Did pirates really live on the island of Tortuga?

The real history behind Pirates of the Caribbean.

Did pirates really live on the island of Tortuga? © Wikimedia Commons

Due to their position (perfect for plundering ships travelling between the New World and Europe), topography (plentiful coves to hide in) and climate, the cays of the Caribbean and islands of the Bahamas made ideal bases for buccaneers, privateers and pirates. In the 1630s, buccaneers (French, Dutch and English fortune hunters, mostly former sailors, settlers and indentured servants) began inhabiting the French Island of Tortuga, which stars as the pirate town in the Pirates of the Caribbean films. From here they launched attacks on Spanish ships in the Windward Passage, and within a decade they’d formed a community and culture known as the ‘Brethren of the Coast’.


This rogue settlement was constantly interrupted by Spanish invasions and reclamations by the French, but in 1657, the Governor of Jamaica, Edward D’Oley, invited the Brethren over to help him protect Port Royal, in return for safe harbour. By 1671, the Welsh privateer Henry Morgan was based in Tortuga, preparing to launch an audacious attack on Panama City.

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