Privatirs and corsairs of the island of Jamaica

Corsairs and privateers (privateers) of the island of Jamaica in the 17th century were known in the West Indies no less than the filibusters of Tortuga. And the most famous of the Jamaican Port Royal privatists, Henry Morgan, became a living personification of that era. Today we will begin the story of Jamaica and the dashing filibusters of Port Royal.

Privatirs and corsairs of the island of Jamaica

Privatir with a musket, painted tin figurine, 1720



Jamaica Island: History and Geography


The name of the island of Jamaica originates from the distorted Native American word "Haimaka" (Xaymaca), which can be translated as "land of springs" (or "sources"). There really are a lot of small rivers - near 120, the longest of them, Rio Grande, has a length of more than 100 km, and along the Black River small vessels can rise up to a distance of 48 km.


Black River, Jamaica


For the Spanish ships crossing the Atlantic Ocean, such an abundance of water resources turned out to be very useful, Jamaica became for them an important base on the way to Central America and vice versa.


Spanish ships, medieval engraving


This island was discovered by Christopher Columbus 5 on May 1494, during his second voyage to the shores of America.

In 1503-1504 (fourth trip) Columbus again found himself in Jamaica, this time forcedly, because he had to put his storm-tormented ships aground near this island. To improve the supply of the crews of his ships, he acted as a great magician, able to "extinguish the moon" (lunar eclipse 29 February 1504 g.).


Christopher Columbus and the lunar eclipse of 1504, engraving


On this island, Columbus spent a whole year surviving the riot of part of the team, led by the brothers Francisco and Diego Porras, who accused him of not making enough efforts to return to his homeland.


The battle in Jamaica between Christopher Columbus and Francisco Porras



Only on 28 of June 1504 from the island of Hispaniola two Spanish ships came for them.

Sometimes you hear that Columbus received the title of "Marquis of Jamaica", but this is not true. This title (as well as the title of “Duke of Veragua”) was granted in 1536 to the navigator’s grandson - for refusing to claim the land opened by his grandfather (and, accordingly, from income from it).

Jamaica belongs to the group of the Greater Antilles, being the third largest, second only to Cuba and Haiti. One of the Spanish settlers wrote about Jamaica:
“This is a magical, fertile island, similar to me, either a garden or a treasury. There are many better lands that we have not seen elsewhere in India; it is replete with cattle, cassava and other ... fruits of various kinds. We did not find a more pleasant and healthy place in India. ”


The island is stretched from west to east (length - 225 km), its width ranges from 25 to 82 km, and the area is 10991 km². The population of this country is currently more than 2-x million 800 thousand people.


Jamaica Map



Jamaica, medieval map


To the coast of Panama, where the loading of the Silver Fleets was carried out, from Jamaica all 180 sea lees (999,9 km) - Hispaniola and Tortuga were further.


Jamaica on a map of the Caribbean


The northern coast of Jamaica is rocky, with a narrow strip of beaches in the central part. On the southern, more rugged, there are many bays, the best of which is Kingston Harbor (in the southeast of the island).


Antique Map of Kingston Harbor and Port Royal Harbor


It is closed from the ocean waves by the sandy scythe Palisadouz, whose length is 13 km. It is here that Kingston is located - the capital of Jamaica, here, a little to the south, the pirate city of Port Royal was previously located.


Kingston, 1891



Modern Kingston, aerial view


Currently, Jamaica is divided into three counties: Cornwall, Middlesex and Surrey, their names remind of the centuries-old domination of the British.

The first European settlement in Jamaica (New Seville) appeared in the 1509 year. On the island, the Spaniards met with the friendly tribes of the Taino Indians (“good, peaceful” - apparently, compared to the Caribbean Indians) from the Arawak group. By the beginning of the XVII century, these Indians almost did not remain on the island due to diseases brought by immigrants and difficult working conditions on sugar plantations (currently the number of Taino Indians in Jamaica is about 1000 people).


Modern Descendants of the Taino Indians, Jamaica


To work on plantations already from 1513, the Spaniards began to import black slaves from Africa to Jamaica. As a result of such a “migration policy”, the population of Jamaica currently consists of more than 77 percent of blacks and about 17 percent of them are mulattos. Indians (2,12%), Caucasians (1,29%), Chinese (0,99), Syrians (0,08%) also live on the island.


Sugarcane plantation, Jamaica, 1891. Working conditions at the end of the 19th century did not change much compared to the 17th century.


The conquest of Jamaica by the British


In 1654, Oliver Cromwell decided what to do with the warships that had freed up after the end of the war with the Netherlands. It was a pity to disarm them, to pay the crews a salary "just like that" - even more so. And so it was decided to use them for the war with Spain in the West Indies: the victory promised great benefits to English merchants trading with the New World, and the capture of new territories made it possible to resettle “so many people from New England, Virginia, Barbados, islands Somers or from Europe, as much as we need. ”

The reason for the seizure of Spanish possessions was the attack on the English colonists of the island of St. Christopher (1629 g.), Tortuga (which was then under the control of the British - 1638 g.) And Santa Cruz (1640 g.).

In early August 1654, Cromwell handed over a note to the Ambassador of Spain, which contained obviously unenforceable and even provocative demands to ensure the religious freedom of English subjects in lands controlled by Spanish kings and to give English merchants the right to free trade in them.

The ambassador stated that “demanding this is the same as requiring my master to give both eyes!”

Now Cromwell’s hands were untied, and a squadron of 18 warships and 20 transport ships was sent to the West Indies with the order to seize the island of Hispaniola for Britain. In total, the ships housed 352 guns, 1145 sailors, 1830 soldiers and 38 horses. Later, from three to four thousand volunteers were added to them, recruited on the British-owned islands of Montserrat, Nevis and St. Christopher. This squadron started “making money” on the island of Barbados, in the harbor of which the British captured either 14 or 15 Dutch merchant ships, the captains of which were declared smugglers.

The governor of Hispaniola, Count Penalba, had only 600 or 700 soldiers to defend the island, who were helped by local colonists and buccaneers who did not expect anything good from the British. Despite the clear superiority of forces, the British expeditionary force did not succeed here, having lost about 400 soldiers in battle and until 500, who died from dysentery.

In order not to return home “empty-handed”, on May 19 on 1655 the British attacked Jamaica. On this island their actions were successful, on 27 of May the Spaniards capitulated. Cromwell, however, was unsatisfied with the result, as a result of which Admiral William Penn and General Robert Wenables, who headed the expedition, were arrested and returned to the Tower after returning to London.

Time has shown that Jamaica is a very valuable acquisition; this colony was one of the most successful in the British Empire. The end of the era of privatists and filibusters was relatively painless for Jamaica. In colonial times, its economy, based on the export of sugar, rum, and then coffee, tropical fruits (mainly bananas), then bauxite, was quite successful. Jamaica even became the first country in the New World where a railway was built. Slavery on this island was abolished earlier than in the USA (in 1834) - not because of the special love of the British colonialists for freedom and democracy, of course: neglected blacks constantly rebelled, disrupting the supply of sugar and rum, and the British came to to the conclusion that there will be fewer problems with civilian workers. And the planters were now spared from the worries regarding the maintenance of disabled slaves.

The Spaniards tried twice to conquer the island. With his loss, they reconciled only in 1670, when the Madrid Peace Treaty was concluded, according to which Jamaica and the Cayman Islands passed under British jurisdiction.

On 6 of August 1962 of the year, Jamaica declared its independence, while remaining part of the British Commonwealth of Nations, that is, the head of this state, as before, are the monarchs of Great Britain - a country in which there is still no document that could be called a constitution . And there is an opinion that the same dear old lady Elizabeth II is by no means a “fairy-tale” or decorative queen, and the governors-general of the British Dominions are not “wedding” generals at all.


The modern emblem of Jamaica: a man and a woman from the Taino tribe hold a shield with the cross of St. George (taken from the old English flag), above which is the royal helmet, characteristic of the coats of arms of the former British colonies. On the tape, the motto in English: "Of the many - a single people"


But back to the XVII century.

The British conquest resulted in the influx of adventurers and poor people into Jamaica, mainly from Ireland and Scotland. Due to its advantageous geographical position, the island turned out to be extremely attractive to English privatists (privateers), they especially liked the small city of Puerto de Caguaya, founded by the Spaniards in 1518. The British began to call it Passage Fort, and the harbor was named Port Caguey. The new town, which in June 1657 arose at the tip of the Palisadous Spit, was called Point Caguey. But this city will receive worldwide fame under the name Port Royal - such a name will appear in it at the beginning of the 60 of the XVII century.


Port Royal, engraving of the 17th century



Port Royal Plan


Vice Admiral Hudson and Commodore Mings, their campaigns against the Spaniards


The Spanish attack was not the first to attack Jamaica, but vice-admiral William Hudson based on this island, who raided the city of Santa Marta (in present-day Colombia) in 1655 and Commodore Mings led expeditions to the shores of Mexico and Venezuela in 1658-XNUM.

Hudson's expedition was rather unsuccessful: his prey was guns, gunpowder, kernels, hides, salt and meat, which, according to one of the officers of that squadron, could not recoup "gunpowder and bullets that were used up in this business."

But the raids of Mings, whose bold actions and fortune could be envied even by Olone and Morgan, were very successful. In 1658, his ships attacked and burned the port of Tolu, as well as the city of Santa Marta in its vicinity (New Granada). Three Spanish ships were captured, which Mings favorably sold to the corsair captains (Laurence Prince, Robert Searle and John Morris). And at the beginning of 1659, Mings, at the head of a squadron of three ships, reappeared off the coast of Venezuela, sacking Cumana, Puerto Cabello and Coro. In Koro, the Commodore got a fabulous “prize” - an 22 box with silver (400 pounds each). An 1 Spanish ship was also burned and 2 Dutch (under the Spanish flag) were captured, one of which had a cargo of cocoa. The total production cost of 1659 was 500 000 pesos (about 250 000 pounds). In 1662, Commodore Mings led the combined squadron of British warships and corsairs of Port Royal and Tortuga, which attacked the city of Santiago de Cuba (this campaign is described in the article Tortuga Caribbean Filibusters Paradise).

Subsequently, the “worries” of seizing the Spanish ships and robbing the coasts fell on the shoulders of the Port Royal privatizers.

The rivalry of Port Royal and Tortuga


Port Royal and Tortuga fiercely competed for the right to be the most “hospitable” base visited by privateers and corsairs: each ship entering their harbor brought substantial revenue to both the state treasury and local “businessmen” from the dealers of the loot, owners of taverns, and gambling and brothels to planters and buccaneers, profitably selling various supplies to filibusters.

In 1664, the former governor of Jamaica, Charles Littleton, in London, presented to the Lord Chancellor of England his thoughts on the development of privatism on this island. Among other things, he pointed out that "privatization feeds a large number of sailors, from whom the island receives protection without the participation of the naval forces of the kingdom." If the private owners were forbidden to base in the ports of Jamaica, Littleton pointed out, they would not return to peaceful life, but would go to other islands, “prize goods” would cease to arrive in Port Royal, and then many merchants would leave Jamaica, which would cause a significant increase in prices.

Another governor of the island, Sir Thomas Modiford, after the abolition of the temporary restrictions of privatism in 1666, joyfully informed Lord Arlington:
“Your Grace is well aware of the great antipathy that I had for the privates during my stay in Barbados, but after I accepted His Majesty's decrees for the strictest execution, I found my mistake in view of the decline of forts and the abundance of this place ...
When I saw the deplorable condition of the flotillas that had returned from St. Eustatius, the ships were broken and people went to the coast of Cuba in order to earn a living, and were thus completely alienated from us. Many remained on the Windward Islands, not having enough money to pay off their obligations on Tortuga and among the French buccaneers ...
When, around the beginning of March, I discovered that the guard of Port Royal, which under the command of Colonel Thomas Morgan (not the pirate Henry) numbered 600 people, was reduced to 138, I gathered a Council to decide how to strengthen this very important city ... everyone agreed, that the only way to fill Port Royal with people is to welcome letters of marque against the Spaniards. Your Excellency cannot even imagine what general changes have occurred here with people and in business, ships are being repaired, a large influx of artisans and workers who are traveling to Port Royal, many are returning, many debtors are released from prison, and ships are sailing from Curacao ", who did not dare to enter because of fear of creditors, came and equipped again."


Tortuga Governor Bertrand d'Ogeron (which was described in a previous article, The Golden Age of Tortuga Island), trying to make his island more attractive for privateers of all stripes, he brought ship carpenters and caulkers from France so that they could "repair and ship ships that come to Tortuga." In his letter to Kolbert of 20 on September 1666, it says:
“We must make sure ... to further increase the number of our filibusters.
Thousands to one thousand two hundred people, two thirds of which must be able to carry weapon. “The remaining third should be children of 13, 14 and 15 years, some of which would be distributed among the colonists, and the other part would take up filibuster.”


In the struggle for corsairs and privateers, the British even considered the possibility of a military expedition against Tortuga and the Coast of Saint-Domeng. However, in December 1666 it was decided that the attack on Tortuga
“It will have very bad consequences, for the assassination attempts (on French settlements) will accustom them, desperately needing guys, to revenge on our seaside plantations ... it is advisable to give commanders of warships such moderate instructions: to take on their ships all the Buccaneers of the Protestant religion and others who will swear loyalty to the king. "


Forced collaboration of Port Royal and Tortuga


Meanwhile, the measures taken by the Spanish government to accompany their caravans and strengthen the settlements of the New World pushed the corsairs and privateers of Tortuga and Port Royal to cooperate and coordinate actions: the time of the loners was gone, now “big squadrons for big things” were required. The authorities of the competing islands also understood this.

In the fall of 1666 (at that time there was a war between France and England), the English captain Willem, who visited Tortuga, spoke with the Governor d'Ogeron
"Tried his best to keep the peace between Tortuga and Jamaica, saying that the people on that island would force the general to do this, even if he would resist."


Three days after that, French privateer Jean Picard (better known as Captain Champagne) returned to Tortuga, who brought with him an English ship he had captured.


Jean Picard (Captain Champagne)


Bertrand d'Ogeron bought this ship from Picard, and allowed Captain Willem to pick it up in Jamaica to return it to its rightful owners.

Governor Thomas Modiford, in response, freed eight captured French filibusters.

“The ship that delivered them was loaded with wine and many black women, which we really needed,”

- reports d'Ogeron.

Why did he need these black women so much, d'Ogeron is silent. Perhaps some of them became "priestesses of love" in the first brothel of Tortuga (opened in 1667). But most of them were probably used as servants - after all, darn shirts and washed the pants of sailors who came to the island of corsair and privateer ships, too, someone needed.

In 1667, a peace treaty was concluded between England and Spain, but the British filibusters continued their attacks on Spanish ships and coasts. At the end of 1671, Mr. Francis Wiesbourne and his French counterpart from Tortuga Island Dumangl (a participant in Morgan’s famous campaign to Panama), acting without a privateer certificate, robbed two Spanish villages on the northern coast of Cuba. They were captured like pirates by Colonel William Beaston, the commander of the Royal Frigate, the Essistance, and taken to Port Royal. In March 1672, captain's friends were sentenced to death, but the Jamaican authorities did not dare to execute this sentence, fearing revenge from the Tortuga filibusters. As a result, the pirates were released and continued their fishing at sea. Hardly experiencing the impossibility of issuing privatian certificates to “their” corsairs, Jamaican officials enviously watched as “the French from Tortuga do with the prize everything that they manage to capture.” In November 1672, Deputy Governor Thomas Lynch sadly complained that "now in India there is not a single English pirate, not counting some sailing on French ships" (hinting that some of the English filibusters have gone to Tortuga and Saint-Domeng).

However, close "business ties" did not prevent privateers from attacking ships of other countries (not only Spain), if there was such an opportunity. During the Anglo-Dutch war of 1667, privateers of the Netherlands, who willingly and fruitfully collaborated with both the British and the French, began to actively attack British merchant ships in the Caribbean.

"Pirate Babylon"


Back to Port Royal. The base of corsairs and privateers in Jamaica developed rapidly, quickly reaching the level of the French Tortuga, and soon surpassing it. Port Royal Harbor was larger than Basseter Bay and more convenient. In its port, usually from 15 to 20 ships were usually located at the same time, and the depth of the sea reached 9 meters, which made it possible to receive even the largest vessels. In 1660, there were 200 houses in Port Royal, in 1664 - 400, in 1668 - 800 buildings, which, according to contemporaries, were "as expensive as if they stood on the good shopping streets of London." At its peak, there were approximately 2000 wooden and stone buildings in the city, some of which were four-story buildings. Privately owned companies included the 4 market (one of them is slave), banks and representative offices of trading companies, numerous storage facilities, several churches, a synagogue, more than a hundred taverns, numerous brothels and even a menagerie.

The congestion of the Port Royal port is eloquently testified by the following fact: in 1688, it received 213 ships, and all ports of the American coast of New England - 226. In 1692, the number of inhabitants of Port Royal reached 7 thousand people.


Port Royal, drawing


One of his contemporaries described this city as follows:
“The taverns are chock full of gold and silver goblets, sparkling with precious stones stolen from cathedrals. Ordinary sailors with heavy gold earrings with precious stones play on gold coins, the value of which no one is interested in. Any of the buildings here is a treasury. ”


It is not surprising that contemporaries considered Port Royal to be “pirate Babylon” and “the most sinful city in the entire Christian world.”

During its heyday, located at the western end of the spit Palisados ​​Port Royal, had 5 forts, the main of which was called "Charles".


Fort Charles, Jamaica, a suburb of Kingston


In 1779, the commandant of this fort was Captain I rank (future admiral) Horatio Nelson.



Other forts bore the names Walker, Rupert, James, and Carlisle.


Port royal


Corsairs and privates of Jamaica


Great fame among the English pirates of that time was Lewis Scott (Lewis Scot), about whom Alexander Exkemelin wrote:
“Over time, the Spaniards became convinced that there was no escape from the pirates at sea, and began to swim much less frequently. But this did not help them either. Not meeting the ships, the pirates began to gather companies and rob coastal cities and settlements. The first such pirate to engage in land robbery was Lewis the Scot. He attacked Campeche, sacked it and burned it to the ground. ”


In 1665, in the official documents, the name of the famous corsair Henry Morgan first appears: together with captains David Maarten, Jacob Fakman, John Morris (who will fight the French corsair Champagne and lose the battle in a year - see article The Golden Age of Tortuga Island) and Freeman, he goes on a hike to the coast of Mexico and Central America. During this expedition, the cities of Trujillo and Grand Granada were looted. Upon return, it turned out that the captain’s testimonies of these captains were no longer valid in connection with the conclusion of peace between Spain and Britain, but the Governor of Jamaica Modiford did not punish them.

In 1668, captains John Davis and Robert Searle (who, as we recall, bought their ship from Commodore Mings) led a filibuster squadron (not private) from 8 ships. They intended to intercept some Spanish vessels off the coast of Cuba, but, not finding them, headed for Florida, where they captured the city of San Augustin de la Florida. The corsairs were mined by 138 grades of silver, 760 yards of canvas, 25 pounds of wax candles, decorations of the parish church and the chapel of the Franciscan convent, worth 2066 pesos. In addition, they took hostages for whom a ransom was paid, and black slaves and mestizos, whom they hoped to sell in Jamaica. Since Robert Searle acted without a privateer certificate, he was arrested in Jamaica but released a few months later and participated in Morgan’s campaign in Panama.

The unofficial title of leader of the Brethren of the Coast (Coastal Brotherhood) for some time wore Edward Mansvelt (Mansfield), who was either an Englishman or a Dutchman from Curacao.


Edward Mansvelt


For the first time, his name appears in historical sources in 1665, when he, at the head of 200 filibusters, attacked the Cuban coast, looting several villages. In 1666, we see him as the squadron commander of the 10-15 small ships. Alexander Exkvemelin claims that in January of this year he attacked Granada, other sources do not mention this campaign. But, given the good faith of this author, it can be assumed that this expedition, nevertheless, took place. In April 1666, the Mansvelt privates attacked the island of St. Catherine and the island of Providence (St. Catalina). At the latter, he tried to gain a foothold, making it a new base of corsairs and privatists, but, without receiving reinforcements from the governor of Jamaica, was forced to leave him. The circumstances of the death of this corsair are not clear. Exvemeline claims that he was captured during another raid on Cuba and was executed by the Spaniards. Others speak of death as a result of some kind of illness, or even poisoning. His successor was the famous Henry Morgan, who received the nickname "Cruel" from his contemporaries. It was he who, of course, became the most successful privateer and pirate of Jamaica, a kind of "brand" of this island.


Laird Cregar as Henry Morgan, 1942


The life and fate of Henry Morgan will be discussed in the next article.

To be continued ...
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