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Golden Age of Piracy > Buccaneering Era

Buccaneering Era


Pirates History - Buccaneering Era

The buccaneering era was a period of French, British and Dutch privateering and piracy in the Caribbean mostly launched from the Locations of Tortuga and Port Royal. This era saw the rise of famous buccaneers and corsairs such as Henry Morgan and Francois L’Ollonais who laid the framework for piracy for the rest of the 17th century and part of the 18th century.

The Buccaneering Era rose out of the Privateering Era and the discovery of the New World by Christopher Columbus due to the massive wealth of riches that the Spanish Empire began moving out of the Spanish Main and the Spanish West Indies. However, in the beginning Spain claimed all of the New World as one massive colony. This was unsustainable given the massive amount of territory and as the discovery became public knowledge every other empire raced to the New World to claim their piece of the territory. What resulted was a bloody and ruthless battle waged through acknowledged wars and illegitimate piracy that helped shape the world as we see it today.

The Buccaneering Era was much different than the Post Spanish Succession Period that saw the development of famous outlaw pirates like Edward 'Blackbeard' Teach and Bartholomew Roberts. This was an era that first introduced another country onto the New World stage and the buccaneers were less pirates and more privateers. However some of the actions they did (arguably all their actions) were most definitely classified as piratical despite the fact they were often given a letter of marque.

Pirates History - Buccaneering Era

Buccaneer - Histoire des Avanturiers (1686)

Between the scale of the pirate fleets, to the degree of ruthlessness which was applied, the buccaneers of the 17th century of pirates of the 18th century were arguably more successful even if they did not receive the material benefits. By destroying, looting and ransoming settlements, the buccaneers forever shattered the hegemony of the Spanish Main in the region and paved the way for future foreign influence in the West Indies. They allowed the fledgling British and French Empires to gain a foothold in the New World and also saw the lesser development of the Dutch Republic and even the Kingdom of Denmark stake their claim on tiny Caribbean islands in order to establish trading outposts.

Buccaneering Era Origins

See Buccaneering Era Origins

Buccaneering began in France in the 1530's. During this period, the Protestant and Catholic Churches clashed, forcing the Protestants to sail to the New World in hopes of starting a better, freer life. They started a small colony in northern La Florida at Saint Caroline, however were ultimately pushed back when a failed assault in 1565 on the Spanish colony of Saint Augustine left the French outnumbered and outgunned. The Spanish then exterminated the colony, slaughtering the defenseless French and sewing the seeds for discontent for years to come.

The few remaining French settlers relocated to the isle of Hispaniola. There the Brethren of the Coast began poaching the cattle and pigs that were introduced to the island. Called 'buccaneers' these French and disfranchised plantation workers made a small living by selling the meet to passing ships looking for food and supplies.

Brethren of the Coast

See Brethren of the Coast

Haunts of the Brethren of the Coast (1898) - Frank Stockton

By the 1660's, the buccaneers were highly equipped and well funded through their piracy operations, and were often bolstered by the new English governors who funded their expeditions. It was during this time that there were major attacks on Spanish settlements and were all treated like tactical military operations.

The buccaneers tactics involved landing both a ground force, and also providing artillery cover from ships that barricaded the port. This method was highly successful as it created chaos with which the dual French forces overtook the settlement with ease.

Henry Morgan was the most infamous of buccaneers, sacking the Spanish cities of Portobello and Maracaibo along with burning and looting Panama Viejo. However Francois L’Ollonais was not right behind him, and much more brutal. Francois sacked Maracaibo first and burnt Gibraltar to the ground, forcing the Spanish to abandon the settlement eventually.


See Baymen

Buccaneering Era Decline

Buccaneering Era Decline


Piracy itself was going nowhere however, as soon the privateers would get bored of the peacetime and would kick off the first Pirate Round that would eventually transition into the Post Spanish Succession Period where the trade would explode in the New World and nearly threaten to bring the economic activity of the empires to a halt. What was once a useful tool to wage economic warfare against each other, in the mid to late 18th century the idea of piracy and privateering as a whole was becoming less and less appealing to foreign powers who had more or less conquered most of the world at that time and felt threatened by the increasing power of the pirates.

In fact, based on historical analysis during and after the Post Spanish Succession Period if the pirates had banded together and resisted the initial assault by the world powers they would have most likely survived and been able to establish an economically independent power in the Caribbean. However, due to infighting, betrayal and generally being a group of outlaw pirates they were unable to do so and the golden age of piracy came to a close. While there would be a few isolated incidents of piracy throughout the rest of history, none of it compares to the scale and power the privateers, buccaneers and outlaw pirates held throughout their reign.


French Buccaneers

English Buccaneers

Dutch Buccaneers


Primary Sources

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