Saturday, 08 December 2018 10:49

The Sixth-Most Successful Pirate of the Golden Age: Jean Fleury ($32 million)

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16th Century Pirate John Fleury of France 16th Century Pirate John Fleury of France Image from Famous Pirates Archives

Golden Age of Piracy: Top 10 Countdown Part V

This is the fifth installment of a series focusing upon the ten most successful pirates (as determined by the estimated total value of their combined hauls) of the Golden Age of Piracy (generally considered to have ended with the killing of Barthlomew “Black Bart” Roberts in 1722).


6. Jean Fleury: $32 million

The lone Frenchman among the top ten pirates of the Golden Age of Piracy, Jean (John) Fleury was one of the earliest – if not indeed the actual first – documented pirates of the period. 

As was the norm, Fleury (sometimes listed as “Florin”) began as a naval officer before commencing as a licensed privateer for France.  Perennial enemies with the Spanish, the French encouraged the activities of Fleury, viewing him as a sort of “Robin Hood” figure in literature.

Fleury’s modus operandi epitomized the pirating type of operation popular in the early 16th century, preying on shipments of gold and other treasures being transported by the Spaniards from the “New World” of what is now Central America. 

He is most famous for his 1522 capture of two of the three Spanish galleons filled with the plunder of Hernan Cortes (Hernando Cortez) stolen from the Aztecs in what is now Mexico.  One of the largest hauls in the annals of piracy, it was estimated that Fleury stole tens of millions of dollars in gold in this single act.  Fleury’s reputation was bolstered among pirates as a result of his generous sharing of this booty with the individual members of his crew (although he still kept enough for himself to live well). 

Fleury later teamed with fellow pirate Jean Terrian and continued to terrorize the Spanish with his fleet of eight ships, capturing over 30 vessels within a year’s time.

In direct response to Fleury’s style of attack, a new approach was implemented in relation to the transport of goods across the Atlantic.  The “Spanish treasure fleet” concept came into vogue with transport ships being escorted and protected by smaller but better-armed vessels. 

As was typical for pirates of the era, Fleury’s reign was relatively short and came to a gruesome end.  Captured by the Spanish in 1523, he was held prisoner for years before being hanged as a pirate in 1527.

Jean Fleury can be cited as the sixth-most successful pirate of the Golden Age of Piracy.

Last modified on Saturday, 08 December 2018 11:06