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Piracy in the Caribbean sea began when Europeans, primarily English, French and Dutch, were shipwrecked and marooned on small islands. These castaways would set up fires and roast locally hunted meat to lure ships into the shore for trading and then attack and seize the ships. These buccaneers - named for the French word boucaner which means "smoked meat" - were later driven out by colonial authorities who forced them to make their living on the sea. At this time - the sixteenth century - there were numerous merchant ships plying the waters of the Caribbean with cargoes of gold, silver, gems, and other valuables en route from the Americas to Europe. Occasionally pirates were commissioned by European colonial powers and given legal sanction to attack the merchant ships of rival nations. The Protestant nations of Europe were at odds with Catholic Spain and although France was Catholic also it was at this time attempting to expand its holdings in the Americas at Spain's expense. From the 1520's to the 1560's French privateers fought against the Spanish crown, plundering its vast New World commerce. They were joined later by Dutch and English privateers, especially during the English-Spanish War from 1585 to 1604. Compared to the low wages and hard labor of the life of a common seaman, becoming a pirate offered substantial returns and a merry life of dash and daring all inclusive Caribbean vacations. In the 1560's the Spanish had been forced to adopt a system of convoys to ship silver from the Americas to Europe. The Spanish flota brought textiles and other manufactured goods from Europe to Veracruz in Mexico and sold them to local merchants and took on the year's output of gold and silver from the mines of Real de Catorce. The annual treasure fleet was a tempting target for pirates, who usually preferred to dog the fleet and attack stragglers rather than attempt assault on the well-armed main vessels. Spain was also forced to construct extensive fortifications and man colonial garrisons at its major Caribbean ports to deal with the increasing violence from its commercial competitors and privateers. The English established their first colony at Barbados and the French had privateers' vacation resorts at Bahamas. The Thirty Years War (1618 - 1648) in Europe impacted on the political situation in the Caribbean as well, reducing Spanish influence and military control over the area and giving rise to the Golden Age of Piracy. In the early 16th century, French buccaneers on Hispaniola moved into full time piracy in response to Spanish efforts to destroy them and the prey animals they hunted. They established their headquarters on the island of Tortuga and specialized in attacking the Spanish galleons returning to Spain from America. When England wrested Jamaica from Spain in 1655, the town of Port Royal became a pirate's lair and place where booty could be sold at profit. With Spain on the eclipse, the traditional rivalry between France and England soon transformed the alliance between French and English privateers into a war of piracy on the sea. And when Port Royal was destroyed by an earthquake in 1692 it ceased to be the chief market for pirate plunder. Nassau and the Bahamas emerged as the new pirate Caribbean resorts and instead of Spanish treasure the free-


lance pirates plundered sugar, tobacco, cocoa and dried fish which were sold in New England. Not only the reduction of plunder from Spanish treasure ships to less-profitable raw materials; but also the coming of peace in Europe and the animosity of the commercial powers which had previously supported them brought the Golden Age of Piracy to an end. By the early eighteenth century the European powers bolstered their naval forces with the aim of protecting their merchantmen and hunting down pirates and by 1720 there were no longer pirate ships plying their trade in the Caribbean.

Today's all inclusive Caribbean vacations fortunately are tamer and more luxurious than the Caribbean resorts frequented by pirates in the 1600's. But the easy, romantic life of the pirates as well as the scenes of the Golden Age of Piracy - can still be enjoyed at Caribbean vacation resorts.

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