Scourge of the Seas


The Privateer Fry, a painting by Francis Holman, 1779. In the stern view she appears heavily manned, as was often so with privateers. Both the flags and armament are consistent with this being a portrait of the Royal Naval cutter Fry of 1779. Fast vessels, like cutters and sloops, made the best privateers.

Though the anti—piracy campaign ended piratical activity in the Atlantic and Caribbean, for centuries pi~acy continued to be practised by non—Europeans in the Far East, and piracy is alive and well today. Indonesian waters are still plagued by modern—day pirates, equipped with fast speedboats and assault rifles. Although the methods have changed, the basic nature of violent crime and extortion on the high seas is the same as it was in the time of Caesar. Читать далее

The Buccaneers and Their Victims

The author of Robinson Crusoe. The book concentrated on pirates operating in the 30 years before its publication. Characters such as Edward Teach CBlackbeard’), Edward Low and Henry Every were portrayed as ogres, and their actual deeds embellished with bloodcurdling fictional anecdotes. One of the problems is that the line between fact and fiction is extremely blurred. While many elements of his portrayals were based on fact, it is vital to sift through his descriptions, comparing his version with the pirates mentioned in other contemporary accounts.


Where possible, the section on privateering in the Americas has drawn on original material — letters of marque, shipping records from ports such as Salem and Baltimore, reminiscences of privateering captains and newspaper reports written during the last upsurge of piracy. What is apparent is that these records are often incomplete, as folios have been misplaced, returns were never submitted or there was little documentation to begin with. Some of the gaps in the narrative have been filled in by consulting a number of privateering histories, and the most readily available of these are listed in the Further Reading section. Scourge of the Seas The frontispiece of the second edition of Captain]ohnson’s History of Pirates published in 1725, with plates showing blind justice and a sea battle between a pirate ship and a vessel of the Royal Navy. The book was an enlarged version of the original edition, published the previous year. Читать далее

Buccaneering era began

Therefore, when the buccaneering era began, Spanish overseas possessions were at their most vulnerable. During the decade following Christopher Columbus’s first voyage (1492), Spain established a firm control over the islands of Cuba and Hispaniola, creating a base for further exploration, settlement and conquest. By 1540, her overseas territories included most of the Caribbean basin and Peru. Under the terms of the Treaty of Tordesillas (1497) arranged by the Papacy, a north-south line was drawn in the Atlantic Ocean. Portugal was granted a monopoly of trade and discovery to the east of the line, giving her control of the trade route to the east around Africa. Spain was awarded everything to the west, which included North and South America except Brazil, which lay in the Portuguese sector. For the next century and a half, the Spanish would fight an increasingly futile battle to maintain this monopoly, particularly in the Caribbean basin, which contained most of Spain’s colonial settlements. During the 16th century, interlopers from other European nations raided the region, which by that stage had become known as the Spanish Main.


Francis Drake was one of the most notorious, and the Spanish regarded him as a pirate. Justice was harsh in this undeclared war on the Spanish monopoly: an encroaching French settlement in Florida was brutally destroyed in 1565, and its settlers massacred. The rallying cry for both the Spanish and other European adventurers was ‘no peace beyond the line’. Читать далее

Scourge of the Seas

Another squadron made for Vera Cruz, while other ships visited the smaller Spanish ports in the region. All ~the ships then gathered in the Cuban port of Havana in order that they could sail home in convoy. The same system was used throughout the 17th century, and it proved remarkably successful. Although one fleet was wrecked off the Florida Keys in 1622, and another was captured by the Dutch in 1628, the ships almost always reached Spain safely. For most of the 17th century, the fleets
seemed too powerful to attack, and the buccaneers left them well alone.

ALICE KIMBALL off San Francisco

The weak point of the fleet system lay in the ports. While Cartagena and Havana were considered too strong for the buccaneers to attack, others remained poorly defended. Porto Bello, Panama and Vera Cruz were all vital parts of the Spanish treasure—gathering operation, but they all succumbed to buccaneer attacks. Читать далее

Terra Firma

Originally, ‘Spanish Main’ was a term used to refer to the northern coast of South America, the ‘mainland’ or Terra Firma. By the mid—17th century, its scope had widened to include the entire Caribbean basin, and by 1650 the region was divided into a number of principalities, each commanded by a viceroy or governor. New Spain encompassed Mexico and parts of Central America, with its capital in Mexico City. Lesser governors controlled Panama and Honduras, but were answerable to the viceroy in Mexico. The viceroy of New Granada included what is now Venezuela and Colombia, with a capital at Cartagena. Further to the south, the viceroy of Peru encompassed what was once the Incan empire, the most lucrative part of the Spanish dominions in the Americas. Finally, the islands of the Greater Antilles including Cuba, Hispaniola and Puerto Rico all retained their own governors, although the governor of Cuba, based in Havana, was the most senior. For the Spanish, one of the most important functions of the Spanish empire was to ensure that a continuous flow of precious metals was produced in her American mines and was safely shipped to Spain.


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American colonies

When the American colonies rebelled against Britain in 1775, sea power was regarded as a dominant issue by both sides. Britain maintained the largest merchant fleet in the world during the late 18th century, and the successful conclusion of the war in the colonies required its control over the Atlantic sea lanes. Similarly, the American economy was dependent on maritime trade, given the poor state of internal communications within the 13 colonies. A crippling British blockade of the American coastline could be expected, so many ship owners thought that their only chance for economic survival was to turn to privateering. With no possibility of being able to match British naval strength, the colonies had to rely on European allies to contest British maritime dominance. All America could hope for was to cause sufficient losses in the British merchant fleet to force her merchants to put pressure on the government to end the conflict.

Chilean sailed squadron

The French Revolutionary War and the Quasi—War between America and France both provided opportunities for privateers, but the failure of the French fleet to effectively challenge British control of sea power meant that by 1802, French prizes were rare. The French invasion of Spain in 1807 made the Spanish allies of the British, reducing privateering opportunities still further. Читать далее

The War

Scourge of the Seas In his painting So the Treasure was Divided, Howard Pyle shows the democratic nature of pirate life any plunder was divided fairly amongst the crew. Unfortunately treasure was a rare find, and most plunder consisted of everyday cargo — rum, sugar, tobacco, cloth or slaves.

This form of nationally sponsored piracy reached its peak during the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Although a world—wide phenomenon, privateering proved particularly popular in the waters of the Americas. Rivalry between European powers and the rise of independence movements among the nations of the New World provided ample opportunities for privateering captains.

Plots and Paranoia

Privateering had existed as a tool of maritime warfare since the Middle Ages. Letters of marque, which provided an official sanction to those seeking revenge through retaliatory attacks, were issued to ship owners who had suffered loss from vessels of an enemy country as early as the 14th century. This form of legitimized piracy proved extremely popular, and soon letters of marque were issued to almost anyone who applied for them. At minimal cost, a nation could attack the maritime commerce of an enemy without diverting the resources of its national fleet. For small maritime powers such as the United States ofAmerica during the American Revolution and the War of 1812, this proved a vital part of its maritime strategy. Читать далее

A Frigate at Sea

A Frigate at Sea

A Frigate at Sea
Artist: Pierre Puget (French, Château Follet 1620–1694 Fougette)
Date: 17th century
Medium: Pen and black ink, gray wash, brown ink, over black chalk, on vellum. Mounted on board.
Dimensions: 9 13/16 x 7 1/2 in. (25 x 19 cm)
Classification: Drawings
Credit Line: Harry G. Sperling Fund, 1985