Buccaneer - History

History

The term buccaneer derives from the Caribbean Arawak word buccan, a wooden frame for smoking meat, preferably manatee. From this became derived in French the word boucane and hence the name boucanier for French hunters who used such frames to smoke meat from feral cattle and pigs on Hispaniola (now Haiti and the Dominican Republic). English colonists anglicised the word boucanier to buccaneer.

About 1630, some Frenchmen who were driven away from the island of Hispaniola fled to nearby Tortuga. The Spaniards tried to drive them out of Tortuga, but the buccaneers were joined by many other French, Dutch and English and turned to piracy against Spanish shipping, generally using small craft to attack galleons in the vicinity of the Windward Passage. Finally they became so strong that they even sailed to the mainland of Spanish America and sacked cities.

English settlers occupying Jamaica began to spread the name buccaneers with the meaning of pirates. The name became universally adopted later in 1684 when the first English translation of Alexandre Exquemelin's book The Buccaneers of America was published.

Viewed from London, buccaneering was a low-budget way to wage war on England's rival, Spain. So, the English crown licensed buccaneers with letters of marque, legalizing their operations in return for a share of their profits. The buccaneers were invited by Jamaica's Governor Thomas Modyford to base ships at Port Royal. The buccaneers robbed Spanish shipping and colonies, and returned to Port Royal with their plunder, making the city the most prosperous in the Caribbean. There even were Royal Navy officers sent to lead the buccaneers, such as Christopher Myngs. Their activities went on irrespective of whether England happened to be at war with Spain or France.

Among the leaders of the buccaneers were two Frenchmen: Jean-David Nau, better known as François l'Ollonais, and Daniel Montbars, who destroyed so many Spanish ships and killed so many Spaniards that he was called "the Exterminator". Another noted leader was a Welshman named Henry Morgan, who sacked Maracaibo, Portobello, and Panama City, stealing a huge amount from the Spanish. Morgan became rich and went back to England, where he was knighted by Charles II.

In the 1690s, the old buccaneering ways began to die out, as European governments began to discard the policy of "no peace beyond the Line." Buccaneers were hard to control and might embroil their colonies in unwanted wars. Notably, at the 1697 joint French-buccaneer siege of Cartagena, led by Bernard Desjean, Baron de Pointis, the buccaneers and the French regulars parted on extremely bitter terms. Less tolerated by local Caribbean officials, buccaneers increasingly turned to legal work or else joined regular pirate crews who sought plunder in the Indian Ocean, the east coast of North America, or West Africa as well as in the Caribbean.

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