Pirates and Privateers

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Privateers were a large part of the total military force at sea during the 17th and 18th centuries. In the first Anglo-Dutch War , English privateers attacked the trade on which the United Provinces entirely depended, capturing over 1, Dutch merchant ships. During the subsequent war with Spain , Spanish and Flemish privateers in the service of the Spanish Crown, including the Dunkirkers , captured 1, English merchant ships, helping to restore Dutch international trade. During King George's War , approximately 36, Americans served aboard privateers at one time or another.

England lost roughly 4, merchant ships during the war. In the subsequent conflict, the War of Austrian Succession , the Royal Navy was able to concentrate more on defending British ships. Britain lost 3, merchantmen, a smaller fraction of her merchant marine than the enemy losses of 3, During the American Civil War privateering took on several forms, including blockade running while privateering in general occurred in the interests of both the North and the South. Letters of marque would often be issued to private shipping companies and other private owners of ships, authorizing them to engage vessels deemed to be unfriendly to the issuing government.

Crews of ships were awarded the cargo and other prizes aboard any captured vessel as an incentive to search far and wide for ships attempting to supply the Confederacy, or aid the Union, as the case may be. England and Scotland practiced privateering both separately and together after they united to create the Kingdom of Great Britain in It was a way to gain for themselves some of the wealth the Spanish and Portuguese were taking from the New World before beginning their own trans-Atlantic settlement, and a way to assert naval power before a strong Royal Navy emerged. Sir Andrew Barton , Lord High Admiral of Scotland , followed the example of his father, who had been issued with letters of marque by James III of Scotland to prey upon English and Portuguese shipping in ; the letters in due course were reissued to the son.

Barton was killed following an encounter with the English in Sir Francis Drake , who had close contact with the sovereign, was responsible for some damage to Spanish shipping, as well as attacks on Spanish settlements in the Americas in the 16th century. He participated in the successful English defence against the Spanish Armada in , though he was also partly responsible for the failure of the English Armada against Spain in He arrived in Puerto Rico on June 15, , but by November of that year Clifford and his men had fled the island due to fierce civilian resistance.

He gained sufficient prestige from his naval exploits to be named the official Champion of Queen Elizabeth I.

Pirates, Buccaneers and Privateers : Concepts of International Law

Clifford became extremely wealthy through his buccaneering, but lost most of his money gambling on horse races. Captain Christopher Newport led more attacks on Spanish shipping and settlements than any other English privateer. He lost an arm whilst capturing a Spanish ship during an expedition in , but despite this he continued on privateering, successfully blockading Western Cuba the following year.

Sir Henry Morgan was a successful privateer. Operating out of Jamaica, he carried on a war against Spanish interests in the region, often using cunning tactics. His operation was prone to cruelty against those he captured, including torture to gain information about booty, and in one case using priests as human shields.

Pirates, Privateers and Freebooters oh my

Despite reproaches for some of his excesses, he was generally protected by Sir Thomas Modyford , the governor of Jamaica. He took an enormous amount of booty, as well as landing his privateers ashore and attacking land fortifications, including the sack of the city of Panama with only 1, crew [16]. The latter schooner captured over 50 American vessels during the War of The English colony of Bermuda or the Somers Isles , settled accidentally in , was used as a base for English privateers from the time it officially became part of the territory of the Virginia Company in , especially by ships belonging to the Earl of Warwick , for whom Bermuda's Warwick Parish is named the Warwick name had long been associated with commerce raiding, as exampled by the Newport Ship , thought to have been taken from the Spanish by Warwick the Kingmaker in the 15th Century.

Many Bermudians were employed as crew aboard privateers throughout the century, although the colony was primarily devoted to farming cash crops until turning from its failed agricultural economy to the sea after the dissolution of the Somers Isles Company a spin-off of the Virginia Company which had overseen the colony since Bermudian merchant vessels turned to privateering at every opportunity in the 18th century, preying on the shipping of Spain, France, and other nations during a series of wars, including: the to Nine Years' War King William's War ; the to Queen Anne's War ; [17] [18] the to War of Jenkins' Ear ; the to War of the Austrian Succession King George's War ; the to Seven Years' War known in the United States as the French and Indian War , this conflict was devastating for the colony's merchant fleet.

Fifteen privateers operated from Bermuda during the war, but losses exceeded captures ; the to American War of Independence ; and the to Anglo-Spanish War. They typically left Bermuda with very large crews. This advantage in manpower was vital in overpowering the crews of larger vessels, which themselves often lacked sufficient crewmembers to put up a strong defence.


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The extra crewmen were also useful as prize crews for returning captured vessels. The Bahamas, which had been depopulated of its indigenous inhabitants by the Spanish, had been settled by England, beginning with the Eleutheran Adventurers , dissident Puritans driven out of Bermuda during the English Civil War. Spanish and French attacks destroyed New Providence in , creating a stronghold for pirates, and it became a thorn in the side of British merchant trade through the area.

In , Britain appointed Woodes Rogers as Governor of the Bahamas , and sent him at the head of a force to reclaim the settlement. Before his arrival, however, the pirates had been forced to surrender by a force of Bermudian privateers who had been issued letters of marque by the Governor of Bermuda. Bermuda was in de facto control of the Turks Islands , with their lucrative salt industry, from the late 17th century to the early 19th.

The Bahamas made perpetual attempts to claim the Turks for itself. On several occasions, this involved seizing the vessels of Bermudian salt traders. A virtual state of war was said to exist between Bermudian and Bahamian vessels for much of the 18th century. When the Bermudian sloop Seaflower was seized by the Bahamians in , the response of the Governor of Bermuda, Captain Benjamin Bennett, was to issue letters of marque to Bermudian vessels.

Pirates & Privateers, Scummers of the Seven Seas

In , Spanish and French forces ousted the Bermudians, but were driven out themselves three years later by the Bermudian privateer Captain Lewis Middleton. His ship, the Rose , attacked a Spanish and a French privateer holding a captive English vessel. Defeating the two enemy vessels, the Rose then cleared out the thirty-man garrison left by the Spanish and French.

Despite strong sentiments in support of the rebels, especially in the early stages, Bermudian privateers turned as aggressively on American shipping during the American War of Independence. The importance of privateering to the Bermudian economy had been increased not only by the loss of most of Bermuda's continental trade, but also by the Palliser Act , which forbade Bermudian vessels from fishing the Grand Banks. Bermudian trade with the rebellious American colonies actually carried on throughout the war.

Some historians credit the large number of Bermuda sloops reckoned at over a thousand built in Bermuda as privateers and sold illegally to the Americans as enabling the rebellious colonies to win their independence. The realities of this interdependence did nothing to dampen the enthusiasm with which Bermudian privateers turned on their erstwhile countrymen.

An American naval captain, ordered to take his ship out of Boston Harbor to eliminate a pair of Bermudian privateering vessels that had been picking off vessels missed by the Royal Navy, returned frustrated, saying, "the Bermudians sailed their ships two feet for every one of ours". Many Bermudians occupied prominent positions in American seaports, from where they continued their maritime trades Bermudian merchants controlled much of the trade through ports like Charleston, South Carolina , and Bermudian shipbuilders influenced the development of American vessels, like the Chesapeake Bay schooner , [19] [24] [25] and in the Revolution they used their knowledge of Bermudians and of Bermuda, as well as their vessels, for the rebels' cause.

In the Battle of Wreck Hill, brothers Charles and Francis Morgan, members of a large Bermudian enclave that had dominated Charleston, South Carolina and its environs since settlement, [26] [27] captaining two sloops the Fair American and the Experiment , respectively , carried out the only attack on Bermuda during the war. The target was a fort that guarded a little used passage through the encompassing reef line.

After the soldiers manning the fort were forced to abandon it, they spiked its guns and fled themselves before reinforcements could arrive. When the Americans captured the Bermudian privateer Regulator , they discovered that virtually all of her crew were black slaves. Authorities in Boston offered these men their freedom, but all 70 elected to be treated as prisoners of war.

Sent as such to New York on the sloop Duxbury , they seized the vessel and sailed it back to Bermuda. The War of saw an encore of Bermudian privateering, which had died out after the s. The decline of Bermudian privateering was due partly to the buildup of the naval base in Bermuda , which reduced the Admiralty's reliance on privateers in the western Atlantic, and partly to successful American legal suits and claims for damages pressed against British privateers, a large portion of which were aimed squarely at the Bermudians. Bermudians were also involved in privateering from the short-lived English colony on Isla de Providencia , off the coast of Nicaragua.

This colony was initially settled largely via Bermuda, with about eighty Bermudians moved to Providence in Although it was intended that the colony be used to grow cash crops, its location in the heart of the Spanish controlled territory ensured that it quickly became a base for privateering. Elfrith was appointed admiral of the colony's military forces in , remaining the overall military commander for over seven years. During this time, Elfrith served as a guide to other privateers and sea captains arriving in the Caribbean.

Elfrith invited the well-known privateer Diego el Mulato to the island. Samuel Axe, one of the military leaders, also accepted letters of marque from the Dutch authorizing privateering. The Spanish did not hear of the Providence Island colony until , when they captured some Englishmen in Portobelo , on the Isthmus of Panama. In a Spanish fleet raided Tortuga. The company could in turn issue letters of marque to subcontracting privateers who used the island as a base, for a fee.

This soon became an important source of profit. In March the Company dispatched Captain Robert Hunt on the Blessing to assume the governorship of what was now viewed as a base for privateering. Butler returned to England in , satisfied that the fortifications were adequate, deputizing the governorship to Captain Andrew Carter. In , don Melchor de Aguilera , Governor and Captain-General of Cartagena, resolved to remove the intolerable infestation of pirates on the island.

Taking advantage of having infantry from Castile and Portugal wintering in his port, he dispatched six hundred armed Spaniards from the fleet and the presidio, and two hundred black and mulatto militiamen under the leadership of don Antonio Maldonado y Tejada , his Sergeant Major, in six small frigates and a galleon. The Spanish were forced to withdraw when a gale blew up and threatened their ships.

Carter had the Spanish prisoners executed. When the Puritan leaders protested against this brutality, Carter sent four of them home in chains.

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The Spanish acted decisively to avenge their defeat. At first Pimienta planned to attack the poorly defended east side, and the English rushed there to improvise defenses. With the winds against him, Pimienta changed plans and made for the main New Westminster harbor and launched his attack on 24 May. He held back his large ships to avoid damage, and used the pinnaces to attack the forts. The Spanish troops quickly gained control, and once the forts saw the Spanish flag flying over the governor's house, they began negotiations for surrender.

On 25 May , Pimienta formally took possession and celebrated mass in the church.


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The Spanish took sixty guns, and captured the settlers who remained on the island — others had escaped to the Mosquito coast. They took the prisoners to Cartagena. The Spanish found gold, indigo, cochineal and six hundred black slaves on the island, worth a total of , ducats, some of the accumulated booty from the English raids. He found the Spanish in occupation. When Spain issued a decree blocking foreign countries from trading, selling or buying merchandise in its Caribbean colonies, the entire region became engulfed in a power struggle among the naval superpowers.

His fleet was composed of approx. One of the most famous privateers from mainland Spain was Amaro Pargo.

Key Findings

Corsairs French: corsaire were privateers, authorized to conduct raids on shipping of a nation at war with France, on behalf of the French Crown. Seized vessels and cargo were sold at auction, with the corsair captain entitled to a portion of the proceeds. Although not French Navy personnel, corsairs were considered legitimate combatants in France and allied nations , provided the commanding officer of the vessel was in possession of a valid Letter of Marque fr.

Lettre de Marque or Lettre de Course , and the officers and crew conducted themselves according to contemporary admiralty law.

The Intricate World of Pirates, Privateers, Buccaneers, and Corsairs | Ancient Origins

By acting on behalf of the French Crown, if captured by the enemy, they could claim treatment as prisoners of war , instead of being considered pirates. Because corsairs gained a swashbuckling reputation, the word "corsair" is also used generically as a more romantic or flamboyant way of referring to privateers, or even to pirates. Corsairing Italian : corso was an important aspect of Malta's economy when the island was ruled by the Order of St.

John , although the practice had begun earlier. Corsairs sailed on privately owned ships on behalf of the Grand Master of the Order, and were authorized to attack Muslim ships, usually merchant ships from the Ottoman Empire. The corsairs included knights of the Order, native Maltese people, as well as foreigners.

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