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By Anthony Thomas
In the history of Jamaica and the Caribbean, the Buccaneers was the most notorious and feared group of armed men. Led by the Legendary Henry Morgan and operating out of their base in Port Royal, Jamaica, this group of outcasts became the fiercest and most ruthless fighting force the Caribbean ever seen. For several decades, they were a constant source of terror to the Spanish, both on land and at sea. So good were they, that they were hire by the British as Soldiers of Fortune to defend their territories and fight their wars. Good or bad, however, it is to the Buccaneers, the real pirates of the Caribbean, that the English owed their possession of Jamaica. Otherwise, Jamaica, today, would be another Spanish speaking island in the Caribbean.
The formative years
In the late 1620s, ragtag group of men consisting of escape criminals,
castaways, and runaway bondsmen were living in the remote areas of
Hispaniola (Haiti). One thing these men had in common, was their sworn
hatred of the Spanish. They sustained themselves by hunting wild cattle
and pigs and traded their meat and byproducts for ammunition and goods
with the ships that occasionally traded along the coast. This group of
outcasts would soon become the Pirates of the Caribbean.
Persistently hunted by the Spanish, this group of bandits was eventually
driven from Hispaniola to the nearby Island of Tortuga. From Tortuga they
took to the open seas where they were known initially as the "Confederacy
of the Brethren of the Coast". They were eventually called the Buccaneers
from the French word "boucan" which is the frame they used to cure their
meat. The Spanish would soon come to regret their harassment of the
Buccaneers and would pay dearly for their actions.
The rise of sea piracy
At first the Buccaneers would use mainly canoes for their exploits, but as they seized Spanish ships with frequent surprise attacks, they fleet grew larger and more sophisticated. With the looted guns and ammunition, they fortified their base of Tortuga. With each successful raid, these
pirates of the Caribbean gained new recruits. They grew stronger and bolder and raided ships further and further away from their base. The Buccaneers were battle-hardened and well acclimated to the climate and their surroundings. They were fearless, ruthless, lawless, and cold blooded. It was reported they cut out the tongues of men who refused to disclosed
location of treasures and very often would roast men alive. Although not very disciplined, they operated under a strict code of conduct which included "No prey, no pay".
With their new found success, the Buccaneers moved their base to Port Royal, Jamaica and found what their need most: a ready market for their Spanish loot and place for their amusement. At first they were welcome, since they were only menacing the Spanish whom the English were constantly fighting. But in 1964 a new Governor was appointed in Jamaica and was given orders to put an end to sea piracy - mainly because England wanted to negotiate trade with Spain. The Buccaneers were driven out of Port Royal back to their old base of Tortuga. In a few months, however, things changed in their favor. The second war broke out the English and the Dutch but the English did not have any fleet to protect the West Indies. The Governor had to commission the Buccaneers he had just driven out of Jamaica for the important task of
Henry Morgan and Port Royal
Although the Buccaneers helped defend Jamaica and aided in attacks on a few Dutch islands, they soon resorted to their old ways of quarreling over their loots. In the end they were too undisciplined to be relied on as a defensive fighting force. That is until the governor found a strong, resourceful leader named Henry Morgan who could weld the unruly Buccaneers together into one of the best and fiercest fighting forces the Caribbean had ever known. The conquests of Henry Morgan are legendary and sometimes incredible. The attack on Porto Bello, Panama stood out as an example. With just a few dozen men, but with masterful and brutal tactics combined with brave fighting,
Henry Morgan led the Buccaneers to capture the well-fortified city. Having captured the city, he locked all officers and soldiers in one in a castle. He then promptly used the vast quantity of gun powder he found to blow up the entire castle with all its prisoners. In Maracaibo, Venezuela, Morgan used courage and crafty tactics and defeated an army that outnumbered his three to
one. He forced his way through a well defended narrow strait and plundered the town. Later, on he retreat form his conquest, he used fire ships to dispersed a fleet of ships he found blocking his escape.
Undoubtedly, however, Morgan's crowning achievement was the successful attack on Panama City, Spain's jewel in the region. After eight days of hacking their way through the thick jungle of Panama, they ran out of food and water.
The Buccaneers, scorched by the blazing sun, drenched by tropical downpours, bitten
by mosquitoes and other tropical insects, were in no position to fight the well-armed force of the Spanish. It was only Morgan's iron will and masterful leadership that held his tired, ragged, and starving comrades together. On the ninth day, they got a glimpse of Panama City but the battle was far from over. The Buccaneers were attacked with horsemen, foot soldiers, and stampeding bulls that outnumbered them many times over. But Henry Morgan outflanked his enemy with his mastery, bravery, and tactics and entirely crushed them. In the end the Buccaneers were rewarded with their biggest cache of gold and jewelry ever and Henry Morgan was knighted and promoted to lieutenant Governor of Jamaica.
After each conquest, the Buccaneers would take their share of the spoil back to Port Royal where they celebrated. Under Henry Morgan, the Buccaneers rose to the peak of their infamy and Port Royal became known as the "richest and wickedest city in the world". It was a place for eating, drinking, and all kinds of excesses including rape. It was reported that drunken men gave huge
sums of money to women just to see them naked. Port Royal was, not just where the Buccaneers lived, it was were they partied. It was their own vacation paradise.
The decline and end of the Buccaneers
By the early 1680s, the plantation owners of Jamaica felt that the Buccaneers were doing more harm than good and wanted the group to stop their piracy. Furthermore, Jamaica badly wanted to do major trading with Spain who wanted the attacks on their ships to stop. But most of the Buccaneers refused to stop and ended up in the gallows, ironically, at the order of Henry Morgan
who was now Lieutenant Governor. Henry Morgan eventually died in 1688, and was buried at Port Royal. But God must not have looked kindly on the wickedness of Henry Morgan nor Buccaneers. In 1692, Port Royal was destroyed by a massive earthquake that buried it, along with its vast wealth, below the sea.
Despite Henry Morgan death and the destruction of Port Royal, sea piracy continued, nonetheless. Although none could rival Henry Morgan, there were many other notorious pirates who flourished in the Jamaica and the Caribbean. Chief among these were Edward Teach better known as "Black Beard" and Jack Rackham, also known as "Calico Jack" because of his fondness for calico underwear. After terrorizing the Caribbean for more than two years, he made the mistake of hanging around too long during one of his vacations on Jamaica North coast. He was eventually captured in Bloody Bay, Negril during one of his frequent rum-punch party. He was hang off coast of Port Royal in a place named after him - Rackham's Cay.
Although you might not have Port Royal as a place to see on your vacation, it is definitely a place worth visiting. If you enter Jamaica through Kingston, you could make Port Royal the first stop on your Jamaica vacation, since it is just further out on the palisadoes peninsula from the Norman Manley airport.
Anthony Thomas is a webmaster at Jamaica-Insider.com, a travel site that provides insider's knowledge about Jamaica as well as information to help plan vacations to the island. He was born, raised, and is living in Jamaica and and is intimately familiar with every aspect of the island. He has traveled extensively throughout the Jamaica and has stayed in all of the top hotels and resorts as well as many of the small hotel, inns, and villas - both on and off the beaten tracks.
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