Hydra was sparsely populated in ancient times and is just mentioned in passing by Herodotus. The most significant evidence of settlement dates from Mycenaean times. But in the 16th century, Hydra became a refuge for people fleeing skirmishes between the Venetians and the Ottomans. Many hailed from the area of modern-day Albania.
By the mid-1700s the settlers began building boats and took to the thin line between maritime commerce and piracy with enthusiasm. They travelled as far as Egypt and the Black Sea and ran the British blockade (1803–15) during the Napoleonic Wars. As a result of steady tax paying, the island experienced only light interference under the Ottoman Empire. By the 19th century, Hydra had become a full-blown maritime power, and wealthy shipping merchants had built most of the town’s grand mansions. At its height in 1821, the island’s population reached 28,000. Hydra supplied 130 ships for a blockade of the Turks during the Greek War of Independence and the island bred such leaders as Admiral Andreas Miaoulis, who commanded the Greek fleet, and Georgios Koundouriotis, president of Greece’s national assembly from 1822 to 1827.