I have to admit, sometimes I consider myself somewhat a Pirate of the Caribbean. Or, at least I imagine what it must have been like to have been one. These daydreams usually come to fruition when I’m racked back on my favorite lounge chair on my deck, eyes gazing past the foothills of the El Yunque Rainforest, past the shoreline and continuing over the perpetual ocean that lies ahead. It felt like a good time to read up on some interesting tidbits on the real Pirates of the Caribbean and I thought I would share some of the booty with you…
The Jamaican town of Port Royal was once the pirate capital of the Caribbean. Several earthquakes since the 17th century knocked major portions of the city into the sea. Nassau, on the island of New Providence was an ideal hangout as the harbor waters were too shallow for large man-of-war ships, but were deep enough for the fast, shallow-draft vessels preferred by pirates and Tortuga, a tiny island off the northwest coast of Haiti, became one of the most notorious pirate settlements in the Caribbean when French and Spanish buccaneers set up shop in the mid-17th century.
After Christopher Columbus landed in the West Indies in 1492, Spain and its powerful navy established a dominating presence in the region. Vast riches in gold and silver were mined in the New World. It caught the attention of England, France and Holland all wanting a piece of the action. The aforementioned nations found it more advantageous and economically feasible to hire freelance or private sailors (privateers) to fight their battles, disrupt trade and harass the powerful Spanish navy without having to invest in their own fleets. The lure of wealth and the greed of man proved to be too much for many and turned many of these privateers into pirates.
One of the most notorious pirates of all time was Edward Teach, aka Blackbeard. An unusually large man, he struck terror into the hearts of his own crew, never mind those he attacked. Before battle, Teach would weave hemp into his long, black beard and light it. The sight of his smoking form standing on deck – brandishing a multitude of swords, knives and pistols – was enough to make many merchantmen surrender before any shots were fired. If they gave up without a fight, Blackbeard would confiscate their valuables and weapons and let them sail away without bloodshed. However, if the crew showed any resistance, he would either kill or maroon them, abandoning them on a deserted island.
Henry Morgan, a Welsh privateer, was famous for his exploits against the Spanish. He led his crew on many successful and profitable raids, including a spectacular attack on Panama City in 1670 that earned him a knighthood. A few months later, Morgan settled in Port Royal, Jamaica, as its deputy governor and became a rich sugar plantation owner. On the Bahamian island of Andros, the highest point on the island is called Morgan’s Bluff in tribute to the famous buccaneer. Although it is highly unlikely, some say Henry Morgan once hung a lantern there to lure a ship onto the reefs and plunder it after it wrecked.
John Rackham, who earned the nickname “Calico Jack” because of his taste for clothes made of brightly-colored Indian Calico cloth, was an up-and-coming pirate during the years when piracy was rampant in the Caribbean and Nassau was the capital of a pirate kingdom of sorts. He had been serving under renowned pirate Charles Vane in the early part of 1718 and had risen to the rank of quartermaster. When governor Woodes Rogers arrived in July of 1718 and offered royal pardons to pirates, Rackham refused, instead joining the die-hard pirates led by Vane. He shipped out with Vane and led a life of piracy in spite of the increasing pressure put on them by the new governor.
The Pirates of the Caribbean were an intimidating bunch, and sailing the Caribbean during their time was a dangerous endeavor. One of the best collections of Pirate information I have found is from Robert Ossain (pronounced Ocean). His website is https://www.thepirateking.com/ and if you are a pirate lover, you really should check it out. It has kept me entertained for hours on end.
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