The mid-17th Century was a difficult time for the people of Yorkshire; the Civil War was over; Charles I had been executed and Oliver Cromwell and his 11 Generals had taken over the country. Many Royalists had lost their lands and ownership had been turned over to Parliamentary supporters who enclosed properties and turned crops to pasture for sheep.
English wool was extremely popular in Europe until enclosure reduced fodder and demand for fine wool was taken over by the Spanish. To make things worse poor harvests, floods and drought had reduced crops and available grain. The grain that was available, was quite often purchased by engrossers, in bulk from farmers, and stored away to increase prices, which reduced availability to the poor at market.
Landlords raised rack rents and started to turn off the poorer families from lands, which forced them to seek work in cities like Leeds, Hull, and York. As many fathers had been killed in the war, mothers, children and the aged turned to begging, prostitution and other criminal pursuits to survive. Other men who had lost their lands and fortunes turned to becoming coney-catchers, highwaymen, footpads, and pirates.
The port of Hull was at one stage the second largest import and export port in England behind London, exporting wool and cloth to Europe and the Baltic in return for fish, timber, and wine. Along with the increase in imports and exports came the increase in duties and excise to pay for Cromwell’s standing army. For this reason, traders and ship owners found ways to try to avoid paying them. Captains were hired as Searchers and Tide-waiters employed by the Customs House to check manifestos against goods on ships, but often it was their own ships that they were checking. They would falsify manifestos and carry far more goods than what they claimed. Others would load goods at other docks away from Customs House to escape the export taxes and others would offload far from The Haven.
The number of ships docking in The Haven, Hulls oldest port, had tripled and the Humber River was one of the busiest estuaries in England. With so many ships coming and going the environment was ripe for pirates. They would sail out from The Haven or anchor in the river and board other trading ships, transferring goods to their own and then depart for Antwerp, the Baltic or Europe to sell the goods as their own.
Pirate ships usually carried far more crew than ordinary ships of a similar size. This meant they could easily outnumber European bound ships. They also altered their ships so that they could carry more cannon than merchant ships of the same size. Stories about pirate brutality meant that many of the most famous pirates had a terrifying reputation to begin with and many were known in the Haven. If identified and caught they would be hanged, but The Haven had its own ways and other merchant seamen knew what would happen to them if they were found reporting to the authorities.
The Haven had the considerable advantage of a large population, eager for contraband goods, and the city was at the root of a vast distribution system formed by the rivers Ouse and Trent. Much of the port’s trade was in coal, exported to Holland, and moved coastwise to London, and cargoes of smuggled goods slipped into the town quay in the black holds of ships returning in ballast.
Thousands of pirates were active in the 17th Century and these years are sometimes known as the 'Golden Age' of piracy. Famous pirates from this period include Henry Morgan, William 'Captain' Kidd, 'Calico' Jack Rackham, Bartholomew Roberts, Blackbeard (Edward Teach) and Grace O'Malley.
Paul Rushworth-Brown is the author of three novels:
Skulduggery- An exciting, mysterious, fictional and historically accurate adventure pulls no punches about the life and hardships of peasant farmers living on the moors of Yorkshire in 1590.
"Was excellent reading . I intended to read it over the next week but once I started I could NOT put it down . Really enjoyed it !"
Winter of Red- Come on this historic journey, which twists, turns and surprises until the very end. If you like history, adventure and intrigue with a dash of spirited love, then you will be engrossed by this tale of a peasant family unexpectedly getting caught up in the ravages of the English Civil War in 1642.
"A fictional, historical novel about a loving peasant family caught up in a 1642 shocking Civil War. Humour, romance, adventure and excitement are here to enjoy. A great story.
"Dream of Courage- Soon to be released!
The much anticipated story of the Rushworth family and their journey out of poverty.
King Charles has been executed and England becomes a Republic under the leadership of Oliver Cromwell. Highwaymen, thief-takers, pirates and broggers tell
the story in this mysterious and bone chilling historical thriller.