Unless otherwise indicated, all OI books are distributed by The University of North Carolina Press.

Pirate Nests and the Rise of the British Empire, 1570–1740

Mark G. Hanna

Cloth: 978-1-4696-1794-7 ($45.00)
Paper: 978-1-4696-3604-7 ($30.00)

Copyright 2015
University of North Carolina Press

A Prize-Winning Book

  • Frederick Jackson Turner Award, Organization of American Historians (2016)
  • Honorable Mention, John Lyman Book Award, North American Society for Oceanic History (2015)
  • John Ben Snow Book Prize, North American Conference on British Studies (2016)

Analyzing the rise and subsequent fall of international piracy from the perspective of colonial hinterlands, Mark G. Hanna explores the often overt support of sea marauders in maritime communities from the inception of England's burgeoning empire in the 1570s to its administrative consolidation by the 1740s. Although traditionally depicted as swashbuckling adventurers on the high seas, pirates played a crucial role on land. Far from a hindrance to trade, their enterprises contributed to commercial development and to the economic infrastructure of port towns.

English piracy and unregulated privateering flourished in the Pacific, the Caribbean, and the Indian Ocean because of merchant elites' active support in the North American colonies. Sea marauders represented a real as well as a symbolic challenge to legal and commercial policies formulated by distant and ineffectual administrative bodies that undermined the financial prosperity and defense of the colonies. Departing from previous understandings of deep-sea marauding, this study reveals the full scope of pirates' activities in relation to the landed communities that they serviced and their impact on patterns of development that formed early America and the British Empire.

About the Author

Mark G. Hanna is an associate professor of history at the University of California, San Diego.


Affecting developments as disparate as silversmithing and slavery, print media and judicial practices, international law and domestic labor systems, piracy was central to English colonization in the Americas. Pirate Nests challenges us to rethink both the microhistories and the metanarratives of English expansion and the colonies’ legacy to the United States.

--Elizabeth Mancke, University of New Brunswick

Mark Hanna sets piracy in motion. He traces his subjects across their lives and their lives across the centuries. Insisting that Atlantic pirates be understood in terms of the imperial forces that spawned them in one century and then destroyed them in another, he has written a powerfully revisionist work.

--Daniel Vickers, University of British Columbia

Hanna’s compelling analysis illuminates the role of ‘pirate nest’ ports in recruiting, supplying, and harboring early modern English pirates. Valuable in the launch, defense, and development of new settlements, pirates became unwelcome and expensive disruptions for the more prosperous and better-organized empire that gradually eliminated them. Excellent book.

--Ian Steele, University of Western Ontario emeritus

Ably details the symbiotic relationship between pirates and colonial ports [and] illuminates the differences in perspective between England and her colonies.

--Pirates and Privateers

Enriched by copious notes that will reward readers with a wealth of data, as well as entertaining and engrossing historiographical context.

--H-Net Reviews

This work enlarges the understanding of piracy [and] . . . enriches and displays the maritime foundations of the British Empire. . . . Highly recommended.


Hanna's well-argued and exhaustively researched book will stand as the critical work on early modern British piracy for some time, but it is also essential reading for anyone interested in the development of the empire.

--William and Mary Quarterly