ScotWars - Scottish Military History and Re-enactment
17th Century Buccaneers on the Spanish Main

When in 1492 Christopher Columbus Landed in the West Indies, he was inaugurating a period of two centuries during which piracy was to be an essential and almost respectable activity.
Within a few years the spanish had coasted very nearly the whole of the American continent, and claimed an exclusive right to it, with the exception of the Brazils which were conceded to the Portuguese. These claims were comfirmed by Pope Alexander VI's Bull of Donation, by which all the lands discovered or to be discovered 'in the west toward the Indies or the Ocean Seas' were to be partitioned between Spain and Portugal, and if any ships of other nations crossed a line west of the Azores or north of the Tropic of Capricorn, 'all were considered pirates'.

[Part One] [Part Two] [Part Three] [Part Four] [Part Five]

Part One

At this time most of the countries of Europe were still officially Roman Catholic, and had to accept the Papal Bull. Moreover Spain was by far the most important country in Europe, her influence extending over France, Italy and the Low Countries, and in 1580 she took Portugal as well. But in the Spiritual sphere the domination of the Pope was being questioned by many clerics and politicians, and in the international sphere the rising maritime nations of the English, French and Dutch, were ready to challenge Spanish supremacy on the seas.
Spain was now systematically ransacking the new world for treasure of all kinds, and shipping the spoils back to Europe. The Spaniards continued to extend their domination, both over the islands of the Indies and over the mainland of the American continent. Soon they had established a regular convoy of galleons to bring out goods from Spain for the colonists and to return with the treasure. Once a year a fleet of merchant vessels and heavily armed galleons, would sail into the Caribbean through the windward passage, then divide, one fleet bound for Cartagena and the Panama isthmus, the other for Vera Cruz, mule trains ran to Mexico City and Acapulco, where the galleon for the Philippines lay. On the return journey, the ships would assemble off Havana before sailing out through the Florida passage for the long journey across the Atlantic.
For a century the Spanish kept all other nations out of America, privateers might harass their ships at sea, but they held all the islands in the main. The first foreign colony founded by the French in 1562, was ruthlessly wiped out, and in 1604 the Venetian ambassador in London reported that the Spanish in the West Indies had captured two English vessels, and cut of the hands, feet, noses and ears of the crews and smeared them with honey and tied them to trees to be tortured by flies and other insects. He went on, the Spanish here plead that they were pirates not merchants.
But Pope Alexander's bull made all foreign trespassers pirates, and Spain's insistence that her colonists should only trade with the home country made the most innocent of merchants a smuggler. Nevertheless, the colonists were happy to buy goods at a cheaper rate from foreign merchants, and soon there were many illicit visitors to the Caribbean.
As the Spanish domination extended over the mainland the colonists began to leave the unprotected islands. Hispaniola, was largely deserted, only the town and fort of San Domingo were still occupied, but the Spaniards had killed off most of the native inhabitants, and the plains and woods were roamed by herds of semi wild cattle and pigs.
The French were the first to establish a foothold in the Indies, from Dieppe and St Malo, from Brest and Bayonne, came pirates such as Jean Terrier, Francois le Clerc, who was known as "Pie de Palo", (wooden leg). They learnt the routes of the gold laden galleons, and they found the deserted north coast of Hispaniola to be a suitable base to bring their ships for careening and revictualling. Some of the sailors decided to stay ashore and hunt the wild cattle, cutting the meat into strips and drying it. The meat was laid to be dried on a wooden grate or hurdle which the indians called a "barbecu", placed at a good distance over a slow fire. The meat when cured was called "boucan", and the hunters who prepared it and sold it to the pirates were of course called "boucaniers".
One contemporary observer has left a graphic description of their appearance and way of life. 'These people went dressed in shirts and pantaloons of coarse linen cloth which they steeped in the blood of the animals they slaughtered. They wore round leather caps, boots of hogskin drawn over their naked feet, and belts of rawhide into which they stick their swords and knives. They also armed themselves with firelocks which threw a couple of balls, each weighing an ounce, They were hunters by trade, and savages in their habits. they chased and slaughtered horned cattle and trafficked in their flesh, and their favourite food was raw marrow from the bones of the beasts they shot. They ate and slept on the ground, their table was a stone, their bolster the trunk of a tree, and their roof the hot and sparkling heavens of the Antilles'.
In time they began to form factories of establishments, to hunt cattle for their skins, and to cure the meat for trade. The appellation of boucanier or buccaneer was not invented or at least not applied to these adventurers till long after their first footing in Haiti. The first recorded use of the name was in 1625, at about the same time as the establishment of the first English colony on the island of St Christopher. A few years later, the Spaniards decided to drive the pirates and buccaneers out of Hispaniola, and in 1630 the first buccaneer colony was set up on the island of Tortuga, so called because of its turtle shape, off the north coast of Hispaniola. They built themselves a fort and established a sort of republic, but soon a spanish force from San Domingo attacked and wiped out the settlement, For a few years this pattern was repeated, the buccaneers drifting back from the woods after the raids, only to be dispersed again by another attack. Then in 1640 a Frenchman named Levasseur, a skilled engineer, got together a company of fifty other Frenchmen, and made a surprise raid on the island. It was immediately successful, and he declared himself governor of Tortuga. He built himself a strong fort on a high rock and armed it with cannon, he called it the Dovecote, and the only way to reach it was by means of steps cut into the rock and iron ladders.
So Tortuga became a prosperous buccaneer settlement, and the headquarters for all the sea-rovers of the Caribbean. Adventures of all nations began to flock out to the West Indies to seek their fortunes as privateers against the Spaniards. The Dutch called them "zeeroovers", the French "flibustiers", but the Spanish called them "piratas".
There were the Frenchmen, Pierre Le Grand, Daniel Montbars "the exterminator", and the cruel L'Olonnois, from Britain, John Davis, Lewis Scot, and the most famous of them all Henry Morgan, and among the Dutchmen, Edward Mansveld and Roc Brasiliano, and a young surgeon named Exquemelin, who wrote a book about the exploits of his companions.
Exquemelin went out to the West Indies in 1658, and published his book in Amsterdam in 1678. It was an immediate success, and editions in other languages soon appeared, the English translation was published in 1684, entitled, Buccaneers of America, or a true account of the most remarkable assaults committed of late years upon the coasts of the West Indies, by the Buccaniers of Jamaica and Tortuga, both English and French.
Jamaica had become the centre of the English buccaneers, following its capture by Cromwell's forces in 1655. Indeed, without the presence of the buccaneers's ships in those waters (even if their privateers commissions were a little out of date) it is very unlikely that England would have been able to hold her overseas possessions at all. Nearly 100 years before the Royal Navy established the West Indies station, the ships of the buccaneers were a kind of unofficial navy in the Caribbean.
But they were very small ships, frequently no more than small sloops, single masted, with four to six guns in the waist or on the forecaste, shallow drafted and able to creep up unseen on a Spanish galleon in the dark tropic night or the mists of Early dawn.
It was in a sloop like this that Pierre Le Grand set out with a crew of 28 men. For many days they searched for a prize, until their food and drink was exhausted. Just as they were about to give up the hunt they came up one evening with the Spanish treasure fleet, the largest galleon some way behind the rest of the fleet. The buccaneers sloop was so small the Spanish ignored it believing it to be a small fishing vessel, as the sun set Le grand and his men were able to come up under the galleon's stern without being seen. The men took of their boots so that they could climb up the ornately carved sterncastle easily, then Le Grand told his surgeon to bore holes in the bottom of the sloop so that there could be no going back on their plan. Barefooted, armed with pistols and swords, the buccaneers swarmed up on the pookdeck of the galleon, killed the unsuspecting helmsman, and burst into the great cabin where the officers were playing cards. Small wonder that the Admiral with a pistol at his breast, should have cried out "Jesus bless us! are these devils or what are they?". Other buccaneers took possession of the gunroom, and in a few minutes the ship with its vast treasure was in their hands.
But Pierre Le Grand's most remarkable action was that he then sailed his prize and crew straight back to Dieppe, where he lived a rich man in retirement for the rest of his life.
For most of the buccaneers prided themselves on the speed with which they could squander every last piece of eight they had plundered. Exquemelin wrote, 'my own master would buy, on like occasions, a whole pipe of wine and placing it in the street would force everyone that passed by to drink with him, threatening to pistol them if they would not do it. At other times he would do the same with barrels of ale or beer, and, very often, with both hands he would throw these liquors about the streets and wet the cloths of those passing by, without regarding whether he spoiled their apparel or not whether they were men or women'.
Exquemelin wrote in detail, not only about the buccaneer's exploits but their organisation. They exercised a strange democratic disipline, putting most decisions to the vote, sharing their food equally whatever the standing in the ship's company, and sometimes deposing or marooning their captains if they were dissatisfied. Each man, in fact, was hired as an individual, 'before the pirates go to sea they give notice to everyone who goes upon the voyage of the day on which they ought to embark, intimating also to them their obligation of bringing, each man in particular so many pounds of powder and shot'. each man could leave his ship and companions at any time, provided he paid for his food and drink.
All important decisions were put to the vote, 'Being all come aboard that join together in council, concerning what place they ought to go wherein to get provisions, sometimes they resolve to rob such or such hogyards, wherein the Spanish often have a thousand head of swine together. The ship being well victualled, they call another council, to deliberate towards what place they shall go to seek their desperate fortunes. In this council, likewise they agree upon certain articles which are put in writing, by way of bond or obligation, which everyone is bound to observe, and all of them set their hands to it. Herein they specify and set down very distinctly, what sums of money each particular person ought to have for that voyage, of what is gotten by the whole expedition, for otherwise it is the same law among these people as with other pirates, no prey, no pay. In the first place therefore, the mention how much the captain ought to have for his ship. next the salary of the carpenter, or shipwright. This commonly amounts to 100 or 150 pieces of eight. Afterwards for provisions and victualling they draw out of the common stock about 200 pieces of eight. Also a competent salary for the surgeon and his chest of medicaments, which is usually rated at 200 or 250 pieces of eight. Lastly they stipulate in writing what recompense or reward each man ought to have, that is either wounded or maimed in his body. Thus they order for the loss of a right arm 600 pieces of eight. for the loss of a left arm 500 pieces of eight, for a right leg 500 pieces of eight, for a left leg 400 pieces of eight, for an eye 100 pieces of eight, for the loss of a finger of the hand the same reward as for an eye'.
'A very exact and equal dividend is made of the remainder among them all. Thus the Captain or chief commander, is allotted five or six portions to what the ordinary men have, the Master's Mate only two, and the other officers proportionate to their employment. After whom they draw equal parts form the highest to the lowest mariner, the boys not being omitted, it is the duty of the boys to set fire to the ship or boat wherein they are'.
'They make a common oath to each other not to abscond or to conceal the least thing they find amongst the prey. If afterwards anyone if found unfaithful, who has contravened the said oath, immediately he is separated and turned out of the society'.
The buccaneer's habit of taking a vote on any matter of importance could, of course, prove an embarrassment, there cases on record in which a vote was insisted upon at the height of a battle to decide the way in which the fight should be continued.
Soon however, strong personalities began to emerge among the buccaneer captains, who were not prepared to accept the possibility of being deposed. The ships were theirs, and the would send out word that they were "going on the account" and call for crews to join them.


Part Two

One of the most famous of the early buccaneer commanders was Jean David Nau, called L'Olonnois because he come from the district of Olonne in France. As a young lad he embarked at La Rochelle as an indentured servant to a plantation owner in the Indies, but soon after he reached his destination he ran away and shipped aboard a pirate vessel in Tortuga. in a very short time he was elected master of a vessel, he took several small prizes, but lost everything including his own ship in a storm. However he must have had a very promising reputation because the governor of Tortuga, at that time a M. De la Place, provided him with a new ship.
This second ship however was also wrecked, and L'Olonnois and his men were cast ashore near Campeche. They were attacked by Spaniards, but L'Olonnois escaped by hiding in a pile of dead bodies. He is said to have later disguised himself in Spanish clothes and walked through the town, he released some slaves with whom he stole a canoe and sailed back to Tortuga. It is said that his hatred of the Spaniards, which had always been strong, was raised to an obsession by these experiences.
By craft and subtlety, says Exquemelin, he obtained another ship in Tortuga, and after various adventures he joined forces with Michel le Basque to plan an attack on Maracaibo. This town in Venezuela stood at the head of a lake, which was joined to the sea by a narrow channel dominated by a fort, and it became a regular target of attack by the buccaneers.
L'Olonnois arrived of the coast at the head of a fleet of eight ships. His flagship was a prize taken on the way, of 16 guns and 120 men, and the vice Admiral, Moses Vauclin had a ship of 10 guns and 90 men. Michel le Basque commanded the magazine ship, which carried all the spare powder and shot as well as 20 guns and 90 men, and L'Olonnnois's own ship, heavily armed with 20 guns, was in the charge of Anthony du puis. Pierre le Picard commanded a brigantine with 40 men, and there was another vessel of 40 men and two of 30, Every man was armed with a musket, a brace of pistols and a sword.
Le Basque and L'Ollonois led a force ashore to silence the fort, then they sailed up the channel into the lake, and landed their men in canoes under cover of a bombardment from the ships. However, they found the town empty and most of the valuables gone, and although L'Ollonois put most of his prisoners on the rack and tortured them to reveal where treasure was hidden he found only 20,000 pieces of eight. So the buccaneers sailed on across the lake to the town of Gibralter, which they captured in a bloody fight in which 500 of the 600 defenders were killed.
They spent six weeks in Gibraltar, eating, drinking, looting, and putting the surrounding country to fire and sword. Then plague began to spread through the ranks of the buccaneers, L'Ollonois burnt the town, and sailed with his men back to Maracaibo, which he ransomed. The total spoil was 260,000 pieces of eight in jewels and money, 100,000 crowns worth of tobacco and church furniture.
But within weeks all L'Ollonois's money was spent, and he set off on another expedition to the main, this time to Nicaragua. He had a large Dutch Fluyt with 300 men, and five smaller vessels, but at Cape Gracias a Dios the ships were caught by what the Spaniards call a "furious calm", and the current carried them all into the gulf of Honduras. They spent a month trying to beat their way out of the gulf, and then decided to plunder round the coast until the contrary winds had ceased.
In his advance on the town of San Pedro L'Ollonois showed his customary brutality toward his Spanish prisoners. It was his custom says Exquemelin, that having tormented any persons and they not confessing he would instantly cut them in pieces with his hanger, and pull out their tongues, desiring to do the same, if possible, to every Spaniard in the world. Oftentimes it happened that some of these prisoners being forced on the rack, would promise to discover the places where the fugitive Spaniards lay hidden, which not being able afterwards to perform, they were put to more enormous and cruel deaths than they who were dead before.
The buccaneers fell into an ambush, and after they had fought their war out, L'Ollonois asked his prisoners if there were not another way they could take. Having asked them all, and finding they could show him no other way, L'Ollonois grew outrageously passionate, insomuch that he drew his sword, and with it cut open the breast of one of those poor Spaniards and pulling out his heart with his sacrilegious hands, began to bite and gnaw it with his teeth, like a ravenous wolf, saying to the rest, 'I will serve you all alike if you show me not another way'.
This gastly deed did not go unpunished long. The buccaneers took the town, but found little spoil, and when they got back to their ships Moses Vauclin and Pierre le Picard sailed away on their own, and L'Ollonois's flyut ran aground on a sandbank. He and other survivors swam ashore, where they were attacked constantly by Indians, and finally the Indians took him prisoner and tore him into pieces alive, throwing his body limb by limb into the fire, and his ashes were thrown into the air, to the intent that no trace or memory should remain of such an infamous, inhuman creature.
Another Frenchman whose hatred of the Spaniards led him to wallow in blood was Montbars, who gave himself the name "the exterminator". He was said to have come from one of the best families of the Languedoc, but even as a boy he said he only wished to shoot well that he might know how to kill a Spaniard. He was shipped aboard a trading vessel commanded by his uncle, and in Caribbean waters they took a Spanish ship, the boarders being led by the hothead young Montbars. the plunder included 30,000 bales of cotton 2000 bales of silk, and a casket of diamonds.
Monbars could not restrain his lust to be after the Spaniards, and he went ashore with the buccaneers of Hispaniola, they killed many spanish cavalry in an ambush, and persuaded some Indians who were with the cavalry to join them.
When he returned to the ships, the buccaneers and the Indians insisted on remaining with Montbars, so his uncle gave him command of the vessel they had captured, and the two sailed off in search of more Spanish ships. A few days later, they were set upon by four large vessels, the first of the plate fleet on their way to rendezvous off Havana. The older Montbars was old and gouty, and directed his ship from an armchair, after three hours of running battle, he attacked his two adversaries so fiercely that he sank both them and himself. The younger Montbars sank one of his attackers and boarded the other, his Indians seeing him leap boldly aboard the Spaniard at the stern, leaped into the water and swam to the bow, and the ship was soon captured.
The Buccaneers were extending their influence all over the Indies and the Main, but as they did so they found resistance to their attacks strengthened, both on sea and on land, and it became increasingly necessary for them to form themselves into fleets under the command of an "Admiral".
One of the first to command a fleet of mixed nationalities, was Edward Mansveld. In 1663 the governor of Jamaica listed 'eleven frigates and briganteens belonging to Jamaica'. They comprised 740 men and 81 guns, and were under the command of Sir Thomas Whetstone, and Captains Swart, Gaye, James, Cooper, Morris, Brenning, Mansveld, Goodler, Blewfield and Herdre. They were manned by English, Dutch and Indian, and four others. There were also three smaller ships with 100 Jamaicans and 12 guns, under the command of the Dutch Captain Senlove, and four boats from Tortuga, with 258 men, All French, and 32 guns, under the command of Captains Davis, Buckell, Colstree, and a Portuguese. then in March 1666, Sir Thomas Modyford writes, our Privateers have chosen Capt. Edward Mansveld their Admiral, and a fleet sailed from Jamaica, with privateers commissions, their destination, Curacao.
Unable to take Curacao, Mansveld took the island of Santa Catalina (then called Providence by the English) with the idea of establishing a privateering base on the route of the treasure fleets from Portobello. In August the Spanish recaptured the island, and Mansveld was taken to Portobello and executed. His second in command, who took over the title of Admiral, was Henry Morgan.
Sixteen years later, Governor General Admiral Sir Henry Morgan, Justice of the Peace, Judge of the Vice Admiralty Court, Custos Rotulorum, and the richest plantation owner in Jamaica, sued the London publishers of an English translation of Exquemelin's book for libel. He won his case, and later editions of the book carried fulsome apologies, but nonetheless Exquemelin's is the only account of Henry Morgan's early life and it seems probable that it is substantially true.
Morgan was born in 1635, eldest son of Robert Morgan of Llanrhymney in the county of Glamorgan. his uncle was Governor of Jersey, and his uncle Edward became Governor of Jamaica in 1663. He left school early and sailed to the West Indies. Possibly he sailed with Penn and Venables in the expedition to capture Jamaica in 1655. He certainly claimed that he always sailed under commission as a privateer, unlike many of his fellows. This was not the only difference from them, Leslie, who wrote a history of Jamaica not long after Morgan's death, said 'because he saw the excess and debauchery of his fellows, and that they became reduced to the lowest shifts by their lavish expenses on their arrival, he, having vast designs in view, lived moderate and got together as much money as would purchase a vessel for himself, and having got a fine crew put to sea'.
After the setback at Santa Catalina, and the loss of Mansveld, the new Admiral Morgan got together ten good ships and 500 buccaneers, whom he landed on a deserted part of the coast of Cuba and marched some thirty miles inland to the town of Puerto Principle (now Camaguey). the town was so far from the coast that it had never been attacked like this, and it was easily captured.
Puorto Principle was ransomed by its inhabitants to prevent it being burnt to the ground, but the ransom was not large, and possibly because of this, or perhaps because Morgan had turned his attention to Portobello once again (which was a large fortified city with a large and formidable garrison), the French buccaneers refused to take any further part in the expedition.


Part Three

'A certain pirate of Campeche' joined the English buccaneers, bringing Morgan's force up to 460 men and 9 sail. He landed within a few miles of Portobello and took two of the forts defending the town without difficulty. The third however, was commanded by the Spanish Governor in person, and resisted bravely. The Buccaneers made a number of scaling ladders wide enough for three or four abreast, and compelled priests and nuns from a nearby convent to carry these ladders to the walls under the murderous fire of the defences. Then bearing 'fireballs' in their hands, the buccaneers were able to storm the fort and kill the Governor and most of his men.
This was Exquemelin's account, and he also credited the buccaneers with all kinds of cruelties and excess when the city was taken. Morgan's official report gives an entirely different view of the affair. He certainly lost only 18 men killed and 32 wounded against a town held by 3000 men, but 'for the better vindication of ourselves against the usual scandals of the enemy, we aver that several ladies of great quality and other prisoners, were offered their liberty to go to the Presidents camp, but they refused, saying they were now prisoners to a person of quality, who was more tender to their honours than they doubted to find in the President's camp among his rude Panamainian soldiers.
Exquemelin also gives the story that the President of Panama, sent to ask Morgan for a specimen of the arms with which he captured Portobello. Morgan sent him a pistol and a few bullets, telling him to 'accept that slender pattern of the arms wherewith he had taken Portobello, and hold them for a twelvemonth, after which time he promised to come to Panama to fetch them away'. He was as good as his word, although it was more than a year before he came.
Portobello was ransomed for 100,000 pieces of eight, and with this and their plunder Morgans men returned to Jamaica. By November the Governor of Jamaica was writing that six Captains with 500 men 'are all gone out again, Capt. Morgan is their Admiral'. In January 1669 the Frigate Oxford was sent out to join Morgan at the Isla Da Vaca, where he now had ten vessels and 1000 men.
A council was held on board the Oxford, and as usual on buccaneering expeditions the offices sat around the table one night, drinking healths and firing off muskets. A stray spark set fire to a barrel of powder standing in the waist of the ship, and in the explosion that followed 350 men lost their lives. 'Admiral Morgan and those Captains that sat on that side of the table he did were saved, but those Captains on the other side were all killed'.
But this accident was not allowed to interfere with the preparations for a new expedition, at the suggestion of the pilot who had led L'Ollonois, the buccaneers voted to make another attack on Maracaibo.
They fought their way past the fortifications at the head of the lake, but were disappointed to find that the inhabitants of the town had fled with most of their valuables. 'Amongst other tortures then used, one was to stretch their limbs with cords and at the same time beat them with sticks and other instruments. others had burning matches placed between their fingers, others had slender cords twisted about their heads, till their eyes burst out of their skull. Thus all sorts of inhuman cruelties were inflicted upon these innocent people. these tortures continued for the space of three whole weeks'.
Then Morgan heard that three large Spanish ships had arrived at the lake entrance to block his return to the sea. A fireship was secretly prepared, logs were stood on deck with hats on top, to give the impression that she was a manned ship. then pitch and powder were light below decks, and she was sent downwind to come alongside the Spanish flagship, which soon went up in flames. the second ship retired under the guns of the fort, the third ship was captured, and Morgan sailed out with booty valued at ú30,000.
He returned to Jamaica to be met with the complaints of the Spanish Ambassador from London concerning his exploits at Portobello, and these were soon followed by even stronger protests over the action at Maraciabo. For a year Morgan remained quietly on his estate, but then another war with Spain broke out, and in June 1670 he was instructed to 'get together all the privateers, with the title of Admiral'. On 5th of July, a certain spanish captain, Pardal, landed on the Jamaican coast and left a challenge nailed to a tree.
'I Captain Manuel Ribera Pardal, to the chief of the buccaneers in Jamaica. I am he who has done that which follows. I went on shore at Caimanos and burnt twenty houses and fought with Captain Ary and took from him a ketch laden with provisions and a canoe. And I am he who took Captain Baines and did carry the prize to Cartagena, am and now arrived at this coast and have burnt it. I am come to seek Admiral Morgan with two ships of twenty guns, and having seen this, I crave he would come out upon the coast and seek me, that he might see the valour of the Spaniards. And because I had no time, I did not come to the mouth of Port Royal to speak by word of mouth in the name of my King, whom God preserve'.
Morgan's fleet sailed for the old buccaneer rendezvous of Isla Da Vaca, and soon he had gathered 28 English ships and 8 French ships, and nearly 2000 men. there seems to have been some delay, and Morgan returned to Jamaica for some reason, it was not until 21 December that a council of war on board his ship decided to attack the city of Panama. at the same council the plan for the division of booty was drawn up, one fifteenth was due to the King, a tenth to the Duke of York as Lord High Admiral, Morgan was to receive one hundredth part, and his Captains shares equal to eight men. The other shares and payments for duties and loss of limbs were according to usual buccaneers articles.
Then the expedition set out. First the island of Santa Catalina was recaptured as a base, and then on the Mainland the fortress of San Lorenzo on the River Chagre was taken.
Leaving crews of about 20 men to guard his ships, Morgan took a picked force of 1200 men up the river in canoes until the rapids forced them to continue on foot along mule tracks. They struggled for a week through the tropical jungle, tormented by mosquitoes and leeches, short of food and drink, and constantly on the watch for ambushes. Then on the ninth day they reached the highest point, and could sea the Pacific ocean spreading beneath them only ten miles away.
They were now near to Panama, and found a paved road leading to the city, and fields full of cattle. the cattle were quickly rounded up and slaughtered and roasted as quickly as possible, 'for such was their hunger that they more resembled cannibals than Europeans'.
The next day the buccaneers were met outside Panama by the Spanish forces, two squadrons of cavalry, four regiments of foot, and several hundred wild bulls that the Spaniards drove before them to scatter the buccaneers. however, the effect of the first volley fired by Morgan's men was to stampede the terrified cattle back into the Spanish lines, the cattle ran amok among the Spaniards and both cattle and spaniards became targets of the buccaneers disciplined volleys. Morgan had trained his men to fight in a military manner, and their fire decimated the Spanish troops who fled and abandoned the city, and in two hours the battle was won.
As soon as Panama was occupied, Morgan tried to restrain his men from excessive drinking by spreading a rumour that all the wine in the city had been poisoned. The city was the port for all the gold and silver that was brought up the coast from Peru, and for the goods and supplies that came every year from Spain to the colonies, and the buccaneers set about plundering in earnest. Unfortunately by some mischance, the city was set on fire and a large part of it burnt. The Captain of the treasure ship Santissima Trinidad from Lima saw the smoke from a distance, and wisely turned back before he could be captured.
Nevertheless, Morgan's force left Panama with loot estimated at 400,000 pieces of eight, and there was great discontent at the shareout at Chagre, when the men only received only forty apiece, while Morgan and a select few of his Captains sailed quietly away one night to Jamaica, leaving the rest of the buccaneers to fend for themselves.
But while he had been away the situation in Jamaica had changed. Sir Thomas Modyford, an old friend of Morgan's, had been removed from his post as Governor, and Sir Thomas Lynch was on his way from London to take over, with instructions to send Morgan home to stand trial for piracy.
Panama was Morgan's last expedition. He was sent as a prisoner to England, though said Lynch, 'to speak the truth of him, he is an honest brave fellow'. In England the news of the sack of Panama soon spread, and Morgan became a popular hero compared with Drake, and all thought of his trial was soon forgotten. When the third Dutch war broke out he was appointed as Deputy Governor of Jamaica, Knighted, and presented with a silver snuff box with a portrait of the king set in diamonds on the lid. he returned to Jamaica in 1675, where he spent the last thirteen years of his life, in public as an enemy of the buccaneers, but in private he did what he could to secure them privateers commissions from the French or the Portuguese.
With the withdrawal of Morgan the initiative passed for a few years to the French buccaneer commanders such as Gramont, Laurent de Graaf and Van Horn (the latter two were Dutch, but commanded French forces). In 1678 the French Admiral Estrees recruited a large fleet of buccaneer ships for an attack on the Dutch settlement at Curacao, but he entrusted the vanguard to the Buccaneers in their shallow draughted vessels, and in trying to follow them he ran most of his warships onto a reef, and had to withdraw with the remnants of his fleet.
The buccaneers remained on Curacao for some weeks and then they sailed westward again, whether they had English buccaneers with them at this time is not known, but certainly a little later, when they landed on the main to take Portobello again, there were some 350 Englishmen in the party.
After the attack the buccaneers withdrew in their ships to some islands off the coast, and the English contingent suggested another expedition to Panama. De Graaf had never favoured operations on land, and under his influence the French, whose Captains included, Grognier, Lescuier, Rose, Desmarais and L'Ollonois's old comrade Le Picard, would not agree. so the English sailed on to Golden island to discuss the matter among themselves. It was another five years before the French buccaneers followed their example and ventured into the Pacific ocean.
The Pacific Ocean was called the South Sea because it was on the south side of the isthmus of Darien, the Caribbean and the Atlantic made up the North Sea. It was discovered by Vasco Nunez de Balboa in 1513, and for sixty years was little more than a rumour to nations other than the Spaniards. They held the easy way to the south sea, the narrow isthmus, and they built their own ships on the west coast of America and traded across the Ocean with the Philipines and the South China Seas. The ships of other nations had to make the long run south to the Magellan straight, with no charts to guide them, or even further south to round cape horn.
With Henry Morgan at his taking of Panama in 1671, were the buccaneer Captains, Bartholomew Sharp, Edmund Cook, Richard Sawkins, John Coxon, Peter Harris and Charles Swan. Swan was so attracted by the possibilities of the South sea that he tried to desert and planned to take one of the Spanish vessels lying in the port. When Morgan got wind of this plan, he had all the ships in Panama Harbour burnt before he started his march back across the isthmus.


Part Four

For a few years the buccaneers continued to cruise the Caribbean, under the protection of such commissions as they could obtain through Morgan's influence, or from the Governor of Tortuga, or from Portuguse, Dutch or Danish officials, whoever happened to be at war at the time. But the thoughts of the buccaneers continued to dwell on the South Sea.
On 15th April 1680, 331 buccaneers landed on the isthmus of Darien. 'That which often spurs men on to the undertaking of the most difficult adventure is the sacred hunger of gold', and 'twas gold the bait that tempted back a pack of merry boys of us, being all soldiers of fortune, under command, by our election, of Captain John Coxon'. They were a remarkable crowd, no less than six of them wrote accounts of the expedition, Bart, Sharp, William Dampier, Lionel Wafer, Basil Ringrose, William Dick and John Cox.
They were divided into five companies, with Sharp leading the way, followed by the companies of Richard Sawkins, Peter Harris, John Coxon and Edmund Cook. Each man was provided with four cakes of bread, known as "doughboys", and armed with a fusil, a pistol and a hanger. They made a redezvous with the Mosquito Indians, making out to attack the fort of Santa Maria, which the Indians had reported was stocked with gold dust.
But the Spaniards had been warned of their approach and had sent all the gold away to Panama, so most of the buccaneers were in favour of setting out on the Pacific in the Indian's canoes. Coxon and his party were against the proposal, but he was persuaded to stay and keep command of the expedition. He was apparently a hot-tempered man and had already quarrelled with Sawkins and Harris, and he was soon to fall out again with his companions.
On 19th April the buccaneers paddled their canoes into the bay of Panama, where they soon captured a Spanish vessel of 30 tons, on board which 130 men were placed, and the next day another small barque was taken.
At dawn on 23 April, St George's Day, they came in sight of Panama. (This was a newly built city, four miles to the west of the ruins left by Henry Morgan ten years before). They were met by three Spanish warships, one of them under the command of a certain Captain Peralta who had previously fought against Morgan. The battle lasted most of the day, at the end two of the Spaniards had been taken by boarding and the third had been forced to flee. Eighteen buccaneers had been killed, and over thirty wounded. Peter Harris was among the wounded and died ten days later, but Coxon was thought to have been rather cowardly in the fighting.
After the battle the buccaneers sailed on toward Panama, and at anchor in the roads they found a number of vessels, including the Santissima Trinidad, a heavily armed ship of 400 tons, with a cargo of wine and sugar, together with a large sum of money. This was the same ship that had escaped capture by Morgan, and Sharp was put in charge of her. In other ships they found mostly flour and ammunition, and two of them were fitted out for cruising, the others, together with any stores that were not required, being destroyed. So in less than a week, the buccaneers had provided themselves with food, weapons and ammunition, and a small fleet with which they were able to blockade Panama.
After tow or three days however, Coxon and his men decided that they were not going to put up with the jeers of some of their companions over their alleged cowardice, and some 70 of them took canoes and returned across the isthmus. Coxon recovered his ship at Golden Island, and cruised the Caribbean for some years under official commission, before he died in 1689.
The buccaneer force in the Pacific now comprised three ships and two small barques, with about 240 men. Sawkins was elected to the leadership, 'a valiant and generous spirited man, and beloved above all others we had amongst us'. Bart, Sharp and Edmund Cook commanded the other ships. They lay ten days before Panama, unable to decide whether to land or not, and then they withdrew to the island of Taboga, where they could watch unseen for vessels approaching the port. They captured several ships, which yielded some 50,000 pieces of eight, as well as provisions and ammunition.
Sawkins led a party ashore at Pueblo Nuevo in search of fresh meat, but he and two others were killed at the first onset, and the rest withdrew in confusion. The buccaneers returned to their rendezvous at Quibo Island to elect a new leader, and the vote fell by a narrow majority to Sharp, but some 70 men who had remained only through loyalty to Sawkins decided that it was time they returned to the Caribbean.
This left Sharp with only 146 men and two ships, the third had been lost during the landing at Pueblo Nuevo, and the two small barques had been lost in a storm. Sharp put John Cox in charge of the second ship, which was christened the Mayflower, and with a promise of ú1000 for every man who would accompany him southward he sailed to the island of Gorgona to careen.
A month or two later however, the Mayflower was sailing very badly, and it was decided to abandon her and embark everybody in the Trinity. They held their course to the south, capturing a vessel with 3276 pieces of eight, but with their water supply rapidly running out, it is said that a pint of water was sold in the ship for 30 pieces of eight.
They took the town of Ilo, and held it to ransom, but were soon driven out by Spanish cavalry. The same trouble occurred at Coquimbo, and further south at La Serena. It was now Christmas time, and they decided to spend a few days at the lonely island of Juan Fernandez, but within a week on the island Sharp had been deposed and an old buccaneer John Watling had been elected in his place. Basil Ringrose wrote in his journal for 9 January 1681, 'this day was the first Sunday that we ever kept by command and common consent since the loss and death of our valiant commander, Captain Sawkins'.
But the new Captain brought no luck to the venture. First of all, slipping their cables and standing out to sea at the sight of three Spanish warships, the buccaneers left behind an Indian named William. He was the first of the Robinson Crusoes of Juan Fernandez island, and it was four years before he was rescued. Then Watling led them to attack the town of Arica. It was strongly defended, Watling himself was killed, and there were so many casualties that the men begged Sharp to take command on the battlefield, and lead them out of difficulty.
But again there were those who did not want to serve under Sharp, and a few weeks later a party of 47 men, under the command of John Cook and including Dampier and Wafer, set off in canoes for the isthmus and back to the Caribbean. This left about 75 men with Sharp and the Trinity, and they cruised for another six months with only moderate success. Sharp however, secured one prize that he shrewdly recognised to be of greater value to himself than any other plunder. On 19th July 1681 off Cape Francisco they took the Santa Rosario, 'in this prize wrote Sharp, I took a Spanish manuscript of Prodigious value, it describes all the ports, roads, harbours, bays, sands, rocks and rising of the land and instructions how to work the ship into any port or harbour, they were going to throw it overboard but by good luck I saved it, the Spaniards cried out when I got the book, farewell South Seas now'.
In August, 'all our hopes of doing any further good upon the coast of the South sea being now frustrated', they decided to return to the Caribbean. They rounded the Horn in November, and made their landfall in Barbados on 28 July 1682. But they were not allowed to land there, and had to sail on to Nevis. Here they split up, most of the men went to Jamacia, where they were once arrested by Morgan, who hung one of them as 'a bloody and notorious villain', but Sharp, Ringrose, Dick, Cox and
other officers took passage to England.
Sharp took his book of Spanish ports with him, and it was this that saved him and his companions when they were tried for piracy in London. In October 1682 the King was presented with a beautifully ornate English copy, and in 1683 Sharp bought an old boat, provisioned her by rounding up some cattle that he "espied" on Romney Marsh, and sailed back to the Caribbean. There he re joined Coxon as a privateer.
Meanwhile, John Cook's party had been struggling back across the isthmuss, the way being almost continuously through rivers and path less woods. Lionel Wafer was injured in an explosion, and was left behind in the hands of friendly Mosquito Indians, others were drowned in crossing rivers or died from disease. The survivors reached the coast to find a French buccaneer ship under Captain Tristian lying offshore.
This ship was one of a fleet of eight, four were commanded by Englishmen, one of whom was John Coxon, three were French, and one was Dutch, commanded by Captain Yankee. John Cook went as second in command aboard the Dutchman, and Dampier as navigator aboard a ship commanded by the Frenchman Archembeau. Then a prize was taken, and most of the Englishmen shipped aboard her, a few weeks later they found Lionel Wafer in a party of Indians, and shortly after they all sailed to Virginia.
Cook however had stayed with Yankee, and then transferred to Tristian's ship. After some months he Siezed the ship from Tristian and sailed to Virginia to pick up supplies for another voyage to the Pacific. In Virginia Cook found his old colleagues Wafer and Dampier, another buccaneer, named Edward Davis and a navigator who had taken the degree of Master of Arts at Cambridge, William Ambrosia Cowley. They named the ship Revenge, and with a compliment of about 70 they sailed southward on 23 April 1683. Cowley was told to shape a course to Hispaniola, and it was only when they were at sea that he was told he was on a
buccaneering voyage and the course was altered to the Cape Verde Islands. After watering and replenishing their stock of salt, the buccaneers sailed on to Sierra Leone, where they took a Danish ship of 40 tons, which they hoped would be sufficient for their enterprise.
They called her "The Batchelors Delight", and set out in mid November for Cape Horn, which they rounded in February. On 19 March 1684 they were overhauled by another ship off the coast of Chile, both ships ran out their guns in expectation of action, but the newcomer turned out to be the Nicholas, Captain John Eaton, also bound on a Buccaneering expedition. She brought news of another English ship, the Cygnet, which had been fitted out by Charles Swan (the buccaneer who had first had the idea of cruising the Pacific while at Panama with morgan 14 years before) in association with Basil Ringrose, their idea had been to trade lawfully with South America, but the Spanish opposition to foreign trade soon drove them back into their buccaneering habits.


Part Five

The Batcholers Delight and the Nicholas sailed in consort to Juan Fernandez, and here they found William, the Indian who had been left behind by the Trinity under Watling. The two ships landed their scurvy cases, and the sick soon recovered with the exception of Cook himself. After two weeks they set off again, and in a few days captured three ships. The largest of these had been carrying 800,000 pieces of eight, but Swan's attempts at trading had again raised the alarm that English buccaneers were once more in the Pacific, and all the gold had been ordered ashore.
After a few days at sea Cook finally died of his sickness, and was succeeded in his command of the Batchelors delight by Edward Davis. They had now been cruising in the Pacific for six months, and had hardly gained anything of value.
Davis and Eaton could not agree on their shares of any plunder that might be to come, so they separated, Cowley joining Eaton in the Nicholas. they cruised up and down the coast for a month or so, the Nicholas encountering the Batchelors Delight once more, 'but Captain Davis's men were so unreasonable that they would not allow Captain Eaton's men an equal share with them in what they got'.
So on 22 December 1684 the Nicholas filled up with water and wood and set off westwards across the Pacific with a voyage of 8000 miles before their landfall. They made it and took some prizes in the East Indies, and there split up into small parties, Cowley, the only one who preserved his journal, arrived home from his circumnavigation of the world in October 1686.
Meanwhile back at the isthmus, there had been a lot of activity. Early in the summer of 1684, Peter Harris (nephew of the Harris who had died at Panama in Coxon's expedition) had led a band of some hundred men overland to sack Santa Maria, where they had been much more successful than Coxon's party four years before, each man reached the Pacific coast with 27 ounces of gold in his pocket.
The buccaneers captured a Spanish trading vessel and on 3 August they met up with Swan in the Cygnet. the two ships combined forces, and two months later they came up with the Batchelors delight. soon the three Captains were laying plans to capture the Spanish treasure fleet on its way from Lima to Panama. By 14 February 1685 they had careened, cleaned and watered their ships, and were lying off Panama.
While Davis, Harris and Swan were preparing themselves for this encounter, three more parties of buccaneers had set out across the isthmus. the first was under the command of Captain Townley and comprised some 180 Englishmen. a few days behind them came a party of 280 men under French command, and behind them a further 264 Frenchmen.
When all these forces had gathered in the Bay of Panama they comprised Davis in the Batchelors Delight, 36 guns with 156 men, Mainly English, Three other vessels unarmed, and commanded by Grognier, with 308 men all French, Harris with 100 English and French, and a buccaneer called Brandy, with 36 Frenchmen, and five canoes with 110 men under Townley.
That was 11 April, the spanish treasure fleet came in sight on 28 May. There were fourteen sail, the Admiral's ship carried 48 guns and 450 men, the Vice admiral's had 40 guns and 450 men. The fight that followed should have been a fierce one. But only a few shots were exchanged before nightfall, and during the hours of darkness the buccaneers stood, as they thought, to windward of the Spanish fleet. At dawn however Davis was dismayed to find he had fallen to leeward, so that the Spaniards had all the advantage, and that Grognier's ship was not even in sight. The, Spanish fleet bore down under press of sail, and the buccaneers canoes and unarmed ships were forced to run. The Cygnet and the Batchelors Delight stood and fought for some time, but they were no match for the heavily armed spaniards.
'Thus' wrote Dampier 'ended this days work, and with it all we had been projecting for five or six months, when instead of making ourselves masters of the Spanish fleet and treasure, we were glad to escape them, and owed that too in a great measure to their want of courage to pursue their advantage'.
After this disappointment there was a difference of opinion among the buccaneers, Davis, Harris and Knight decided to sail south, Swan and Townley preferred the Mexican coast. When they parted, Lionel Wafer remained with Davis in the Batchelors Delight, but Dampier decided to try his luck with Swan in the Cygnet.
Swan and Townley tried to take a treasure ship from Lima in Acapulco harbour, but found her lying under the guns of the fort, and a few weeks later, when they were expecting the Manila galleon, she sailed past while all the buccaneers were ashore getting provisions. so at this point Townley parted company and moved southwards while Swan continued north to California.
Swan's part suffered a disastrous defeat at Santa Pecaque on 19 February 1686, half the company was slaughtered in an ambush, Basil Ringrose being one of those killed, and Swan decided to cut his losses and set out across the Pacific. Swan was left ashore at Mindanao, while the Cygnet set out on a cruise of piracy through the East Indies under the command of one John Reed. Dampier eventually left the ship and got passage aboard an East Indiaman, with his precious journal still intact, he arrived home in september 1691, Five years after Cowley.
The rest of the French and English buccaneers continued to cruise the Pacific coast until the end of 1687. The French stormed and took the city of Guayaquil, with 70,000 pieces of eight and a great quantity of silver and pearls, in addition they received a ransom for another 20,000 pieces of eight. Grognier was killed in a fight in the spring of 1687, and Townley died of wounds near Panama, so their respective companies joined together under the command of Le Picard.
There were some 280 men, and they had collected so much booty that they were no longer interested in silver, only gold and precious stones. They landed in Nicaragua, and marched 16 days to Cape Gracias a Dios, where they seized a Jamaican vessel and arrived in Hispaniola in May 1688.
As for the buccaneers with Davis, they cruised the coast between the Galapagos Islands in the north and Juan Fernandez in the south. they must have been reasonably successful, because when Knight decided to cross back over the isthmus at the end of 1686, they shared out 5000 pieces of eight per man. A few months later the rest had decided hat the time had come to return to the Caribbean, with the exception of three or four who had lost all their loot gambling, and who asked to be set ashore on Juan Fernandez, they set sail around the Horn, and made Philadelphia in may 1688.
Here they learnt that a naval squadron under Sir Robert Holmes had been sent to clear out the buccaneers from the sea, and that the remnants of Grognier's party had been captured and taken to Jamaica for trial. Davis and a man named Hincent loaded their loot into a rowing boat, and planned to cross over to Jamestown and settle down quietly, but they were caught in the middle of the river Chesapeake by HMS Quaker, and thrown into jail. after nearly four years of litigation they were released and their goods restored to them, with the exception of ú300 for the founding of William and Mary college in Virginia.
That was very nearly the end of the buccaneers. For at least sixty years they had been almost the only naval forces of the French, English and Dutch in the Indies, and they had certainly played a major part in enabling these nations to get a foothold in what would otherwise have been an exclusively Spanish part of the world.
The last appearance of the buccaneers was in 1697. Spain and England were then in alliance against the French, and the French Admiral Sieur De Pointis was sent out to attack Cartagena, and Ducasse, the French Governor of Hispaniola, was ordered to rally all the Flibustiers to the expedition. There were 650 of them when the fleet dropped anchor a little to the east of Cartagena, but the buccaneers refused to serve under De Pointis, and they were therefore led by Ducasse himself.
After 14 days of bombardment the city fell, the treasure found was said to be valued at ú20,000,000 but De Pointis insisted that the Flibustiers should receive only the same as the small share as that received by the royal soldiers, while the buccaneers claimed that the whole plunder should be divided between them as usual. Eventually, De Pointis allotted 40,000 pieces of eight to them, and sailed away as quickly as possible, whereupon the buccaneers returned to Cartagena and ransacked it for several millions more of gold and silver.
Unfortunately most of the booty was recaptured from them in an action with a combined English-Spanish fleet, and Ducasse wrote to the French court to complain of the buccaneers treatment by De Pointis. The King made him a Chevalier of St Louis, and sent 1,400,000 francs to be divided among the buccaneers, though few of them received any of it.
With the signing of the Treaty of Ryswick in 1697 the war was at an end, and as the commissions under which the buccaneers sailed had long since expired, this was the end for them too. No longer could they justify their acts with any pretence of legality, they were declared pirates by all the governments in the Indies. No more large scale buccaneer raids were ever attempted, former buccaneers turned instead to legal activities or piracy. The great buccaneer fleets became a thing of the past.

The End







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