The real-life pirates of Black Sails: New Providence and Charles Vane


Almost 2 years ago, Black Sails hit the small screen and changed the way we saw pirates. No longer were they eyepatch-wearing, parrot-on-shoulders, and over-pronouncing-the-letter-R type of pirates, but truly lost men roaming the seas while leaving their past behind them. Men that will do anything to be free from whatever crimes they committed and to live out the life they want. Despite Black Sails taking place in a fictionalized version of New Providence, a surprising amount of real-life events and pirates appear in the show. The image above shows which characters are based on real-life pirates, while the darkened ones are based on characters from the book Treasure Island and some created for the show. Let’s take a look into their storied lives as well as the dark history of Nassau, the main setting in Black Sails.

Taking place in 1715, New Providence at the time was without a governor since 1703. By then pirates have taken over with nearly 1,000 inhabiting Nassau. Many famous pirates, including the ones pictured above, used Nassau as their base while establishing a Republic of Pirates. New Providence was ruled using a Code of Conduct, or Pirate Code. Unlike the Pirate Code used in the movie Pirates of the Caribbean, the Pirate Code was in fact an Article of Agreement among the ship and crew. Each crew had their Pirate Code signed by the crew and swore an oath to abide by it. Every Pirate Code was different from each ship, or even voyage, but what mainly stayed the same was the equal right to vote on the crew, keeping it a democracy when choosing a captain or the next voyage, an agreement of shares for the captain and crew, and disciplinary actions based on certain acts like abandoning the crew. Nassau would not see itself free of pirates until 1718 when Woodes Rogers reclaims New Providence and cleans up Nassau from piracy. Season 3 of Black Sails introduces Woodes Rogers, meaning that would be the direction the show heads.


Charles Vane is the first pirate from above that existed in real life. He operated in Nassau from 1716 and captained the Ranger, a brigantine ship. He was known to be cruel to crews he captured, often killing them, and even cheated his own men of their share and disregarded the Pirate Code. He began serving under Henry Jennings and assisted in the finding of the gold from the sunken Spanish ship, the Urca de Lima. The Urca de Lima gold is a plot device used in both Season 1 and 2 and was in fact a stranded ship that sank due to harsh weather. The captain of the ship had wanted to remove the gold before pirates had found out, which Jennings ended up raiding and leaving with £87,000 of gold and silver. When Woodes Rogers arrived in Nassau, he brought with him a royal pardon and clemency to any pirate who quit plundering and surrendered by September 1718. Vane was captured and released in good will and even claimed to accept the pardon but returned to plundering, recruiting 40 pirates including Calico Jack Rackham and eventually amassed a large crew and 3 ships. Vane targeted ships leaving and entering Charleston and appointed fellow pirate Yeats command of one of the ships. When Vane refused to plunder several promising ships, Yeats left with a portion of the treasure and a captured ship in the night.

Vane escaped capture from Rogers and eventually met with Edward “Blackbeard” Teach in means of working together to recapture Nassau, but Teach declined. In November 1718, he was removed as captain with Rackham taking over after a battle that Rackham and his crew wanted to continue fighting, provided a small ship with 15 pirates and was left to be. In February 1719 he was shipwrecked and stranded on an island with Captain Holford, an old acquaintance, arriving on the island and refused to rescue Vane. He was eventually rescued by a crew who didn’t recognize Vane. Allowed on board, the ship met with Holford and Vane was outed. He was brought to Jamaica, stood trial and was hanged on March 29, 1721 in Port Royal.

Stayed tuned when we next look into Calico Jack Rackham and Anne Bonny, as well as the missing Mary Read who has yet to make an appearance in Black Sails.

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