'Black Sails' Is Based on Real History, but It's Not Completely Accurate

'Black Sails' features some real historical figures as well as some people who are totally fictional.


Apr. 17 2024, Published 11:13 a.m. ET

Zach McGowan and Hannah New in 'Black Sails.'
Source: Starz

Although the show has been over for several years, Black Sails was introduced to an entirely new audience when it arrived on Netflix in 2024. Following its arrival, many who are new to the show have questions about it, and those questions range from what the show is about to whether it is based on actual history.

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The series follows Captain Flint, a brilliant, fearsome pirate who sails the high seas in 1715 and fights for the freedom of a debauched island that he loves.

The show lasted for four seasons, running from 2014 to 2017 on Starz, and many want to know whether any of the stories it tells are true. Here's what we know about whether Black Sails is a true story.

The cast of 'Black Sails' during a battle sequence.
Source: Starz
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Is 'Black Sails' a true story?

Black Sails artfully combines fiction and actual history, often inserting fictional characters in and around actual events. Some of the pirates on the show, like Charles Vane, are real people from history. Many of the show's central characters, though, including Captain Flint and Long John Silver, are fictional. In fact, Black Sails is riffing on one of the most popular pieces of pirate fiction ever written.

'Black Sails' is based on 'Treasure Island.'

The series is a prequel to Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island, and features many of the same characters as that novel. The novel was the first to amalgamate real history with fictional characters, and Black Sails is simply taking a page out of the same playbook. Some of the people are real figures, while others are fictional. The same is true for the events of the series. Some of the major ones really happened, while others are entirely made up.

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The co-existence of fictional characters with real historical figures allowed the show to be flexible in its storytelling, and gave it space to diverge from actual history when the story would be better off as a result. Over the course of its four seasons, Black Sails integrated fiction and history more successfully than most TV shows ever have.

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Which pirates in 'Black Sails' are based on real people?

Although many of the show's primary characters are fictional, the show also includes appearances, sometimes in prominent roles, by real pirates like Blackbeard, Charles Vane, Anne Bonny, Benjamin Hornigold, Jack Rackham, Ned Low, and Israel Hands.

Some of these characters don't get major roles on the show, but others, like Charles Vane, are actually quite prominent as characters.

Charles is a great example of the way that real historical figures could co-exist with fiction on Black Sails. While he was initially supposed to have a small role on the show, he became a fan favorite to such an extent that his role became more and more prominent as the show went on.

Now that Black Sails is on Netflix, it is likely to earn a much wider audience than it did when it was still on Starz. On top of that, it will likely encourage many more people to learn about the real historical figures the show is based on, and maybe even read Treasure Island too.

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