A Skull and Crossbone Headstone in the pirate cemeterys at Ile Ste-Marie (St. Mary's Island)
On the small island of Ile Sainte-Marie, a few miles off the coast of eastern Madagascar, lie the bones of pirates who threatened the seas during the 17th and 18th(1)
centuries and it is believed to have the world's only pirate cemetery.(2)
A recently discovered map from 1733 refers to it simply as "The Island Of Pirates".
Located near the East Indies trade route, Sainte-Marie also known locally as "Nosy Boraha" or "St. Mary's Island" (in English). The island's numerous inlets and bays which were frequently used by pirates, sailing to and from England, France, Portugal and America, making the island the perfect spot for "a pirate's life". And when the pirates would have died, they were buried on a scenic, palm shaded hilltop cemetery overlooking the water. Although the remains have never been identified, some of the headstones are sketched with a skull and or cross bones, which is the symbol for piracy.
Howard Pyle's painting of William Kidd burying treasure
For around 100 years in the 17th and 18th centuries an estimated 1,000 pirates lived in the Ile Sainte-Marie. Legendary pirates including, Robert Culliford, Olivier Levasseur, Henry Every, Abraham Samuel and Thomas Tew. They came from all over the world, including the Legendary Scottish pirate, William Kidd, who, when finally caught, was taken back to England in 1701 and executed near Tilbury in Essex. Kidd is a interesting figure, being the subject of several folk songs and stories of buried treasure(3)(4)
finding roots in the work of Edgar Allen Poe In "The Gold Bug"
. Kidd attempted to earn his fortune as a pirate hunter, and noted for brutality towards prisoners, as he hung them by their arms and thrashed them with his sword. All did not go to planned for Kidd as half his crew died of cholera. His ship had leaks and he failed to find the pirates he sought near Madagascar. Instead, Kidd attempted to attack other ships for their cargo and survived attempts at mutiny. One from an English pirate, Robert Culliford, who sailed with Kidd before leading a mutiny against him. Culliford captured his ship off the coast of Ile Sainte-Marie. The ship, The Adventure Galley
, was reportedly found when examples of English oak were dredged from a local bay. Hopes were dashed as the wood, and enticing metal bars, were shown to be little more than parts of an early port construction. However, the promise of buried, or sunken treasure, continues to entice diving teams to this day. The pirates were off Ile Sainte-Marie by the late 1700s, when queen of Betsimisaraka Marie Elisabeth "Bety" Sobobie of Betsimisaraka ceded the Ile Sainte-Marie to France in 1750.(5)
the French forcibly seized the island. Today, Ile Saint-Marie is a popular tourist destination, and the pirate cemetery is open to the public.