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BUCCANEERS were a distinct group of pirates who operated in the Caribbean from the late sixteenth century until the first quarter of the eighteenth century. The name originally applied to a group of men who occupied the western half of Haiti. They hunted wild cattle and pigs and traded with the Spanish, but the relationship turned bitter after the Spanish attacked them. Either English or French in origin and Protestant in religion, the buccaneers

waged terror against all resistance and soon developed a fearful reputation, which they used to their advantage. Sir Henry Morgan (1635–1688) led the buccaneers from their base in Jamaica. They were freebooters—seeking only treasure and freedom from all authority. The promise of wealth and adventure attracted people from all nationalities. The French called them boucaniers, which was later anglicized as "buccaneers."

The tale of Edward Teach (1680–1718), known as "Blackbeard," is an example of how people combined fact, fiction, and fear to create legends about the buccaneers. Among the buccaneers were such women pirates as Mary Read, who sailed with Captain Jack Rackham off Jamaica in 1720, and Anne Bonny. The buccaneers' freewheeling nature made them colorful characters in popular culture. As nations took action against them, they ceased to be a threat and became memorialized in such novels as Treasure Island (first published 1881–1882) by Robert Louis Stevenson.

The eighteenth century was the golden age of pirates until the end of the American Revolution (1775–1783). During this time, they contributed a key maritime function as they helped America fight the British. In 1697, the Treaty of Ryswick, which ended the War of the League of Augsburg (1689–1697), partly suppressed buccaneering. With the growth of the nation-state and its steam-powered navy, pirates, privateers, and buccaneers lost their power. The Declaration of Paris (1856), which ended the Crimean War (1853–1856), outlawed the groups. In modern times, very little piracy existed except in Southeast Asia and the backwaters of the Caribbean.


Besson, Maurice. The Scourge of the Indies: Buccaneers, Corsairs, and Filibusters, from Original Texts and Contemporary Engravings. New York: Random House, 1929. Enlightening and entertaining material.

Cordingly, David. Pirates: Fact & Fiction. London: Collins & Brown, 1992. An informative but naive treatment of the subject.

Gosse, Philip. The History of Piracy. London: Longmans, Green, 1932. Reprint, Glorieta, N. M.: Rio Grande Press, 1990. An old but very useful narrative.

Donald K.Pickens

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