Author Eric Jay Dolin provides some indications of how lucrative it was to be a successful pirate in his book Black Flags, Blue Waters
The story of Dixie Bull provides one sliver of a view of the rewards from piracy. I won’t repeat the long tail of his adventures. Suffice it to say that he raided a fort after he and his crew decided to try their hand at piracy. His haul was estimated at £500.
The book provides the following prices for context:
In Black Flags, Blue Waters author Eric Jay Dolin says pirates would rather not engage in a fight when they captured a prize ship.
The downside of a battle is the target ship might be sunk, some of the valuable cargo might be destroyed, and more significantly some of the pirates might get hurt or killed.
The far better battle strategy was to win through intimidation. There were enough accurate reports of pirates torturing or killing captives that an approaching pirate ship would create justifiable fear.
Mr. Dolin’s book Black Flags, Blue Waters provides intriguing background on how pirates organized themselves and how they split up the booty. Also provides a contrast of their reputation compared to their actual battle techniques.
Pirates organized themselves in something with very strong correlation to a democracy. The crew voted to select the captain and first mate (or quartermaster). In battle the captain had absolute authority, which is obviously necessary. Other than during battle the crew could vote to depose the captain if he were sufficiently unacceptable.
Apparently this issue has been discussed at great length in the literature.
The author says this self-governance structure was not due to any particular philosophical enlightenment or fondness for democracy as a concept. Proof for this is they held slaves and did not treat non-crewmembers well.
In the 16th century Spanish explorers harshly conquered the Aztec empire (in 1521) and the Incas (in 1532).
This opened the door to a flood of gold and silver flowing to Spain.
It also opened the door to ruthless exploitation, brutal labor conditions, and plenty of death for the Aztec and Inca people. Because of the dangerous backbreaking work one of the most productive mines in the history of the world, named Cerro Rico or “rich mountain”, was known locally as “mountain that eats men.”
In popular lore, pirates of the 1600s and 1700s are anti-social anarchists, rebelling against governments, wearing colorful clothing, and speaking oddly. In contrast, the professor found in his research there were a huge number of pirates in the American colonies who were otherwise average neighbors who went to sea, plundered some, then returned home to enjoy an otherwise normal life.
He found a lot of pirates in the early colonies and a lot of support from neighbors, friends, and relatives for those accused of piracy. He found the colorful legend of popular movies and books was only in place for about a decade, from 1716 through 1726.