buccaneers tactics

Following the establishment of buccaneering centres at Port Royal and Tortuga, large expeditions became possible, with buccaneer groups combining to form striking forces capable of attacking well—defended Spanish towns and cities. In both bases, but particularly in Port Royal, ex—soldiers made up a large pool of skilled recruits and were able to train the less experienced sailors and landsmen. The mid—I7th century was a period when warfare was undergoing a transition. The Thirty Years’ War was particularly destructive in its devastation of the civilian communities, and rape, plunder and looting were commonplace. This brutality spread to the Caribbean, where the inhabitants of towns captured by buccaneers were often tortured and always plundered. The advantage of employing hardened European ex—soldiers was that they provided training in the latest military tactics, and buccaneer forces made full use of their skills. Exquemelin describes Henry Morgan’s buccaneers advancing ‘with drums beating and colours flying’, resembling a body of regular troops rather than a band of pirates. These men were trained to fight in ranks in a military fashion, and although they lacked harsh military discipline, they were united in a common goal: the capture and plundering of enemy towns. In a period when the Spanish were hard pressed to provide the garrisons and militia in the New World with sufficient quantities of weapons and powder, the buccaneers had ready access to weapons, and observers recount that they often carried more than one weapon. In 1683, for an attack on Vera Cruz, the Chevalier de Grammont ordered his French buccaneers to bring along as many firearms as they could, and they went into the attack with three or more muskets, pistols or blunderbusses each. This basic firepower was combined with training in the latest volley fire by ranks or even by ‘platoons’. The result was a unit which could produce such a volume of fire that Spanish opponents would simply be shot to pieces. Pistols would be fired at close range, then the buccaneers would draw their swords and knives, or even throw grenades. Until the very end of the buccaneering era, no Spanish army had the ability to resist such powerful forces.

Valdivia, the Governor

During the 1660s and 1670s, the Spanish militia lacked the training they needed to oppose the buccaneers. Читать далее

colonial administrations

Both the start of attacks on Spanish shipping and the establishment of a base on Tortuga marked a transition for the buccaneers. While before they were predominantly hunters, from the 163os they began to evolve into pirates, although by restricting their attacks to Spanish shipping they posed no threat to their native countries. Although buccaneers continued to hunt, as they did on islands throughout the Antilles, the association of the name ‘buccaneer’ developed, until by the 1650S it was used exclusively to refer to maritime raiders. As their numbers grew and they acquired larger and more powerful ships, buccaneering settlements attracted recruits: runaway indentured servants or slaves, deserting seamen or simple adventurers. These bands began to call themselves the ‘brethren of the coast’, a romantic title for a violent collection of men.

tall ship (4)

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In the Caribbean, where non»,Spanish warships were rarely available, privateering became a vital aspect of warfare. From the 1640s, buccaneering crews were granted French or Dutch letters of marque by the governors of St Martin (for Holland) and St
Christopher/St Kitts (for France). This employment of buccaneers as auxiliaries became part of national policy during the decades following 1650.


In 1655, an English expedition captured the island of Jamaica from the Spanish. Almost immediately, the newly appointed English governor looked to the Scourge of the Seas buccaneers for defence. While most of the French buccaneering groups remained concentrated on Tortuga or the western portion of Hispaniola (Saint Domingue), most of the English buccaneers moved to Jamaica. Although many of the Dutch, English and French colonies on the Lesser Antilles harboured buccaneering crews, by 1660 the buccaneers were concentrated in two centres, and were divided along national lines. By 166o, the buccaneers were firmly established as a force in the Caribbean, and the heyday of the buccaneering era had begun. Читать далее


The historian David Cordingly described buccaneers as ‘several generations of fortune hunters who roamed the Caribbean looking for plunder. They included soldiers and seamen, deserters and runaway slaves, cut—throats and criminals, religious refugees, and a considerable number of out—and—out pirates.’ This amply sums up the polyglot nature of buccaneer crews, who were often men who grouped themselves together for one particular expedition, and returned to the melting pot of their home port when the expedition ended. The links established between the boucanniers of the early 17th century and smugglers or coastal traders were strong enough to force the huntsmen to turn their backs on the land. Both groups were interlopers in the Spanish Main whose survival was dependent on avoiding Spanish authority. These early colonial mariners established trading links between the ‘interloping’ colonies, and sold the cash crops they produced to the remoter fringes of the Spanish overseas empire. The buccaneers who first took to attacking passing Spanish ships were therefore a combination of hunters (who, incidentally, would have been skilled marksmen) and mariners who knew the local waters and were skilled at avoiding detection.

A Frigate at Sea

The influx of refugees to these buccaneering communities altered this balance. Читать далее

Scourge of the Seas

The same protection was sometimes offered to run…away slaves who were increasingly being introduced to the region to work on sugar plantations, although many buccaneers simply sold these unfortunate people back into slavery. Following the establishment of colonial authority in Jamaica and Saint Domingue, two fresh but vital groups were added to the pool from which buccaneering crews were composed. When the Commonwealth was replaced by the Restoration government in England in 1660, the soldiers who garrisoned Jamaica were paid off. For the buccaneers based in Port Royal, this created a pool of hundreds of skilled soldiers who were ideally suited to the techniques of amphibious raids instituted by men such as the naval captain Christopher Myngs.


Similarly, following the end of the Thirty Years’ War in 1648, Читать далее


A number of contemporary descriptions survive that refer to the dress of the early boucanniers of Hispaniola and other Caribbean islands. The appearance of these hunters is reconstructed in the illustration on page 22, although no visual image can portray the smell that must have accompanied these men. Stalking prey and dismembering the carcass was followed by days ofsmoking the meat, and according to a French clergyman, the Abbe Jean Baptiste Du Tetre, they often slept beside their smoking fires in order to keep the mosquitoes at bay. In an era when personal hygiene was rudimentary at best, the boucanniers were clearly exceptionally smelly. Du Tetre remarked, ‘You would say that these are the butcher’s vilest servants who have been eight days in the slaughterhouse without washing themselves.’ By the time the hunters had become seagoing raiders in the middle of the 17th century, their appearance would have changed. Home—made hunting shirts and breeches were replaced by clothes typical of seamen of the period, and except for a surfeit of weapons, the appearance of a buccaneer would have been the same as that of the smugglers and coastal traders who frequented the region. Читать далее

National allegiance

While the captain provided the ship, provisions, artillery and powder, it was up to each individual buccaneer to provide his own personal weaponry, such as a musket, bandolier, sword, dagger and pistol. Large raids were organized by buccaneer commanders such as Henry Morgan who sent word that they were organizing an attack. Individual captains would be called to meet at a pre—arranged rendezvous, such as the Isle—a—Vache off the south—western coast of Saint Domingue, or around the islands off the south—western corner of Cuba. Once a fleet had gathered, the individual captains would be called to a meeting, and another contract would be drawn up governing the entire expedition. Sub—contracts were possible, involving groups of ships, and this was the case during the Anglo~Frenchraid on Cuba in 1668. The target of the raid would be decided upon and all captains present would vote on the choice.

Battle of Scheveningen

In theory, this democratic process was in stark contrast to contemporary military or naval practice, although naval commanders such as Christopher Myngs flourished by combining legitimate national forces with those of the buccaneers. In such cases, Myngs represented the navy and ensured they would share the plunder. A prime example of what happened when this system broke down was after the attack on Cartagena in 1697. As part of the joint naval and buccaneer expedition, the French buccaneers who participated expected a proportionate share of the booty. Instead, the naval idea of shares ‘man—for—man’ was based on a naval system where ratings gained a fraction of the sum reserved for officers. The buccaneers felt swindled and returned to Cartagena, plundering what they felt was their fair share of whatever was left to take. Читать далее

The Buccaneering Art of War

The buccaneering period introduced a new dimension to warfare in the Americas. In the early 17th century, attacks on the Spanish empire in the New World had been confined to small—scale raids, but from the 1660s, large expeditions were launched into Spanish territory. The forces gathered together by the buccaneer commanders represented the largest European military gatherings seen in America. Although many of the engagements were small by European standards, the scale of warfare would not be repeated until the American Revolution a century later. The buccaneers also evolved their own tactics based on the available weapons and training, and their activities constitute a fascinating and largely unknown chapter in American military history.

Sailing in Company

For much of the buccaneering period, the standard firearm was the matchlock musket. As the weapon measured up to sft (I .srn) long, it was cumbersome to carry and operate, and smaller and lighter caliver muskets were sometimes used, although many buccaneers considered them less effective in battle. Читать далее

Scourge of the Seas

Pistols were occasionally carried by buccaneers and by Spanish cavalry, particularly in the later decades of the century. Although some of the earlier wheel…lock weapons were used, most were flintlock pistols. Some English examples certainly reached Port Royal’s gunshops, and like English muskets of the time, they used a ‘dog…lock’ safety latch as part of the flintlock mechanism. Spanish flintlock pistols were also widely available, often the product ofMadrid gunmakers who supplied the troops of the Spanish overseas empire and therefore by default, the buccaneers, once the weapons were captured. Unlike firearms, which were fairly standard throughout the period, swords were a matter of personal style and taste. An examination of contemporary or near—contemporary illustrations reveals that the buccaneers carried a wide variety of edged weapons. ‘Hangers’ were a form of hunting sword adapted for military or naval use, and were the most popular form of blade, although by the end of the buccaneer period they had developed into a weapon resembling the true naval cutlass. Broadswords or other heavy blades were also popular, underlining the buccaneer preference for ‘cut’ rather than ‘thrust’ weapons.

Sail away

Spanish officers still Читать далее

doctrine buccaneers

Spanish cavalry relied on both heavy cavalry broadswords or heavy thrusting weapons, and at least in the New World rarely seem to have relied on the pistol tactics commonly practised in Europe. This stemmed from the buccaneer’s refusal to adopt the pike for defence, and the Spanish believed that a charge home against buccaneer musket formations would be more effective than skirmishing at a distance. Pistols were still widely used by Spanish troops, as were flintlock carbines, although supply was a constant problem for commanders in the Americas, so equipping a militia cavalry or dragoon unit with homogenous weaponry would have been virtually impossible. Spanish infantry formations retained the pike throughout the period, although the ratio of pikes to muskets fell from one in three in 1650 to one in five by 1690.

tall ship

Despite the fact that the Spanish never needed protection from buccaneer cavalry, their infantry commanders followed Spanish peninsular practices when it came to including pikemen in foot formations. As for the buccaneers, they had no standard tactical doctrine to restrict them, and there were simply not enough Spanish cavalry to make the adoption of the pike worthwhile. By the late 1670s, Spanish infantry in Europe were being issued with plug bayonets designed to fit Читать далее