King’s Pirate. Henry Morgan’s Attack on Panama, Part 3.

Recommended as Further Reading by Don Nardo

So who were the Buccaneers and why did they hate the Spanish, why did the Spanish hate them? Lets go find out
The Buccaneers where not originally pirates they where hunters. They lived on the island of Hispaniola (Haiti, Dominican Republic)and made a living by hunting the feral pigs and cows that ran wild on the island and selling the meat on the shore. The need to preserve

Contemporary Picture of a Buccaneer with Hunting dogs.
Contemporary Picture of a Buccaneer with Hunting dogs.

their produce from the tropical heat forced them to smoke their kills on a device known as a bouccan. It was a triangular frame that suspended a trough over a small fire-pit, which slowly cooked the strips of meat they laid in it, making a rich tasting jerky that the French corrupted to call Boucane. The long life of boucan made it perfect for sea travel and long journey’s, it was a hard way to make a living, but for a while the Boucaniers were sitting pretty, living in pair’s in small huts in the woods and swamps, and selling their produce to passing ships.

But there was a problem. As you may remember the Spanish were kind of iffy about heretics muscling in on their New World. They had a treaty okayed by the Pope saying only Catholics could settle the Indies and the boucaniers where mostly French Huguenot’s. When the Spanish finally got around to kicking these dirty backwoodsmen out, they where merciless in their methods and very effective, by 1630 a sort of ethnic cleansing had been effected and the old Boucanier way of life all but ceased to exist.

Denied their traditional way of life the Boucaniers decided that since the Spanish had deprived them of their livelihood, and would not trade with them, they should live off the Spanish. Piracy had been a casual pastime for the Boucaniers for many years, it was now just a matter of turning pro. Many fled in canoes to Tortuga, an island off the north coast of Hispaniola, and already a well known as a place to trade with the

Howard Pyle's 1905 painting of an Attack on a Treasure Galleon.
Howard Pyle’s 1905 painting of an Attack on a Treasure Galleon sums it up quite well.

French. The island became the haunt of the Boucaniers, and they began to maraud Spanish shipping. The beginning of their enterprise happened just 20 years before the English clumsily took Jamaica in 1655, and by that time they where no longer a paltry mob of canoe paddling cutthroats, they where a force to be reckoned with, getting themselves the nickname the Brethren of the Coast. They had well armed ships under independent captain’s, elected from their midst, (according to their mysterious democratic code), with an Admiral for a spokesman. They where powerful enough to attract the attention of the English garrison on Jamaica, but not for the reason’s you might think.

By 1657 the governor, Edward D’Oyley, had withstood repeated attacks by the Spanish and needed to find a fix to secure the island once and for all, the problem was he didn’t really have enough men to deter an attack an not enough ships either, but he had a shrewd idea of where to get them. He decided to offer the port of Cagway on the southern coast, to the “Buccaneers,” as the English called them, in return for protection from the Spanish. In addition he promised to legitimise their crimes by offering letters of Marque to attack the Spanish. It was a match made in heaven, or perhaps a little lower down.

The effect of this merging of pirate and settler was dramatic. Protestant privateers had exploited the lawless nature of the New World since the 16th Century, but what happened in Jamaica gave the whole thing a facelift, and both colony and brotherhood expanded together. With a firm base and quasi legitimacy the Brethren, by this time a polyglot of Dutch, French and English, could launch devastating raids on the Spanish main and return laden with loot to a safe harbour. The many enemies of Spain looking for a way to get rich identified a good thing when they saw it, and recruits flocked to successful captain’s, and even governors of Jamaica where known to lead expeditions. Jamaica became a rich colony and by the time Charles II came to power Cagway, newly named “Port Royal”, was the most prosperous settlement in America and Buccaneering was its pastime. The men Morgan would lead where a mixture from all walks of life, sailors, soldiers, adventurers, criminals, and scoundrels, even ordinary people who were down on their luck. All sorts of violent men from varied backgrounds and country’s united by greed and hate of the Spanish. Buccaneers had varied requirements when it came to boats, at first they had used Piragua’s or small fishing boats to supplement their living by attacking the odd Spanish ship. Piragua’s where flat bottomed boats not unlike a canoe in looks that could fit 6 to 10 men, and mount a sail if necessary. But as time wore on they graduated to using more robust vessels like Pinnaces, in this period a Pinnace was not just a single masted tender, they could average on between 40 and 200 tons and able to carry proportionate crews. Other ships where likely to be fly boats and barque’s. Longboats seating 40 men where also to be found as Buccaneer craft, as well as native canoes accompanying large frigate sized ships, like Henry Morgan’s ill fated Oxford, small boats and ships with shallow draughts were a vital part of Buccaneer raids and were either towed or lashed to the decks. A Buccaneer fleet coming in to attack would be a cluster of two masted ships, no smaller than a brigantine around a handful of larger three masted ships. Accompanying them would be small one masted tenders, with longboats and canoes ready on deck.

"The Buccaneer was a picturesque fellow" By Howard Pyle 1905.
“The Buccaneer was a picturesque fellow” By Howard Pyle 1905. Is a Pretty fair representation of a ragged buccaneer, but also a romanticised one. In fact they’d probably be dressed a bit better than this.



A small Pinnace with mainmast, jibb and stay.
A small Pinnace with mainmast, jibb and staysail.

A typical Buccaneer would be dressed in typical clothes of the time. William Dampier never really describes the clothes he saw worn on his trip around the world unless they were on natives. However he did observe that men wore slop clothes to work in, that men owned breeches, shirts and jackets and one could tell an Englishman by his dress, indicating a level of national representation in fashion. Alexander Esquemelin, who accompanied the raid on Panama noted in one instance the men around him had nothing but “seaman’s trousers or breeches, and a shirt without shoes or stockings”. A regular facet of Buccaneer life was the dressing and cooking of food, the drying of clothes and ammunition and the cleaning of weapons. Some were former soldiers, some volunteers from the garrison or militia at Port Royal and as such would wear variations of conventional uniforms, others were mercenaries who wore what they liked, usually aping soldiers and gentlemen, and others were mostly sailors and adventurers. Sailing clothes of this time can be seen in some surviving examples, and more commonly in the paintings of Van der Velde the younger. One example of Buccaneer clothing is in the illustration at the top of the page showing a long smock or shirt as the principle garment, breeches but no hose or shoes. In general they wore a a hat of some sort, usually a wide brimmed job of varying design and heights, from a gentleman’s more elegant chapeau to a crude flowerpot or pillar box look. All wide brimmed hats could be cut down into caps for sea, a wide brim is problematic in a gale, and national variations were common, French sailors for instance seem to have favoured a sort of sock cap. One rule has dominated sailors clothes from the beginning of time, that of durability and simplicity. The Mariners amongst Morgan’s fleet would have worn a combination of shirts doublets and tunics. Most tunics seem to have been buttoned or pull over types, collars were rare except on doublets and gentleman’s clothes, seamen had neck cloths. Leg wear for sailors depended on where they were sailing. Indeed all abovementioned clothing would have likley been altered to suit the hot Caribbean climate, luckily sailing clothes appear to be adaptable due to their simplicity. On his lower half a sailor wore either wide canvass trousers, of the universal type that was common for most of the next hundred years, or the typical baggy breeches that prevailed during the 17th century. In the tropics one might forgo hose on the lower leg, though some might be owned to smarten a man up for shore. His shoes varied, on land he might have a pair of leather shoes, and soldiers would certainly have a pair of boots. Sailors would spend some of the time barefoot, or in simple pair of hide shoes or sandles. Officers and those with a prized shore going rig, would have depended on long coats called justaucorps, waistcoats and doublets to cut a dash. Essentially what you see gentlemen wearing. Deep cuffs and long tails with stockings and knee breeches, this is highly impractical wear for a ship or a jungle however and would have been reserved for less arduous tasks. In action a buffalo hide coat or buffcoat might well be seen, Morgan himself in pictured in an engraving, with a musket over his shoudler, a basket hilted sword slung from a shoulder belt, two pistols hanging from a sash, wearing a feathered hat, a plain looking jacket, typical for the 17th century and belt with open sleeves to show his shirt cuff. He wears conventional breeches and stockings and leather shoes. Because there was no uniform for even navy sailors, portraits of admirals are excellent source material for commanders. Benbow wears an interesting justaucorps, whith narrow cuffs, true this is a 1701 portrait but wide cuffs would remain in fashion well into the 18th century, and thus Benbow is wearing clothes that won’t be likely to get in the way. He’s also wearing armour, usually this was an artistic device, however if one could get a hold of a breastplate or gorget, it wouldn’t be totally unusual to see.
Buccaneer weapons would consist of a matchlock, or early flintlock musket, and a robust sword or hanger. The importance of the sword should not be overlooked, for as only gentlemen carried them in day to day life, soldiers could be considered gentlemen by extension. And ironically therefore Buccaneers also. The sword would be fairly plain, basket hilts as in the Morgan illustration and also hangers like the one Sir John Benbow is holding in his 1701 portrait. Also he would need a bandolier of powder tubes, with a ball bag and flask of powder all slung from the shoulder. Some might have had more sophisticated paper cartridges held in a cartridge box, some might have pistols and most sea going men had a knife and knew how to use it. They where organised by companies, that is to say each captain lead his own men, usually under a distinctive flag, but many captain’s would attach themselves to lucky leaders like Morgan who was proven to deliver loot, hence Morgan could assemble such large numbers, his voted rank as Admiral confirmed the trust they put in him, it was a precarious system which didn’t tolerate failure well, one slip up and you lose your whole fleet.

The Spanish

From the end of the 15th century to the end of the 17th the Spanish dominated European warfare.

Their quick ability to reconcile modern gunpowder weapons and old fashioned pike and sword tactics, allowed them to create the most feared and disciplined Infantry on the continent and the riches of America allowed them to pay for it. They formed their men into mixed weapon units consisting of a core of well armoured pikemen, interspersed with musketeers, these troops could mutually defend each other as they attacked, added to this, at least at an early stage, where small groups of what where known as sword and buckler men who could run out from the main body to break up a pike battle with devastating efficiency. These formations where the Tercio’s and for over 300 years their men fought from Germany to South America, creating a world empire that brought King’s, Sultan’s and Pope’s to their knees, however by the time of Morgan things had changed and Spain, badly damaged by years of indulgent wars and excesses at home, was a wounded animal being surrounded by scavengers.

The Spanish, maintained garrisons of troops in all of their major towns and most of their lesser ones, especially on the Main, but there were few full time professional troops in them, those that where there, were raised by the local governors and they conformed to standard European military theory’s in tactics and dress.

The same can be said for the militia or the town guard, the one thing they had in common with the Buccaneers was that many came from different occupations, anyone that wasn’t a reserved occupation was liable for service in the Militia in times of danger, and they may have had some old veterans of the European wars in their ranks.

Since militia companies or regiments tended to ape the regulars there would have been a pattern in every garrison, an established cadre of pikemen, wealthier citizens who could afford perhaps a breastplate and helmet, but men also of slightly taller build and greater strength, a pikeman was a noble soldier and considered more of a gentleman, as opposed to his lowly, grubby counterpart musketeer who wore little or no armour and engaged at long range with slow loading and inaccurate matchlocks of inferior but robust design, each musketeer carried a thick leather strap suspended from which was his ball bag and a flask of priming powder and twelve wooden containers which were universally nicknamed the “Twelve Apostles” each airtight tube holding the equivalent powder for one charge, though by this time the greased paper cartridge had been in use for some time but they could only be made up before a battle. As it was by this time the ratio of Pikemen to Musketeers was something like 5 to 1 in favour of the latter.

The state of Spain’s colonies can be glimpsed by the fact that deep in the jungles of South America bows were not an uncommon sight to be seen being wielded by Spanish soldiers, doubtless crossbows were there, but perhaps also some native designs as well.

Officers were not required to dress like their men in any army, indeed it was discouraged to do so and such men would have been wealthy and important members of the society, or proffesional adventurer officer’s trying to get a piece of Spain’s colonial wealth. Their dress would have been much grander, including buff coats, gorgets and fine weaponry like Rapier’s. Spanish noblemen had a proud fighting tradition, and many of these men where likely descended from the Conquistadores.

All Spanish Infantry whether militia or regulars by this point were beginning to wear uniform

Spanish Pikeman of the Tercio de Asturias in Europe 1690.
Spanish Pikeman of the Tercio de Asturias in Europe 1690. By Augusto Ferrer Dalmau.

coats and eventually white would be the colour that distinguished Spain’s infantry on the battlefield, but at this early stage some variety might have been seen especially in militia companies. Veterans from Europe would stitch a red Burgundian cross on their chests; a battle front would no doubt betray a varied line of cream, off white, clear white, brown, cheap red and grey with no little amount of homespun cloth sprinkled about.Their weapons consisted if they could afford it, of muskets and the hardy matchlock predominated, hangers, low quality small sword’s and long European style pikes, one other ace the Spanish had up there sleeve was that they maintained militia cavalry troops, who used heavy broadswords, flintlock pistols, carbines and lances, wearing buff coats, breastplates and helmets. These cavalry could prove decisive in the event of a stand up fight on flat ground, since the Buccaneers did not use pikes away from their ships.

As we shall see just because these garrisons were rather ill equipped and not particularly well motivated, it did not mean they could not fight with the tigerish ferocity of true sons of Spain, but it did not bode well for the security of the towns they guarded.

So we all seem set now to get on with the action, but in the best spirit of a well done cliff-hanger this will have to “Be Continued” see you again same time, same blog for another Adventure in Historyland.


See part 1 here
See Part 2 here.

See part 4 Here.

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