The brilliant exploits begun by the sack of Leon and Realejo by the English under Davis have, even in their variety and daring, a sameness which deprives them of interest, and the wonderful confederacy is now seen to be falling gradually to pieces. The skill of Davis at sea was on one occasion displayed in a seven days' engagement with two large Spanish vessels, and the interest undoubtedly centres in him. Townley and Swan had, however, by this time left him, and after cruising together for some time, they, too, parted. In 1688 Davis cleared Cape Horn and arrived in the West Indies, while Swan's ship, the "Cygnet," was abandoned as unseaworthy, after sailing as far as Madagascar. Townley had hardly joined the French buccaneers remaining in the South Sea ere he died, and the Frenchmen with their companions crossed New Spain to the West Indies. And thus the Pacific, ravaged so long by this powerful and mysterious band of corsairs, was at length at peace.
The West Indies had by this time become hot enough even for the banded pirates. They hung doggedly along the coasts of Jamaica and Santo Domingo, but their day was nearly over. Only once again - at the siege of Carthagena - did they appear great; but even then the expedition was not of their making, and they were mere auxiliaries of the French regular forces. After the treachery of the French commander of this expedition a spirit of unity and despairing energy seemed reawakened in them; but this could not avert and scarcely delayed the rapidly approaching extinction of the community.
The French and English buccaneers could not but take sides in the war which had arisen between their respective countries in 1689. Thus was broken the bond of unity which had for three-quarters of a century kept the subjects of the two nations together in schemes of aggression upon a common foe. In the short peace of 1697-1700 England and France were using all their influence, both in the Old World and in the New, to ingratiate themselves into the favour of the king of Spain. With the resumption of hostilities in 1700 and the rise of Spain consequent upon the accession of the French claimant to the throne the career of the buccaneers was effectually closed.
But the fall of the buccaneers is no more accounted for fully by these circumstances than is their rise by the massacre of the islanders of Santo Domingo. There was that in the very nature of the community which, from its birth, marked it as liable to speedy decline.
The principles which bound the buccaneers together were, first the desire for adventure and gain, and, in the second place, hatred of the Spaniard. The first was hardly a sufficient bond of union, among men of different nationalities, when booty could be had nearly always by private venture under the colours of the separate European powers. Of greater validity was their second and great principle of union, namely, that they warred not with one another, nor with every one, but with a single and a common foe. For while the buccaneer forces included English, French and Dutch sailors, and were complemented occasionally by bands of native Indians, there are few instances during the time of their prosperity and growth of their falling upon one another, and treating their fellows with the savagery which they exulted in displaying against the subjects of Spain. The exigencies, moreover, of their perilous career readily wasted their suddenly acquired gains.
Settled labour, the warrant of real wealth, was unacceptable to those who lived by promoting its insecurity. Regular trade - though rendered attractive by smuggling - and pearl gathering and similar operations which were spiced with risk, were open in vain to them, and in the absence of any domestic life, a hand-to-mouth system of supply and demand rooted out gradually the prudence which accompanies any mode of settled existence. In everything the policy of the buccaneers, from the beginning to the end of their career, was one of pure destruction, and was, therefore, ultimately suicidal.
Their great importance in history lies in the fact that they opened the eyes of the world, and specially of the nations from whom these buccaneers had sprung, to the whole system of Spanish-American government and commerce - the former in its rottenness, and the latter in its possibilities in other hands. From this, then, along with other causes, dating primarily from the helplessness and presumption of Spain, there arose the West Indian possessions of Holland, England and France.
A work published at Amsterdam in 1678, entitled De Americaensche Zee Roovers, from the pen of a buccaneer named Exquemelin, was translated into several European languages, receiving additions at the hands of the different translators. The French translation by Frontignières is named Histoire des avanturiers qui se sont signalez dans les Indes; the English edition is entitled The Bucaniers of America. Other works are Raynal's History of the Settlements and Trade of the Europeans in the East and West Indies, book x., English translation 1782; Dampier's Voyages; Geo. W. Thornbury's Monarchs of the Main, etc. (1855); Lionel Wafer's Voyage and Description of the Isthmus of America (1699); and the Histoire de l'isle Espagnole, etc., and Histoire et description générale de la Nouvelle France of Père Charlevoix. The statements in these works are to be received with caution. A really authentic narrative, however, is Captain James Burney's History of the Buccaneers of America (London, 1816). The Calendar of State Papers, Colonial Series (London, 1860 et seq.), contains much evidence for the history of the buccaneers in the West Indies.