Benjamin Hornigold

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Captain Benjamin Hornigold (died 1719) was an 18th-century English pirate. His career lasted from 1715 to 1718, after which he turned into a pirate hunter and pursued his former allies on behalf of the Governor of the Bahamas. He was killed when his ship was wrecked on a reef during the 1719 hurricane season.

Early career[edit]

Hornigold's early life is unrecorded, though it is possible he was born in Norfolk, England, and, if so, he might have first served at sea aboard ships whose home port was either King's Lynn or Great Yarmouth.[1] His first documented acts of piracy were in the winter of 1713-1714, when he employed periaguas (sailing canoes) and a sloop to menace merchant vessels off the coast of New Providence and its capital Nassau.[2] By 1717 Hornigold had at his command a thirty-gun sloop he named the Ranger, which was likely the most heavily armed ship in the region and allowed him to seize other vessels with impunity.[3]

His second-in-command during this period was Edward Teach, who would later be better known as the pirate Blackbeard.[3] When Hornigold took command of the Ranger he delegated the captaincy of his earlier sloop to Teach. In the spring of 1717 the two pirate captains seized three merchant ships in quick succession, one carrying 120 barrels of flour bound for Havana, another a Bermudan sloop with a cargo of spirits and the third a Portuguese ship travelling from Madeira with a cargo of white wine.[4]

In March 1717 Hornigold attacked an armed merchant vessel sent to the Bahamas by the Governor of South Carolina to hunt for pirates. The merchantman escaped by running itself aground on Cat Cay, with its captain later reporting that Hornigold's fleet had increased to five vessels with a combined crew of around 350 pirates.[5]

Hornigold is recorded as having attacked a sloop off the coast of Honduras, but as one of the passengers of the captured vessel recounted, they did us no further injury than the taking most of our hats from us, having got drunk the night before, as they told us, and toss'd theirs overboard.[6]

Overthrow and pardon[edit]

Despite his apparent maritime supremacy, Hornigold remained careful not to attack British-flagged ships, apparently to maintain a legal fiction that he was a privateer operating against England's enemies in the War of the Spanish Succession.[7] This scrupulous approach was not to the liking of his lieutenants, and in November 1717 a vote was taken among the combined crews to attack any vessel they chose. Hornigold opposed the decision and was replaced as captain. [8] At the time, Edward Teach was commanding Hornigold's second ship and most likely did not learn of the mutiny until the two ships met later in the year. It was most likely at this time the two pirates went their separate ways, with Teach setting sail for the Caribbean once again, leaving Hornigold to limp back to New Providence in command of a single sloop and a token crew. He continued piracy operations from Nassau until December 1717 when word arrived of a general pardon for pirates offered by the King. Hornigold sailed to Jamaica in January 1718 (note: the English had not yet accepted the Gregorian Calendar, so by their point of view, it was January 1717 with the new year of 1718 not starting until March - see British Calendar Act of 1751) and took the pardon from the governor there and, later, became a pirate hunter for the new governor of the Bahamas, Woodes Rogers.[9]

Pirate hunter[edit]

Rogers granted Hornigold's request for a pardon but commissioned him to hunt down other pirates including his former lieutenant Teach. He would spend the next 18 months cruising the Bahamas in pursuit of Stede Bonnet and Jack Rackham. In December 1718 Governor Rogers wrote to the Board of Trade in London commending Hornigold's efforts to remedy his reputation as a pirate by hunting his former allies.[10]


In late 1719 Hornigold's ship was caught in a hurricane somewhere between New Providence and Mexico, and was wrecked on an uncharted reef. The incident is referred to in the contemporary account A General History of the Pyrates by Captain Charles Johnson, which states "in one of which voyages ... Captain Hornigold, another of the famous pirates, was cast away upon rocks, a great way from land, and perished, but five of his men got into a canoe and were saved."[11] The specific location of the reef remains unknown.

Popular culture[edit]

Hornigold appears in the 2013 video game Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag.


  • Earle, Peter (2003). The Pirate Wars. Methuen. ISBN 0-413-75880-X. 
  • Konstam, Angus (2006). Blackbeard: America's Most Notorious Pirate. John Wiley & Sons. ISBN 047175885 Check |isbn= value (help). 
  1. ^ Konstam, Blackbeard:America's Most Notorious Pirate, p. 62
  2. ^ Woodard, Colin (2007). The Republic of Pirates. Harcourt, Inc. pp. 88–89. ISBN 978-0-15-603462-3. 
  3. ^ a b Konstam, Blackbeard:America's Most Notorious Pirate, p. 63
  4. ^ Letter from Cpt Mathew Musson to the Council of Trade and Plantations, July 5, 1717, cited in Konstam, Blackbeard: America's Most Notorious Pirate, p. 64
  5. ^ Konstam, Blackbeard: America's Most Notorious Pirate, p. 64
  6. ^ Earle, The Pirate Wars, p. 179
  7. ^ Konstam, Blackbeard: America's Most Notorious Pirate, p. 66
  8. ^ Konstam, Blackbeard: America's Most Notorious Pirate, p. 67
  9. ^ Woodard, Colin (2007). The Republic of Pirates. Harcourt, Inc. pp. 231–6, 284–86. ISBN 978-0-15-603462-3. 
  10. ^ Konstam, Blackbeard: America's Most Notorious Pirate, p. 228
  11. ^ Charles Johnson (1724), A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pyrates, a copy on the website of Eastern North Carolina Digital Library, cited in Konstam, Blackbeard: America's Most Notorious Pirate, p. 231

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