Sailing the high seas, raiding merchant vessels, and sacking port towns; pirates have been the scourge of the seas as long as humans have sailed them.
The popular image of a pirate is of the swashbuckler, haunting the Caribbean during the 17th and 18th centuries. These men were known as pirates, buccaneers, and privateers.
Today, these terms are often inter-changeable, but back then they were anything but.
The term buccaneer comes from a surprising source. It comes from the French word “boucan”, which described a smoking platform for meat. Renegade French settlers, on the Spanish controlled island of Hispaniola, would use “boucans” to smoke wild boar meat.
These “bucanniers” harboured great animosity towards the Spanish, who had evicted them from their settlements on Hispaniola and other Caribbean islands. Buccaneers eventually settled on Tortuga, off the coast of Hispaniola, and began to raid Spanish shipping between the island and Cuba.
They were joined by English and Dutchmen, who operated with the consent of their governments. By the end of the 17th century, buccaneers had devastated Spain's Caribbean colonies and helped reduce Spain to being a minor power in the region.