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'.
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
'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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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.