading semi-normal lives that didn’t involve torching wooden vessels or marauding or any of that shit.
Rogers sent out a second call for amnesty. Then he went to work.
Using an army of private mercenaries, converted pirate captains (including Blackbeard’s former captain Benjamin Hornigold), and offering massive bounties for pirates brought in dead or alive, Woodes Rogers went to war with the Pirates of the Caribbean. Dishing out thousands of Pounds of his own fucking money, Rogers built coastal defenses, purchased cannons, and hired guys to hunt pirates. He killed them in battle. He had them executed by hanging. He sent them back to England to be tried in admiralty courts. He did everything he could, until finally all the pirates in the area were either dead, hanging in chains, in prison, retired, or suffering some fucked-up pirate fate. His defenses convinced the Spanish not to attack. His harsh treatment of captured pirates discouraged others from taking up the black flag. His no-bullshit attitude cleaned shit up, and it did it over the course of just five short years. His personal motto – Expulsis Piratis , Restituta Commercia (piracy expelled, commerce restored), was so fucking effective that it was the official motto of the Bahamas for the next 250 years.
Of course, here’s the insane part: Woodes Rogers had spent so much of his own money making the island safe for commerce that he went massively into debt, was arrested, and was sent to debtor’s prison. That’s right, the dude who single-handedly ended piracy in the Bahamas was thrown in fucking jail because he couldn’t pay his goddamn credit card bill. He sat there for three years before the Crown was finally like what the fuck is wrong with us, released him, and made him Governor again. He died in 1732 at the age of 53, probably of malaria.