According to some sources, Benjamin Hornigold served as a privateer out of Jamaica during the War of Spanish Succession. After the war ended in 1713, all English letters of marquee granted to privateers became invalid, leaving many seamen like him out of work, who eventually turned to piracy.
The first sloop he sailed was named 'Happy Return', which was owned by Jonathan Darvell. Hornigold, who was unhappy about his shares of profit, later bought a boat from an Eleutheran with two of his accomplices.
With their new vessel, they were able to capture two Cuban vessels with an approximate combined value of 46,000 pieces of eight, (old Spanish Peso de Ocho silver coin). The gang sailed in large canoes alongside the coast of Cuba and in the Florida Straits, preying on Spanish merchant vessels, as well as plantations off the coast.
In November 1715, he arrived to New Providence in Augustine Golding's sloop 'Mary', which was equipped with six guns, and eight patteraroes, and a breech-loading swivel gun, with one hundred and forty crew members. The following month, he captured a powerful sloop-of-war with better capacity, named it 'Benjamin, and returned 'Mary' to Golding back in Jamaica.
He was one of the first pirates to establish a base in Nassau, the capital of New Providence, which had been utterly destroyed during the war and later became a pirate haven. However, he reportedly still considered himself a privateer, and, probably out of patriotism, never attacked British ships and only targeted enemy vessels.
In Nassau, in the Bahamas, he had established a 'Privateers' or 'Pirates' republic and was mentor to famous pirates like Edward Teach, also known as ‘Blackbeard’, Sam Bellamy and Stede Bonnet. After Thomas Walker, the governor of the Bahamas at the time, captured the pirate Daniel Stillwell and his vessel, Hornigold not only freed him, but also declared that all the pirates were under his protection.
On July 30, 1715, a hurricane on the coast of Florida drowned 11 vessels from a fleet of twelve Spanish treasure ships containing riches belonging to Spain’s New World colonies. While the Spanish government recovered much of the treasure in the following year, the incident attracted a huge number of new pirates to the area to challenge the domination of earlier pirates.
Despite the fact that he claimed to protect all the pirates in New Providence, there was not a clear pirate leader in Nassau during 1716-1717. However, Benjamin Hornigold and his fierce rival Henry Jennings dominated the region, each mentoring a host of promising future pirates.
Ignoring Thomas Walker’s initial opposition, he claimed what remained of the local fort and tried to build up the defenses of Nassau during this time, installing artillery guns in the fort in 1716. On 6 December 1716, he captured a 40-gun vessel and named it 'Ranger', which greatly increased his power in the region.
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According to some reports, the Spanish ship he docked in the harbor had only 32-guns; whether he dismounted some of the guns is unknown. Once he assumed command of 'Ranger', he bestowed captaincy of his previous ship to his second-in-command Edward Teach, who showed great potential and later became famous as ‘Blackbeard’.
On December 13, 1716, he captured the ship 'Lamb' for provisions such as pork, beef, onions and oysters, but left some biscuits and meets so that the crew of the vessel can feed themselves till they reached Jamaica. In March 1717, the Governor of South Carolina had sent an armed merchant vessel to the Bahamas to hunt for pirates, which he successfully defeated.
In April 1717, Benjamin Hornigold provided protection to a surgeon named John Howell, whom French pirate Jean Bonadvis had tried to force aboard his ship. During this time he looted several ships near Jamaica, Puerto Bello, and Cuba alongside Captain Napin, but parted ways in July after being chased away by the warship 'HMS Winchelsea'.
His associates, who were unhappy about his decision not to attack British vessels, voted for targeting any ship they chose to, following which he was replaced as captain by Samuel Bellamy in November 1717. Edward Teach, who was commanding his second ship, provided him with a single sloop and a small crew to reach New Providence after he learned about the mutiny.
He sailed to Jamaica in January 1718 to receive the pardon offered by King George I from the newly appointed governor of the Bahamas, Woodes Rogers, who also recruited him as a pirate hunter. He helped the governor by hunting for his former associates during the next 18 months till his death after being caught in a hurricane.
While his primary targets, Charles Vane and Blackbeard, were able to evade, he captured ten pirates, including Vane's associate Nicholas Woodall, nine of whom were executed on the morning of December 12, 1718. He also captured John Auger who, like Woodall, had accepted the pardon initially, but later went back into piracy.