Saturday, December 03, 2005

A Brief History of Pirates & Privateers in the Caribbean

Part I
By Marcus M. Mottley, Ph.D.

The history of piracy dates back more than 3000 years. Piracy was described in Homer's The Iliad and The Odyssey. It appears that the word pirate (peirato) was also used about 140 BC by the Roman historian Polybius. The Greek historian Plutarch, writing in about 100 A.D., gave a clear definition of piracy. He described pirates as those who attack without legal authority, not only ships, but also maritime cities.

In more modern times, particularly in the Caribbean Region, pirates operated with impunity. The names of Morgan the Pirate, Captain Kidd and Edward Teach – more infamously known as Blackbeard, struck terror in the hearts of ships’ crews. In fact many of these pirates claimed a new name: “privateers”. The difference apparently was that a privateer was a pirate who had a commission or letter from a government authorizing him to seize or destroy a vessel of another nation. Global powers such as England, France and Spain commissioned their ‘private pirates’ to prey on each others ships and ‘New World’ territories.

Sir Francis Drake was the first of the well known “privateers”. Historically, he is considered a hero by the British but the Spanish consider him to have been a cruel and bloodthirsty pirate. Morgan the Pirate was also Sir Henry Morgan – having been recognized by the British Government for his exploits. He was later installed as Lieutenant Governor of Jamaica.

It is also noteworthy that privateers not only attacked ships, but also sacked and pillaged harbors, ports and seaside towns.

The exploits of these pirates, privateers or buccaneers as they were also known, is well depicted in the well known classic Treasure Island.

Today, unfortunately, we still have pirates and privateers plying their trade around the Caribbean Region. However, although these ‘modern’ day swashbuckling buccaneers still hunt for other people’s gold and silver, they do so using modern piratical means such as money-trafficking, money cycling and other types of financial crime. Again, quite regrettably, this Region is embraced by some modern day ‘private pirates’ of the Caribbean as a “haven” for their swashbuckling activities.