Read an Excerpt
Buccaneers and Pirates
By Frank R. Stockton, George Varian, B. West Clinedinst
Dover Publications, Inc.Copyright © 2014 Dover Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved.
The Bold Buccaneers
WHEN I was a boy I strongly desired to be a pirate, and the reason for this was the absolute independence of that sort of life. Restrictions of all sorts had become onerous to me, and in my reading of the adventures of the bold sea-rovers of the main, I had unconsciously selected those portions of a pirate's life which were attractive to me, and had totally disregarded all the rest.
In fact, I had a great desire to become what might be called a marine Robin Hood. I would take from the rich and give to the poor; I would run my long, low, black craft by, the side of the merchantman, and when I had loaded my vessel with the rich stuffs and golden ingots which composed her cargo, I would sail away to some poor village, and make its inhabitants prosperous and happy for the rest of their lives by a judicious distribution of my booty.
I would always be as free as a sea-bird. My men would be devoted to me, and my word would be their law. I would decide for myself whether this or that proceeding would be proper, generous, and worthy of my unlimited power; when tired of sailing, I would retire to my island, — the position of which, in a beautiful semi-tropic ocean, would be known only to myself and to my crew, — and there I would pass happy days in the company of my books, my works of art, and all the various treasures I had taken from the mercenary vessels which I had overhauled.
Such was my notion of a pirate's life. I would kill nobody; the very sight of my black flag would be sufficient to put an end to all thought of resistance on the part of my victims, who would no more think of fighting me, than a fat bishop would have thought of lifting his hand against Robin Hood and his merry men; and I truly believe that I expected my conscience to have a great deal more to do in the way of approval of my actions, than it had found necessary in the course of my ordinary school-boy life.
I mention these early impressions because I have a notion that a great many people — and not only young people — have an idea of piracy not altogether different from that of my boyhood. They know that pirates are wicked men, that, in fact, they are sea-robbers or maritime murderers, but their bold and adventurous method of life, their bravery, daring, and the exciting character of their expeditions, give them something of the same charm and interest which belong to the robber knights of the middle ages. The one mounts his mailed steed and clanks his long sword against his iron stirrup, riding forth into the world with a feeling that he can do anything that pleases him, if he finds himself strong enough. The other springs into his rakish craft, spreads his sails to the wind, and dashes over the sparkling main with a feeling that he can do anything he pleases, provided he be strong enough.
The first pirates who made themselves known in American waters were the famous buccaneers; these began their career in a very commonplace and unobjectionable manner, and the name by which they were known had originally no piratical significance. It was derived from the French word boucanier, signifying "a drier of beef."
Some of the West India islands, especially San Domingo, were almost overrun with wild cattle of various kinds, and this was owing to the fact that the Spaniards had killed off nearly all the natives, and so had left the interior of the islands to the herds of cattle which had increased rapidly. There were a few settlements on the seacoast, but the Spaniards did not allow the inhabitants of these to trade with any nation but their own, and consequently the people were badly supplied with the necessaries of life.
But the trading vessels which sailed from Europe to that part of the Caribbean Sea were manned by bold and daring sailors, and when they knew that San Domingo contained an abundance of beef cattle, they did not hesitate to stop at the little seaports to replenish their stores. The natives of the island were skilled in the art of preparing beef by smoking and drying it, — very much in the same way in which our Indians prepare "jerked meat" for winter use.
But so many vessels came to San Domingo for beef that there were not enough people on the island to do all the hunting and drying that was necessary, so these trading vessels frequently anchored in some quiet cove, and the crews went on shore and devoted themselves to securing a cargo of beef, — not only enough for their own use, but for trading purposes; thus they became known as "beef-driers," or buccaneers.
When the Spaniards heard of this new industry which had arisen within the limits of their possessions, they pursued the vessels of the buccaneers wherever they were seen, and relentlessly destroyed them and their crews. But there were not enough Spanish vessels to put down the trade in dried beef; more European vessels — generally English and French — stopped at San Domingo ; more bands of hunting sailors made their way into the interior. When these daring fellows knew that the Spaniards were determined to break up their trade, they became more determined that it should not be broken up, and they armed themselves and their vessels so that they might be able to make a defence against the Spanish men-of-war.
Thus gradually and almost imperceptibly a state of maritime warfare grew up in the waters of the West Indies between Spain and the beef-traders of other nations; and from being obliged to fight, the buccaneers became glad to fight, provided that it was Spain they fought. True to her policy of despotism and cruelty when dealing with her American possessions, Spain waged a bitter and bloody war against the buccaneers who dared to interfere with the commercial relations between herself and her West India colonies, and in return, the buccaneers were just as bitter and savage in their warfare against Spain. From defending themselves against Spanish attacks, they began to attack Spaniards whenever there was any chance of success, at first only upon the sea, but afterwards on land. The cruelty and ferocity of Spanish rule had brought them into existence, and it was against Spain and her possessions that the cruelty and ferocity which she had taught them were now directed.
When the buccaneers had begun to understand each other and to effect organizations among themselves, they adopted a general name, — "The Brethren of the Coast." The outside world, especially the Spanish world, called them pirates, sea-robbers, buccaneers, — any title which would express their lawless character, but in their own denomination of themselves they expressed only their fraternal relations; and for the greater part of their career, they truly stood by each other like brothers.CHAPTER 2
Some Masters in Piracy
FROM the very earliest days of history there have been pirates, and it is, therefore, not at all remarkable that, in the early days of the history of this continent, sea-robbers should have made themselves prominent; but the buccaneers of America differed in many ways from those pirates with whom the history of the old world has made us acquainted.
It was very seldom that an armed vessel set out from an European port for the express purpose of sea-robbery in American waters. At first nearly all the noted buccaneers were traders. But the circumstances which surrounded them in the new world made of them pirates whose evil deeds have never been surpassed in any part of the globe.
These unusual circumstances and amazing temptations do not furnish an excuse for the exceptionally wicked careers of the early American pirates; but we are bound to remember these causes or we could not understand the records of the settlement of the West Indies. The buccaneers were fierce and reckless fellows who pursued their daring occupation because it was profitable, because they had learned to like it, and because it enabled them to wreak a certain amount of vengeance upon the common enemy. But we must not assume that they inaugurated the piratical conquests and warfare which existed so long upon our eastern seacoasts.
Before the buccaneers began their careers, there had been great masters of piracy who had opened their schools in the Caribbean Sea; and in order that the condition of affairs in this country during parts of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries may be clearly understood, we will consider some of the very earliest noted pirates of the West Indies.
When we begin a judicial inquiry into the condition of our fellow-beings, we should try to be as courteous as we can, but we must be just; consequently a man's fame and position must not turn us aside, when we are acting as historical investigators.
Therefore, we shall be bold and speak the truth, and although we shall take off our hats and bow very respectfully, we must still assert that Christopher Columbus was the first who practised piracy in American waters.
When he sailed with his three little ships to discover unknown lands, he was an accredited explorer for the court of Spain, and was bravely sailing forth with an honest purpose, and with the same regard for law and justice as is possessed by any explorer of the present day. But when he discovered some unknown lands, rich in treasure and outside of all legal restrictions, the views and ideas of the great discoverer gradually changed. Being now beyond the boundaries of civilization, he also placed himself beyond the boundaries of civilized law. Robbery, murder, and the destruction of property, by the commanders of naval expeditions, who have no warrant or commission for their conduct, is the same as piracy, and when Columbus ceased to be a legalized explorer, and when, against the expressed wishes, and even the prohibitions, of the royal personages who had sent him out on this expedition, he began to devastate the countries he had discovered, and to enslave and exterminate their peaceable natives, then he became a master in piracy, from whom the buccaneers afterward learned many a valuable lesson.
It is not necessary for us to enter very deeply into the consideration of the policy of Columbus toward the people of the islands of the West Indies. His second voyage was nothing more than an expedition for the sake of plunder. He had discovered gold and other riches in the West Indies and he had found that the people who inhabited the islands were simple-hearted, inoffensive creatures, who did not know how to fight and who did not want to fight. Therefore, it was so easy to sail his ships into the harbors of defenceless islands, to subjugate the natives, and to take away the products of their mines and soil, that he commenced a veritable course of piracy.
The acquisition of gold and all sorts of plunder seemed to be the sole object of this Spanish expedition; natives were enslaved, and subjected to the greatest hardships, so that they died in great numbers. At one time three hundred of them were sent as slaves to Spain. A pack of bloodhounds, which Columbus had brought with him for the purpose, was used to hunt down the poor Indians when they endeavored to escape from the hands of the oppressors, and in every way the island of Hayti, the principal scene of the actions of Columbus, was treated as if its inhabitants had committed a dreadful crime by being in possession of the wealth which the Spaniards desired for themselves.
Queen Isabella was greatly opposed to these cruel and unjust proceedings. She sent back to their native land the slaves which Columbus had shipped to Spain, and she gave positive orders that no more of the inhabitants were to be enslaved, and that they were all to be treated with moderation and kindness. But the Atlantic is a wide ocean, and Columbus, far away from his royal patron, paid little attention to her wishes and commands; without going further into the history of this period, we will simply mention the fact that it was on account of his alleged atrocities that Columbus was superseded in his command, and sent back in chains to Spain.
There was another noted personage of the sixteenth century who played the part of pirate in the new world, and thereby set a most shining example to the buccaneers of those regions. This was no other than Sir Francis Drake, one of England's greatest naval commanders.
It is probable that Drake, when he started out in life, was a man of very law-abiding and orderly disposition, for he was appointed by Queen Elizabeth a naval chaplain, and, it is said, though there is some doubt about this, that he was subsequently vicar of a parish. But by nature he was a sailor, and nothing else, and after having made several voyages in which he showed himself a good fighter, as well as a good commander, he undertook, in 1572, an expedition against the Spanish settlements in the West Indies, for which he had no legal warrant whatever.
Spain was not at war with England, and when Drake sailed with four small ships into the port of the little town of Nombre de Dios in the middle of the night, the inhabitants of the town were as much astonished as the people of Perth Amboy would be if four armed vessels were to steam into Raritan Bay, and endeavor to take possession of the town. The peaceful Spanish townspeople were not at war with any civilized nation, and they could not understand why bands of armed men should invade their streets, enter the market-place, fire their calivers, or muskets, into the air, and then sound a trumpet loud enough to wake up everybody in the place. Just outside of the town the invaders had left a portion of their men, and when these heard the trumpet in the market-place, they also fired their guns; all this noise and hubbub so frightened the good people of the town, that many of them jumped from their beds, and without stopping to dress, fled away to the mountains. But all the citizens were not such cowards, and fourteen or fifteen of them armed themselves and went out to defend their town from the unknown invaders.
Beginners in any trade or profession, whether it be the playing of the piano, the painting of pictures, or the pursuit of piracy, are often timid and distrustful of themselves; so it happened on this occasion with Francis Drake and his men, who were merely amateur pirates, and showed very plainly that they did not yet understand their business.
When the fifteen Spanish citizens came into the market-place and found there the little body of armed Englishmen, they immediately fired upon them, not knowing or caring who they were. This brave resistance seems to have frightened Drake and his men almost as much as their trumpets and guns had frightened the citizens, and the English immediately retreated from the town. When they reached the place where they had left the rest of their party, they found that these had already run away, and taken to the boats. Consequently Drake and his brave men were obliged to take off some of their clothes and to wade out to the little ships. The Englishmen secured no booty whatever, and killed only one Spaniard, who was a man who had been looking out of a window to see what was the matter.
Whether or not Drake's conscience had anything to do with the bungling manner in which he made this first attempt at piracy, we cannot say, but he soon gave his conscience a holiday, and undertook some very successful robbing enterprises. He received information from some natives, that a train of mules was coming across the Isthmus of Panama loaded with gold and silver bullion, and guarded only by their drivers; for the merchants who owned all this treasure had no idea that there was any one in that part of the world who would commit a robbery upon them. But Drake and his men soon proved that they could hold up a train of mules as easily as some of the masked robbers in our western country hold up a train of cars. All the gold was taken, but the silver was too heavy for the amateur pirates to carry.
Two days after that, Drake and his men came to a place called "The House of Crosses," where they killed five or six peaceable merchants, but were greatly disappointed to find no gold, although the house was full of rich merchandise of various kinds. As his men had no means of carrying away heavy goods, he burned up the house and all its contents and went to his ships, and sailed away with the treasure he had already obtained.
Excerpted from Buccaneers and Pirates by Frank R. Stockton, George Varian, B. West Clinedinst. Copyright © 2014 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.