Golden Age of Piracy - Skull and Crossbones

Golden Age of Piracy

Brethren of the Coast
at Tortuga

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Buccaneering Era > Brethren of the Coast at Tortuga

Brethren of the Coast
at Tortuga


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

In 1664 the French West India Company took control over Tortuga and installed Monsieur Bertrand D'Ogeron as governor of the island. He arrived the following year in 1665 and did not quite expect what he saw. The French nobleman was hard pressed to try and relate to the buccaneers while also telling them to stop.

According to a report sent by D'Ogeron to the French Minister Colbert there were about 700 or 800 buccaneers on the island at this time living in various camps around the island. According to the governor they were living in unorganized groups and primitive conditions in very inaccessible places around the island. Eventually he managed to organize a colony and this attracted many French buccaneers and privateers to Tortuga. From Tortuga the French were eventually able to colonize Hispaniola as well.

It is believed in 1666 that Henry Morgan arrived on Tortuga as an indentured servant. He was serving a cruel plantation owner and he soon ran away and became a buccaneer. During this time the infamous French buccaneer Francois L'Ollonais was based out of the island and along with fellow buccaneer Michel le Basque. From here the two staged their invasion and sacking of Maracaibo and Gibraltar in 1667. It would be from Tortuga that L'Ollonais would take his last ill fated journey to loot the ports of Puerto de Cavallo and San Pedro.

Henry Morgan

See Henry Morgan

In October of 1668 Henry Morgan would sail to an island off the southwest coast of Hispaniola named Isla Vache where he met up with many French buccaneers out of Tortuga. These French buccaneers helped him plunder the city of Maracaibo the following year in 1669. Around this time as many other colonial governors did, O'Ogernon tried to reign the buccaneers in force them to stay on the island. However, the governor had little real power and the next year 500 buccaneers out of Tortuga met up with 1000 out of Port Royal and they sacked and plundered the Spanish settlements of Santa Marta, Rio de la Hacha, Portobello and Panama Viejo.

When he returned in May of 1671 he was given a vote of thanks from the Council of Jamaica. Later that year however, he was returned to England for questioning along with Thomas Modyford and imprisoned in the Tower of London in 1672. He was found not guilty of all charges and instead made a knight. It is rumored that when Henry Morgan returned to the West Indies in the mid 1670's he continued his piracy under a French commission and hid his actions from the British.

Return to Tortuga

In fact, a lot of buccaneers from Port Royal would return to Tortuga in 1670 to get a letter of marque. Many of them would eventually settle on the coast of Saint-Domingue or throughout the rest of the Caribbean. Despite continual efforts to control French trade in this period the buccaneers still traded with Dutch merchants. In exchange for goods like ginger and tobacco the Dutch would provide them slaves and necessary supplies.

The governor realized he could not really control the Brethren of the Coast so instead he attempted to control the trade of the island by commissioning a squadron of frigates to chase the Dutch traders away. Throughout the 1670's the island would remain a pirate haven and notorious black market port where buccaneers launched many attacks on the Spanish Main. Many British found commissions with the French long after their own colonies refused them.

To the French the buccaneers were an informal army that was used to gain a foothold in the region so therefore their activities were tolerated as they were generally isolated to the Locations the buccaneers inhabited. The French on more than one occasion supplemented their own colonial troops with the buccaneers. For example in March of 1673 the Lieutenant-General of the French Antilles named Jean Charles Baas launched an attack on Dutch held Curacao and was expecting buccaneer reinforcements from Tortuga to aid him.

The buccaneers had gotten shipwrecked off the coast of Puerto Rico and failed to arrive. However, while they were viewed as allies by the French the Spanish treated them as no more than simple pirates. The buccaneers were also used again in 1657 when the Dutch under the command of Jacob Binckes arrived at the colony of Saint-Dominigue to cause a revolt among the colonists. The French bolstered by the buccaneers fought the Dutch at Petit-Goave and ended up driving them off after they seize a French merchant ship.

By 1678 the leader of the French buccaneers and the Brethren in Tortuga was named Michel de Grammont and was the leader of a massive force that plundered Spanish settlements around Lake Maracaibo. The buccaneers were so successful they even established their own buccaneering fortress in the territory for six months. Also during this time buccaneers led by Marquis de Maintenon raided the coast of Venezuela and captured pearl fisheries at the island of Margarita along with Spanish towns and settlements on the island of Trinidad.


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