While piracy was raging in the Caribbean, it was also alive and well in Newport, Rhode Island at the end of the 17th century. Newport then, was one of the premier colonial harbor towns, with a large deep water port that allowed ships to sail right up to the docks and unload; a luxury when most other locations required a ship to anchor out, and use shallow draft skiffs to bring goods ashore. However, a lenient and even encouraging atmosphere ashore was just as much a draw as a deep water active port. Those that “bent the rules”, made Newport not only their home, but also their port for refit work, and overhauls. Ships captured by pirates, when brought into Newport “disappeared” by being re-named and given new colonial Owners by Newport Courts. Piracy in Newport was so prevalent at the end of the 1690’s, that London sent censure with a request made by English Trade Officials to remove the Charter for the colony of Rhode Island.
However, the Navigation Acts passed by England in the early 1690’s only encouraged piracy. Soon after, Newport was the stomping ground for Blackbeard, Henry Every, William Kidd and Thomas Tew to refit their ships, take on provisions, recruit young enterprising “sailors” from the locals, and even buy homes to become residents; Thomas Tew was often referred to as Newporter.
In the early 1700’s, piracy began to impact the local burgeoning honest tradesmen and their Newport shops, as the “best price” was increasingly being found in the holds of pirate’s ships, rather than on the shelves in the local shops. By 1720, in Newport, piracy that was once welcomed was so frowned upon, that 26 pirates were hung outside of Newport on Goat Island, which sent a message far and wide that only legal commerce would be tolerated….at least until the age of rum running during Prohibition in the early 1900’s, which was also an active business in Newport.
Sail into Newport Harbor on a crewed yacht charter, just like the pirates of yore. However now, follow along on the Pirates and Scoundrels Walking Tour, offered each summer, and find out why Rhode Island, at the end of the 17th century, was often referred to as Rogue’s Island instead of Rhode Island.