The original 'pirates' and privateers of the Antilles, the Brethren of the Coasts, the untold stories from a Caribbean doctor/historian...
The Antilles is an archipelago bordered by the Caribbean Sea to the south and west, the Gulf of Mexico to the northwest, and the Atlantic Ocean to the north and east. The Antillean islands are divided into two smaller groupings: the Greater Antilles and the Lesser Antilles. The Greater Antilles includes the larger islands of Cuba, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, Hispaniola (subdivided into Haiti and the Dominican Republic) and the Cayman Islands. The Lesser Antilles contains the northerly Leeward Islands, the southeasterly Windward Islands, and the Leeward Antilles just north of Venezuela. The Lucayan Archipelago (consisting of the Bahamas and Turks and Caicos Islands), though part of the West Indies, are generally not included among the Antillean islands.
Geographically, the Antillean islands are generally considered a subregion of North America.
The origin of buccaneering began when the discovery of the Aztec and Inca empires lured the Spanish Navy away from their stronghold on Hispaniola, and leaving nearly abandoned colonies with their neglected people, crops, hogs and cattle which then ran wild and bred huge herds of feral beasts. History reveals the Spanish Crown nearly abandoned these outposts of soldiers. The Spanish brought pigs and cattle, preferring this meat in lieu of abundant fish, native fruits and tubers. This in turn attracted freedom-seeking French and English protestant farmers, sailors and hunters, who learned from the native Indians to smoke the meat on barbeque-like pits, and came to be called a native word - boucans. The isolated hunters became known as “boucaniers,” which in turn became the word buccaneer.
Originally these landless hunters of wild boars and cattle settled in the largely uninhabited areas of Tortuga and Hispaniola. The meat they caught was smoked over a slow fire in little huts to make viande boucanée – jerked meat or jerky – which they sold to the corsairs that preyed on the (largely Spanish) shipping and settlements of the Caribbean. Eventually the term was applied also to the corsairs and (later) privateers themselves, and would come to be known as the Brethren of the Coast. Though corsairs, also known as freebooters, were largely lawless, privateers were nominally licensed by the monarchs – first the French, later the English and Dutch – to prey and loot on the Spanish ships, until their depredations became so severe they were suppressed and stalked, making the Caribbean a war zone for more than one hundred years. This would dramatically shape of the history of the region and these pages will reveal a most remarkable story.
It is evident that the Spanish Crown's interest in colonization was primarlly for gold and silver. By this time, the great Spanish empire was burdened in debt, the Crown's appetite for luxury unchecked, previous Knights and Conquistadors unemployed were seeking employment on ships as mercenaries, and those punished for religious beliefs we also boarding ships for the New World. The Crusade for Jerusalem, and pilgrimage for Santiago (Pilgrimage of Compostela), would now turn toward the New World of perpetual sunshine, warm airs, and the reported friendly contact (as reported by Columbus who needed not 'baptism' as they were already Christian) was now to be found in the wild, wild west.
St. Christopher was one of the earliest small islands which Columbus never set foot on, to be colonized by both the French and English. They learned early on how to live in peace and divided the island in two. However, their perpetual enemy were the Carib Indians, a very war like group who constantly attacked and menaced the farmers. They were not the same as the Arawaks (Taino's) who Columbus first encountered, a much more peaceful, culturally rich, and sophisticated peoples. Some of the farmers left St. Christopher for the smaller, unihabited island of Nevis, just two miles adjacent. In time however, the Spanish returned to attack St. Christopher, Nevis and other Leeward Islands to maintain their monopolistic claim to these islands.
Expelled by the Spanish from Saint Christopher and especially Nevis, the original residents went to another small island - Tortuga (Ile de la Tortue), off the northwest coast of Hispaniola, sustained themselves mostly through a few means as before: growing tobacco and selling it, scrounging for fruits and cultivating vegetables, curing the meat and tanning the hides of wild game, and ultimately started pirating Spanish ships which they learned from the boucaniers. This former activity lent these hardy souls also the colorful designation of buccaneers, derived from the Taino word for bar-b-que meats and fish. It naturally took years for the buccaneers and the more rugged settlers that followed them to establish themselves on Tortuga, the island that would soon become the Caribbean pirate safe haven. Skirmishes with Spanish forces were common. As the maintenance of Spain's new world empire tried the wit, and drained the energies and finances of a declining Spain, and foreign intervention became more forceful as the years followed.
Pirate history often ignores the 'on the ground' conditions and language (if any) of those times. The Caribbean freebooters and freelancers of the 1600-1670s that mostly pirated the Spanish, usually spoke some combination of Dutch, English, and French, apparently, along with admixtures of lingos and words from mulattoes, mestizos, black slaves and Taino Indians. It's important to note that, prior to the 17th-18th century, very few European languages were the mostly artificial, standardized things we know today - for example, French wasn't really "pulled together" until the French revolution (1798), so someone like the buccaneer Jean Bart likely would have had a crew composed mainly of Bretons, who spoke, Breton, a Celtic language, not the queen's English.
The entire island of Hispaniola has also been referred to as Haiti, supposed by some to be the precolonial name used by aboriginal Indians (the Taino), who also called it Quisqueya. Hispaniola has relatively few offshore islands, the most notable being Gonâve Island and Tortue (Tortuga) Island. Over the decades as more people landed on Hispaniola for safe harbor, some buccaneers on the coast turned to piracy. Strife in the Lesser Antilles, especially on St. Christopher and Nevis, brought the English and French Hugenots (protestants), fleeing from Carib Indians, the French and the Spanish navies. Since Hispaniola was occupied and patrolled by the Spanish and also claimed as their sovereign territory, some sought shelter on a small island called Tortuga. A loose coalition of buccaneers and privateers became active in the seventeenth century and by 1763, Voltaire called them “brothers of the coast” or later became known as the Brethren of the Coast. Under this association, they made common cause against the Spanish and would routinely attack their ships full of gold and silver in transport from the Aztec and Inca lands. Tortuga became their earliest safe haven only to be followed by the sister island - Nevis - in the Eastern Antilles. From these two islands were actually born the Brethren.
Knight of St. John - Philippe de Poincy, Governor of St. Christopher, St. Martin, St. Croix, and St. Barts
|The buccaneers were a loose syndicate of captains with 'letters of marque and reprisal' which barely regulated their privateering enterprises within the community of privateers, buccaneers, pirates (as they were called) and with their outside benefactors. They were primarily private, individual merchant mariners of Protestant background usually of English and French origin, coupled with escaped prisoners, mercenaries, natives and slaves. In his book The Spanish Main, Peter Wood dates the term to 1640, about the time piracy was becoming a supplemental income. JM von Archenholtz’s The History of the Pirates, Free-Booters or Buccaneers of America used it in the 1807 English translation. Jan Rogozinski in his interesting Dictionary of Piracy describes the name as fictional as the buccaneers themselves never used “this picturesque phrase.” My research agrees as the two actual instigators, or we could say 'Godfathers' of the bucaneers were the first Governor of Nevis, Englishman Anthony Hiltion, only to be followed by the illustrious Governer of St. Christopher, Knight of St. John, Phillippe de Longvilliers de Poincy (1584–1660). The history of these two, least known, and never illuciated, are in my two books on Nevis and Knights, Princes, and Pirates (order here).|
Buccaneers of Nevis
Anthony Hilton originally settled on St. Chrisotpher planting tobacco. He took a crop to England for sale and returned to start a plantation in Barbuda, butit turned out unsuitable for planting tobacco. On July 22, 1628, Hilton and his men landed on Nevis near Charlestown. Gov. Warner in the meantime had established an ‘autocratic’ rule on St. Christopher, and in time, many dissatisfied settlers left for Nevis. Governor Warner appointed Hilton Governor of Nevis. Thus, Nevis was destined to become a settled British isle and later a haven for pirates including Captain Kidd.
The original number of settlers of Nevis was augmented by people coming from the island of Barbuda where they had been raided time and again by the Caribs, and from St. Christopher, prompting them to move to peaceful Nevis. The Spaniards considered the English in St. Christopher and Nevis as trespassers and pirates. Thus, when Spanish Admiral Fadrique de Toledo appeared in Nevis (7th Sept. 1629) with 30 armed vessels, the English indentured servants, being badly treated by their masters, deserted to the enemy and Nevis had to surrender. Anthony Hilton slipped away with many and left for the island of Tortuga and there would become the first buccaneer colony which would follow later with such pirates as the infamous Huguenot François Levasseur, who took control of the island for the admiral of St. Christophe, Gov. Poincy, with the title of governor. Captain Morgan would be another famous pirate would follow later.
Buccaneers of Tortuga
Governor Hilton of Nevis (1628-1631), from 1629 left for Tortuga and would become the world's first Buccaneer of record. The French and English colonists started setting up plantations and populated the island in a short time. They were temporary expelled as a potential threat to Spaniards when Don Fabrique de Toledo attacked Tortuga also in 1629. The encouraged army returned to Hispaniola, determined to root out every colonist, until not a single one remained. However, Spanish did not predict that scattered settlers would organize and return to the island and defeat the remains of the left over, small Spanish force. From 1630, the island of Tortuga was divided into French and English colonies as was St. Christopher. It provided a good, and established base for Buccaneers and their venturous attacks into the surrounding waters, as well as some other activities like slave trades. The wild, wild west was now colonizing.
Tortuga saw two more successful Spanish raids in 1635 and 1638, and both times the Buccaneers managed to regain possessions back. In 1639, to finally establish the decent defense, as the governor of Saint Christopher (now St. Kitts), Admiral Poincy, sent in Jean Le Vasseur, who was promoted to the new governor of Tortuga under his flagship. Under Poincy's instructions and finance, he built the famous stone fortress “Fort de Rocher” on the highest rise of the southern point of the island. It was enforced with 40 guns and overlooked any vessels in or near the port now near the Tortuga city of Basseterre. Thus, Tortuga had become the sister of Nevis, and its capital had the same name - Basseterre - as the capital of St. Christopher.
Until 1665, Le Vasseur ruled with an iron fist and started a feud with his over Lord (Baron) Poincy. Tortuga was temporally captured by the Spanish one more time, and then the island became a part of St. Domingue colony. The new governor, Bertrand D'Ogeron had difficulties to convince the Buccaneers to accept him. However, he managed to develop Tortuga even more by organizing people and strengthen its defense. In a report to the French Minister Colbert D'Ogeron told him that there were about seven or eight hundred men scattered along the coasts of the island. By 1666, Henry Morgan arrived on the island as an indentured servant, effectively, a white slave. Soon he would enjoin French bands of buccaneers and start his eloquent career and attacked Maracaibo in 1669.
Some of the greatest Buccaneers such as Henry Morgan and the infamous Francois L'Ollonais launched attacks from Tortuga and became part of island history. From 1670, as the Buccaneer era was in wane, most Buccaneers found a new trade like log cutting and trading wood from the island, growing tobacco, engaging in prostitution and slave trading, and many others continued their piracy on the ships of foreign nations passing their waters. In 1684, a piece agreement was signed between France and Spain, and soon there were few Buccaneers in Tortuga left. The next Republic would become Nassau, Bahamas to the east of Florida, and the Golden Age of Piracy makes is mark, but it all started on the small islands of Nevis and Tortuga.
Spain officially gave up Tortuga, as a part of St. Domingue to France in 1697. Today, Tortuga still belongs to Haiti, quite undeveloped and still with no island electricity. The island is 40 kilometers long, seven kilometers wide and at its highest point it is 464 meters above the sea. It is called Île de la Tortue by natives, which refers to the turtle-like shape of the island.
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