An Introduction to the Pembrokeshire Pirates

13 March, 2024

Pirates have long been a fascinating part of both history and fiction, with stories of Blackbeard, Jack Sparrow and Long John Silver spanning the generations. It has been said that the very first pirates date back to 1350 BC, with inscriptions describing notorious shipping attacks in North Africa.

The UK has some very interesting stories of pirates of its own, some of which you might not know – including our very own pirates of Pembrokeshire! So without further ado, let’s dive in and learn something new.

The piracy history of the UK

When Christopher Columbus discovered America at the end of the 15th century, the Spanish claimed the land and discovered a great source of silver, gold and gems. When the Spanish ships sailed back to Europe with their treasure, many pirates found it impossible to resist trying to attack and steal the loot on board. Between the 15th and 17th centuries, pirates became a big problem across the country, and it was known as the Golden Age of Piracy.

During this time in England, there was overcrowding and unemployment, with a great deal of disruption. Piracy became a very tempting career for the poor to take control of their lives and make a living.

As well as pirate ships, there were also privateers that were privately owned ships, armed and operating in times of war. They had what were known as letters of marque, which actually let them capture vessels while avoiding being charged with piracy.

Who are the Pembrokeshire pirates?

Most British pirates were born in London, but some of the most famous pirates in the country were actually Welsh!

Howell Davis was born in Milford Haven and spent much of his younger life on ships. While serving as a mate, the ship was captured by an Irish pirate, Edward England. Howell Davis decided to join the pirates and was given command of the ship. During his time as a pirate, Davis was joined by probably one of the most well-known pirates – Bartholomew Roberts, who became known as Black Bart (Barti Ddu in Welsh).

Black Bart was born in Casnewydd Bach (Little Newcastle), which sits between Fishguard and Haverfordwest. He was serving as second mate on a ship that was captured by pirates, led by none other than Howell Davis, who then recruited him.

When it came to smuggling and pirates, George Clerk, the senior customs officer in Pembroke, was often paid to turn a blind eye when it came to these illegal activities. Clerk also owned a beer house in Angle, not far from Tenby, where many pirates would stay to hide from the law – including famous Cardiff pirate John Callice.

What do we know about the pirates of Pembrokeshire?

Howell Davis was a very successful pirate, usually relying on bribes, bluffing and acting his way out of trouble instead of using force. He sailed around the likes of Cape Verde, the Bahamas and Africa, capturing around 15 ships in his short 11 months as a pirate. He was known for seizing more powerful ships through deceptive methods, including pretending to be a gentleman and privateer.

Black Bart took over as captain when Davis was shot after pretending to be a Royal Navy pirate hunter. Davis’ goal was to kidnap the governor of Principe for ransom, but the governor saw through it and ambushed the pirate!

Black Bart went on to become the most successful pirate of the Golden Age, capturing over 400 ships. He raided ships all across the Americas and West African coast, and was one of the first pirates to use the Skull and Crossbones flag. He died in battle after 3 years as a pirate; he was shot, but his crew threw him overboard to fulfil his wish of being buried at sea. His body was never found!

Tenby was particular destination of interest for pirates and smugglers alike, who took advantage of the area’s bays, coves and beaches to carry out illicit trade and hide their goods. An American pirate, John Paul Jones, was active in the waters off the coast of Pembrokeshire and landed on Caldey Island – Paul Jones Bay is named after him.

Get a taste of the pirate life for yourself at Oakwood Theme Park!

While the life of a pirate was harsh and certainly against the law, it’s certainly a fascinating topic to learn more about.

At Oakwood, you can pretend to be a pirate for the day without needing to break any rules or steal treasure. With exciting rides like Skull Rock and our very own Pirate Ship, it’s the best way to have some fun while remembering some of our colourful history.

Check out our opening times and other visitor information to plan your next visit to Oakwood Theme Park!