Golden Age of Piracy - Chapter Decoration

Colonial Officials > Jean le Vasseur

Jean le Vasseur


Jean le Vasseur (?? - 1653) was the first governor of Tortuga and the engineer behind the construction of Fort de Rocher which finally allowed the French to secure the island from the Spanish during the Buccaneering Era. He was also later the first governor of the island and responsible for its infamous political protection of piracy in exchange for the physical protection of the Brethren of the Coast. His untimely death would led to the destruction of the city as a pirate haven by the Spanish the following year and push many buccaneers to Port Royal.

Fort de Rocher - Histoire General des Antilles vol. I (1667)

Fort de Rocher - Histoire General des Antilles vol. I (1667)

The island of Tortuga was fought over between the French and the Spanish many times throughout its history and every time the buccaneers would settle there the Spanish out try and oust them. As soon as the Spanish would leave the rocky, mountainous island due to its lack of natural resources or profitability the French would return for the exact same reasons. Tortuga was a valuable island for the French because it contained a natural port and allowed them to eventually gain a foothold on the larger island of Hispaniola where they established Saint-Dominigue.

After being ousted by the Spanish once again the French returned in 1640 under the command of an engineer named Jean le Vasseur and constructed Fort de Rocher and its battery of forty cannons. This allowed them to now hold off Spanish invasions of the island as they would be able to target ships in the harbor now with their improved cannons and fortress. At some point between when he arrived on the island and when the fort was fully constructed Le Vesseur was made governor of the island and began to offer political protection in exchange for a percentage of the buccaneers loot.

Vasseur opened the port up to pirates of all nations and soon the French buccaneers were joined by British and Dutch freed indentured servants, criminals from Europe and many others. Tortuga was the first real international port in the West Indies and was a fabled pirate haven and under the rule of Vasseur the port of Tortuga flourished. For fifteen years Vasseur himself blurred the line between buccaneer and politician and was known to have joined in on the lifestyle.

Death & Legacy

There are many varying accounts of Vasseur's untimely demise. While no one really knows which one is true it is generally believed that Vasseur was assassinated by his own men in 1653. One of the accounts is that two of his lieutenants killed him after Vasseur slept with one of the lieutenants mistresses and physically abused her. In order to perform the assassination unseen the two lured Vasseur out of the protected Fort de Rocher to a nearby warehouse and shot him with a musket. Wounded, the two proceeded to finish him off with their daggers.

When Vasseur died the French then sent governor Chevalier de Fontenay to control the island. de Fontenay did not take the defense of the island as seriously as Vasseur and the Spanish launched an unsuccessful invasion of the island the next year in 1654 viewing it as in a weakened state. The buccaneers repelled the first invasion but the Spanish learned a great deal about the forts location and its weaknesses during the engagement.

Later that same year the Spanish launched another invasion but this time positioned cannons on a hill above the fort and after nine day siege the buccaneers surrendered. They were banished from the island for good and the Spanish destroyed Fort de Rocher brick by brick so they French could not use it to defend the island again. After clearing the French out of Tortuga in 1654 the Spanish retreated back to Santo Domingo and left Fort de Rocher to be reclaimed by the Earth. Thus ended the era of buccaneering on Tortuga.

With Vesseur gone and Tortuga lost as a pirate haven the buccaneers relocated to another nearby island that required the protection of the Brethren of the Coast, Jamaica where the fledgling seaport of Port Royal was just starting to get developed in 1655 after the island was captured from the Spanish. When Port Royal would be destroyed by the catastrophic Port Royal Earthquake (1692) the Buccaneering Era would really come to a close and the first Pirate Round would begin.


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