Article

Piracy

Kris Lane

in Latin American Studies

ISBN: 9780199766581
Published online October 2011 | | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/obo/9780199766581-0018
Piracy

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From early colonization in the 1490s to independence in the 1820s, piracy, or larceny at or by descent from the sea, plagued Latin America. Although some native peoples such as the Caribs raided by sea and even held hostages for ransom, most pirates in colonial Latin America were northern Europeans hoping to poach on Spanish and Portuguese gains—mainly gold and silver on its way to Europe or Asia—but also enslaved Africans, sugar, alcohol, and tobacco. French pirates were first to raid Iberian American ships and towns, from Columbus’s first voyages to the late 1560s. Next came English corsairs in the era of Queen Elizabeth I (1558–1604), then Dutch raiders between the 1590s and about 1650. Sovereigns or state officials sponsored many of these pillagers, and most set out from European ports. The next wave of piracy, led by multinational marauders between about 1650 and 1700, was different. This was the heyday of the Caribbean buccaneers, motley crews of out-of-work soldiers and ex-indentured servants who used bases in Jamaica, St. Domingue, and elsewhere to launch their raids and launder their gains. Welshman Henry Morgan became a celebrity after leading an amphibious raid on Panama City in 1670–1671, an act that won him knighthood and the lieutenant governorship of Jamaica, but the international tide soon turned against the pirates. Spanish, English, and French repression in the 1680s drove many buccaneers into the eastern Pacific, where they raided until the early 1690s. The 1702–1713 War of the Spanish Succession absorbed many buccaneers, but survivors returned to lead another great wave of pillage lasting from 1713 to 1730. This Golden Age of piracy produced Blackbeard and Bartholomew Roberts, plus legendary female pirates Ann Bonny and Mary Read. “Black Bart” stole Brazilian gold, but much piracy in this period damaged English shipping, provoking harsh reprisals by the British admiralty courts and fledgling Royal Navy. A century of privateering, or state-sponsored private raids in wartime, followed, and some of the biggest prizes of the colonial period were taken by British privateers, mostly in the Pacific. Uninhibited piracy resurged in the Americas during the Napoleonic Wars and independence struggles. By this time the British navy used antipiracy laws to suppress the transatlantic slave trade. Scholars of colonial Latin America have been interested in piracy for many years, and some of the most balanced studies of the topic have been written by Latin American historians or others capable of comparing the Spanish and Portuguese documentary records with those produced by foreign marauders.

Article.  4343 words. 

Subjects: Regional and Area Studies ; History of the Americas

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