Picture of Skull

Short History of Tortuga, 1625-1688


Settlement by the French (1625-1632)
In 1625 the French arrive and establish a colony at the island St. Kitts (St. Christopher), together with English colonists. From this island they set sail to Hispaniola. They found it fairly populated by Spanish colonists and therefore continued to the North to the island Tortuga. On this island only a few Spanish colonists were based.

They start setting up plantations and steadily increase their numbers, some of them from the Islands St. Kitts and Nevis that were attacked in 1629 by Spanish forces under command of Don Fabrique de Toledo. In the same year they also attacked Tortuga. The Spanish forces are succesfull and temporarily expell them.
A number of the colonists flee into the woods and some escape to the woods of Hispaniola. Spanish forces fortify Tortuga in 1630. Despite this, the French take possession of the island again when most of the Spanish forces leave for Hispaniola to root out the French colonists in the woods there.
The small Spanish force that had been left was defeated and the Frenchmen extend the fortifications the Spaniards had set up. Most of the English colonists did not return, but settled again at the Island of Nevis. Those that did return established a new colony under the control of the Providence Island Company in 1631. The Governor of this English Colony is Anthony Hilton.

Buccaneers on Tortuga (1633-1634)
The French send a request for a Governor to the Governor of St. Kitts. He sends Jean Le Vasseur to them with men and equipment to further fortify the island. He built the Fort de Rocher on a rocky outrcrop of a natural harbour.
Tortuga from then on is regularly used by privateers and pirates as a base of operations. In 1633 the governor of Tortuga, also called association island, is still Captain Anthony Hilton. In this year the first slaves are imported. 1634 saw the Governor-General of the French West Indies transfer his seat of power from St. Kitts to Tortuga. The Compagnie des Isles d'Amerique takes posession of French Colony on the island.

Tortuga under Attack (1635)
Captain Nicholas Riskinner(/Reiskimmer) arrives on Tortuga in 1635 to take up as Governor of the English Colony on the island. Apparantly he was a scoundrel since Richard Lane, enroute to the Island of Providence and sailing on the same vessel to the West Indies, reported that he had taken his goods by force. Riskinner dies shortly after his arrival at Tortuga.
For some time slaves had been imported to work on the plantations of the island. Despite advice that the colonists should distribute them over the island and treat them well the experiment with slavery faltered in 1635. On Tortuga the slaves were said to be out of control and the planters dispersed because of Fraud and mismanagement. There are also continual disagreements and fights between the English and French colonists.
An Irish deserter of the English colony named John Murphy brought intelligence of this to the Spanish forces in the area. As a result, in the same year, the colony is attacked by Spanish forces under the command of Ruy Fernádez de Fuenmayor, latter governor of Venezuela (1638-1643). The English colony is soon captured and many colonists are killed. On that same year Spanish forces under the command of Captain Gregorio de Castellar y Mantillalater attacked the Island of Providence (Santa Catalina). The English forces on Providence island were able to defend it succesfully against the attack. After the attack on Tortuga, and its abandonement by the Spaniards, the English and French colonists that managed to escape from the attack return to the Island.

Second Attack on Tortuga (1636-1639)
This situation of the failing plantations must not have been improved much by the year 1638 when Spanish forces again attack Tortuga and temporarily expell the colonists. In a letter by Don Inigo de la Mota to the Spanish king in 1639 he makes mention of the succesful attack on the pirate colony and its mixed population that consisted of Dutch and French pirates.
Very shortly hereafter, in 1639, these manage to recapture the Island and refortify it. In 1639 the number of colonists on Barbados and St. Christopher is so large that these wander to other colonies to be able to establish themselves and make a living. Some of them go to Tortuga where they set up succesful plantations in tobacco. Their leader was Captain Robert Flood.

The Third Attack on Tortuga (1640-1659)
In 1640 the buccaneers of Tortuga began calling themselves the Brethren of the Coast. In this same year Jean Le Vasseur is commissioned to take full posession of the island. He was able to expell the ill-organised English colonists without much difficulty by 1641.
The population of prates and privateers on Tortuga consisted of a mix of most Europeans, but the largest parts were French and English. A Spanish report from 1646 again mentions the buccaneer hideout and informs us that the population consist of Dutchmen and Englishmen in 1645.
Overview of TortugaThe French governer imported several hundred prostitutes round 1650, hoping to regularize the lives of the unruly pirates, some of whom lived in a kind of homosexual union known as matelotage. Le Vasseur is assassinated by his own followers in 1653. During his years as a Governor the island was heavily fortified against attacks from Spanish forces.
His successor, Chevalier de Fontenay, was attacked in January 1654 by Spanish forces from Santo Domingo. A garrison was left to hold the island but it was withdrawn in 1655 to aid in the defence of Santo Domingo against English forces in the area. When some Englishmen heard of this they sailed from Jamaica to reoccupy it. This they did from 1655 to 1659. From the island they frequently attacked the few Spanish settlements that still remained on Hispaniola. As a consequence these were destroyed. Colonel Edward D'Oyley, then Governor of Jamaica, tried to establish an English government on the island from 1658 to 1659. Despite help from French deserters he failed and a French government was set up.

The High Point of the Buccaneer Base (1660-1669)
In 1660 the French attack the Spaniards on Tortuga and retake posession of the island to use it again as base for piracy and privateering. Most buccaneers set out from the island and, after some time, return to drink and gamble away their spoils in a matter of days or weeks.
The buccaneer Captain Guy used Tortuga as well as Jamaica as bases of operation in 1663. In this same year the Governor of Jamaica, Sir Thomas Modyford (1664-1671) received orders to relax his restrictions against buccaneers on the island. Many of the English on the island went sea-roving against Spain again, but the Frenchmen under the rovers left Jamaica to concentrate on Tortuga as a base of operations. The immediate result was that they expelled most of the English settlers living there.

1664 saw the French West India Company again take posession of the island and send as its Governor Monsieur D'Ogeron. In 1665 he arrived at Tortuga. Bertrand D'ogeron had the difficult task of convincing the buccaneers to accept him as governor and to abandon their relations with Dutch rovers. He found the men whom he hoped to convert into colonists dispersed in small and unorganised parties living in a rather primitive fashion.
In a report to the French Minister Colbert he told him that there were about seven or eight hundred men scattered along the coasts of the island in inaccessible places. By the by he was able to control them and he even managed to get many new colonists to settle on the island and on Hispaniola. Several French privateers and sea-rovers were also attracted and made Tortuga their base of operations.

In 1666 Morgan arrives on Tortuga as an endentured servant. After running away from a cruel master he joins up with buccaneers as a surgeon. The Buccaneer L'Ollonais is based at Tortuga in the 1660s. Together with Michel le Basque he carries out an attack on the cities of Gibraltar and Maracaibo in 1667. Sometime later in 1667 he sets out again with a fleet of ships to plunder the harbour city Puerto de Cavallo and the town of San Pedro. This same year he dies on the coast of Nicaragua where he and some of his crew were captured by Indians and killed.
Henry Morgan sailed to the Isla Vache, South-West of Hispaniola, in October of 1668. There he was joined by a band of French buccaneers from Tortuga. After sailing for some time he attacked Maracaibo in 1669. In 1669 the Governor of Tortuga, d'Ogernon, was again trying to restrict the activities of the buccaneers of Tortuga: he tried to persuade them to confine themselves Tortuga for refitting and the disposal of their booty. He did not succeed, however.

The Decline of the Buccaneers (1670-1679)
Some of the buccaneers of Tortuga who found piracy too dangerous turned to logwood-cutting. When the forests of Tortuga and the easily accessible ones in Hispaniola were cut out they went to Campeachy. In the peninsula of Yucatan they sought the better wood. Their principal gathering-ground was in the Gulf of Mexico at a place called Triste. Their were several more places along the coasts of Yucatan, Moskito and between Honduras and Guatemala. A valuable trade sprang up between the logwood-cutters and Jamaica. Despite many protests of Spain Jamaica continued to trade in the wood. The use of corsairs by Spain forced the buccaneers to sail in company for protection.

By 1670 the English buccaneer Henry Morgan had to conceal his activities under French Letters of Commission and he actively promoted the island of Tortuga as a base of operations and for the disposal of booty.
500 buccaneers from Tortuga and a 1000 buccaneers from Jamaica, under the command of Henry Morgan set sail in 1670. They attacked and plundered Santa Marta, Rio de la Hacha, Puerto Bello and Panama. Morgan received a formal vote of thanks from the Council of Jamaica in May 1671 for his activities. In this year he is send to England and briefly incarcerated in the Tower (for appearances sake) in 1672. He was treated as a hero on his arrival in London.
Overview of IslandsA lot of Jamaican buccaneers went sailing under commission for the Governor of Tortuga by 1670. Many of them also settled on the coast of St. Dominigue. Others wandered off to other colonies in the Caribbean. Despite the attempts of D'Ogeron these settlers continued to trade with the Dutch. They obtained most of their stores and African slaves from them in exchange for tobacco and ginger.
Around Tortuga the Governor eventually managed to control the trading activities of the buccaneers somewhat by employing a regular squadron of frigates that drove the Dutch traders away. The buccaneers from Tortuga and St. Dominique were used as a striking force and a means to supplement French forces in their attempts to gain a larger foothold in te Caribbean.
When the Lieutenant-General of the French Antilles, Jean Charles Baas, made an attack on Curacao in March 1673 he was expecting help from Tortuga. The assistance from Tortuga failed to arrive, however, because they were shipwrecked on the coast of Puerto Rico. They fell in the hands of the Spaniards and were treated as pirates.
In 1675 a Dutch force under the command of Jacob Binckes arrived in St. Dominique and attempted to stir up a revolt under the colonists there. In a fight off Petit-Goave they attacked and plundered a French merchantman, but soon afterwards the Governor of Tortuga arrived with reinforcements to aid in the defence of the settlement and the Dutch were driven off.

The Governor never completely succeeded in controlling the buccaneers at Tortuga. Between 1670 and 1678 many buccaneers continued their raids on vessels and colonies of foreign nations, especially those of Spain. Tortuga remained a harbour where not much questions were asked and buccaneers could come with their booty. Among them were many Englishmen who plied heir trade under French commissions.
In 1678 the leader of the French buccaneers in Tortuga and Hispaniola was the Sieur de Grammont. At the head of a large force he continued attacking Spanish settlements around Maracaibo. He even managed to set up a pirate stronghold there for six months.
Buccaneers under command of the Marquis de Maintenon were ravaging the coast of Venezuela. They also destroyed the Pearl fisheries at Margarita and several Spanish settlments on Trinidad.

The End of the Buccaneers at Tortuga (1680-1688)
Eventually, in the 1680s, laws were made that English rovers sailing under foreign flags were considered to be felons. The laws were actively enforced: several Englishmen were convicted and hanged for piracy after attacking Dutch ships. Jamaican plantations also became the frequent targets of attacks by French buccaneers as the opportunities for profitable attacks on Spanish targets diminished. This led to protests from the English government to the King of France. Increasingly ships of all nations were attacked by buccaneers despite being nominally under Letters of Reprisal. The Governor-general of the French Colonies also increased his efforts to stop the activities of the buccaneers who were nominally under the control of the Governors.

In 1684 the Treaty of Ratisbone, between France and Spain, was signed which included provisions to suppress the actions of the buccaneers. The buccaneers were still at it in 1684. They would rather break out into open revolt than give up their piracies. In this year several buccaneers were made offers by Governor Tarin De Cussy of St. Domingue. Enlisted into royal service they were employed to suppress their former buccaneer allies.
By 1688, the same year in which Henry Morgan dies in Jamaica, the age of the buccaneers was over in Tortuga. Those that were left turned pirate and went away to find other harbours to sell their booty.


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For this text I drew heavily on:
Esquemeling, John
The buccaneers of America / John Esquemeling. - New York : Dover, 1967
Kupperman, Karen Ordahl
Providence Island, 1630 - 1641 / Karen Ordahl Kupperman. - Cambridge : Cambridge University Press, 1995
Cordingly, David
- Life among the pirates, the romance and the reality / David Cordingly. - London : Little, Brown & Co., 1995
- Pirates, terror on the high seas - from the caribbean to the south china Sea / David Cordingly. - London : Turner Publishing, 1996
Wright, Irene .
Nederlandsche zeevaarders op de eilanden in de caraibische zee en aan de kust van columbia en venezuela gedurende de jaren 1621-1648 / Irene A. Wright ; transl. [from Spanish by] C.F.A. van Dam. - Utrecht : Kemink, 1935
Newton, Arthur Percival
The European nations in the West Indies, 1493-1688 / by Arthur Percival Newton. - repr. - London : Adam & Charles Black, 1966

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