Libertatia (also known as Libertalia) was a purported anarchist colony founded in the late 17th century in Madagascar by pirates under the leadership of Captain James Misson (last name occasionally spelled "Mission", first name occasionally "Olivier").
Libertalia was a legendary free colony forged by pirates and the pirate Captain Misson, although some historians have expressed doubts over its existence outside of literature. Libertalia got its name from the latin word Liberi which means "free". Misson's idea was to have his society be a society in which people of all colors, creeds, and beliefs were to be free of any scrutiny. He wanted to give the people of Libertalia their own demonym, not one of a past country of origin. Historian and activist Marcus Rediker describes the pirates as follows:
These pirates who settled in Libertalia would be "vigilant Guardians of the People's Rights and Liberties"; they would stand as "Barriers against the Rich and Powerful" of their day. By waging war on behalf of "the Oppressed" against the "Oppressors," they would see that "Justice was equally distributed."
Although the existence of Libertatia is contested, the radical ideas that it represented were very common in various pirate-era events. After the American Revolution, pirates fleeing from England were wrecked on an island and set up their own Libertatia. They called their new island "the Republic of Spensonia", after a fictional Utopian country created by the English author and political reformer Thomas Spence. According to A. L. Morton, it "looks backward to the medieval commune and forward to the withering away of the state."
The pirates were against the various forms of authoritarian social constructs of their day, monarchies, slavery, and capital. The pirates practiced forms of direct democracy, where the people as a whole held the authority to make laws and rules, and used systems of councils with delegates, who were supposed to think of themselves as "comrades" of the general population, and not rulers. The pirates created a new language for their colony and operated a socialist economy.
[The] pirates were anti-capitalist, opposed to the dispossession that necessarily accompanied the historic ascent of wage labor and capitalism. They insisted that "every Man was born free, and had as much Right to what would support him, as to the Air he respired." They resented the "encroachments" by which "Villains" and "unmerciful Creditors" grew "immensely rich" as others became "wretchedly miserable." They spoke of the "Natural right" to "a Share of the Earth as is necessary for our Support." They saw piracy as a war of self-preservation. [They redefined the] fundamental relations of property and power. They had no need for money "where every Thing was in common, and no Hedge bounded any particular Man's Property," and they decreed that "the Treasure and Cattle they were Masters of should be equally divided."
The pirate utopia's motto was "for God and liberty," and its flag was white, in contrast to a Jolly Roger. They were anarchists, waging war against states and lawmakers, attacking their ships, sparing prisoners, and freeing slaves. They called themselves Liberi, and lived under a communal city rule, a sort of worker owned corporation of piracy. They had articles (shared codes of conduct), and used elected systems of re-callable delegates.
According to the account in the General History of the Pyrates, Misson was French, born in Provence, and it was while he was in Rome on leave from the French warship Victoire that he lost his faith, disgusted by the decadence of the Papal Court. In Rome he ran into Caraccioli – a "lewd Priest" who over the course of long voyages with little to do but talk, gradually converted Misson and a sizeable portion of the rest of the crew to his way of thinking:
he fell upon Government, and shew'd, that every Man was born free, and had as much Right to what would support him, as to the Air he respired... that the vast Difference betwixt Man and Man, the one wallowing in Luxury, and the other in the most pinching Necessity, was owing only to Avarice and Ambition on the one Hand, and a pusillanimous Subjection on the other.
Embarking on a career of piracy, the 200 strong crew of the Victoire called upon Misson to be their captain. They shared the wealth of the ship, deciding "all should be in common." All decisions were to be put to "the Vote of the whole Company." Thus they set out on their new "Life of Liberty." Off the west coast of Africa they captured a Dutch slave ship. The slaves were freed and brought aboard the Victoire, Misson declaring that "the Trading for those of our own Species, cou'd never be agreeable to the Eyes of divine Justice: That no Man had Power of Liberty of another" and that "he had not exempted his Neck from the galling Yoak of Slavery, and asserted his own Liberty, to enslave others." At every engagement they added to their numbers with new French, English and Dutch recruits, and freed African slaves.
After the foundation of Libertalia, Misson's ship stumbled upon Thomas Tew who followed Misson back to Libertalia. Tew had no idea such a society could be established, Tew had lost his quartermaster and 23 men of his crew when they had left to form a settlement further up the Madagascan coast. The Libertalians would capture slave ships and allow the slaves to join their colony. Off the coast of Angola, Tew and his men captured another English slave ship along with 240 men, women, and children. Many slave families were reunited with their family members at Libertalia. Most of the freed slaves were eager to join the colony that gave them a second chance. Captain Misson sailed off the coast of Cape Infantes, where his sloop was engulfed in a storm and sank.
Misson was known for his role as founder of Libertalia and the radical ideas that it represented. These radical ideas and stories that were associated with Misson resonated throughout the world, and most importantly throughout the pirate community. Misson and the rest of the pirate community were strongly opposed to the various forms of authoritarian social constructs such as monarchies, slavery, and capital. These same pirates practiced forms of direct democracies that are similar to the democracies of 21st century. They envisioned a society where the people as a whole held the authority to make laws and rules, and used systems of councils with elected delegates. Pirates were strong anti-capitalists, who opposed the dispossession that followed the histories ascent of wage labor and capitalism. The society that they had established was a form of direct democracy intertwined with a socialist economy. They believed that "Every man was born free, and had as much right to what would support him, as to the air he respired." They also believed that vices of wealth created "wretchedly miserable" people. They spoke of the "natural right" to "a share of the earth as is necessary for our support." They saw piracy as a war of self-preservation, which justified their actions.
While cruising round the coast of Madagascar, Misson found a perfect bay in an area with fertile soil, fresh water and friendly natives. Here the pirates built Libertalia, renouncing their titles of English, French, Dutch or African and calling themselves Liberi. They created their own language, a polyglot mixture of African languages, combined with French, English, Dutch, Portuguese and native Malagasy. Shortly after the beginning of building work on the colony of Libertalia, the Victoire ran into the pirate Thomas Tew, who decided to accompany them back to Libertalia. Such a colony was no new idea to Tew; he had lost his quartermaster and 23 of his crew when they had left to form a settlement further up the Madagascan coast. The Liberi - "Enemies to Slavery," aimed to boost their numbers by capturing another slave ship. Off the coast of Angola, Tew's crew took an English slave ship with 240 men, women and children below decks. The African members of the pirate crew discovered many friends and relatives among the enslaved and struck off their fetters and handcuffs, regaling them with the glories of their new life of liberty.
The pirates settled down to become farmers, holding the land in common – "no Hedge bounded any particular Man's Property." Prizes and money taken at sea were "carry'd into the common Treasury, Money being of no Use where every Thing was in common."
The consensus of modern scholarship is that Libertalia (or Libertatia) was not a real place. Journalist Kevin Rushby toured the area seeking descendants of pirate inhabitants but declined to search the jungles for Libertalia, noting “others have tried and failed many times.” There were pirate settlements on and around Madagascar, on which Libertalia may have been based: Abraham Samuel at Port Dauphin, Adam Baldridge at Ile Ste.-Marie, and James Plaintain at Ranter Bay were all ex-pirates who founded trading posts and towns. These locations appear frequently in official accounts and letters from the period, while Libertalia appears only in Johnson’s General History, Volume 2. Defoe writes about the overall set up of Libertalia. The settlement was proposed to have an elevated fort on each side of the harbor with 40 guns in each fort, from the Portuguese. Below the fort, under the protection of the forts, was where the living quarters along with the rest of the town was located. Libertalia was located roughly 13 miles east-south-east of the nearest of the nearest civilization. However, the overall location is deemed to be completely fictional.
Johnson’s “Libertalia” has been treated as completely fictional, as apocryphal, or as a utopian commentary. The inclusion of fictional accounts such as Misson's in A General History has caused some modern scholars to discount the entire work as a reliable source, though other portions of it have been at least partially corroborated by various sources.