POSITION : PIRATE'S BAR
SOMEWHERE ON MARTINIQUE
MOOD : DREAMING !
as you might remember, the
rise of the Buccaneers
was basically the result of the
oversight by the Spanish to protect their 'back door'.
Actually some Frenchmen ,
driven from the island of Hispaniola and fleeing to Tortuga (on Haiti, 1640) were joined by many other French, English and Dutch and latest by the middle of the 16th century, they had established themselves in the smaller islands and started to
intercept the slow moving treasure fleets on their return to Spain.
English setlers in Jamaica began to spread the name "Buccaneers" and it stuck to the point that first books written about their activity were published like the one from
Alexandre Exquemelin in 1684 : "The Buccaneers of America".
Here is the news though :
"Good Pirates" ,
as their work was made "legal'. At least in the eyes of those who made this possible.
"looting of the looters" ,
their robbing and murdering, was covered in the eyes of the 'beholder' by a single letter : "The Letter of Marque".
This was basically a document from their respective kings
(English, French or Dutch) making them
ie acting on and behalf of a nation, flying their respective national flag, and
sharing their spoils
with their kings or queens.
Of course, what else !
probably COULD have had such a letter,
as long as he himself could write
knew somebody who did.
A proxy war had started. Viewed from London, buccaneering was a cheap way to wage war on England's arch rival, Spain, and making some money as well.
I would call it
"ambiguous legal Piracy" , because their status was by far not as clear as it might sound.
Any form of legal paper in that illiterate age might have been passed as a letter of marque, but in fact
many were legally invalid, ie illegal !
In between of all this mess were some more 'private Privateers', not flying the national flags, and therefore they were definitely 'illegal pirates' , or shall we say
" Bad Pirates " .
As their risk was higher than the 'legal pirates' or the 'illegal legal pirates, they were even more brutal, more vicious, more daring.
The funny thing - if I am allowed to call it that way - though was that
the 'legal pirates' went about their business
even in times of peace between the nations they 'seemingly represented' .
So was the obviously illegal 'legal piracy' still legal ?
You bet it was, as long as the kings got their share.
And their 'legal' fun lasted almost 40 years !
( 1650-1690 ) .
they started some in todays military language
but it was too late.
Although they drove most of the buccaneers out
who then retreated 'officially' to
Port Royal ( on Jamaica, 1655 )
being invited by the English Governor Thomas Modyford
and making the city the most prosperous ( and wildest ! ) in the Caribbean
the French and English royal fleets had already joined in the pillage. There were even
Royal Navy and French officers sent to lead the buccaneers
( and keep them more and more under control, I guess ).
Spain's disastrous defeat of its invincible Armada off the English coast was the last straw that saw
Spain giving up its monopoly over the West-Indies,
and by latest the 17th century definitely abandoned all claims on the Lesser Antilles.
And with it came also the occupation and colonialisation of the islands by settlers, farmers and plantation owners, importing 'cheap labour' in the form of slaves from West Africa.
And suddenly the Buccaneers were out of favour !
Why sharing the plunder, when you now have a fleet ( financed I guess by the first wave of plunder ),
that is good enough to deal with the enemy directly, and you just pay the crew a pittance.
And even trade between the nations started to emerge and needed to be protected rather than destroyed.
So no new 'Letters of Marque' were signed, and
as a result
roughly 40000 " Privateers and Buccaneers" became un-employed.
latest after the 'Treaty of Utrecht" in 1713
( actually it consists of many treaties, one of which cedes Gibraltar and Minorca to Britain ! ).
And what do you think that a navy or say army (like in Iraq ) does when you dismantle them.
Well they continue what they know best, but now without the 'Letter' , now truly just for themselves.
They went, as we say, "undergroud". All-out-war on the seas erupted , and everybody started to fight against his former friend or foe.
The True Pirate was created !
THE UGLY PIRATE !
Who cares, the spoils were still good.
In fact the time between 1690-1730 is called the "Golden Age of Piracy".
And against all public belief, only now was the
"Jolly Roger", the pirate flag,
created and hissed !
The flag came in various colours and formats, but the black one with the cross bones was intended to play on the 'fear-factor",
ie when you see it you are already lost.
And in most cases it worked.
Of course there are plenty of stories about individual pirates, privateers, buccaneers, etc.
May be you find at home in your loft an old crate, full with children books of your past.
Treasure Island, The Pirates of the Caribbean, you name it, it is all the same good stuff.
Start dreaming again !
Gosh, when was it the last time you dreamt about Pirates and Treasures.
Do it , and tell your children about it, and be happy !
So no reason to repeat all these stories here.
Nevertheless besides fictional tales
about gold and gem stones hidden on small unrecognisable islands surrounded by reefs and palm trees,
some historical figures stand out and seem to be worthwhile mentioning.
" The Arnold Schwarzenegger " of his time was a Frenchman called Daniel Montbars ( 1645 - 1701 ) , who destroyed so many ships and killed so many Spaniards that he
was called "the Exterminator".
And not to forget the Welshman
Sir Henry Morgan (1635 - 1688) .
Young, with an insatiable appetite for adventure, well connected in the English establishment of his time, and family ties within the english navy.
He became the first 'Privateer' who
combined piracy with amphibious assaults
on Maracaibo ( NW Venezuela )
and Porto Bello (today Panama City) .
The spoils were huge, and made him and his king rich beyond belief at that time.
He was wise enough to retire after Panama, got knighted by Charles II
( surprise , surprise ) ,
and lived his last years on Jamaica,
actually in the position of Lieutenant Governor.
Crime seems to pay off as long as you declare it to be legal .
On the illegal or better
ugly pirate side,
there are people like
Edward Teach alias "Blackbeard"
a fearsome tall and long bearded chap who tried to scare people even more by putting lit fuses under his hat to surround his face in smoke so he looked like the devil himself.
His biggest catch happened in the channel
between St Vincent and Saint Lucia :
a large spanish vessel that he turned inot a formidable "war ship".
He was finally killed in a battle with soldiers sent to catch him on behalf of the Governor of Virginia.
Stede Bonnet , who came from a very rich family
( hanged 1718 )
Sir Christopher Chapman , former Privateer turned Pirate ,
but all of them ended on the gallows or were killed in battle.
With one exception, actually with two :
Anne Bonny (1698 -1782 ) and Mary Read (1690-1721),
two of the very few female Pirates of renown.
Both became pregnant
( in prison ????? )
and were spared from the gallows, however Mary died regardless, of a fever before her release.
In the many years after 1730 Piracy in the Caribbean steadily declined.
Some retreated and continued as "Merchants" in the slave trade, which flourished at that time to
"feed the labour market" of the colonies.
SURELY AN UGLY BUSINESS !
Finally, as late as 1827, Britain declared that "business" illegal and an act of piracy, a crime punishable by death.
As a result the Atlantic slave trade , with the Royal Navy's power put to good use, was only eradicated by the middle of the 19th century.
So that's that.
From all those involved,
THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY,
only legends have survived!
But I have to go now,
some bloke in a bar last night sold me for a rum punch an
old chart with a hidden treasure marked on one of the reefs off a larger island,
saying it was the best kept secret in the Caribbean .
Of course I believed him !
Whitebeard Master Mike
"Privateer" due to graceful retirement from all businesses and sins,
for the rum punch !