Arrgh me hearties, 19th September is International Talk like a Pirate Day and as so many of the nation’s infamous pirates came from Devon, we thought we would introduce you to some of them!

As you might expect from a coastal area, Devon has an incredibly long and fascinating maritime history. Several places across the county in particular celebrate their nautical heritage, including places like Plymouth where you can visit the Royal William’s Yard and learn more about the Royal Navy, or Brixham where you can find a replica of the Golden Hind or Appledore where you’ll find a maritime museum. In fact, both Brixham and Plymouth acknowledge their pirate history with festivals every year, which are well worth visiting.

Piracy wasn’t confined to Devon, it was common for several centuries, dating as far back as the Roman times, but places like Devon and other counties in the South West of England were both targets and producers of piracy, because they were some the locations of some of Britain’s biggest export docks. Piracy really became big during a period of time known as the Golden Age of Piracy, which happened during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I and saw an increase in state sanctioned piracy as part of the war against Spain. These pirates were better known as privateers and were individuals who were given permission to attack and loot treasure from enemy ships without any legal consequences. Many privateers would go on to become pirates once their permissions expired or were rescinded and other naval men would turn to piracy as they found it preferable to the rules and regulations of the navy.

During the 1620s, the Barbary pirates who came from North Africa were a real issue for the people living in places like Devon and Cornwall, with Britain losing around 20% of their shipping through pirates invading coastal towns, sinking ships and capturing locals to be sold as slaves elsewhere.

Many of the pirates and privateers that we remember to this day were associated with Devon and the wider West Country, it’s what inspired that stereotypical pirate accent! As we said, we’d like to introduce you to some of Devon’s most famous pirates, so take a look at the below and see how many names you recognise.

Sir Francis Drake

Ok, technically Drake was a privateer rather than a pirate because he had permission to attack ships and steal treasure but he still deserves a place on this list. He is probably best remembered for his role in the Spanish Armada and for circumnavigating the globe but did you know he grew up in Tavistock? He would move to Plymouth as a boy where he would work for the Hawkins family who owned a merchant fleet and were part of the first slave trading venture in British history.

Drake became well known for his sea faring adventures and even became knighted by Queen Elizabeth I for his achievements in taking down so many Spanish ships. As a privateer, he had to share some of the treasure he recovered with the crown, but with his share he managed to buy Buckland Abbey which is supposedly haunted by his ghost. He didn’t die in Devon though, he was buried at sea after contracting dysentery while on an expedition.

John Hawley

Did you know there was more than one pirate politician? Sir Francis Drake was one (he represented Plymouth) and John Hawley was another. Starting out as a merchant, John Hawley was famous for his piracy in the middle ages but that didn’t put the residents of Dartmouth off electing him as their MP twice. He also served as their mayor 14 times! He managed that while also having served a spell in the Tower of London for crimes of piracy – so, MPs have always been a slippery bunch!

You can find out more about John Hawley by visiting Dartmouth Castle, which he built and St Saviours Church where you can find a monument of him.

John Philips

Captain John Philips hailed from Lympstone and was a cod fisherman who would become a pirate, but his pirate career only lasted a year. During that year though it is said that he captured over 30 ships, which is pretty impressive. Sadly, he lost his life at the hands of other pirates, first losing a leg in a fight and then dying of a head injury during a mutiny. His head was displayed from the bowsprit of the ship before being sent to Boston.

Sir Walter Raleigh

Another Privateer from Devon, Sir Walter Raleigh was originally from Budleigh Salterton and was one of the most famous explorers of Elizabeth I’s reign. He is given hero status but was involved in massacres in Ireland and was part of the team to set up the Roanoke colony in North America.

He was a particular favourite of Queen Elizabeth I and received a knighthood as well as other accolades for his work during the Spanish Armada. However, he lost favour after it was discovered that he had secretly married one of Elizabeth’s maids and was sent to the Tower of London. He would end up there again a few years later by James I who accused him of treason and he was eventually executed for invading Spanish territories during peacetime.

These are just some of the pirates that hailed from Devon, find out more about the county’s maritime history by visiting one of the many museums located in coastal communities around the North and South coasts. You can even see what it was like to be a pirate by following the Smuggler’s tunnel from Shaldon in South Devon to Ness Cove Beach which is only accessible via the tunnel!