Buccaneers And Privateers Were Pirates – But What’s The Difference Between Them?

Piracy is widely regarded as the world’s oldest profession. Many of the most well known pirates in historical lore originate from a period known as the Golden Age of Piracy that started in the 1650s and continued to the 1730s.

Some historians have suggested that most plundering and looting took place over just a few short years from around 1716 to 1726. This coincided with the end of the War of the Spanish Succession which meant that fewer European navies occupied the seas in the area and a great many well-trained sailors found themselves out of work as a consequence.

Buccaneers and Privateers were two common pirate types.

The Buccaneers were the semi-lawful sailors and soldiers who got their name from the word ‘buccaneer’ which describes the type of meat these men, mainly Frenchmen, used to sell to passing ships before they turned to a life of piracy in around 1650. The original buccaneers were hunters who lived on the island of Hispaniola in the Caribbean, but when the Spaniards drove them off their island they became pirates.

The Buccaneers attacked almost exclusively Spanish coastal towns and ships and they were supported by the English and all other nations at war with Spain. When English occupied Jamaica, providing a base for the buccaneers to launch theirs attack to Spanish settlements, the conflict inflated, as the rise of the Buccaneers.

In the eyes of the Spaniards the Buccaneers were just ordinary brutal heroes, but other nations saw them as heroes.

One of the most famous Buccaneers was Jean-David Nau (c. 1635 – c. 1668), better known as François l’Ollonnais.

He was born in France around 1635. As a young man he was sold to a master who took him to the Caribbean . From 1650 to 1660 he lived as servant on the Island of Martinique. However, L’Ollonais gained experience and confidence for all following achievements in his career. In 1660 he joined the Buccaneers stationed in Saint-Domingue and showed all his talent. Robbing and killing Spaniards was his occupation from that point till the end of his life.

L’Ollonais is said to have been extremely cruel.

The Privateers were more “legal” pirates. They were commissioned by the government of their country or wealthy individuals to attack and raid enemy ships in times of war.

So they were legally authorized to plunder and they carried with them a letter of marque which identified them as ‘legal’ raiders.

One of the most famous privateers was Captain Henry Morgan, who fought for England against Spain in the 1660’s and 1670’s. With a privateering commission, Morgan sacked several Spanish towns, including Portobello and Panama City. He shared his plunder with England and lived out his days in honor in Port Royal.

Many Privateers often wanted a greater share than specified in their contract and they didn’t aks, they just took what they wanted. So, the line between privateer and outright pirate was often crossed.

It should be added that many Buccaneers considered themselves to be Privateers, with many carrying letters of marque which served as legal proof that they were sponsored by wealthy individuals and not operating as independent pirates.

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