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A collection of writings from 1860s to the present, chronicling the exploits of the pirate world.
The Atlantic Monthly | September 1862
eaceable voyagers in the West Indies were much astonished at their first sight of certain men, who might have been a new species of native, generated with slight advances upon the old stock by the principle of selection, or spontaneous growths of a soil well guanoed by ferocity. They sported the scarlet suit of the Carib, but of a dye less innocent, as if the fated islands imparted this color to the men who preyed upon them. A cotton shirt hung on their shoulders, and a pair of cotton drawers struggled vainly to cover their thighs: you had to look very closely to pronounce upon the material, it was so stained with blood and fat. Their bronzed faces and thick necks were hirsute, as if overgrown with moss, tangled or crispy. Their feet were tied up in the raw hides of hogs or beeves just slaughtered, from which they also frequently extemporized drawers, cut while reeking, and left to stiffen to the shape of the legs. A heavystocked musket, made at Dieppe or Nantes, with a barrel four and a half feet long, and carrying sixteen balls to the pound,1 lay over the shoulder, a calabash full of powder, with a wax stopper, was slung behind, and a belt of crocodile's skin, with four knives and a bayonet, went round the waist. These individuals, if the term is applicable to the phenomena in question, were Buccaneers.2
The Horrors of San Domingo
Chapter IV. The Buccaneers—Flibustiers—Tortuga—Settlement of the Western Part of San Domingo by the French
by John Weiss
The name is derived from the arrangements which the Caribs made to cook their prisoners of war. After being dismembered, their pieces were placed upon wooden gridirons, which were called in Carib, barbacoa. It will please our Southern brethren to recognize a congenial origin for their favorite barbecue. The place where these grilling hurdles were set up was called boucan, and the method of roasting and smoking, boucaner. The Buccaneers were men of many nations, who hunted the wild cattle, which had increased prodigiously from the original Spanish stock; after taking off the hide, they served the flesh as the Caribs served their captives. There appears to have been a division of employment among them; for some hunted beeves merely for the hide, and others hunted the wild hogs to salt and sell their flesh. But their habits and appearance were the same. The beef-hunters had many dogs, of the old mastiff-breed imported from Spain, to assist in running down their game, with one or two hounds in each pack, who were taught to announce and follow up a trail.
The origin of these men, called Buccaneers, can be traced to a few Norman-French who were driven out of St. Christophe, in 1630, by the Spaniards. This island was settled jointly, but by an accidental coincidence, by French and English, in 1625. They lived tranquilly together for five years: the hunting of Caribs, who disputed their title to the soil, being a bond of union between them which was stronger than national prejudice. But the Spanish power became jealous of this encroachment among the islands, which it affected to own by virtue of Papal dispensation. Though Spain did not care to occupy it, Cuba and the Main being too engrossing, she determined that no other power should do so. She therefore took advantage of disturbances which arose there, in consequence, the French writers affirm, of the perfidious ambition of Albion, and chased both parties out of the island. The French soon recovered possession of it, which they solely held in future; but many exiles never returned, preferring to woo Fortune in company with the French and English adventurers who swarmed in those seas, having withdrawn, for sufficient reasons, from civilized society before a graceful retreat became impossible. This medley of people settled at first upon the northern and western coasts of San Domingo,—the latter being as yet unoccupied. A few settlements of Spaniards upon the northern coast, which suffered from their national antipathies and had endeavored to root them out, were quickly broken up by them. The Dutch, of course, were friendly, and promised to supply them with necessaries in payment for hides, lard, and meat, boucané.
Their favorite haunt was the little island Tortuga,3 so named, some say, from its resemblance to a turtle afloat, and others, from the abundance of that "green and glutinous" delight of aldermen. It is only two or three leagues distant from the northern coast of San Domingo, off the mouth of Trois Rivières. Its northern side is inaccessible: a boat cannot find a nook or cove into which it may slip for landing or shelter. But there is one harbor upon the southern side, and the Buccaneers took possession of this, and gradually fortified it to make a place tenable against the anticipated assaults of the Spaniards. The soil was thin, but it nourished great trees which seemed to grow from the rocks; water was scarce; the bogs were numerous, smaller and more delicate than those of San Domingo; the sugar-cane flourished; and tobacco of superior quality could be raised; About five-and-twenty Spaniards held the harbor when these adventurers approached to take possession. There were, besides, a few other rovers like themselves, whom the new community adopted. The Spaniards made no resistance, and were suffered to retire.
There was cordial fellowship between the Flibustiers and Buccaneers, for they were all outlaws, without a country, with few national predilections,—men who could not live at home except at the risk of apprehension for vagrancy or crime,—men who ran away in search of adventure when the public ear was ringing with the marvels and riches of the Indies, and when a multitude of sins could be covered by judicious preying. The Spaniards were the victims of this floating and roving St. Giles of the seventeenth century. If England or France went to war with Spain, these freebooters obtained commissions, and their pillaging grew honorable; but it did not subside with the conclusion of a peace. They followed their own policy of lust and avarice, over regions too far from the main history of the times to be controlled.
The word Flibustier is derived from the Dutch Vlieboot, fly-boat, swift boat, a kind of small craft whose sailing qualities were superior to those of the other vessels then in vogue. It is possible that the English made freebooter4; out of the French adaptation. The fly-boat was originally only a long, light pinnace5 or cutter with oars, fitted also to carry sail; we often find the word used by the French writers to designate vessels which brought important intelligence. They were favorite craft with the Flibustiers, not from their swiftness alone, but from their ease of management, and capacity to run up the creeks and river-openings, and to lie concealed. From these they boarded the larger vessels, to plunder or to use them for prolonged freebooting expeditions. The Flibustier, then, was a seahunter or pirate, as the Buccaneer was a land-hunter, but ready also for pillaging expeditions, in which they coöperated. And their pursuits were interchangeable: the Buccaneer sometimes went to sea, and the Flibustier, in times of marine scarcity, would don the hog-skin breeches, and run down cows or hunt fugitive negroes with packs of dogs. The Buccaneers, however, slowly acquired a tendency to settle, while the Flibustiers preferred to keep the seas, till Europe began to look them up too sharply; so that the former became, eventually, the agricultural nucleus of the western part of San Domingo, when the supply of wild cattle began to fail. This failure happened partly in consequence of their own extravagant hunting-habits, and partly through the agency of the Spaniards of the eastern colony, who thought that by slaughtering the cattle their French neighbors would be driven, for lack of employment, from the soil.
The Buccaneers generally went to the chase in couples, attended by their dogs and Engagés. These hired or engaged men first appear in the history of the island as valets of the Buccaneers. But, in their case, misfortune rather than vice was the reason of their appearance in such doubtful companionship. They were often sold for debt or inability to pay a rent, as happened in Scotland even during the eighteenth century; they were deluded to take ship by the flaming promises which the captains of vessels issued in the ports of different countries, to recruit their crews, or with the wickeder purpose of kidnapping simple rustics and hangerson of cities; they sometimes came to a vessel's side in poverty, and sold their liberty for three years for the sake of a passage to the fabled Ind; press-gangs sometimes stole and smuggled them aboard of vessels just ready to sail; very young people were induced to come aboard,—indeed, one or two cases happened in France, where a schoolmaster and his flock, who were out for a walk, were cajoled by these purveyors of avaricious navigators, and actually carried away from the country. There was, besides, a regular method of supplying the French colonies in the different islands with voluntary engagés, who agreed to serve for three years at certain wages, with liberty and a small allotment of land at the expiration of the time. These were called "thirty- six months' men." Sometimes their regular indenture was respected, and sometimes violently set aside to make the signers virtually slaves. This was done occasionally by the French in imitation of the English. A number of engagés at St. Christophe, finding that they were not set at liberty at the expiration of their three years, and that their masters intended to hold them two years more, assembled tumultuously, and threatened .to attack the colony. This was in 1632. Their masters were not in sufficient force to carry out their plan, and the Governor was obliged to set at liberty all who had served their time. In 1719, the French Council of State decreed, in consequence of the scarcity of engagés, that all vagabonds and criminals sentenced to the galleys should be transported for colonial service; and in order to diminish the expense of shipping them, every vessel leaving France for the Antilles was compelled to carry three engagés free of expense.
The amount of misery created by these various methods of supplying the islands with human labor cannot be computed. The victims were very humble; the manner of their taking-off was rarely noticed; the spirit of the age never stooped to consider these trifles of sorrow, nor to protect by some legislation the unfortunates who suffered in remote islands, whence their cries seldom reached the ears of authority. It would have been surprising, if many of these engagés had not assumed the habits of their masters, and kept the wandering hordes by land and sea recruited. Some of the most famous Buccaneers—for that name popularly included also the Flibustiers—were originally thirty-six months' men who had daring and conduct enough to make the best of their enforced condition.
These engagés were in all respects treated as slaves, especially when bound to agricultural service. Their master left them to the mercies of an overseer, who whistled them up at daybreak for wood-cutting or labor in the tobacco-fields, and went about among them with a stout stick, which he used freely to bring the lagging up to their work. Many cruelties are related of these men, but they are of the ordinary kind to be found in the annals of all slave-holding countries The fact that the engagés were indentured only for three years made no difference with men whose sole object was to use up every available resource in the pursuit of wealth. Bad treatment, chagrin, and scurvy destroyed many of them. The French writers accused the English of treating their engagés worse than any other nation, as they retained them for seven years, at the end of which time they gave them money enough to procure a lengthened debauch, during which they generally signed away their liberty for seven more years. Oexmelin says that Cromwell sold more than ten thousand Scotch and Irish, destined for Barbadoes. A whole ship-load of these escaped, but perished miserably of famine near Cape Tiburon, at a place which was afterwards called L'Anse aux Ibernois.
The first engagés were brought by the French from Dieppe: they signed contracts before notaries previously to quitting the country. This class of laborers was eagerly sought by all the colonists of the West Indies, and a good many vessels of different nations were employed in the trade. There was in Brazil a system of letting out land to be worked, called a labrados,6 because a manager held the land from a proprietor for a certain share of the profits, and cultivated it by laborers procurable in various ways. The name of Labrador is derived by some writers from the stealing of natives upon our northern coast by the Portuguese, to be enslaved. It is certain that they did this as early as 1501,7 and named the coast afterwards Terra de Laborador.
The Buccaneers, hunting in couples, called each other matelot, or shipmate: the word expresses their amphibious capacity. When a bull was run down by the dogs, the hunter, almost as fleet of foot as they, ran in to hamstring him, if possible,—if not, to shoot him. A certain mulatto became glorious in buccaneering annals for running down his game: out of a hundred hides which he sent to France, ten only were pierced with bulletholes. When the animal was stripped of its skin, the large bones were drawn from the flesh for the sake of the marrow, of which the two matelots made their stout repast. Portions of the flesh were then boucané by the followers, the rest was left to dogs and birds, and the chase was pursued day by day till a sufficient number of hides were collected. These were transported to the little coves and landing-places, where they were exchanged for powder and shot, spirits and silver. Then a grand debauch at Tortuga followed, with the wildest gratification of every passion. Comrades quarrelled and sought each other's blood; their pleasure ran amôk like a mad Malay. When the wine was all drunk and the money gamed away, another expedition, with fresh air and beef-marrow, set these independent bankupts again to rights.
The Flibustiers had an inexpensive way of furnishing themselves with vessels for prosecuting their piratical operations. A dozen of them in a boat would hang about the mouth of a river, or in the vicinity of a Spanish port, enduring the greatest privations with constancy, till they saw a vessel which had good sailing qualities and a fair equipment. If they could not surprise it, they would run down to board it, regardless of its fire, and swarm up the side and over the decks in a perfect fury, which nothing could resist, driving the crew into the sea. These expeditions were always prefaced by religious observances. On this point they were very strict; even before each meal, the Catholics chanted the Canticle of Zacharias, the Magnificat, and the Miserere, and the Protestants of all nations read a chapter of the Bible and sang a psalm. For many a Huguenot was in these seas, revenging upon mankind its capability to perpetrate, in the name of religion, a St. Bartholomew's.
Captain Daniel was a Flibustier with religious tendencies. Finding himself out of poultry, as he lay between Les Saintes and Dominica, (1701,) he approached the former island by night, landed, and carried off the curé and some of the principal inhabitants. These were not the fowls he wanted, but rather decoys to the fattest poultry-yards. The account of his exquisite mingling of business and religion gives us a glimpse into the interior of flibustierism. We translate from Father Labat, who had the story from the astonished curé. They were very polite to them, he says, "and while the people were bringing in the provisions, they begged the curé to say mass in their vessel, which he did not care to refuse. They sent on shore for the proper accessories, and set up a tent on the quarter-deck, furnished with an altar, to celebrate the mass, which they chanted zealously with the inhabitants who were on board. It was commenced by a discharge of musketry, and of eight pieces of cannon with which their bark was armed. They made a second discharge at the Sanctus, a third at the Elevation, a fourth at the Benediction, and, finally, a fifth after the Exaudiat and the prayer for the King, which was followed by a ringing Vive le Roi. Only one slight incident disturbed a little our devotions. One of the Flibustiers, taking an indecent posture during the Elevation, was reprimanded by Captain Daniel. Instead of correcting himself; he made some impertinent answer, accompanied with an execrable oath, which was paid on the spot by the Captain, who pistolled him in the head, swearing before God that he would do the same to the first man who failed in respect for the Holy Sacrifice. The curé was a little fluttered, as it happened very close to him. But Daniel said to him, 'Don't be troubled, father; 't was a rascal whom I had to punish to teach his duty': a very efficacious way to prevent the recurrence of a similar fault. After mass, they threw the body into the sea, and paid the holy father handsomely for his trouble and his fright. They gave him some valuable clothes, and as they knew that he was destitute of a negro, they made him a present of one,"—"which," says Father Labat, "I received an order to reclaim, the original owner having made a demand for him."
Such was Captain Daniel's rubricated copy of the Buccaneers' Λειτουργια. One may judge from this what the early condition of religion must have been in the French colony of San Domingo, which sprang from these pirates of the land and sea. And it seems that their reverence for the observances diminished in an inverse proportion to their perils. Father Labat said mass in the little town of Cap Français, in 1701. The chapel was not much better than an ajoupa, that is, a four-posted square with a sloping roof of leaves or light boards. The aisle had half a foot of dust in the dry season, and the same depth of mud during rain. "I asked the sacristan, who also filled the office of chanter, if he should chant the Introït, or begin simply with the Kyrie Eleïson; but he replied that it was not their custom to chant a great deal, they were content with low mass, brief, and well hurried up, and never chanted except at funerals. However, I did not omit to bless the water and asperse the people; and as I thought that the solemnity of the day demanded a little preaching, I preached, and gave notice that I should say mass on the following day." This he did, but was infinitely scandalized at the behavior of the people, comparing it with that of the thorough-going Catholics of the other French islands. They came into the chapel as to an assembly, or to some profane spectacle; they talked, laughed, and joked. The people in the gallery talked louder than I did, and mingled the name of God in their discourse in an insufferable manner. I mildly remonstrated with them three or four times; but seeing that it had no effect, I spoke in a way that compelled some officers to impose silence. A well-behaved person had the goodness to inform me, after mass, that it was necessary to be rather more indulgent with the People of the Coast, if one wanted to live with them." This was an old euphemism for Flibustiers. The good father could expect nothing better, especially as so many of his audience may have been Calvinists, for the first habitant at Cap Français was of that sect. These men were trying to become settled; and the alternative was between rapine with religion and raising crops without it. The latter became the habitude of the island; for the descendants of the Buccaneers could afford the luxury of absolute sincerity, which even their hardy progenitors were too weak to seize.
In the other islands, however, the priest had the colonists well in hand, as may be understood from the lofty language which he could assume towards petty sacramental infractions. At St. Croix, for instance, three light fellows made a mock of Sunday and the mass, saying, "We go a-fishing," and tried to persuade some neighbors to accompany them.
"No; 't is Trinity Sunday, and we shall go to mass."
"And will the Trinity help you to your dinner? Come, mass will keep for another time."
The decent neighbors refusing, these three unfortunate men departed, and were permitted by an inscrutable Providence to catch a great number of little fishes, which they shared with their conforming neighbors. All ate of them, but with this difference, that the three anti-sabbatarians fell sick, and died in twenty-four hours, while the others experienced no injury. The effect of this gastric warning is somewhat weakened by the incautious statement of the narrative, that a priest, who ran from one dying man to another, became overheated, and contracted a fatal illness.
The Catholic profession brought no immunity to the Spanish navigators. Our Flibustiers, strengthened by religious exercises, and a pistol in each hand, stormed upon the deck, as if they had fallen from the clouds. "Jesus, son dernonios estos": "They are demons, and not men." After they had thus "cleared" their vessel, they entered into a contract, called chasse-partie, the articles of which regulated their voyage and the disposition of the booty. They were very minutely made out. Here are some of the awards and reimbursements. The one who discovered a prize earned one hundred crowns; the same amount, or a slave, recompensed for the loss of an eye. Two eyes were rated at six hundred crowns, or six slaves. For the loss of the right hand or arm two hundred crowns or two slaves were paid, and for both six hundred crowns. When a Flibustier had a wound which obliged him to carry surgical helps and substitutes, they paid him two hundred crowns, or two slaves. If he had not entirely lost a member, but was only deprived of its use, he was recompensed the same as if the member had disappeared.
"They have also regard to qualities and places. Thus, the captain or chief is allotted five or six portions to what the ordinary seamen have, the master's mate only two, and other officers proportionable to their employ, after which they draw equal parts from the highest to the lowest mariner, the boys not being omitted, who draw half a share, because, when they take a better vessel than their own, it is the boys' duty to fire their former vessel and then retire to the prize."
Among the conventions of English pirates we find some additional articles which show a national difference. Whoever shall steal from the company, or game up to the value of a piece of eight, (piastre, translated écu by the French,—rated by the English of that day at not quite five shillings sterling,—about a dollar,) shall be landed on a desert place, with a bottle of water, gun, powder, and lead. Whoever shall maltreat or assault another, while the articles subsist, shall receive the Law of Moses: this was the infliction of forty consecutive strokes upon the back, a whimsical memento of the dispensation in the Wilderness. There were articles relative to the treatment and disposition of women, which sometimes depended upon the tossing of a coin,—jeter à croix pile,—but they need not be repeated: on this point the French were worse than the English.
The English generally wound up their convention with the solemn agreement that not a man should speak of separation till the gross earnings amounted to one thousand pounds per head. Then the whole company associated by couples, for mutual support in anticipation of wounds and danger, and to devise to each other all their effects in case of death. While at sea, or engaged in expeditions against the coasts of Terra Firma, their friendship was of the most romantic kind, inspired by a common feeling of outlawry, and colored by the risks of their atrocious employment. They called themselves "Brothers of the Coast," and took a solemn oath not to secrete from each other any portion of the common spoil, nor uncharitably to disregard each other's wants. Violence and lust would have gone upon bootless ventures, if justice and generosity had not been crimped to strengthen the crew.
These buccaneering conventions were gradually imposed upon all the West-Indian neighborhood, by the title of uncompromising strength, and became known as the "Usage of the Coast." When the Brothers met with any remonstrance which referred the rights of navigators and settlers back to the Common Law of Europe, they were accustomed to defend their Usage, saying that their baptism had absolved them from all previous obligations. This was an allusion to the marine ceremony called in later times "Crossing the Line," and administered only upon that occasion; but at first it was performed when vessels were passing the Raz de Fonteneau, on their way to and from the Channel, and originated before navigators crossed the Atlantic or passed the Tropic of Cancer. The Raz, or Tide-Race, was a dangerous passage off the coast of Brittany; some religious observance among the early sailors, dictated by anxiety, appears to have degenerated into the Neptunian frolic, which included a copious christening of salt water for the raw hands, and was kept up long after men had ceased to fear the unknown regions of the ocean. Perhaps an aspersion with holy-water was a part of the original rite, on the ground that the mariner was passing into new countries, once thought uninhabited, as into a strange new-world, to sanctify the hardiness and propitiate the Ruler of Sea and Air. The Dutch, also, performed some ceremony in passing the rocks, then called Barlingots, which lie off the mouth of the Tagus. Gradually the usage went farther out to sea; and the farther it went, of course, the more unrestrained it grew.
This was the baptism which regenerated Law for the Buccaneers. It also absolved them from the use of their own names, which might, indeed, in many cases have been but awkward conveniences; and they were not known except by sobriquets. But when they became habitans or settlers, and took wives, their surnames appeared for the first time in the marriage-contract; so that it was a proverb in the islands,—"You don't know people till they marry."
The institution of marriage was not introduced among the Buccaneers for many years after their settlement of the western coast. In the mean time they selected women for extemporaneous partners, to whom they addressed a few significant words before taking them home to their ajoupas, to the effect that their antecedents were not worth minding, but this, slightly tapping the musket, "which never deceived me, will avenge me, if you do."
These women, with the exception of one or two organized emigrations of poor, but honest, girls, were the sweepings of the streets of Paris and London. They were sometimes deported with as little ceremony as the engagés, and sometimes collected by the Government, especially of France, for the deliberate purpose of meeting the not over nice demands of the adventurers; for it was the interest of France to pet Tortuga and the western coast. All the French islands were stocked in the same manner. Du Tertre devotes a page to the intrigues of a Mademoiselle de la Fayolle, who appeared in St. Christophe with a strong force of these unfortunate women, in 1643. They were collected from St. Joseph's Hospital in Paris, to prevent the colonists from leaving the island in search of wives. Mademoiselle came with letters from the Queen and other ladies of quality, and quite dazzled M. Aubert, the Governor, who proposed to his wife that she should be accommodated in the chateau. She had a restless and managing temper, and her power lasted as long as her merchandise.
In 1667 there was an auction-sale of fifty girls without character at Tortuga. They went off so well that fifty more were soon supplied. Schoeleher says that in the twelfth volume of the "Archives de la Marine" there is a note of "one hundred nymphs for the Antilles and a hundred more for San Domingo," under the date of 1685.
Here were new elements of civilization for the devoted island, whose earliest colonists were pirates pacified by prostitutes. They were the progenitors of families whom wealth and colonial luxury made famous; for in such a climate a buccaneering nickname will soon flower into titles which conceal the gnarled and ugly stock. Some of these French Dianas led a healthy and hardy life with their husbands, followed them to the chase, and emulated their exploits with the pistol and the knife. Some blood was thus renewed while some grew more depraved, else the colony would have rotted from the soil.
Nature struggles to keep all her streams fresh and clear. The children of adventurers may inherit the vices of their parents; but Nature silently puts her fragrant graft into the withering tree, and it learns to bud with unexpected fruit. Inheritance is only one of Mother Nature's emphatic protestations that her wayward children will be the death of her; but she knows better than that, unfortunately for the respectable vice and meanness which flourish in every land and seek to prolong their line. California and Australia soon reach the average of New York and London, and invite Nature to preserve through them, too, her world. She drains and plants these unwholesome places; powerful men and lovely women are the Mariposa cedars which attest her splendid tillage. But a part of this Nature consists of conservative decency in men who belong to law-abiding and Protestant races. For want of this, surgery and cautery became Nature's expedients for Hayti, which was one of the worst sinks on her great farm.
If a greater number of female emigrants had been like Mary Read, pirate as she was, the story of Hayti would have been modified. She had the character which Nature loves to civilize.
Mary Read was the illegitimate daughter of an Englishwoman, who brought her up as a boy after revealing to her the secret of her origin, apparently wishing to protect her against the mischances which befell herself. She was first a footman, then a sailor on board a man-of-war; afterwards she served with great bravery in Flanders in a regiment of infantry. Then she entered a cavalry regiment, where she fell deeply in love with a comrade, and her woman's nature awoke. Obeying the uncontrollable instinct, she modestly revealed her sex to him, and was married with great éclat, after he had sought in vain, repelled by her high conduct, to make her less than wife. He died soon after, and the Peace of Ryswick compelled her to assume her male attire again and seek employment. She went before the mast in a vessel bound for the West Indies, which was taken by English pirates, with whom she afterwards enjoyed the benefit of a royal proclamation pardoning all pirates who submitted within a limited period. Their money gave out, and they enlisted under a privateer captain to cruise against the Spaniards; but the men, finding a favorable opportunity, took the vessel from the officers, and commenced their old trade. Mary was as brave as any in boarding Spanish craft, pistol in hand, to clear the decks ; no peril made her falter, but she was disarmed again by love in the person of a fine young pirate of superior mind and grace. She made a friend of him, revealed her sex, and married him. Her husband had a falling-out with a comrade, and a duel impended. Torn with love and dread, she managed to pick a quarrel with his antagonist, appointed a meeting an hour before the one which her husband expected, and was lucky enough to postpone the latter indefinitely. At her trial in Jamaica, she would have escaped through the compassion of the court, if some one had not deposed that she often deliberately defended piracy with the argument that pirates were fortunately amenable to capital punishment, and this was a restraint to cowards, without which a thousand rascals who passed for honest people, but who did nothing but pillage widows and orphans and defraud their neighbors, would rush into a more honorable profession, the ocean would be covered with this canaille, and the ruin of commerce would involve that of piracy. She died in prison of a fever.
Ann Bonny was born in Cork. She was of a truculent disposition, and the murdering part of piracy was much to her taste. When her husband was led out to execution, the special favor was granted of an interview with her; but her only benediction was,—"I'm sorry to find ye in this state; if ye had fought like a man, ye would not be seein' yerself hung like a dog."
But what could angels themselves have done to make Captain Teach presentable in the best society? Blackbeard was his sobriquet, for he had one flowing over his chest which patriarchs might be forgiven for coveting. The hair of his head was tastefully done up with ribbons, and inframed his truculent face. When he went into a fight, three pairs of pistols hung from a scarf, and two slow-matches, alight and projecting under his hat, glowed above his cruel eyes. Certainly, the light of battle was not in his case a metaphor.
On board his vessel, one day, Captain Teach, just combing upon strong-water, summoned his crew. "Go to, now, let us make a hell," he cried, "and get a little seasoned. We'll find who can stand it longest." Thereupon they all went down into the hold, which he had carefully battened down; then he lighted sundry pots of sulphur, and showed superior qualifications for the future by smoking them all out.
On the day of his last combat, when advised to confide to his wife where his money was bid, he refused, saying that only he and the Devil knew where it was, and the survivor was to have it.
Whenever these English pirates found a clergyman, they acted as if pillaging had been only a last resort, owing to the scarcity of that commodity in those seas. Captain Roberts took a vessel which had on board a body of English troops with their chaplain, destined for garrison-duty. His crew went into ecstasies of delight, as if they had separated themselves from mankind and incurred atrocious suspicions from their desire to seek for religious persons in all places. They wanted nothing but a chaplain; they had never wanted anything else; he must join them; he would have nothing to do but to pray and make the punch. As he steadily refused, they reluctantly parted with him; but, smitten with his firmness, they retained of his effects nothing but three prayerbooks and a corkscrew.
These were but common villains. The genuine Flibustier mingled national hatred with his avarice, and harried the Spanish coasts with a sense of being the avenger of old affronts, at least the divine instrument of his country's honest instincts, whose duty it was to smite and spoil, as if the Armada were yet upon the seas as the Inquisition was upon the land. Frenchmen and Englishmen, Huguenot and Dutch Calvinists, Willis, Warner, Montbar the Exterminator, Levasseur, Lolonois, Henry Morgan, Coxon and Sharp, Bartholomew the Portuguese, Rock the Dutchman, were representative men. They gave a villanous expression, and an edge which avarice whetted, to the religious patriotism of their countrymen. The sombre and deadly prejudices which lay half torpid in their cage at home escaped from restraint in these men, and suddenly acted out their proper nature on the highways of the world.
We have no space to record particular deeds and cruelties. The stories of the exploits of the Flibustiers show that their outlaw-life had developed all the powerful traits which make pioneering or the profession of arms so illustrious. Audacity, cunning, great endurance, tenacity of purpose, all the character of the organizing nations whence they sprang, appeared in them so stained by murder and bestiality of every kind, that the impression made by their career is revolting, and gets no mitigation from their better qualities. They were generous to each other, and scrupulously just; but it was for the sake of strengthening their hands against mankind. They fought against the enemies of their respective nations with all the fiendishness of popular hate that has broken loose from popular restraints and civilizing checks and has become a beast. Commerce was nothing to them but a convenience for plunder; a voyaging ship was an oasis in the mid-waste on which they swarmed for an orgy of avarice and gluttony; the cities of the Spanish Main were hives of wealth and women to be overturned and rifled, and their mother-country a retreat where the sanctimonious old age of a few survivors of these successful crimes could display their money and their piety, and perhaps a titled panel on their coach. Henry Morgan was knighted, and made a good end in the Tower of London as a political prisoner. Pierre le Grand, the first Flibustier who took a ship, retired to France with wealth and consideration. Captain Avery, who had an immense fame, was the subject of a drama entitled "The Happy Pirate," which inoculated many a prentice-lad with cutlasses and rollicking ferocity. Others became the agents of easy cabinets who always winked at buccaneering, because it so often saved them the expense of war. What gift or place would a slaveholdlng cabinet, or a Southern Confederacy, have thought too dear to bestow upon Captain Walker, whose criminal acts were feeding the concealed roots of the Great Conspiracy, if his murder and arson had become illustrious by success?
The Flibustiers were composed of many nations. The Buccaneers were mostly French. Their headquarters, or prinipal boucans, upon San Domingo, were on the peninsula of Samana, at Port Margot, Savanna Brulée near Gonaives, and the landing-place of Mirebalais. The Spaniards gained at first several advantages over them by cutting off the couples which were engaged in chasing the wild cattle. This compelled the Buccaneers to associate in larger bands, and to add Spaniards to their list of game. The word massacre on the maps of the island marks places where sanguinary surprises were effected by either party; but the Spaniards lost more blood than their wily antagonists, and were compelled to abandon all their settlements on the northern and northeastern coasts and to fall back upon San Domingo and their other towns. The Flibustiers blockaded their rivers, intercepted the vessels of slave-traders of all nations, made prizes of the cargoes, and sold them to the French of the rising western colony, to the English at Jamaica, or among the other islands, wherever a contraband speculation could be made. This completed the ruin of Spanish San Domingo; for the Government, crippled by land- and sea-fights with English, French, and Dutch, was unable to protect its colonies. It is very strange to notice this sudden weakness of the nation which was lately so domineering; the causes which produced it have been stated elsewhere8 with great research and power.
The Spaniards had made a few settlements in the western part of the island, the principal one of which was Yaguana, or Leogane. They were too far from the eastern population to be successfully defended or succored, in case of the attacks which were constantly expected after Drake's expedition. In 1592, the town of Azua was taken and destroyed by an English force under Christopher Newport, who was making war against the Spaniards on his own account. He afterwards attacked Yaguana, was at first repulsed, but took it by night and burned it to the ground. In consequence of this, all the western settlements were abandoned; and not a Spaniard remained in that part of the island after 1606. Cruisers of other nations seized the ports for their private convenience.
A brief outline will suffice to conduct us to the secure establishment of the French in Western San Domingo. Tortuga was attacked by the Spaniards in 1638 ; the Buccaneers were surprised, put to the sword, and scattered. A few joined their brethren in San Domingo. Their discomfiture was thought to be so complete that no garrison was left upon Tortuga. At the same time the Spaniards organized bands of fifty men each, called la cinquantaine by the French Buccaneers, to serve as a kind of rural police to hunt down the latter and exterminate them. For safety the French collected, and put at their head Willis, an Englishman, who had just then appeared with two or three hundred men, with the view of joining those of his country-men who were Buccaneers. He led them back to Tortuga, and threw up some rude works to command the harbor. But the national antipathies soon appeared, on the occasion of some encroachment of Willis, whose countrymen were the more numerous party. The French despatched secret agents to St. Christophe, who made it clear to M. de Poincy, the Governor of that island, that the English could be easily dispossessed by a small force attacking them from without, while the French rose within. The Governor thought it was a good opportunity to weed the Huguenots, who were always making trouble about religious matters, out of his colony; he did not hesitate, therefore, to coöperate with the outlaws for so nice a game as driving out the English by getting rid of his heretics. The operation was intrusted to M. Levasseur, a brave and well-instructed Huguenot officer, who took with him about a hundred men. Willis decamped at their first summons, knowing the temper of his French subjects; and Levasseur landed, and immediately began to fortify a platform-rock which rose only a few paces from the water's edge. This he intrenched, surrounding an open square capable of accommodating three or four hundred men. A never-failing spring gushed from the rock for the supply of a garrison. From the middle of this platform there rose conveniently another rock thirty feet high, with scarped sides, upon which he built a block-house for himself and the ammunition, communicating with the platform by a movable ladder of iron. He made the place so formidable as a buccaneering centre that the Spaniards resolved to attack it. They tried it at first from the sea, but, being well battered, retired and disembarked six hundred men by night to make a land-attack. They were defeated, with the loss of a hundred men.
Levasseur appears to have grown arrogant with his success. He began to abuse and persecute all the Catholics, burned their chapel, and drove away a priest. He had stocks set up, made of iron, which he called his Hell, and the fort where he kept it, Purgatory. Du Tertre says that he wanted to make of Tortuga a little Geneva. He disavowed the authority of M. de Poincy, and when the latter demanded restitution of a Nôtre Dame of silver which the Flibustiers had taken from a Spanish vessel, he sent a model of it, constructed of wood, with the message that Catholics were too spiritual to attach any value to the material, but as for himself, he had a liking for the metal. Levasseur was assassinated by two of his captains after a reign of a dozen years.
The next Governor sent by De Poincy to Tortuga was a Catholic, the Chevalier Fontenay. The religion of this strong hold changed, but not its habits. The Spaniards planned a second attack upon it in 1653, and succeeded by dragging a couple of light cannon up the mountain so as to command the donjon built by Levasseur. The French took refuge upon the coast of San Domingo, where they waited for an opportunity to repossess their little island. This soon followed upon an application made by De Rausset, one of Levasseur's old comrades, to the French West India Company for a sufficient force to drive out the Spaniards. De Rausset's plan succeeded, Tortuga passed permanently into French hands, and the Spaniards confined themselves for the future to annoying the new colonies of Buccaneers which overflowed upon San Domingo. But their efforts disappear after a terrible defeat inflicted upon them in 1665, which the Flibustiers followed up by the sack and destruction of Santiago, the town second in importance to San Domingo. Henceforth the history of the island belongs to France.
1 This musket was afterwards called fusil boucanier. Fusil demi-boucanier was the same kind, with a shorter barrel.
2 Histoire des Avanturiers Flibustiers, avec la Vie, les Mœurs, et les Coutumes des Boucaniers, par A. O. Oexmelin, who went out to the West Indies as a poor Engagé, and became a Buccaneer. Four Volumes. New Edition, printed in 1744: Vol. III., containing the Journal of a Voyage made with Flibustiers in the South Sea in 1685, by Le Sieur Ravenau de Lussan; and Vol. IV., containing a History of English pirates, with the Lives of two Female Pirates, Mary Read and Ann Bonny, and Extracts from Pirate-Codes: translated from the English of Captain Charles Johnson.—Charlevoix, Histoire de St. Domingue, Vols. III. and IV.—The History of the Bucaniers of America, from the First Original down to this Time; written in Several Languages, and now collected into One Volume. Third Edition, London, 1704: containing Portraits of all the Celebrated Flibustiers, and Plans of some of their Land-Attacks.—Nouveaux Voyages aux Isles Françoises de l'Amérique, par le Père Labat, 1724, Tom. V. pp. 228-230. See also Archenholtz.
3 Not to be confounded with the Tortugas, the westernmost islands of the Florida Keys (Cayos, Spanish for rocks, shoals, or islets).
4 Charlevoix will have it reversed, and derives flibustier from freebooter; but this English word is not old enough to have been a vagrom in those seas at that time. Webster derives it from the Dutch Vrijbuiter; but that and the corresponding German word were themselves derived. Schoelcher says that it is a corruption of an English word, fly-boater, one who manages a fly-boat; and he adds,—" Our flibot, a small and very fast craft, draws its origin from the English fly-boat, bateau mouche, bateau volant." But this is only a kind of pun. Perhaps the Dutch named it so, not from its swiftness, but from its resemblance, with its busy oars and darting motions, to a slender-legged fly. There appears to be no ground for saying that the boat was so called because it first came into use upon the river Vlie in Holland. It might have been a boat used by the inhabitants of Vlieland, a town on the island of the same name, north of Texel. Freebooter is such a good word for flibustier that it was easy to accuse it of the parentage.
5 Pinnaces of five or six tons, which could be packed on shipboard in pieces and put together when wanted, were built in the reign of Elizabeth. The name is of Spanish origin, from the pine used for material.
6 See a contract of this kind in Histoire Générale des Antilles, Du Tertre, Tom. I. p. 464.
7 Bancroft's United States, Vol. I. p. 14.
8 Buckle's History of Civilization, Vol. II. chap. 1.
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The Atlantic Monthly; September 1862; The Horrors of San Domingo; Volume 10, No. 9; 347-358.