To assist with the defence of their new Caribbean colonies, English, French and Dutch governors turned to the buccaneers, who were more than willing to plunder Spain’s towns in the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico. The earliest buccaneers were a ragged assortment of deserters, fugitives and even runaway slaves who banded together on the island of Tortuga on the Atlantic coast of present-day Haiti. They lived by hunting wild pigs and cattle (brought to the island by European settlers), smoking their meat on a wooden frame over a pit known as a boucan (hence the name boucaniers). When the game became scarce they took to the open sea to prey on shipping, especially Spanish.
As their numbers and their skills increased, the buccaneers became a serious fighting force under resourceful leaders like Henry Morgan, who had arrived with the English army. Morgan’s successful sack of the city of Panama with three thousand men in 1671 coincided with the conclusion of a peace treaty between England and Spain. After a brief incarceration in the Tower of London to appease the Spanish, Morgan returned to Jamaica as Lieutenant Governor with a mandate to eradicate what was now deemed piracy.
Reminders of the era of piracy at Port Royal include Gallows Point at the end of the promontory and, offshore, Rackham’s Cay where “Calico Jack” Rackham, after being executed, was squeezed into a cage and hung in the air as a warning to others. His two accomplices, Anne Bonney and Mary Read, escaped punishment by declaring themselves pregnant.