Historical tour of pirates, Cayman

With Pirates Week in full swing, the Caymanian Compass decided to take an historical account of piracy, pirates and privateers in the Cayman Islands. This is the first of a series

Sir Francis Drake

Portrait of Sir Francis Drake. Photo: File

Sir Francis Drake, who visited the Cayman Islands in 1586 and targeted the Spanish mule trains carrying bullion across the Isthmus of Panama, was described by the Spanish as a pirate. ‘The 20. of Aprill we fell with two Islands called Caimanes, vhere we refreshed our selves with many Allagartas and greate turtoises.’

In 1592, the privateer Captain William King visited the Cayman Islands. ‘We ranged the three islands of Caimanes, and landed at Grand Caiman, being the Westernmost, where we found no people, but a good river of fresh water; and there we turned up three score great tortoises.’ From Cayman the privateers continued on to Cuba and at Rio de Puercos a 20 ton barque was seized and later other Spanish ships were captured including one vessel that carried chests of gold.

In 1612 the Dutch privateer Everts Sybrants van Staveren recorded in his journal that he arrived at the middle Cayman and sent some of his people ashore ‘to examine the island and see if anything good can be found…but because of the multitude of caymans or crocodiles which were on the beach and came shooting out of the water and were terrible to see they were worried to be bitten.’

In 1642, William Jackson set out on a privateering voyage to retaliate against Spanish attacks on the Island of Santa Catalina (Old Providence). Before attacking Jamaica, which at that time was still in the control of the Spaniards he stopped in the ‘Chimanos.’ He recorded that there were ‘multitude of Alligators here found which are serpents, if not resembling ye Crocodiles of Egypt. Hither doe infinitt numbers of Sea Tortoises yearly resorte to lay their eggs upon ye Sandy Bay, which at this time swarmed so thicke. The Island is much frequented by English, Dutch and French ships.’

In November of 1653 a Spanish expedition of five vessels and four hundred infantry was sent to attack the buccaneer stronghold of Tortuga according to account of the historian Du Tetre (Written between 1667-1671). The buccaneers surrendered shortly after the troops landed. The inhabitants were then given three days to prepare two ships to carry themselves away from the Island and according to the account, the strong and the healthy were separated from the weak and the ailing. The latter were offloaded in the Cayman Islands. According to Du Tetre the men and women were left at the mercy of the Islands crocodiles, whist the remaining people on board continued in the ship and returned to France. What happened to the group abandoned in Cayman is not known.

1n 1664 Captain John Douglas, who held a Portuguese Commission to attack enemy ships, was in Cayman Brac for 10 days, lying in wait for the vessel the Blue Dove. Douglas eventually caught up to the Blue Dove in Bluefields Bay, Jamaica. William Browne, a passenger on board the vessel reported that ‘Douglas’ men gave them a voly of shot, being in number about 27 men, and being somewhat darke the master was shot in the arme and the men of the Blow Dove were put in the howll of the ship; and then the asaylants cut the cables and carryd away both vesells and them, until they came to Poynt Niggereell, where they met with ane English barke coming from Caymans and bownd for Porte Royall in Jamaica where they putt the said master of the Blowe Dove aboard according to his desire and furnished them with some victwales and a caise of spirits; and after they were gone owt of sight they lasht there barke aboard the prise and took most of there things owt of her and let her go adrifte.’ The master of the Blue Dove, Robert Cook later said that Douglas and his men had taken everything except the clothes he wore, including jewellery, chests of silver and the cargo of sugar the Blue Dove was carrying.

In 1667 Sir Thomas Modiford informed Lord Arlington in correspondence that pirates attacked a convoy and ‘five ships were taken at the Caimanos.’

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