SOME MASTERS IN PIRACY
 FROM the very earliest days of history there have been pirates, and it is, therefore, not at all remarkable that,
in the early days of the history of this continent, sea-robbers should have made themselves prominent; but the
buccaneers of America differed in many ways from those pirates with whom the history of the old world has made
It was very seldom that an armed vessel set out from an European port for the express purpose of robbery in
American waters. At first nearly all noted buccaneers were traders. But the circumstances which surrounded
them in the new world made of them pirates whose evil deeds have never been surpassed in any part of the
These unusual circumstances and amazing temptations do not furnish an excuse for the exceptionally wicked
careers of the early American pirates; but we are bound to remember these causes or we could not understand
the records of the settlement of the
 West Indies. The buccaneers were fierce and reckless fellows who pursued their daring occupation because it
was profitable, because they had learned to like it, and because it enabled them to wreak a certain amount of
vengeance upon the common enemy. But we must not assume that they inaugurated the piratical conquests and
warfare which existed so long upon our eastern seacoasts.
Before the buccaneers began their careers, there had been great masters of piracy who had opened their schools
in the Caribbean Sea; and in order that the condition of affairs in this country during parts of the sixteenth
and seventeenth centuries may be clearly understood, we will consider some of the very earliest noted pirates
of the West Indies.
When we begin a judicial inquiry into the condition of our fellow-beings, we should try to be as courteous as
we can, but we must be just; consequently a man's fame and position must not turn us aside, when we are acting
as historical investigators.
Therefore, we shall be bold and speak the truth, and although we shall take off our hats and bow very
respectfully, we must still assert that Christopher Columbus was the first who practised piracy in American
When he sailed with his three little ships to discover unknown lands, he was an accredited explorer for the
court of Spain, and was bravely sailing forth
 with an honest purpose, and with the same, regard for law and justice as is possessed by any explorer of the
present day. But when he discovered some unknown lands, rich in treasure and outside of all legal
restrictions, the views and ideas of the great discoverer gradually changed. Being now beyond the boundaries
of civilization, he also placed himself beyond the boundaries of civilized law; Robbery, murder, and the
destruction of property, by the commanders of naval expeditions, who have no warrant or commission for their
conduct, is the same as piracy, and when Columbus ceased to be a legalized explorer, and when, against the
expressed wishes, and even the prohibitions, of the royal personages who had sent him out on this expedition,
he began to devastate the countries he had discovered, and to enslave and exterminate their peaceable natives,
then he became a master in piracy, from whom the buccaneers afterward learned many a valuable lesson.
It is not necessary for us to enter very deeply into the consideration of the policy of Columbus toward the
people of the islands of the West Indies. His second voyage was nothing more than an expedition for the sake
of plunder. He had discovered gold and other riches in the West Indies and he had found that the people who
inhabited the islands were simple-hearted, inoffensive creatures, who did not know how to fight and who did
not want to fight.
 Therefore, it was so easy to sail his ships into the harbors of defenceless islands, to subjugate the natives,
and to take away the products of their mines and soil, that he commenced a veritable course of piracy.
The acquisition of gold and all sorts of plunder seemed to be the sole object of this Spanish expedition;
natives were enslaved, and subjected to the greatest hardships, so that they died in great numbers. At one
time three hundred of them were sent as slaves to Spain. A pack of bloodhounds, which Columbus had brought
with him for the purpose, was used to hunt down the poor Indians when they endeavored to escape from the hands
of the oppressors, and in every way the island of Hayti, the principal scene of the actions of Columbus, was
treated as if its inhabitants had committed a dreadful crime by being in possession of the wealth which the
Spaniards desired for themselves.
Queen Isabella was greatly opposed to these cruel and unjust proceedings. She sent back to their native land
the slaves which Columbus had shipped to Spain, and she gave positive orders that no more of the inhabitants
were to be enslaved, and that they were all to be treated with moderation and kindness. But the Atlantic is a
wide ocean, and Columbus, far away from his royal patron, paid little attention to her wishes and commands;
without going further
 into the history of this period, we will simply mention the fact that it was on account of his alleged
atrocities that Columbus was superseded in his command, and sent back in chains to Spain.
There was another noted personage of the sixteenth century who played the part of pirate in the new world, and
thereby set a most shining example to the buccaneers of those regions. This was no other than Sir Francis
Drake, one of England's greatest naval commanders.
It is probable that Drake, when he started out in life, was a man of very law-abiding and orderly disposition,
for he was appointed by Queen Elizabeth a naval chaplain, and, it is said, though there is some doubt about
this, that he was subsequently vicar of a parish. But by nature he was a sailor, and nothing else, and after
having made several voyages in which he showed himself a good fighter, as well as a good commander, he
undertook, in 1572, an expedition against the Spanish settlements in the West Indies, for which he had no
legal warrant whatever.
Spain was not at war with England, and when Drake sailed with four small ships into the port of the little
town of Nombre de Dios in the middle of the night, the inhabitants of the town were as much astonished as the
people of Perth Amboy would be if four armed vessels were to steam into Raritan Bay, and endeavor to take
possession of the
 town. The peaceful Spanish townspeople were not at war with any civilized nation, and they could not
understand why bands of armed men should invade their streets, enter the market-place, fire their calivers, or
muskets, into the air, and then sound a trumpet loud enough to wake up everybody in the place. Just outside of
the town the invaders had left a portion of their men, and when these heard the trumpet in the market-place,
they also fired their guns; all this noise and hubbub so frightened the good people of the town, that many of
them jumped from their beds, and without stopping to dress, fled away to the mountains. But all the citizens
were not such cowards, and fourteen or fifteen of them armed themselves and went out to defend their town from
the unknown invaders.
Beginners in any trade or profession, whether it be the playing of the piano, the painting of pictures, or the
pursuit of piracy, are often timid and distrustful of themselves; so it happened on this occasion with Francis
Drake and his men, who were merely amateur pirates, and showed very plainly that they did not yet understand
When the fifteen Spanish citizens came into the market-place and found there the little body of armed
Englishmen, they immediately fired upon them, not knowing or caring who they were. This brave resistance seems
to have frightened Drake
 and his men almost as much as their trumpets and guns had frightened the citizens, and the English immediately
retreated from the town. When they reached the place where they had left the rest of their party, they found
that these had already run away, and taken to the boats. Consequently Drake and his brave men were obliged to
take off some of their clothes and to wade out to the little ships. The Englishmen secured no booty whatever,
and killed only one Spaniard, who was a man who had been looking out of a window to see what was the matter.
Whether or not Drake's conscience had anything to do with the bungling manner in which he made this first
attempt at piracy, we cannot say, but he soon gave his conscience a holiday, and undertook some very
successful robbing enterprises. He received information from some natives, that a train of mules was coming
across the Isthmus of Panama loaded with gold and silver bullion, and guarded only by their drivers; for the
merchants who owned all this treasure had no idea that there was any one in that part of the world who would
commit a robbery upon them. But Drake and his men soon proved that they could hold up a train of mules as
easily as some of the masked robbers in our western country hold up a train of cars. All the gold was taken,
but the silver was too heavy for the amateur pirates to carry.
 Two days after that, Drake and his men came to a place called "The House of Crosses," where they killed five
or six peaceable merchants, but were greatly disappointed to find no gold, although the house was full of rich
merchandise of various kinds. As his men had no means of carrying away heavy goods, he burned up the house and
all its contents and went to his ships, and sailed away with the treasure he had already obtained.
Whatever this gallant ex-chaplain now thought of himself, he was considered by the Spaniards as an out-and-out
pirate, and in this opinion they were quite correct. During his great voyage around the world, which he began
in 1577, he came down upon the Spanish-American settlements like a storm from the sea. He attacked towns,
carried off treasure, captured merchant-vessels,—and in fact showed himself to be a thoroughbred and
accomplished pirate of the first class.
It was in consequence of the rich plunder with which his ships were now loaded, that he made his voyage around
the world. He was afraid to go back the way he came, for fear of capture, and so, having passed the Straits of
Magellan, and having failed to find a way out of the Pacific in the neighborhood of California, he doubled the
Cape of Good Hope, and sailed along the western coast of Africa to European waters.
 This grand piratical expedition excited great indignation in Spain, which country was still at peace with
England, and even in England there were influential people who counselled the Queen that it would be wise and
prudent to disavow Drake's actions, and compel him to restore to Spain the booty he had taken from his
subjects. But Queen Elizabeth was not the woman to do that sort of thing. She liked brave men and brave deeds,
and she was proud of Drake. Therefore, instead of punishing him, she honored him, and went to take dinner with
him on board his ship, which lay at Deptford.
So Columbus does not stand alone as a grand master of piracy. The famous Sir Francis Drake, who became
vice-admiral of the fleet which defeated the Spanish Armada, was a worthy companion of the great Genoese.
These notable instances have been mentioned because it would be unjust to take up the history of those
resolute traders who sailed from England, France, and Holland, to the distant waters of the western world for
the purpose of legitimate enterprise and commerce, and who afterwards became thorough-going pirates, without
trying to make it clear that they had shining examples for their notable careers.
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