Woodes Rogers, the man who developed the
crown’s response to the great piracy outbreak, was
born in Poole, Dorset, England in 1679, the son of
an aspiring merchant. His father built a successful
long-distance shipping concern, trading for fish in
Newfoundland and, later, slaves in West Africa, and
made a number of influential friends in the process,
including Sir William Whetstone, a royal navy
admiral who commanded the West India fleet
during the War of Spanish Succession. Young
Woodes married Whetstone’s daughter, Sarah, in
1704, elevating the Rogers to the highest circles of
West Country society. When his father died at sea
in 1705, Woodes took control of the family’s affairs.

Bristol merchants suffered tremendous losses
during the War of Spanish Succession, and Rogers
Woodes Rogers (seated at left) with his daughter, Sarah, and son, William
Whetstone Rogers, in a 1729 portrait by William Hogarth. Hogarth painted
Rogers in profile to conceal his disfigurement from a Spanish musketball.
was no exception. In 1708 his 130-ton slave ship, Whetstone Galley, was captured by French privateers en
route to Africa. Partly in response to this loss, Rogers lobbied his fellow merchants to fund an ambitious
privateering mission to raid Spanish shipping in the Pacific Ocean. His father’s friend, the circumnavigator
and onetime buccaneer William Dampier, suggested it might be possible to capture one of Spain’s fortress-
like Manila treasure galleons.

Intrigued by this possibility, the merchants of Bristol underwrote the construction of two private warships, the
Duke and the Dutchess, and placed them under Rogers command. His 1708-11 expedition circumnavigated
the globe, captured a small Manila ship, rescued the castaway Alexander Selkirk (the inspiration for Robinson
Crusoe), traded slaves, and made Rogers a household name across the British Isles. It also brought hardship:
Rogers brother died in combat; Rogers himself took a musketball in the face during the capture of the treasure
ship and, on returning to England, was bankrupted by a protracted law suit brought against him by the East
India Company. His infant son died shortly thereafter and, in the aftermath, his marriage became undone.
A collection of Woodes Rogers letters written during his round-the-world
privateering expedition (1708-11), now housed in the National Archives in
Kew, England. (c) 2006 Colin Woodard
Rogers through himself into his work, becoming
interested in the activities and possible
suppression of the pirates of Madagascar, made
famous by the exploits of Henry Avery. He groveled
before his enemies at the East India Company, and
received their permission to carry slaves from
Madagascar to the EIC base on the island of
Sumatra (now part of Indonesia). As detailed in
The Republic of Pirates, Rogers’ encounters with
fugitive pirates led him to develop the outlines of a
strategy to defeat them – a combination of carrot (a
royal pardon to those who would surrender) and
stick (a robust military action against those who
would not.) He would wind up executing this plan
not in Madagascar, but in the Bahamas

He used his contacts to lobby for and, eventually,
receive a royal commission to act as Governor of
of the Bahamas, so long as he would liberate them from pirate control. King George put key elements of
Rogers Madagascar strategy into practice, offering a pardon to divide the pirates, and supplying Rogers
with a naval escort to conquer those who remained. Rogers’ fleet – which included a private mercenary force
and a shipload of colonists – arrived at Nassau in July 1718 and, after a confrontation with Charles Vane,
took control of the island. While he won the assistance of several leading pirates, including Benjamin
Hornigold, Rogers’ hold on power was tenuous. The Republic of Pirates describes the harrowing
challenges he faced: disease, defection, the destruction of commerce by Vane’s gang, and the constant
threat of invasion from Spain from December 1718.

Rogers’ strategy was ultimately successful, ending the pirate republic and dispersing the remaining pirate
gangs across the world, where most of them were picked off, one by one. Nonetheless, he was relieved of
his governorship in 1722 and wound up in debtor’s prison for personal loans he took out to protect the colony
from invasion. His reputation was restored following the publication of A General History of the Pyrates
(1724), ultimately resulting in compensation from the crown and, in 1728, his restoration to the governorship
of the Bahamas. He died in Nassau on July 15, 1732.