Buccaneers (Fr. boucanier, one who dries the flesh of animals), a name applied to bands of French and English marine freebooters in the West Indies, who in the 17th century committed extensive depredations on commerce, and even extended their ravages to the mainland of Spanish America. The original buccaneers were those settlers, chiefly French, who attempted to introduce themselves into the Antilles not long after their first conquest by the Spaniards, who wished to monopolize their possession. Being driven out of St. Christopher, they took refuge in Hispaniola, a large part of which swarmed with droves of wild cattle. These they hunted, selling the hides to Dutch traders. The Spaniards looked with jealous eyes upon these new settlements; they lost no opportunity of harassing and destroying the buccaneers, and at length forced them for self-preservation to adopt other pursuits than hunting; some became planters, but the greater part, organizing in bands, began to return the injuries they had sustained.
They were bound by oath to render all assistance to each other, and to wreak the utmost vengeance on their foes, especially the Spaniards. If one of them was killed by the enemy, he was to be signally avenged; those who were maimed in battle were compensated for their wounds according to their severity, while those rendered helpless for life were provided for by the whole body. Plunder from the enemy was shared, but stealing from a fellow buccaneer was summarily punished. The stronghold of the buccaneers was formed about 1630 at the little island of Tortugas, where after driving out the Spaniards they erected fortifications. They went forth in bands of 50 to 150, at first only in open row boats, attacking and boarding vessels with desperate ferocity. These boats, frequently so small that the crews had no room to lie down, were directed bows on to an enemy, while their marksmen would take aim at the ports of a vessel and pick off the gunners; as soon as they came near enough they threw out grappling irons, and closing with the foe poured upon her decks. They lay in wait for vessels passing from America to Europe; those coming from Europe they seldom molested, as they carried cargoes which" they could not readily sell, but on the return voyages they were sure to find precious freights.
The Spanish galleons in particular attracted their attention, as sometimes the booty seized in them was enormous. Though the richly laden vessels usually sailed in fleets for protection, the buccaneers followed them as they emerged from the gulf of Bahama, and if one by accident became separated from the others, her doom was sealed. If her stores were such as to satisfy the rapacity of the pirates, she was permitted to proceed after being plundered; otherwise she was scuttled and her crew thrown overboard. The French buccaneers established themselves in Santo Domingo, and the English in Jamaica. Spanish commerce visibly declined, and Spanish ships scarcely dared to venture to America. Alarmed for their own gains, the buccaneers changed their tactics, and from pillaging vessels attacked fortified towns. Many desperate characters made themselves conspicuous in these enterprises. One was a Frenchman named Mont-bar, who had contracted a deadly hate of the Spaniards by reading an account of their American conquests, and determined to join the buccaneers for the purpose of executing his schemes of vengeance. On his passage to the West Indies he fell in with a Spanish ship, which was at once boarded and the crew put to the sword.
On arriving at the coast of Santo Domingo he offered his services to the buccaneers, and on the same day, falling in with a party of Spaniards, he attacked them with fury, and scarcely left one alive. He displayed the same spirit afterward on every occasion, and earned the title of the exterminator. The Spaniards now resolved to confine themselves within their settlements. This determination only stimulated the buccaneers to greater efforts, in which they were much aided by Francois L'Olonnais, who had raised himself to be master of two boats and 22 men, with which he took a Spanish frigate on the coast of Cuba, and afterward at Port-au-Prince four more vessels, despatched to seize him. He then sailed for Tortugas, and there meeting with Miguel de Vasco, who had signalized himself by taking a Spanish galleon loaded with treasure under the very guns of Portobello, the two sailed in 1666 with 450 men to the bay of Venezuela, took a fort at its entrance, spiked the guns, and murdered the garrison, 250 in number. They then proceeded to Maracaibo, on the lake, and compelled it to capitulate. Disappointed in not finding treasure at Gibraltar, another town on the same shore, they fired it.
An immense ransom was paid for Maracaibo, and the buccaneers carried off also the church bells, crosses, and pictures, intending to build a chapel at Tortugas. - The most noted of all these freebooters, and the one whose name is now most readily remembered, was Henry Morgan, a Welshman. While L'Olonnais and De Vasco were wasting their gains from Venezuela, he sailed from Jamaica in December, 1670, surprised and took Portobello, and then directed his operations against Panama. He at first went to the island of St. Catharine to procure guides, and here the governor of a strong fortress, who might have beaten him off, concerted with him to surrender on easy terms. After keeping up for .some time the farce of a cannonade, the buccaneers entered the place, demolished the fortifications, and carried off an immense quantity of ammunition. They then steered toward the Chagres river and took a fort at its entrance, after a gallant resistance from its commander, who was killed. Leaving some of his vessels, Morgan sailed with sloops up the river 33 miles to Cruces, and thence proceeded by land to Panama. He defeated some troops sent out to meet him, and then entered the city, where he found a prodigious booty, with which the buccaneers departed, after firing the place and carrying off a large number of prisoners. - In 1683 an expedition was planned by Van Horn, a native of Ostend, who had long served among the French. He owned a frigate, and joining a number of others, with six vessels and 1,200 men, he sailed for Vera Cruz, landed under cover of darkness, surprised the fort and barracks, and surrounded the churches whither the citizens had fled for safety.
The buccaneers then pillaged the city, and proposed to the citizens to ransom their lives for about $2,000,000. This proposal was accepted, and half of the money paid down forthwith, when the buccaneers became alarmed at the approach of troops as well as a fleet of 17 Spanish vessels, and made off, carrying with them 1,500 slaves, and sailing through the enemy's line unmolested. About a year later the buccaneers undertook to plunder Peru. Upward of 4,000 men joined in this movement, some sailing by way of the straits of Magellan, and others crossing the isthmus. Many cities along the coast were pillaged, and the inhabitants massacred; silver was so common that the buccaneers would not receive it in ransom, and would accept nothing but gold, pearls, or jewels. - While these events took place in the southern seas, an adventurer of the name of Gram-mont, a man of good birth and education, and distinguished as a soldier, made a demonstration in 1085 against Campeachy. He defeated 800 Spaniards outside of the town, and the combatants all entered the place together. The buccaneers then turned the guns of the city against the citadel; but as these did little harm, they were preparing some plan to surprise it when news was brought that it had been abandoned.
Only one man remained faithful to his duty, refusing to quit his post, and Grammont was so pleased with his fidelity that he secured to him all his effects, besides rewarding him handsomely. After this the marauders spent upward of two months at Campeachy, and rifled the country of everything valuable for 15 leagues around. When their treasures were embarked they proposed that the governor, who was still in the field with 900 men, should ransom the city. On his refusing to do so, they burnt it to the ground, and then retired to Santo Domingo. - In 1697 a squadron of seven ships, under the command of a buccaneer named Pointis, with 1,200 men, sailed from Europe to attack Cartagena. This was the greatest enterprise that the buccaneers ever attempted. The city was taken, and the booty amounted to nearly $8,000,000. The commander managed to secure for himself nearly all of this immense sum, and the buccaneers, exasperated with this treatment, returned to Cartagena, and there again secured enough to repay them for their losses; but on sailing for Europe they were attacked by a fleet of Dutch and English ships, in alliance with Spain, and most of their vessels'captured or sunk. This was the last considerable exploit of the buccaneers.
As the leaders dropped off one by one, none were found to supply their places, so that by degrees the organization fell to pieces; and moreover, many of them were induced to accept civil and military appointments to draw them from the piracy which governments had been unable to suppress. - See "The History of the Bucaniers, made English from the Dutch, Avritten by John Esquemeling" (4to, London, 1684; reprinted in Walker's "British Classics," 12mo, 1810), a French version of which appeared in 1686 under the name of Alexandre Olivier (Exmelin (Histoire des aventuriers flibustiers, Paris; new ed., 4 vols. 12mo, Tre-voux, 4775). The author was himself one of the pirates.