A Pirate’s Life: Pirate History of Southwest Florida

From romanticized mangrove-fringed hideaways to sunken treasure, Florida is no stranger to the swashbuckling pirate’s life, with Southwest Florida seeing its fair share of piratical raids, bloody mutinies and the general lawlessness that permeated the Caribbean and Florida coasts from the late sixteenth through the early eighteenth centuries. And though the map was seemingly awash with rogue slopes and schooners during the colonial era, where violence and disease, unsanitary conditions and an all-around hostile environment led to rather short lifespans, a romanticized version of the pirates’ life persists today, a G-rated creation of Disney that would surely turn those true rum-soaked sots pickled stomachs.

Pirate Flag - the Jolly Roger - Pirate History of Southwest Florida - Collier County Museum

To help dispel some of the myth – and maybe reinforce others – Collier County Museum’s curator of Education, Naomi Goren, will lead a discussion on July 9 at 2 p.m. about “Pirate History of Southwest Florida.” At the height of colonial expansion in the new world, Florida was a strategically important port-o-call for the Spanish, using the peninsula as a staging area for convoys and treasure fleets returning to and from Europe after exploiting South America and Africa of its natural resources. Galleons and galleys laden with gold, silver, gems, pearls, spices, sugar, tobacco, exotic woods and more were on constant route to and from the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Sea to the coast of Spain, sweeping through the Florida Straights on the way. Thusly, this incalculable amount of wealth attracted quite the collection of brigands looking for a piece of the action, and Florida’s wild coast and diminutive population made it the perfect pirate hideaway and wrecking staging area.

Calico Jack - Caribbean and Florida pirate - Collier County Museum - Pirate History of Southwest Florida

Ever wonder how Captiva Island got its name? Or what is the difference between a pirate, a privateer, a corsair and a buccaneer? Join Goren and the Collier County Museum for the rum-soaked tales of José “Gasparilla” Gaspar, who allegedly plied the waters of the Gulf of Mexico, exacting revenge against the Spanish crown in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, holding concubines captive on Captiva Island, and John “Calico Jack” Rackham, the English pirate who terrorized the Florida Straights from Cuba to the Bahamas during the early 18th century, striking fear into the hearts of his targets with his now infamous Jolly Roger colors. And for those yearning for a little adventure, learn about the storied Spanish treasure fleets that once sailed along the coast of Southwest Florida, some meeting a watery demise, still lost beneath the surface to this day.

  • The discussion begins at 2 p.m. and is free to attend.
  • Reservations are required, to RSVP call 239-252-8738.
  • For more information, visit colliermuseums.com.

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