The Beginnings of The Buccaneer by C.H. Haring


In the second half of the sixteenth and the early partof the seventeenth centuries, strangers who visited thegreat Spanish islands of Hispaniola, Jamaica orPorto Rico, usually remarked the extraordinary numberof wild cattle and boars found roaming upon them.These herds were in every case sprung from domesticanimals originally brought from Spain. For as theaborigines in the Greater Antilles decreased in numbersunder the heavy yoke of their conquerors, and as theSpaniards themselves turned their backs upon the Antillesfor the richer allurements of the continent, less and lessland was left under cultivation; and cattle, hogs, horsesand even dogs ran wild, increased at a rapid rate, andsoon filled the broad savannas and deep woods whichcovered the greater part of these islands. The northernshore of Hispaniola the Spaniards had never settled, andthither, probably from an early period, interloping shipswere accustomed to resort when in want of victuals.With a long range of uninhabited coast, good anchorageand abundance of provisions, this northern shore couldnot fail to induce some to remain. In time we find therescattered groups of hunters, mostly French and English,who gained a rude livelihood by killing wild cattle for theirskins, and curing the flesh to supply the needs of passingvessels. The origin of these men we do not know. Theymay have been deserters from ships, crews of wrecked{58}vessels, or even chance marooners. In any case the charmof their half-savage, independent mode of life must soonhave attracted others, and a fairly regular traffic sprang upbetween them and the ubiquitous Dutch traders, whomthey supplied with hides, tallow and cured meat in returnfor the few crude necessities and luxuries they required.Their numbers were recruited in 1629 by colonists fromSt. Kitts who had fled before Don Federico de Toledo.Making common lot with the hunters, the refugeesfound sustenance so easy and the natural bounty ofthe island so rich and varied, that many remained andsettled.
To the north-west of Hispaniola lies a small, rockyisland about eight leagues in length and two in breadth,separated by a narrow channel from its larger neighbour.From the shore of Hispaniola the island appears in formlike a monster sea-turtle floating upon the waves, andhence was named by the Spaniards "Tortuga." Somountainous and inaccessible on the northern side as tobe called the Côte-de-Fer, and with only one harbour uponthe south, it offered a convenient refuge to the French andEnglish hunters should the Spaniards become troublesome.These hunters probably ventured across to Tortuga before1630, for there are indications that a Spanish expeditionwas sent against the island from Hispaniola in 1630 or1631, and a division of the spoil made in the city of SanDomingo after its return.83 It was then, apparently, thatthe Spaniards left upon Tortuga an officer and twenty-eightmen, the small garrison which, says Charlevoix, wasfound there when the hunters returned. The Spanishsoldiers were already tired of their exile upon this lonely,inhospitable rock, and evacuated with the same satisfactionwith which the French and English resumed their occupancy.From the testimony of some documents in the{59}English colonial archives we may gather that the Englishfrom the first were in predominance in the new colony, andexercised almost sole authority. In the minutes of theProvidence Company, under date of 19th May 1631, we findthat a committee was "appointed to treat with the agentsfor a colony of about 150 persons, settled upon Tortuga";84and a few weeks later that "the planters upon the islandof Tortuga desired the company to take them under theirprotection, and to be at the charge of their fortification, inconsideration of a twentieth part of the commodities raisedthere yearly."85 At the same time the Earl of Holland,governor of the company, and his associates petitionedthe king for an enlargement of their grant "only of 3 or 4degrees of northerly latitude, to avoid all doubts as towhether one of the islands (Tortuga) was contained intheir former grant."86 Although there were several islandsnamed Tortuga in the region of the West Indies, all theevidence points to the identity of the island concerned inthis petition with the Tortuga near the north coast ofHispaniola.87
The Providence Company accepted the offer of thesettlers upon Tortuga, and sent a ship to reinforce thelittle colony with six pieces of ordnance, a supply ofammunition and provisions, and a number of apprenticesor engagés. A Captain Hilton was appointed governor,with Captain Christopher Wormeley to succeed him incase of the governor's death or absence, and the name of{60}the island was changed from Tortuga to Association.88Although consisting for the most part of high land coveredwith tall cedar woods, the island contained in the southand west broad savannas which soon attracted planters aswell as cattle-hunters. Some of the inhabitants of St.Kitts, wearied of the dissensions between the French andEnglish there, and allured by reports of quiet and plenty inTortuga, deserted St. Kitts for the new colony. Thesettlement, however, was probably always very poor andstruggling, for in January 1634 the Providence Companyreceived advice that Captain Hilton intended to desert theisland and draw most of the inhabitants after him; and adeclaration was sent out from England to the planters,assuring them special privileges of trade and domicile, anddissuading them from "changing certain ways of profitalready discovered for uncertain hopes suggested by fancyor persuasion."89 The question of remaining or departing,indeed, was soon decided for the colonists without theirvolition, for in December 1634 a Spanish force fromHispaniola invaded the island and drove out all theEnglish and French they found there. It seems that anIrishman named "Don Juan Morf" (John Murphy?),90 whohad been "sargento-mayor" in Tortuga, became discontentedwith the régime there and fled to Cartagena. TheSpanish governor of Cartagena sent him to Don Gabrielde Gaves, President of the Audiencia in San Domingo,thinking that with the information the renegade was ableto supply the Spaniards of Hispaniola might drive out theforeigners. The President of San Domingo, however, diedthree months later without bestirring himself, and it wasleft to his successor to carry out the project. With the{61}information given by Murphy, added to that obtained fromprisoners, he sent a force of 250 foot under command ofRui Fernandez de Fuemayor to take the island.91 At thistime, according to the Spaniards' account, there were inTortuga 600 men bearing arms, besides slaves, women andchildren. The harbour was commanded by a platform ofsix cannon. The Spaniards approached the island justbefore dawn, but through the ignorance of the pilot thewhole armadilla was cast upon some reefs near the shore.Rui Fernandez with about thirty of his men succeeded inreaching land in canoes, seized the fort without anydifficulty, and although his followers were so few managedto disperse a body of the enemy who were approaching,with the English governor at their head, to recover it. Inthe mêlée the governor was one of the first to be killed—stabbed,say the Spaniards, by the Irishman, who tookactive part in the expedition and fought by the side ofRui Fernandez. Meanwhile some of the inhabitants,thinking that they could not hold the island, had regainedthe fort, spiked the guns and transferred the stores toseveral ships in the harbour, which sailed away leavingonly two dismantled boats and a patache to fall into thehands of the Spaniards. Rui Fernandez, reinforced bysome 200 of his men who had succeeded in escaping fromthe stranded armadilla, now turned his attention to thesettlement. He found his way barred by another body ofseveral hundred English, but dispersed them too, and tookseventy prisoners. The houses were then sacked and thetobacco plantations burned by the soldiers, and the Spaniardsreturned to San Domingo with four captured banners, thesix pieces of artillery and 180 muskets.92
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The Spanish occupation apparently did not last verylong, for in the following April the Providence Companyappointed Captain Nicholas Riskinner to be governor ofTortuga in place of Wormeley, and in February 1636 itlearned that Riskinner was in possession of the island.93Two planters just returned from the colony, moreover, informedthe company that there were then some 80 Englishin the settlement, besides 150 negroes. It is evident thatthe colonists were mostly cattle-hunters, for they assuredthe company that they could supply Tortuga with 200beasts a month from Hispaniola, and would deliver calvesthere at twenty shillings apiece.94 Yet at a later meetingof the Adventurers on 20th January 1637, a project forsending more men and ammunition to the island wassuddenly dropped "upon intelligence that the inhabitantshad quitted it and removed to Hispaniola."95 For threeyears thereafter the Providence records are silent concerningTortuga. A few Frenchmen must have remained onthe island, however, for Charlevoix informs us that in 1638the general of the galleons swooped down upon the colony,put to the sword all who failed to escape to the hills andwoods, and again destroyed all the habitations.96 Persuadedthat the hunters would not expose themselves to a repetitionof such treatment, the Spaniards neglected to leave agarrison, and a few scattered Frenchmen gradually filteredback to their ruined homes. It was about this time, itseems, that the President of San Domingo formed a body{63}of 500 armed lancers in an effort to drive the intrudersfrom the larger island of Hispaniola. These lancers, halfof whom were always kept in the field, were dividedinto companies of fifty each, whence they were calledby the French, "cinquantaines." Ranging the woodsand savannas this Spanish constabulary attacked isolatedhunters wherever they found them, and they formedan important element in the constant warfare betweenthe French and Spanish colonists throughout the rest ofthe century.97
Meanwhile an English adventurer, some time after theSpanish descent of 1638, gathered a body of 300 of hiscompatriots in the island of Nevis near St. Kitts, and sailingfor Tortuga dispossessed the few Frenchmen livingthere of the island. According to French accounts he wasreceived amicably by the inhabitants and lived with them forfour months, when he turned upon his hosts, disarmed themand marooned them upon the opposite shore of Hispaniola.A few made their way to St. Kitts and complained to M.de Poincy, the governor-general of the French islands,who seized the opportunity to establish a French governorin Tortuga. Living at that time in St. Kitts was aHuguenot gentleman named Levasseur, who had been acompanion-in-arms of d'Esnambuc when the latter settledSt. Kitts in 1625, and after a short visit to France had returnedand made his fortune in trade. He was a man ofcourage and command as well as a skilful engineer, andsoon rose high in the councils of de Poincy. Being aCalvinist, however, he had drawn upon the governor thereproaches of the authorities at home; and de Poincy proposedto get rid of his presence, now become inconvenient,by sending him to subdue Tortuga. Levasseur receivedhis commission from de Poincy in May 1640, assembledforty or fifty followers, all Calvinists, and sailed in a barque{64}to Hispaniola. He established himself at Port Margot,about five leagues from Tortuga, and entered into friendlyrelations with his English neighbours. He was but bidinghis time, however, and on the last day of August 1640, onthe plea that the English had ill-used some of his followersand had seized a vessel sent by de Poincy to obtain provisions,he made a sudden descent upon the island withonly 49 men and captured the governor. The inhabitantsretired to Hispaniola, but a few days later returned andbesieged Levasseur for ten days. Finding that they couldnot dislodge him, they sailed away with all their people tothe island of Providence.98
Levasseur, fearing perhaps another descent of theSpaniards, lost no time in putting the settlement in a stateof defence. Although the port of Tortuga was little morethan a roadstead, it offered a good anchorage on a bottomof fine sand, the approaches to which were easily defendedby a hill or promontory overlooking the harbour. Thetop of this hill, situated 500 or 600 paces from the shore,was a level platform, and upon it rose a steep rock some30 feet high. Nine or ten paces from the base of the rockgushed forth a perennial fountain of fresh water. The newgovernor quickly made the most of these natural advantages.The platform he shaped into terraces, with means for accommodatingseveral hundred men. On the top of the rockhe built a house for himself, as well as a magazine, andmounted a battery of two guns. The only access to the{65}rock was by a narrow approach, up half of which stepswere cut in the stone, the rest of the ascent being by meansof an iron ladder which could easily be raised and lowered.99This little fortress, in which the governor could repose witha feeling of entire security, he euphuistically called his"dove-cote." The dove-cote was not finished any too soon,for the Spaniards of San Domingo in 1643 determined todestroy this rising power in their neighbourhood, and sentagainst Levasseur a force of 500 or 600 men. When theytried to land within a half gunshot of the shore, however,they were greeted with a discharge of artillery from thefort, which sank one of the vessels and forced the rest toretire. The Spaniards withdrew to a place two leaguesto leeward, where they succeeded in disembarking, but fellinto an ambush laid by Levasseur, lost, according to theFrench accounts, between 100 and 200 men, and fled totheir ships and back to Hispaniola. With this victory thereputation of Levasseur spread far and wide throughoutthe islands, and for ten years the Spaniards made nofurther attempt to dislodge the French settlement.100
Planters, hunters and corsairs now came in greaternumbers to Tortuga. The hunters, using the smallerisland merely as a headquarters for supplies and a retreatin time of danger, penetrated more boldly than ever intothe interior of Hispaniola, plundering the Spanish plantationsin their path, and establishing settlements on thenorth shore at Port Margot and Port de Paix. Corsairs,after cruising and robbing along the Spanish coasts, retiredto Tortuga to refit and find a market for their spoils.Plantations of tobacco and sugar were cultivated, andalthough the soil never yielded such rich returns as uponthe other islands, Dutch and French trading ships frequentlyresorted there for these commodities, and especially for theskins prepared by the hunters, bringing in exchange{66}brandy, guns, powder and cloth. Indeed, under the active,positive administration of Levasseur, Tortuga enjoyed adegree of prosperity which almost rivalled that of theFrench settlements in the Leeward Islands.
The term "buccaneer," though usually applied to thecorsairs who in the seventeenth century ravaged theSpanish possessions in the West Indies and the South Seas,should really be restricted to these cattle-hunters of westand north-west Hispaniola. The flesh of the wild-cattlewas cured by the hunters after a fashion learnt from theCaribbee Indians. The meat was cut into long strips, laidupon a grate or hurdle constructed of green sticks, anddried over a slow wood fire fed with bones and thetrimmings of the hide of the animal. By this means anexcellent flavour was imparted to the meat and a fine redcolour. The place where the flesh was smoked was calledby the Indians a "boucan," and the same term, from thepoverty of an undeveloped language, was applied to theframe or grating on which the flesh was dried. Incourse of time the dried meat became known as"viande boucannée," and the hunters themselves as"boucaniers" or "buccaneers." When later circumstancesled the hunters to combine their trade in fleshand hides with that of piracy, the name gradually lostits original significance and acquired, in the Englishlanguage at least, its modern and better-known meaningof corsair or freebooter. The French adventurers, however,seem always to have restricted the word "boucanier"to its proper signification, that of a hunter and curer ofmeat; and when they developed into corsairs, by a curiouscontrast they adopted an English name and called themselves"filibustiers," which is merely the French sailor'sway of pronouncing the English word "freebooter."101
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The buccaneers or West Indian corsairs owed theirorigin as well as their name to the cattle and hog-huntersof Hispaniola and Tortuga. Doubtless many of the wilder,more restless spirits in the smaller islands of the Windwardand Leeward groups found their way into the ranksof this piratical fraternity, or were willing at least to lenda hand in an occasional foray against their Spanishneighbours. We know that Jackson, in 1642, had nodifficulty in gathering 700 or 800 men from Barbadoesand St. Kitts for his ill-starred dash upon the SpanishMain. And when the French in later years made theirperiodical descents upon the Dutch stations on Tobago,Curaçao and St. Eustatius, they always found in theirisland colonies of Martinique and Guadeloupe buccaneersenough and more, eager to fill their ships. It seems to begenerally agreed, however, among the Jesuit historians ofthe West Indies—and upon these writers we are almostentirely dependent for our knowledge of the origins ofbuccaneering—that the corsairs had their source andnucleus in the hunters who infested the coasts of Hispaniola.Between the hunter and the pirate at first no impassableline was drawn. The same person combined in himselfthe occupations of cow-killing and cruising, varying themonotony of the one by occasionally trying his hand atthe other. In either case he lived at constant enmity withthe Spaniards. With the passing of time the sea attractedmore and more away from their former pursuits. Eventhe planters who were beginning to filter into the newsettlements found the attractions of coursing against theSpaniards to be irresistible. Great extremes of fortune,such as those to which the buccaneers were subject, havealways exercised an attraction over minds of an adventurousstamp. It was the same allurement which drew the "forty-niners"to California, and in 1897 the gold-seekers to theCanadian Klondyke. If the suffering endured was often{68}great, the prize to be gained was worth it. Fortune, iffickle one day, might the next bring incredible bounty,and the buccaneers who sweltered in a tropical sea, withstarvation staring them in the face, dreamed of rolling inthe oriental wealth of a Spanish argosy. Especially tothe cattle-hunter must this temptation have been great,for his mode of life was the very rudest. He roamed thewoods by day with his dog and apprentices, and at nightslept in the open air or in a rude shed hastily constructedof leaves and skins, which served as a house, and which hecalled after the Indian name, "ajoupa" or "barbacoa."His dress was of the simplest—coarse cloth trousers, anda shirt which hung loosely over them, both pieces so blackand saturated with the blood and grease of slain animalsthat they looked as if they had been tarred ("de toilegaudronnée").102 A belt of undressed bull's hide bound theshirt, and supported on one side three or four large knives,on the other a pouch for powder and shot. A cap with ashort pointed brim extending over the eyes, rude shoes ofcowhide or pigskin made all of one piece bound over thefoot, and a short, large-bore musket, completed the hunter'sgrotesque outfit. Often he carried wound about his waista sack of netting into which he crawled at night to keepoff the pestiferous mosquitoes. With creditable regularityhe and his apprentices arose early in the morning andstarted on foot for the hunt, eating no food until they hadkilled and skinned as many wild cattle or swine as therewere persons in the company. After having skinned thelast animal, the master-hunter broke its softest bones andmade a meal for himself and his followers on the marrow.Then each took up a hide and returned to the boucan,where they dined on the flesh they had killed.103 In this{69}fashion the hunter lived for the space of six months or ayear. Then he made a division of the skins and driedmeat, and repaired to Tortuga or one of the French settlementson the coast of Hispaniola to recoup his stock ofammunition and spend the rest of his gains in a wildcarouse of drunkenness and debauchery. His money gone,he returned again to the hunt. The cow-killers, as theyhad neither wife nor children, commonly associated inpairs with the right of inheriting from each other, a customwhich was called "matelotage." These private associations,however, did not prevent the property of all frombeing in a measure common. Their mode of settlingquarrels was the most primitive—the duel. In otherthings they governed themselves by a certain "coutumier,"a medley of bizarre laws which they had originated amongthemselves. At any attempt to bring them undercivilised rules, the reply always was, "telle étoit lacoutume de la côte"; and that definitely closed thematter. They based their rights thus to live upon thefact, they said, of having passed the Tropic, where, borrowingfrom the sailor's well-known superstition, they pretendedto have drowned all their former obligations.104Even their family names they discarded, and the sayingwas in those days that one knew a man in the Isles onlywhen he was married. From a life of this sort, cruisingagainst Spanish ships, if not an unmixed good, was atleast always a desirable recreation. Every Spanish prizebrought into Tortuga, moreover, was an incitement tofresh adventure against the common foe. The "gens dela côte," as they called themselves, ordinarily associated ascore or more together, and having taken or built themselvesa canoe, put to sea with intent to seize a Spanishbarque or some other coasting vessel. With silent paddles,under cover of darkness, they approached the unsuspecting{70}prey, killed the frightened sailors or drove them overboard,and carried the prize to Tortuga. There the raiders eitherdispersed to their former occupations, or gathered a largercrew of congenial spirits and sailed away for bigger game.
All the Jesuit historians of the West Indies, Dutertre,Labat and Charlevoix, have left us accounts of themanners and customs of the buccaneers. The Dutchphysician, Exquemelin, who lived with the buccaneersfor several years, from 1668 to 1674, and wrote a picturesquenarrative from materials at his disposal, has alsobeen a source for the ideas of most later writers on thesubject. It may not be out of place to quote his descriptionof the men whose deeds he recorded.
"Before the Pirates go out to sea," he writes, "theygive notice to every one who goes upon the voyage ofthe day on which they ought precisely to embark,intimating also to them their obligation of bringing eachman in particular so many pounds of powder and bulletsas they think necessary for that expedition. Being allcome on board, they join together in council, concerningwhat place they ought first to go wherein to getprovisions—especially of flesh, seeing they scarce eatanything else. And of this the most common sortamong them is pork. The next food is tortoises, whichthey are accustomed to salt a little. Sometimes theyresolve to rob such or such hog-yards, wherein theSpaniards often have a thousand heads of swine together.They come to these places in the dark of night, andhaving beset the keeper's lodge, they force him to rise,and give them as many heads as they desire, threateningwithal to kill him in case he disobeys their commandor makes any noise. Yea, these menaces are oftentimesput in execution, without giving any quarter to themiserable swine-keepers, or any other person thatendeavours to hinder their robberies.
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"Having got provisions of flesh sufficient for theirvoyage, they return to their ship. Here their allowance,twice a day to every one, is as much as he can eat, withouteither weight or measure. Neither does the steward of thevessel give any greater proportion of flesh or anythingelse to the captain than to the meanest mariner. Theship being well victualled, they call another council,to deliberate towards what place they shall go, to seektheir desperate fortunes. In this council, likewise, theyagree upon certain Articles, which are put in writing, byway of bond or obligation, which everyone is bound toobserve, and all of them, or the chief, set their hands to it.Herein they specify, and set down very distinctly, whatsums of money each particular person ought to have forthat voyage, the fund of all the payments being thecommon stock of what is gotten by the whole expedition;for otherwise it is the same law, among these people, aswith other Pirates, 'No prey, no pay.' In the first place,therefore, they mention how much the Captain ought tohave for his ship. Next the salary of the carpenter, orshipwright, who careened, mended and rigged the vessel.This commonly amounts to 100 or 150 pieces of eight, being,according to the agreement, more or less. Afterwards forprovisions and victualling they draw out of the samecommon stock about 200 pieces of eight. Also acompetent salary for the surgeon and his chest ofmedicaments, which is usually rated at 200 or 250pieces of eight. Lastly they stipulate in writing whatrecompense or reward each one ought to have, that iseither wounded or maimed in his body, suffering the lossof any limb, by that voyage. Thus they order for the lossof a right arm 600 pieces of eight, or six slaves; for theloss of a left arm 500 pieces of eight, or five slaves; fora right leg 500 pieces of eight, or five slaves; for the leftleg 400 pieces of eight, or four slaves; for an eye 100{72}pieces of eight or one slave; for a finger of the hand thesame reward as for the eye. All which sums of money,as I have said before, are taken out of the capital sumor common stock of what is got by their piracy. For avery exact and equal dividend is made of the remainderamong them all. Yet herein they have also regard toqualities and places. Thus the Captain, or chief Commander,is allotted five or six portions to what theordinary seamen have; the Master's Mate only two;and other Officers proportionate to their employment.After whom they draw equal parts from the highest evento the lowest mariner, the boys not being omitted. Foreven these draw half a share, by reason that, when theyhappen to take a better vessel than their own, it is theduty of the boys to set fire to the ship or boat whereinthey are, and then retire to the prize which they havetaken.
"They observe among themselves very good orders.For in the prizes they take it is severely prohibited toeveryone to usurp anything in particular to themselves.Hence all they take is equally divided, according to whathas been said before. Yea, they make a solemn oath toeach other not to abscond or conceal the least thing theyfind amongst the prey. If afterwards anyone is foundunfaithful, who has contravened the said oath, immediatelyhe is separated and turned out of the society. Amongthemselves they are very civil and charitable to eachother. Insomuch that if any wants what another has,with great liberality they give it one to another. As soonas these pirates have taken any prize of ship or boat, thefirst thing they endeavour is to set on shore the prisoners,detaining only some few for their own help and service,to whom also they give their liberty after the space of twoor three years. They put in very frequently for refreshmentat one island or another; but more especially into{73}those which lie on the southern side of the Isle of Cuba.Here they careen their vessels, and in the meanwhilesome of them go to hunt, others to cruise upon the seas incanoes, seeking their fortune. Many times they take thepoor fishermen of tortoises, and carrying them to theirhabitations they make them work so long as the piratesare pleased."
The articles which fixed the conditions under whichthe buccaneers sailed were commonly called the "chasse-partie."105In the earlier days of buccaneering, before theperiod of great leaders like Mansfield, Morgan and Grammont,the captain was usually chosen from among theirown number. Although faithfully obeyed he was removableat will, and had scarcely more prerogative than theordinary sailor. After 1655 the buccaneers generallysailed under commissions from the governors of Jamaicaor Tortuga, and then they always set aside one tenth ofthe profits for the governor. But when their prizes wereunauthorised they often withdrew to some secluded coastto make a partition of the booty, and on their return toport eased the governor's conscience with politic gifts; andas the governor generally had little control over thesedifficult people he found himself all the more obliged todissimulate. Although the buccaneers were called by theSpaniards "ladrones" and "demonios," names which theyrichly deserved, they often gave part of their spoil tochurches in the ports which they frequented, especiallyif among the booty they found any ecclesiastical ornamentsor the stuffs for making them—articles which notinfrequently formed an important part of the cargo ofSpanish treasure ships. In March 1694 the Jesuit writer,Labat, took part in a Mass at Martinique which was{74}performed for some French buccaneers in pursuance of avow made when they were taking two English vessels nearBarbadoes. The French vessel and its two prizes wereanchored near the church, and fired salutes of all theircannon at the beginning of the Mass, at the Elevation ofthe Host, at the Benediction, and again at the end of theTe Deum sung after the Mass.106 Labat, who, although apriest, is particularly lenient towards the crimes of thebuccaneers, and who we suspect must have been therecipient of numerous "favours" from them out of theirstore of booty, relates a curious tale of the buccaneer,Captain Daniel, a tale which has often been used by otherwriters, but which may bear repetition. Daniel, in needof provisions, anchored one night off one of the "Saintes,"small islands near Dominica, and landing without opposition,took possession of the house of the curé and of someother inhabitants of the neighbourhood. He carried thecuré and his people on board his ship without offeringthem the least violence, and told them that he merelywished to buy some wine, brandy and fowls. While thesewere being gathered, Daniel requested the curé to celebrateMass, which the poor priest dared not refuse. Sothe necessary sacred vessels were sent for and an altarimprovised on the deck for the service, which they chantedto the best of their ability. As at Martinique, the Masswas begun by a discharge of artillery, and after theExaudiat and prayer for the King was closed by a loud"Vive le Roi!" from the throats of the buccaneers. Asingle incident, however, somewhat disturbed the devotions.One of the buccaneers, remaining in an indecent attitudeduring the Elevation, was rebuked by the captain, andinstead of heeding the correction, replied with an impertinenceand a fearful oath. Quick as a flash Daniel whippedout his pistol and shot the buccaneer through the head,{75}adjuring God that he would do as much to the first whofailed in his respect to the Holy Sacrifice. The shot wasfired close by the priest, who, as we can readily imagine,was considerably agitated. "Do not be troubled, myfather," said Daniel; "he is a rascal lacking in his dutyand I have punished him to teach him better." A veryefficacious means, remarks Labat, of preventing his fallinginto another like mistake. After the Mass the body ofthe dead man was thrown into the sea, and the curé wasrecompensed for his pains by some goods out of their stockand the present of a negro slave.107
The buccaneers preferred to sail in barques, vessels ofone mast and rigged with triangular sails. This type ofboat, they found, could be more easily manœuvred, wasfaster and sailed closer to the wind. The boats were builtof cedar, and the best were reputed to come from Bermuda.They carried very few guns, generally from six to twelveor fourteen, the corsairs believing that four muskets didmore execution than one cannon.108 The buccaneerssometimes used brigantines, vessels with two masts,the fore or mizzenmast being square-rigged with twosails and the mainmast rigged like that of a barque.The corsair at Martinique of whom Labat speaks wascaptain of a corvette, a boat like a brigantine, except thatall the sails were square-rigged. At the beginning of avoyage the freebooters were generally so crowded in theirsmall vessels that they suffered much from lack of room.Moreover, they had little protection from sun and rain, andwith but a small stock of provisions often faced starvation.It was this as much as anything which frequently inspiredthem to attack without reflection any possible prize, greator small, and to make themselves masters of it or perish inthe attempt. Their first object was to come to closequarters; and although a single broadside would have{76}sunk their small craft, they manœuvred so skilfully as tokeep their bow always presented to the enemy, whiletheir musketeers cleared the enemy's decks until thetime when the captain judged it proper to board. Thebuccaneers rarely attacked Spanish ships on the outwardvoyage from Europe to America, for such ships were loadedwith wines, cloths, grains and other commodities for whichthey had little use, and which they could less readily turninto available wealth. Outgoing vessels also carried largecrews and a considerable number of passengers. It wasthe homeward-bound ships, rather, which attracted theiravarice, for in such vessels the crews were smaller andthe cargo consisted of precious metals, dye-woods andjewels, articles which the freebooters could easily disposeof to the merchants and tavern-keepers of the ports theyfrequented.
The Gulf of Honduras and the Mosquito Coast, dottedwith numerous small islands and protecting reefs, was afavourite retreat for the buccaneers. As the clumsySpanish war-vessels of the period found it ticklish workthreading these tortuous channels, where a sudden adversewind usually meant disaster, the buccaneers there feltsecure from interference; and in the creeks, lagoons andriver-mouths densely shrouded by tropical foliage, theywere able to careen and refit their vessels, divide theirbooty, and enjoy a respite from their sea-forays. Thence,too, they preyed upon the Spanish ships which sailed fromthe coast of Cartagena to Porto Bello, Nicaragua, Mexico,and the larger Antilles, and were a constant menace to thegreat treasure galleons of the Terra-Firma fleet. TheEnglish settlement on the island of Providence, lying asit did off the Nicaragua coast and in the very track ofSpanish commerce in those regions, was, until captured in1641, a source of great fear to Spanish mariners; and whenin 1642 some English occupied the island of Roatan, near{77}Truxillo, the governor of Cuba and the Presidents of theAudiencias at Gautemala and San Domingo jointly equippedan expedition of four vessels under D. Francisco deVillalba y Toledo, which drove out the intruders.109 Closerto the buccaneering headquarters in Tortuga (and later inJamaica) were the straits separating the great West Indianislands:—the Yucatan Channel at the western end of Cuba,the passage between Cuba and Hispaniola in the east, andthe Mona Passage between Hispaniola and Porto Rico.In these regions the corsairs waited to pick up straySpanish merchantmen, and watched for the coming of thegalleons or the Flota.110When the buccaneers returned from their cruises theygenerally squandered in a few days, in the taverns of thetowns which they frequented, the wealth which had costthem such peril and labour. Some of these outlaws, saysExquemelin, would spend 2000 or 3000 pieces of eight111 inone night, not leaving themselves a good shirt to wear ontheir backs in the morning. "My own master," he continues,"would buy, on like occasions, a whole pipe of wine,and placing it in the street would force every one thatpassed by to drink with him; threatening also to pistolthem in case they would not do it. At other times hewould do the same with barrels of ale or beer. And, veryoften, with both in his hands, he would throw these liquorsabout the streets, and wet the clothes of such as walkedby, without regarding whether he spoiled their apparel ornot, were they men or women." The taverns and ale-housesalways welcomed the arrival of these dissolutecorsairs; and although they extended long credits, they{78}also at times sold as indentured servants those whohad run too deeply into debt, as happened in Jamaicato this same patron or master of whom Exquemelinwrote.
Until 1640 buccaneering in the West Indies was moreor less accidental, occasional, in character. In the secondhalf of the century, however, the numbers of the freebootersgreatly increased, and men entirely deserted theirformer occupations for the excitement and big profits ofthe "course." There were several reasons for this increasein the popularity of buccaneering. The English adventurersin Hispaniola had lost their profession of huntingvery early, for with the coming of Levasseur the Frenchhad gradually elbowed them out of the island, and compelledthem either to retire to the Lesser Antilles or toprey upon their Spanish neighbours. But the Frenchthemselves were within the next twenty years driven tothe same expedient. The Spanish colonists on Hispaniola,unable to keep the French from the island, at lastfoolishly resolved, according to Charlevoix's account, toremove the principal attraction by destroying all the wildcattle. If the trade with French vessels and the barter ofhides for brandy could be arrested, the hunters would bedriven from the woods by starvation. This policy, togetherwith the wasteful methods pursued by the hunters, causeda rapid decrease in the number of cattle. The Spaniards,however, did not dream of the consequences of theiraction. Many of the French, forced to seek anotheroccupation, naturally fell into the way of buccaneering.The hunters of cattle became hunters of Spaniards, andthe sea became the savanna on which they sought theirgame. Exquemelin tells us that when he arrived at theisland there were scarcely three hundred engaged inhunting, and even these found their livelihood precarious.It was from this time forward to the end of the century{79}that the buccaneers played so important a rôle on thestage of West Indian history.
Another source of recruits for the freebooters were theindentured servants or engagés. We hear a great dealof the barbarity with which West Indian planters andhunters in the seventeenth century treated their servants,and we may well believe that many of the latter, findingtheir situation unendurable, ran away from their plantationsor ajoupas to join the crew of a chance corsairhovering in the neighbourhood. The hunters' life, as wehave seen, was not one of revelry and ease. On the oneside were all the insidious dangers lurking in a wild,tropical forest; on the other, the relentless hostility of theSpaniards. The environment of the hunters made themrough and cruel, and for many an engagé his three yearsof servitude must have been a veritable purgatory. Theservants of the planters were in no better position.Decoyed from Norman and Breton towns and villages bythe loud-sounding promises of sea-captains and WestIndian agents, they came to seek an El Dorado, and oftenfound only despair and death. The want of sufficientnegroes led men to resort to any artifice in order to obtainassistance in cultivating the sugar-cane and tobacco. Theapprentices sent from Europe were generally bound out inthe French Antilles for eighteen months or three years,among the English for seven years. They were oftenresold in the interim, and sometimes served ten or twelveyears before they regained their freedom. They wereveritable convicts, often more ill-treated than the slaveswith whom they worked side by side, for their lives, afterthe expiration of their term of service, were of no consequenceto their masters. Many of these apprentices, ofgood birth and tender education, were unable to endurethe debilitating climate and hard labour, let alone thecruelty of their employers. Exquemelin, himself originally{80}an engagé, gives a most piteous description of theirsufferings. He was sold to the Lieutenant-Governor ofTortuga, who treated him with great severity andrefused to take less than 300 pieces of eight for hisfreedom. Falling ill through vexation and despair, hepassed into the hands of a surgeon, who proved kind tohim and finally gave him his liberty for 100 pieces ofeight, to be paid after his first buccaneering voyage.112
We left Levasseur governor in Tortuga after theabortive Spanish attack of 1643. Finding his personalascendancy so complete over the rude natures about him,Levasseur, like many a greater man in similar circumstances,lost his sense of the rights of others. Hischaracter changed, he became suspicious and intolerant,and the settlers complained bitterly of his cruelty andoverbearing temper. Having come as the leader of a bandof Huguenots, he forbade the Roman Catholics to holdservices on the island, burnt their chapel and turned outtheir priest. He placed heavy imposts on trade, and soonamassed a considerable fortune.113 In his eyrie upon therock fortress, he is said to have kept for his enemies a cageof iron, in which the prisoner could neither stand nor liedown, and which Levasseur, with grim humour, called his"little hell." A dungeon in his castle he termed in likefashion his "purgatory." All these stories, however, arereported by the Jesuits, his natural foes, and must betaken with a grain of salt. De Poincy, who himself ruledwith despotic authority and was guilty of similar cruelties,would have turned a deaf ear to the denunciations againsthis lieutenant, had not his jealousy been aroused by thesuspicion that Levasseur intended to declare himself anindependent prince.114 So the governor-general, already in{81}bad odour at court for having given Levasseur means ofestablishing a little Geneva in Tortuga, began to disavowhim to the authorities at home. He also sent his nephew,M. de Lonvilliers, to Tortuga, on the pretext of complimentingLevasseur on his victory over the Spaniards, butreally to endeavour to entice him back to St. Kitts.Levasseur, subtle and penetrating, skilfully avoided thetrap, and Lonvilliers returned to St. Kitts alone.
Charlevoix relates an amusing instance of the governor'sstubborn resistance to de Poincy's authority. A silverstatue of the Virgin, captured by some buccaneer from aSpanish ship, had been appropriated by Levasseur, and dePoincy, desiring to decorate his chapel with it, wrote tohim demanding the statue, and observing that a Protestanthad no use for such an object. Levasseur, however,replied that the Protestants had a great adoration forsilver virgins, and that Catholics being "trop spirituelspour tenir à la matière," he was sending him, instead, amadonna of painted wood.
After a tenure of power for twelve years, Levasseurcame to the end of his tether. While de Poincywas resolving upon an expedition to oust him fromauthority, two adventurers named Martin and Thibault,whom Levasseur had adopted as his heirs, and with whom,it is said, he had quarrelled over a mistress, shot him as hewas descending from the fort to the shore, and completedthe murder by a poniard's thrust. They then seized thegovernment without any opposition from the inhabitants.115Meanwhile there had arrived at St. Kitts the Chevalier deFontenay, a soldier of fortune who had distinguishedhimself against the Turks and was attracted by the gleamof Spanish gold. He it was whom de Poincy chose as theman to succeed Levasseur. The opportunity for actionwas eagerly accepted by de Fontenay, but the project was{82}kept secret, for if Levasseur had got wind of it all theforces in St. Kitts could not have dislodged him.Volunteers were raised on the pretext of a privateeringexpedition to the coasts of Cartagena, and to completethe deception de Fontenay actually sailed for the Mainand captured several prizes. The rendezvous was on thecoast of Hispaniola, where de Fontenay was eventuallyjoined by de Poincy's nephew, M. de Treval, with anotherfrigate and materials for a siege. Learning of the murderof Levasseur, the invaders at once sailed for Tortuga andlanded several hundred men at the spot where the Spaniardshad formerly been repulsed. The two assassins, findingthe inhabitants indisposed to support them, capitulatedto de Fontenay on receiving pardon for their crime andthe peaceful possession of their property. Catholicismwas restored, commerce was patronized and buccaneersencouraged to use the port. Two stone bastions wereraised on the platform and more guns were mounted.116 DeFontenay himself was the first to bear the official title of"Governor for the King of Tortuga and the Coast of S.Domingo."
The new governor was not fated to enjoy his successfor any length of time. The President of S. Domingo,Don Juan Francisco de Montemayor, with orders from theKing of Spain, was preparing for another effort to get ridof his troublesome neighbour, and in November 1653 sentan expedition of five vessels and 400 infantry againstthe French, under command of Don Gabriel Roxas deValle-Figueroa. The ships were separated by a storm,{83}two ran aground and a third was lost, so that only the"Capitana" and "Almirante" reached Tortuga on 10thJanuary. Being greeted with a rough fire from the platformand fort as they approached the harbour, theydropped anchor a league to leeward and landed with littleopposition. After nine days of fighting and siege of thefort, de Fontenay capitulated with the honours of war.117According to the French account, the Spaniards, lashingtheir cannon to rough frames of wood, dragged a batteryof eight or ten guns to the top of some hills commandingthe fort, and began a furious bombardment. Severalsorties of the besieged to capture the battery were unsuccessful.The inhabitants began to tire of fighting, andde Fontenay, discovering some secret negotiations withthe enemy, was compelled to sue for terms. With incredibleexertions, two half-scuttled ships in the harbourwere fitted up and provisioned within three days, and uponthem the French sailed for Port Margot.118 The Spaniardsclaimed that the booty would have been considerable butfor some Dutch trading-ships in the harbour which conveyedall the valuables from the island. They burned thesettlements, however, carried away with them some guns,munitions of war and slaves, and this time taking the precautionto leave behind a garrison of 150 men, sailed forHispaniola. Fearing that the French might join forceswith the buccaneers and attack their small squadron onthe way back, they retained de Fontenay's brother as ahostage until they reached the city of San Domingo.De Fontenay, indeed, after his brother's release, did determineto try and recover the island. Only 130 of his men{84}stood by him, the rest deserting to join the buccaneers inwestern Hispaniola. While he was careening his ship at PortMargot, however, a Dutch trader arrived with commoditiesfor Tortuga, and learning of the disaster, offered him aidwith men and supplies. A descent was made upon thesmaller island, and the Spaniards were besieged for twentydays, but after several encounters they compelled theFrench to withdraw. De Fontenay, with only thirtycompanions, sailed for Europe, was wrecked among theAzores, and eventually reached France, only to die a shorttime afterwards.
Footnote 83: (return)Bibl. Nat., Nouv. Acq., 9334, f. 48.
Footnote 84: (return)C.S.P. Colon., 1574-1660, p. 130. This company had been organisedunder the name of "The Governor and Company of Adventurers for thePlantations of the Islands of Providence, Henrietta and the adjacent islands,between 10 and 20 degrees of north latitude and 290 and 310 degrees oflongitude." The patent of incorporation is dated 4th December 1630 (ibid.,p. 123).
Footnote 85: (return)Ibid., p. 131.
Footnote 86: (return)Ibid.
Footnote 87: (return)This identity was first pointed out by Pierre de Vaissière in his recentbook: "Saint Domingue (1629-1789). La societé et la vie créoles sousl'ancien régime," Paris, 1909, p. 7.
Footnote 88: (return)C.S.P. Colon., 1574-1660, pp. 131-33.
Footnote 89: (return)Ibid., pp. 174, 175.
Footnote 90: (return)This was probably the same man as the "Don Juan de Morfa Geraldino"who was admiral of the fleet which attacked Tortuga in 1654. Cf. Duro,op. cit., v. p. 35.
Footnote 91: (return)In 1642 Rui Fernandez de Fuemayor was governor and captain-generalof the province of Venezuela. Cf. Doro, op. cit., iv. p. 341; note 2.
Footnote 92: (return)Brit. Mus., Add. MSS., 13,977, f. 505. According to the minutes ofthe Providence Company, a certain Mr. Perry, newly arrived from Association,gave information on 19th March 1635 that the island had been surprised bythe Spaniards (C.S.P. Colon., 1574-1660, p. 200). This news was confirmedby a Mrs. Filby at another meeting of the company on 10th April, when Capt.Wormeley, "by reason of his cowardice and negligence in losing the island,"was formally deprived of his office as governor and banished from the colony(ibid., p. 201).
Footnote 93: (return)Brit. Mus., Add. MSS., 13,977, pp. 222-23.
Footnote 94: (return)Ibid., pp. 226-27, 235.
Footnote 95: (return)Ibid., pp. 226, 233, 235-37, 244.
Footnote 96: (return)Charlevoix: Histoire de. ... Saint Domingue, liv. vii. pp. 9-10.The story is repeated by Duro (op. cit., v. p. 34), who says that the Spaniardswere led by "el general D. Carlos Ibarra."
Footnote 97: (return)Charlevoix, op. cit., liv. vii. p. 10; Bibl.Nat. Nouv. Acq., 9334, p. 48 ff.
Footnote 98: (return)Charlevoix, op. cit., liv. vii. pp. 10-12;Vaissière., op. cit., Appendix I ("Mémoire envoyé aux seigneursde la Compagnie des Isles de l'Amérique par M. de Poincy, le 15 Novembre1640").
According to the records of the Providence Company, Tortuga in 1640had 300 inhabitants. A Captain Fload, who had been governor, was then inLondon to clear himself of charges preferred against him by the planters,while a Captain James was exercising authority as "President" in the island.(C.S.P. Colon., 1574-1660. pp. 313, 314.) Fload was probably the "Englishcaptain" referred to in de Poincy's memoir. His oppressive rule seems tohave been felt as well by the English as by the French.
Footnote 99: (return)Dutertre: Histoire générale des Antilles, tom. i. p. 171.
Footnote 100: (return)Charlevoix: op. cit., liv. vii. pp. 12-13.
Footnote 101: (return)In this monograph, by "buccaneers" are always meant the corsairs andfilibusters, and not the cattle and hog killers of Hispaniola and Tortuga.
Footnote 102: (return)Labat: Nouveau voyage aux isles de l'Amerique, ed. 1742, tom. vii.p. 233.
Footnote 103: (return)Le Pers, printed in Margry, op. cit.
Footnote 104: (return)Le Pers, printed in Margry, op. cit.
Footnote 105: (return)Dampier writes that "Privateers are not obliged to any ship, but free togo ashore where they please, or to go into any other ship that will entertainthem, only paying for their provision." (Edition 1906, i. p. 61).
Footnote 106: (return)Labat, op. cit., tom. i. ch. 9.
Footnote 107: (return)Labat, op. cit., tom. vii. ch. 17.
Footnote 108: (return)Ibid., tom. ii. ch. 17.
Footnote 109: (return)Gibbs: British Honduras, p. 25.
Footnote 110: (return)A Spaniard, writing from S. Domingo in 1635, complains of an Englishbuccaneer settlement at Samana (on the north coast of Hispaniola, near theMona Passage), where they grew tobacco, and preyed on the ships sailingfrom Cartagena and S. Domingo for Spain. (Add. MSS., 13,977, f. 508.)
Footnote 111: (return)A piece of eight was worth in Jamaica from 4s. 6d. to 5s.
Footnote 112: (return) Exquemelin, ed. 1684, Part I. pp. 21-22.
Footnote 113: (return) Dutertre, op. cit., tom. i. ch. vi.
Footnote 114: (return) Charlevoix, op. cit., liv. vii. p. 16.
Footnote 115: (return)Charlevoix, op. cit., liv. vii. pp. 17-18.
Footnote 116: (return)According to a Spanish MS., there were in Tortuga in 1653 700 Frenchinhabitants, more than 200 negroes, and 250 Indians with their wives andchildren. The negroes and Indians were all slaves; the former seized on thecoasts of Havana and Cartagena, the latter brought over from Yucatan. Inthe harbour the platform had fourteen cannon, and in the fort above wereforty-six cannon, many of them of bronze (Add. MSS., 13,992, f. 499 ff.).The report of the amount of ordnance is doubtless an exaggeration.
Footnote 117: (return)Add. MSS., 13,992, f. 499.
Footnote 118: (return)

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