Thanks to the expansion in trade by some of the most powerful empires in Europe – Britain, Spain, France and Portugal – goods and money flowed freely across the world’s oceans. By the late 17th century, ships laden with goods, including expensive fabrics such as as silk, were making their way from countries as far-flung as India.
The routes taken by those vessels, around Africa’s Cape of Good Hope, brought them close to Madagascar. Pirates worked out that Sainte-Marie, with its secluded coves, would make a great base from where to raid commercial ships. Moreover, it was an even better place to stash, and live off, the proceeds of their criminal lifestyles.
So perfect a location was Sainte-Marie that, at the height of its popularity, it was home to around 1,000 pirates. They stayed in huts made of wood, had children with local women and generally made themselves a nuisance on the high seas. Its tropical location and relative safety from the authorities must have appealed to many a buccaneer in the 1600s and 1700s.