Well into the 18th century, pirates continued to pillage and plunder merchant and slave ships in search of treasure. Historically, earlier exploits reaped riches of gold, silver, jewels, and coins, but the chance of finding treasure worth pirating began to dwindle by the early 1700s. Some pirates still found success during the next few decades, and managed to amass some wealth. Those who were successful were also among the most well known, including Blackbeard and Captain Bartholomew Roberts.
The Caribbean waters and the routes along the coastlines of Africa and North America were popular pirate haunts from the 1600s to the late 1700s. Much earlier, Spain had claimed a territory stretching from California to South America. The Spanish Main, as the area was called, became a hunting ground filled with ships that carried boundless treasure. Spaniards began looting the vast resources of the Aztecs, making yearly trips back to Spain with huge shipments of gold and artifacts. They became prey to pirates and privateers of enemy countries, including England, France, America, and Holland (The Netherlands).
Other goods became pirate booty as well, including weapons, medicine, and silks, as well as jewels and gold from other countries. In fact, a great deal of merchant ships carried assets such as spices and linens. In many cases, pirates would capture a ship for its supplies and food stores, although this could prove an unpopular move on the captain's part when a crew hoped to divide the bounty. Many a merchant vessel was stripped of its weaponry, anchors, and rope, then set afire to sink into the ocean. On many occasions, however, the pirate captain would commandeer a ship to add to his fleet.
While the Caribbean caught most of the attention, pirate activity in the 18th Century was carried on from India and back to the Americas as well. As the pirates sought supplies, they would trade their treasures at various ports. New York became a popular stopover as many merchants there were receptive to exchanging food and other necessities for pirate booty.
Humans were also in great demand. A few genteel pirates would offload their prisoners at the first opportunity while others would murder those who were unqualified for ship duty. Slaves captured in Africa were in particular favor as they rarely had a home to which they could return. It was therefore assumed their loyalty aboard ship would remain with the captain.
Booty did not often remain long in the hands of its captors. Pirates were notorious for spending their ill-gained wealth on liquor and prostitutes, often gambling the remainder of their treasure away.