1902 Encyclopedia > Buccaneers


BUCCANEERS, a band of piratical adventurers of different nationalities united in their opposition to Spain, who maintained themselves chiefly in the Caribbean Seas during the 17th century.
The island of St Domingo was one of several in the West Indies which had early in the 16th century been almost depopulated by the oppressive colonial policy of Spain. Along its coast there were several isolated establishments presided over by Spaniards, who were deprived of a free and convenient market for the produce of the soil by means of the monopolies imposed by the mother country. Accordingly English, Dutch, and French vessels were welcomed with eagerness, and their cargoes readily bought. The island, thinned of its former in-habitants, had become the home of immense herds of wild cattle, which multiplied with great rapidity; and it became the habit of the hardy smuggler to provision his ship at St Domingo. The natives still left upon the island were skilled in preserving flesh by means of fire and smoke at their little establishments called Boucans. The adventurers learned " boucanning " from the natives ; and gradually Hispaniola became the scene of an extensive and illicit butcher trade. A sailor in those days when piracy abounded was expert with his weapons, and was almost a fighting man by trade. Spanish monopolies were the pest of every port from Mexico to Cape Horn; and the seamen who had sailed the Caribbean were filled with a natural hate of everything Spanish. The pleasures of a roving life gained upon them, while the monotony of its routine was broken by occasional skirmishes with the forces organized and led by Spanish officials. Out of such conditions arose the Buccaneer, alternately sailor and hunter, even occasionally a planter,—roving, bold, not over-scrupulous, not unfrequently savage, with an intense detestation of the power and the representatives of Spain.
In the year 1625 indirect assistance and encouragement previously given culminated in a combined venture on behalf of the Buccaneers by the Governments of England and France. Each nation contributed a band of colonists, and selected the island of St Christopher, in the West

Indies, where the settlers of both nations were simultaneously planted. The English and French were, however, not over-friendly; and in 1629, after the retirement of several of the former to an adjoining island, the remaining colonists were surprised and partly dispersed by the arrival of a Spanish fleet of thirty-nine sail. Many were carried off, and threats were freely used as to the future settlement of the island. But on the departure of the fleet the scattered bands returned, and encouragement was given to their countrymen in St Domingo. For buccaneering had now become a most profitable employment, operations were extended, and a storehouse secure from the attacks of the Spaniards was required. The small island of Tortuga lying to the N.W. of Hispaniola was seized for this purpose in 1630, converted into a magazine for the goods of the rivals, and made their headquarters, St Domingo itself still continuing their lucrative hunting ground.
Spain was not indifferent to this proceeding, though she could not prudently take immediate action. Eight years, however, had not gone, ere, watching her oppor-tunity when many Buccaneers were absent in the larger island on their ordinary pursuit, she attacked Tortuga, and massacred every settler she could seize. But the hunters to the number of 300 returned; and the Buccaneers, now distinctly seen to be in open hos-tility to the Spanish arms, began to receive recruits from every European trading nation, and for three-quarters of a century became the acknowledged scourge of the Spanish American trade and dominions.
France, throughout all this, had not been idle in watching over her own interests. She had named the Governor of St Christopher "Governor-General for the French West India Islands," and in 1641 he took posses-sion of Tortuga for the Crown of France, expelled all English from the island, and attempted the same with less success in St Domingo. England had at home something vastly more important to attend to, and the Buccaneers had to maintain themselves as best they could,—now mainly on the sea.
In 1654 the Spaniards regained Tortuga from the French, into whose hands it again, however, fell after a period of six years. But this state of matters was, as may be readily conceived, too insecure even for these rovers, and they would speedily have succumbed to the perils of their mode of life, had not a refuge been found for them by the fortunate conquest of Jamaica in 1655 by the navy of Cromwell, on behalf of the English Commonwealth. These conquests were not made without the aid of the Buccaneers themselves. The taking and retaking of Tor-tuga by the French was always with the assistance of the roving community; and at the conquest of Jamaica the English navy had the same influence in its favour. The Buccaneers, in fact, by this time constituted a mer-cenary navy, ready for employment against the power of Spain by any other nation, on condition of sharing the plunder to be obtained; and they were noted for their daring, their cruelty, and their extraordinary skill in sea-manship.
Their history now conveniently divides itself into three distinct epochs. The first of these extends from the period of their rise to the capture of Panama by Morgan in 1671, during which time their characteristic peculiarity as robbers was that they were hampered neither by Govern-ment aid nor, till near its close, by Government restriction. The second, from 1671 to the time of their greatest union and power, 1685, when the scene of their operations was no longer merely the Caribbean, but principally the whole range of the Pacific, from California to Chili. The third and last period extends from that year onwards; it was a time of disunion and disintegration, when the inde-pendence and rude honour of the previous periods had degenerated into unmitigated vice and brutality.
It is chiefly during the first period that those leaders flourished whose names and doings have been associated with all that was really influential in the exploits of the Buccaneers,—the most prominent being Mansvelt and Morgan. The commerce of Spain, which had been gradu-ally dwindling since the wreck of the Invincible Armada and the death of Philip II., had by the middle of the 17th century become utterly insignificant. The Buccaneers were thus deprived of the plunder of the Spanish mercantile marine. But Spanish settlements remained; and in 1654 the first great expedition on land, attended by con-siderable difficulties, was completed by the capture and sack of New Segovia in Honduras, on the mainland of America. The Gulf of Venezuela, with its towns of Mara-caibo and Gibraltar, were attacked and plundered under the command of a Frenchman named L'OUonois, who per-formed, it is said, the office of executioner for the whole crew of a Spanish vessel manned with ninety seamen. Such successes removed the Buccaneers further and further from the pale of ordinary civilized society, fed their revenge, and inspired them with'an avarice almost equal to that of the original settlers from Spain. Mansvelt, in-deed, in 1664, popular among all the Buccaneers, conceived the idea of their permanently settling as a body of regular colonists upon a small island of the Bahamas, named Providence, and Henry Morgan, a Welshman, intrepid and unscrupulous, joined him in some preliminary cruises. But the untimely death of Mansvelt nipped in the bud the only rational scheme of permanent settlement which seems at any time to have animated the members of this wild community; and Morgan, now elected commander, swept the whole Caribbean, and from his headquarters in Jamaica led triumphant expeditions to Cuba and the mainland. He was leader of the expedition wherein Porto Bello, one of the chief and best fortified ports in the West Indies, was surprised, taken, and plundered.
But this was too much for even the adverse European powers ; and in 1670 a treaty was concluded between England and Spain, proclaiming universal peace and friendship among the subjects of the two sovereigns in the New World, formally renouncing hostilities of every kind, withdrawing commissions granted to privateers, and agreeing to forget the past and for the future to punish all offenders. Great Britain was to hold all her possessions in the New World as her own property (a remarkable concession on the part of Spain), and consented, on behalf of her subjects, to forbear trading with any Spanish port without licence obtained. On the proclamation of the treaty in Jamaica, the Buccaneers rose to a man, ready for the most daring exploit which it had yet been in their power to achieve; they resolved to carry the terror of their name to the shores of the Pacific.
Accordingly, in 1671 Morgan embarked 2000 men on board a fleet of thirty-nine ships, sailed for a convenient port in the Caribbean, and crossed the Isthmus to lay siege to Panama. After a difficult journey, on foot and in canoes, they found themselves nearing the shores of the South Sea and in view of the turrets of the fated city. On the morning of the tenth day they commenced an engage-ment which, ere the close of the evening, ended in the rout of the defenders of the town. It was taken, and, acci-dentally or not, it was burnt. Neither sex nor condition was spared in the barbarities which ensued; and the conquerors returned laden with spoil. Morgan was not even true to his own men in the division of the booty ; he returned to Jamaica, became respectable under Govern-ment, was after a little made deputy-governor of the island, and took advantage of his position to punish his

former associates. He died, by the favour of Charles II., the " gallant " Sir Henry Morgan.
From 1671 to 1685 is the time of the greatest daring, prosperity, and maritime power of the Buccaneers. But the expedition against Panama had not been without its influence. Notwithstanding the vigour with which they executed their piratical projects in the Caribbean, and the many successes which they obtained on land, including a second plunder of the unfortunate city of Porto Bello, their thoughts ran frequently on the great expedition across the Isthmus, and they pictured to themselves the shores of the South Sea as a far wider and more lucrative field for the display of their united power.
In 1680 those longings took formidable shape. A body of marauders over 300 strong, well armed and pro-visioned, landed on the shore of Darien and struck across the country; and the cruelty and mismanagement displayed in the policy of the Spaniards towards the Indians were now in small part revenged by the assistance which the natives eagerly rendered to the adventurers. They acted as guides during a difficult journey of nine days, kept the invaders well supplied with food, provided them. with skilfully constructed canoes, and only left them after the taking of the fort of Santa Maria, when the Buccaneers were fairly embarked on a broad and safe river which emptied itself into the South Sea. With John Coxon as commander they entered the Bay of Panama, where rumour had been before them, and where the Spaniards had hastily prepared a small fleet to quell this dangerous attempt to carry insecurity and terror into the Pacific. But the valour of the Buccaneers won for them another victory, and within a week they escaped from the confinement of canoes, and took possession of a small fleet of four Spanish ships; and now successes flowed upon them. The Pacific, formerly free from their intrusion, showed many sail of merchant vessels, while on land opposition south of the Bay of Panama was of little avail, since few were acquainted with the use of fire-arms, and defence as an art was utterly unknown Coxon and seventy of his men returned as they had gone, but the others under Sawkins, Sharp, and Watling, roamed north and south, on islands and mainland, and remained for long ravaging the coast of Peru. Never scant of silver and gold, but often in want of the neces-saries of life, they continued their practices for a little longer; then, evading the risk of recrossing the Isthmus, they boldly cleared Cape Horn, and arrived in the Indies, in the not very tender hands of the representatives of the different Governments there. Again in 1683, however, numbers of them under John Cook departed for the South Sea by way of Cape Horn, near which they hailed a Thames built ship fitted out apparently as a trader, but in reality for the purposes of privateering. Thus straight from England the Buccaneers were now receiving a great accession to their numbers and their strength; and Eaton, the commander of the new vessel, told Cook of a certain Captain Swan who would probably be met with soon, pro-secuting the same dangerous business. They sailed northward, and on the death of Cook, Edward Davis, undoubtedly the greatest and most prudent commander who ever led the forces of the Buccaneers at sea, took command of his ship. Davis parted with Eaton, who left for the East Indies, but Swan arrived, and the two captains began a cruise which was disastrous to the Spanish trade in the Pacific.
In 1685 they were joined in the Bay of Panama by large numbers of Buccaneers who had crossed the Isthmus under Townley and others. This increased body of men required an enlarged measure of adventure, and this in a few months was supplied by the Viceroy of Peru. That officer, sole representative of the Spanish sovereign in the
vast kingdom, saw that the trade of the colony was cut off, that supplies were stopped, that towns were burned and cleared of the precious metals, and that settled life was broken in upon by the harassing and repeated attacks of the unsparing marauders, and he resolved by vigorous means to put an end to this state of matters. But this was not easily accomplished. In this same year, indeed, a fleet of fourteen sail hove in sight of the united forces of the Buccaneers in the Bay of Panama. The ten ships of the pirates were miserably deficient in cannon, and hung off. The Spaniards evidently were not aware of their advantage, and the two fleets, after remaining in proximity for three days, separated without testing their strength except in the way of a small and distant cannonade.
At this period the power of the Buccaneers was at its height. But the combination was now too extensive for its work, and the different nationality of those who composed it was a source of growing discord. Nor was the dream of equality ever realized for any length of time. The immense spoil obtained on the capture of wealthy cities was indeed divided equally among the crew of the attacking ships, the commander alone getting an extra share. But in the gambling and debauchery which followed, nothing was more common than that one-half of the conquerors should find themselves on the morrow in most pressing want; and while those who had prudently retained or fortunately increased their store of the precious metals would willingly have directed their course home-wards, the others clamoured for renewed attacks upon the hated Spaniards. The separation of the English and French Buccaneers, who together presented a united front to the Spanish fleet in 1685, marks the beginning of the third and last epoch in their history—that of disunion, decay, and extinction as an unaided community.
The brilliant exploits begun in this third period by the sack of Leon and Bealejo by the English under Davis have, even in their variety and daring, a sameness which deprives them of interest, and the wonderful confederacy is now seen to be falling gradually to pieces. The skill of Davis at sea was on one occasion displayed in a seven days' engagement with two large Spanish vessels, and the interest undoubtedly centres in him. Townley and Swan had, however, by this time left him, and after cruising together for some time, they, too, parted. In 1688 Davis cleared Cape Horn and arrived in the West Indies, while Swan's ship, the "Cygnet," was abandoned as unseaworthy, after sailing as far as Madagascar. Townley had hardly joined the French Buccaneers remaining in the South Sea ere he died, and the Frenchmen with their companions crossed New Spain to the West Indies. And thus the Pacific, ravaged so long by this powerful and mysterious band of corsairs, was at length at peace from California to Cape Horn.
The West Indies had by this time become hot enough even for the banded pirates. They hung doggedly along the coasts of Jamaica and St Domingo, but their day was nearly over. Only once again—at the siege of Carthagena —did they appear great; but even then the expedition was not of their making, and they formed an accession to regular forces organized in France. After the treachery of the French commander of this expedition a spirit of unity and despairing energy seemed reawakened in them; but this could not avert and scarcely delayed the rapidly approaching extinction of the community.
The proximate causes of the disappearance of this remarkable body of men are to be found in European policy. The accession of William of Orange to the English throne in 1689 had raised the jealousy of Louis XIV., and the war which ensued was protracted and severe. French and English rovers in the Caribbean could

not but take the part of their countrymen at home, and the continuance of hostilities effected the severance of the bond of unity which had for three-quarters of a century kept the subjects of the two nations together in schemes of aggression upon a common foe. The peace of Ryswick in 1697 only left England and France free to pay court to S-pain, whose king, weak in body and mind, was evidently hastening to the grave. The succession to the crown was believed to depend upon his will, and the two nations used all their influence, both in the Old World and in the New, to ingratiate themselves into the favour of the Spanish monarch. But that which really stopped the career of the Buccaneers so effectually as to prevent its being resumed was the fact, of so vast importance in the history of Spain and of Europe, that in 1700 Philip V., first of the Bourbon dynasty, ascended the Spanish throne. Spain, so little in herself, yet always great under great kings, now degraded and fallen, almost immediately rose before the eyes of astonished Europe as a gigantic power in the Old World and in the New.
But the fall of the Buccaneers is no more accounted for fully by these circumstances than is their rise by the alienation and massacre of the islanders of St Domingo. There was that in the very nature of the community which, from its birth, marked it as liable to speedy de-cline.
The principles which bound the Buccaneers together were, first, the desire for adventure and gain, and, in the second place, hatred of the Spaniard. The first, as that which could produce union among men of different nationalities, hardly deserves to be called a principle. There was perhaps much to gain, but it could be had nearly always by private venture under the colours of the separate European powers. Only one thing prevented this, and it is connected with their second and great principle of union, namely, that they warred not with one another, nor with every one, but with a single and a common foe. For while the Buccaneer forces included English, French, and Dutch sailors, and were complemented occasionally by not inconsiderable bands of native Indians, the instances during the time of their prosperity and growth are few in which we find them turning upon one another, and treating their fellows with the savagery which they exulted in displaying against the subjects of Spain. The exigencies, moreover, of their perilous career readily wasted their suddenly acquired gains.
Settled labour, the warrant of real wealth, was beneath the dignity of those who lived by promoting its insecurity. Regular trade—though rendered attractive by smuggling—_ and pearl gathering and similar operations which were spiced with risk, were open in vain to them. For, as the licence of the debauchee was in almost every case substituted for the cares and pleasures of domestic life, so a hand-to-mouth system of supply and demand rooted out gradually the prudence which accompanies any mode of settled existence. In everything permanency was what was not aimed at, because the whole policy of the Buccaneers, from the beginning to the end of their career, was one of pure destruction, and was therefore ultimately suicidal.
It has already been seen how great was the influence of the Buccaneers upon the power and the colonial tactics of Spain. But it was more beneficial to the world and more ruinous to Spain, that they opened the eyes of the world, and specially of the nations from whom these Buccaneers had sprung, to the whole system of Spanish American government and commerce—the former in its rottenness, and the latter in its possibilities in other hands. That effected, all was effected, since the extent of Spanish power was known. From this, then, along with other causes, dating primarily from the helplessness and pre-sumption of Spain, there arose the West Indian possessions of Holland, England, and France.
A work published at Amsterdam in 1678, entitled He
Americaensche Zee Hoovers, from the pen of a Buccaneer named
Exqnemelin, was translated into several European languages,
receiving additions at the hands of the different translators. The
French translation by Oexmelin is named Histoire des Avanturiers
quise sont signalez dans Us Indes ; the English edition is entitled
The Bucaniers of America. Other works are Raynal's History of
the Settlements and Trade of the Europeans in the Hast and West
Indies, book x., English translation 1782 ; Dampier's Voyages ;
Geo. W. Thornbury's Monarchs of the Main, <kc, 1855 ; Lionel
Wafer's Voyage and Description of the Isthmus of America, 1699; and
the Histoire deVisleEspagnole, etc., and Histoire et description general
de la Nouvelle France of Pere Charlevoix. The statements in these
works are to be received with caution. A really authentic narrative,
however, is Captain James Burney's History of the Buccaneers of
America, London, 1816. (T. S.)

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