Shipwrecks of Nova Scotia
By: Terry Dwyer
While doing research on Nova Scotia shipwrecks, I came across so many references to pirates and privateers, that I decided to describe here a little about them. They are connected to the subject of shipwrecks because they deliberately caused a great many wrecks to occur off our coast.
On the shore, Nova Scotia was home to the infamous "masterless men," the "shore pirates" and the "wreckers." These ruthless men deliberately lured many unsuspecting ships ashore, then murdered the surviving passengers and crew. They would then strip the ship of its cargo, valuables and whatever else was of use. The business of "wrecking" was practiced extensively along the Nova Scotia coast for over 200 years, and Cape Breton Island has a history of piracy that can be traced back to the 1400s.
Pirates on ships were outlaws that attacked other ships at will, and robbed and often killed the passengers and crew. They then confiscated the cargo, the ship, and any treasures on board. Pirates played a lone hand against all comers, without political purpose or official authority. Privateers, on the other hand, attacked ships in a similar manner, but were contracted by a nation or government to prey on the ships of their enemies. Basically, privateers were licensed pirates, and as you can imagine, there was a fine line of difference between the two.
A pirate captain, like a privateer captain, was an elected leader, liable to instant demotion if he had bad luck, not enough loot, or in the opinion of the company, showed cowardice or bad judgement. And as for the men that crewed these infamous vessels, they were adventurers and social rebels, with a greed for gold. And even though thier pay was never guaranteed, a chance at riches (and immediate treats of rum) often enticed fishermen, merchant seamen, adventurers and navy deserters to join up. Upwards of 80 men were needed to crew a pirate ship. This manpower was used to capture other ships and sail the captured vessels home.
Because of their achievements in charting coasts and their exploration of unknown regions, pirates probably deserve more recognition than they have received. Their remarkable feats of navigation and endurance in search of loot remain an inspirtion to many modern adventurers. Although a few obscure pirates may have been hanged from time to time, it is interesting to note that not a single pirate captain of notoriety or connections ever suffered more than a petty fine.
In the 1970s, evidence of a pirate shipyard was discovered on Cape Breton's Mira River. And about 15 miles from Mira Gut, there is a carved stone memorial to the famous pirate, Captain William Kidd. The pirates used this shipyard as a safe haven and as a base to haul their ships and clean the hulls. They operated out of the Mira River for over 100 years. According to the history of Trepassy, Newfoundland, in 1720, a Captain Roberts (aka Black Bart), from Mira River, sailed into Trepassy Bay and looted 22 ships in one day. The pirates left few records of their activities, but those that did, refer to the safe harbor of Saint Mary's, and old maps show the Mira River as the Saint Mary's River.
Northern Shipwrecks Database
|A searchable database of over 100,000 North American shipwrecks -- on a single CD-ROM. For details, go to www.northernmaritimeresearch.com|
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