HISTORY OF THE BUCCANEERS.
A hundred years more were sufficient for the Spaniards to exhaust the gold mines of Central America and the islands, so far as in their wasteful way they cared to work them. No chapter of history is so black as that of the conquest of America; no page so dark as that of the Spanish treatment of the natives in the gold mines. The Indians were plundered so long as they had anything worth taking, and when no more was to be found were tortured to compel them to disclose the whereabouts of additional treasure. Chiefs of honor and dignity were treated with shameless brutality; a great native king of Mexico had live coals applied to his feet to make him divulge the hiding places of treasures of which he knew nothing. Priests were put to the rack that the hidden wealth of their temples might be discovered, and many of the wise and great of America thus miserably perished. When the nobles were so treated, no consideration could be expected for the common people who were carried off by thousands and compelled to work in the mines, where, unaccustomed to the labor or to the severity of the treatment, they died in multitudes.
In several of the Caribbean Islands Indian laborers at length became so scarce that the merciless Spaniards were compelled to look elsewhere for slaves. Hunting parties accordingly were organized to search through the dense jungles of a tropical climate, among the crags and along the mountain ranges, and numbers of trembling wretches were thus apprehended and brought in. But the alarm was taken by the timorous natives; they fled still further and dogs were employed to hunt them down. Many were torn to pieces by the savage brutes that were engaged not only to hunt the hapless captives, but to guard them when in chain gangs they went to and from their labor in the mines.
As the Indians of Hispaniola became almost extinct, resort was had to the neighboring islands. Spanish agents in Spanish ships went to a large number of the little islands in the south, and gave the Indians to understand that by visiting Hispaniola and receiving baptism and instruction in the doctrine of Christianity, they would be allowed to
The place of human beings was taken by vast herds of cattle, the descendants of a few animals first brought by the Spaniards and allowed to run wild on the interior plains of the island. Obliged to make the most of their scanty resources, the natives had become skillful in preserving the flesh of cattle, and by drying it with artificial heat had made what was called boucan, or jerked beef, an article of food which was highly esteemed as food for sailors, since its peculiar preservation gave it great value on a long sea-voyage. The term "Buccaneer" is derived from the Carib word boucan, signifying barbacued meat. The Carribbean Indians, who were great flesh-eaters, dried their meats, whether of cattle, fish, or humans (for they were cannibals), by laying it on a wooden grate over a slow fire of coals, a process by which the meat became cured without salt. This method was so effective that the early Portuguese and Spanish settlers soon applied it for the curing of great quantities which they sold for ships' stores. Hunters, especially in Hispaniola, directly began the killing of wild cattle for this purpose and soon came to be called by the Caribs boucans, which was presently changed to the softer term Buccaneer.
The word "Filibuster" had its origin in a mispronunciation by the French of the term "Freebooter" and was applied long before that of Buccaneer, just as cruising on piratical undertakings preceded the hunting and curing of meats, as described. An occasional English, French or Dutch vessel came along the coast, and to these straggling callers the boucan was sold for food, and the opportunity was seized to smuggle out of the country vast quantities of hides, for which the strangers were willing to pay far higher prices than could be extracted from the monopolizing Spaniards. A regular trade thus sprang up, which was extremely lucrative, and finally ships bound to the south called regularly for boucan, hides and water. The possible profits of such commerce were quickly appreciated by the French, English and Dutch settlers in Hayti, who established themselves in the trade of curing beef and selling hides. The Spaniards having secured a monopoly of trade and commerce from Mexico to Cape Horn and from Cape Horn to California, every seaman of the other countries seeking profitable relations with the natives of this vast region entertained a natural hatred for everything Spanish. The times then became much rougher through the rivalry that succeeded than ever they have been since; every sailor was also a soldier, a fighting man almost by occupation, and as ready with his weapons as with his ropes.
SAILORS TURNED SOLDIERS.
Finding large gains in the illicit butcher trade of Hayti, sailors from several countries took to it as a pleasant relief from the monotony of shipboard life, and thus, while their ships waited, large bands were, formed, equally ready either to hunt the wild cattle or to fight the Spanish who attempted to interfere with the chase. These hunters, soldiers, sailors, with no family ties, bound to their brethren by a common hatred of the Spanish, developed into Buccaneer bands, which for one hundred years were at once the inspiration and terror of the Spanish seas. While the men were of every nationality, the majority were English, French and Dutch, who in the wars of the continent had learned to regard the Spanish as the deadly foe of all.
In 1625, hardy adventurers in the Spanish main received a semi-official recognition from both the English and the French governments. The naval power of Spain had been on the decline ever since the defeat of the Invincible Armada in 1588, and both the English and French deemed the season propitious to curtail the power of Spain in the New World. A joint expedition was sent out, composed of equal numbers of English and French colonists, and the Island of St. Christopher was fixed upon as suitable for a new settlement. At first the methods of the colonists differed little from those of the Spaniards, for finding the island inhabited by Caribs the colonists set upon the unlucky savages, killed some and expelled the rest. A colony was thus auspiciously begun, but no sooner had buildings been erected and commerce fairly established than the settlers fell out among themselves. The English and French could not agree any better in the New than in the Old World, and in four years the ill-assorted colonists were almost at open war. In the meantime the Spanish were not idle, but indignant at the presumption of other nations in trying to effect a settlement in territory which they had been accustomed to regard as their own, a fleet of thirty-nine large vessels was fitted out and sent from Spain to drive away the Dutch from the towns which they had built in Brazil and other parts of South America, and incidentally to clear away the English and French from the West Indies. Intelligence of the intentions of the Spanish reached France, and with a powerful fleet the famous de Cusac sailed to protect St. Christopher. He arrived in the spring of 1629, and finding the English and French colonists embroiled, took the part of his countrymen, sunk several English vessels which lay in the roads, and then "having reduced the English to reason," and hearing nothing of the Spanish fleet, supposing that it had gone on to Brazil, he departed to cruise in the Gulf of Mexico and to attack any Spanish settlements that seemed to be unarmed and helpless.
CAPTURE OF THE COLONISTS, WHO SOON AFTER RE-ESTABLISH THEMSELVES.
His vessels had scarcely disappeared when sails were seen in the offing and the stately Spanish fleet dropped anchor before the island. The colonists were in despair. It was already known that war had been declared against Spain by England, France and Holland, and the settlers expected no mercy. Had they been united they might have arrayed twelve hundred men against the fleet and made a stout resistance, but divided they had no hope. The French crowded into their vessels and escaped, but there were not enough ships for all, since the destruction of the crafts by de Cusac; not even all the French could go, and those who were compelled to remain surrendered to the Spanish Admiral, Don Frederick de Toledo.
Don Frederick was embarrassed by the situation. He would willingly have massacred them to the last man, but could scarcely afford to do so since they were a colony under regular government authority. He could not leave a garrison, for he needed every man to operate against the Dutch in Brazil; nor could he tell when he might meet de Cusac's fleet which he knew to be in American waters. So he ordered all the vessels that could be found to be loaded with the colonists; some, particularly the more able bodied of the English, he took on board his own fleet, and the remainder
FORMATION OF A COMMUNISTIC SETTLEMENT.
In haste they threw up rude fortifications, and made ready in case the Spanish fleet returned that way, to give it a warm reception. They were poorly provided with cannon, but had fire-arms in plenty. They erected a mole in the bay, loaded vessels with stone and placed them in such a position that on a few hours' notice the bay could be blocked up by sinking a stone-laden ship at the entrance to the harbor. Here they deemed themselves safe, and as the ships of all nations called at Tortuga for stores and hides, the colonists began to grow rich.
While these things were going on the English and French, under different leaders and at different times, made settlements in many other islands bordering the Caribbean Sea. One by one these colonies grew in size and of importance, and as they did so were taken under home protection. Governors were sent out from London and Paris, and as they came they brought with them favorites, and grants dispossessing the original colonists, many of whom not obtaining the justice for which they asked, went to Tortuga. Here an ideal government of freebooters prevailed. The theory of their society was in several points communistic; meats, vegetables, fruits, in fact all necessaries were held in common. Money and other valuables were separate possessions, but so honest were the Tortuga people in reference to each other that there was no lock, bar or bolt to be found in the whole island, while a man who stole from his fellows was judged worthy of the severest punishment.
MASSACRE OF THE COLONISTS BY SPANIARDS.
So the colony grew and prospered, and might have been known in history as the beginning of a peaceful conquest by the English and French of the West Indies, had it not been for the jealousy of the Spanish. They could not tolerate the idea of a foreign settlement under their noses, and after long watching for an opportunity, at last, in 1638, during a great hunting season, when most of the Tortuga men were absent chasing cattle on the mainland, the Spanish of San Domingo fitted out an expedition against the island colonists. As they expected, few men were found on the island,
Scarcely had they gone, however, than the survivors of the colonists came out of their hiding places in Tortuga, the hunting parties returned from Hayti, and three hundred strong they assembled, determined to renew their settlement. For the first time, they elected a commander and began a large system of defensive works to protect themselves against future inroads of the Spanish. In revenge for what they and their companions had suffered, they also began to assume the offensive, and even to make attacks on such Spanish vessels as came near or passed close by their island. No solitary Spanish ship was safe. In their open boats the freebooters would chase a vessel for days, would clamber up the sides, and take the ship in spite of the heartiest resistance. They even extended their operations to the Spanish settlements in the neighboring islands, and carried on with them a warfare that was as unceasing as it was savage.
THE COLONISTS TURN PIRATES.
By a curious national movement, sometimes observable in history, a division was made apparent between the English and the French, who constituted the majority of the Tortuga freebooters. The power of France was steadily growing in the West Indies, and the French governors supported the Buccaneers of their own nation in claims to land and islands where they had settled. The English governors of the West Indies, while willing, were not able to do the same for the people of their own nationality, because of the disputes between Charles and his parliament, a dissension soon to be followed by civil war in England. This difference in circumstances led to a division in business, if such an expression is allowable, between the English and the French. The Englishmen not being supported in their claims to land, took to sea and became cruisers; the French, on the other hand, remained cattle hunters; the former were proud to apply to themselves the name Buccaneers; the latter called themselves, and were called by others, Filibusters. Marvellously their numbers increased; scarcely a ship touched at Tortuga or in its neighborhood without contributing to the warlike society one or more discontented sailors; deserters from the European armies found security among the Buccaneers; a previous course of crime was no objection to the reception of a fresh accession to their ranks, for no certificate of moral character was required. Adventurers from every country came in swarms, and oddly enough, a curious commentary on the morals of the time is found in the fact that one of their leaders originally joined the band because he was in debt, and desired to raise the funds to liquidate his obligations. The three hundred adventurers soon became as many thousands, and all were inspired by a common hatred of the Spanish. More than one ship was fitted out in England and France by private means, for the purpose of preying on Spanish commerce in the American seas, and in a few years after the destruction of the settlement by the Spanish, a powerful fleet had its headquarters at Tortuga, and was ready at a day's notice to sail in any direction in quest of booty.
BUCCANEERS ALWAYS READY FOR A FIGHT.
It was at this time in the power of either the English or the French government to make a regular community of the Buccaneers, but neither saw fit to do so, for both found it a decided advantage to encourage these bands of freebooters since they could be employed to do any desperate service that might be required, and at any time their acts could be disavowed should it become necessary or politic to do so. They constituted a body of ill-trained, but brave and reliable auxiliaries, whose value as soldiers was enhanced by the possession of a large fleet of vessels, small in size indeed, but well armed and managed with a degree of skill in seamanship that at times seemed almost miraculous. Both fleet and men were ready to be hired by any nation that chanced at the moment to be at war with Spain, though the Buccaneers would fight anybody, if victory promised a good booty. Their organization was self-sustaining and the nation that employed them was not compelled in time of peace to keep up a large force for which there was no employment, for as soon as the temporary engagement was ended, the Buccaneers were as much at home as before and resumed with no less alacrity the business of fighting Spaniards on their own account. They were thus employed at different times by the English, the French, the Dutch and the Portuguese, to all of whom they rendered good service in every part of the Spanish main.
As soon as an engagement had been concluded with any power, the flag of that nation was at once hoisted by all the Buccaneer ships. Commissions were issued to their commanders, and to all intents and purposes they were in the service of the hostile power, and if taken were entitled to all the privileges and immunities of prisoners of war. But Buccaneers were seldom taken, for rarely did they give, and still more rarely did they ask, quarters; their war with Spain was to the death.