The Impact of Pirates and of Piracy on the Spanish Empire
When the word pirate is mentioned, many people think of ship carrying men across the seas as they pillage other ships. While this is true to some extent there was much more to the lives of the men that were known as pirates. Pirates were mostly men from French, English or Dutch heritage, and were privateers or merchants. Many of these men were sanctioned by their government. By the Spanish they were call piratas or unsanctioned sea-raiders, and would have a heavy influence of trade in the Caribbean and on the Spanish Empire.
The first pirates were known as corsairs and appeared at the end of the 15th and into the beginning of the 16th century. It was at this time between 1530-60 when Spain began to transport the newly discovered riches in the New World. Large amounts of gold, sugar, tabacco and pearls were being sent back to Spain. In 1523 a French Corsair by the name of Jean Florin over took several weakly protected Spanish ships and captured a cargo that held 62,000 ducats in gold, 600 marks of pearls and several tons of sugar. This brought pirates into the Caribbean (Lane 16).
Spain was forced to protect the cargo ships that transported the riches that they were obtaining in the New World and the cost was very great. Trade ships were required to travel in convoys and be armed. Also a Spanish fleet was formed that traveled the seas twice a year, patrolling the trade routes for pirates. There was great hesitation to form a navy that would patrol the Caribbean seas because of costs, but much would be lost because of this hesitation.
Not only were merchant ships being pick off and there cargo taken, unprotected Caribbean towns were being raided and the colonists gains were also taken. Towns were being raided and burned and merchant ships were taken over as they left port. In an attempt to help protect the colonies and the people that lived there Onerous "pirate taxes" were created (Lane 18). This money allowed the Spanish to provide minimal protection for these colonies. Still the cost for fortification, standing armies and a navy could not be justified.
Between the years of 1535 and 1547, some sixty-six Spanish ships were captured by French corsairs (Lane 19). Shortly after in the 1550’s, the Spanish came to regret their passive defense strategy when French corsairs made their most punishing raids ever on the Spanish West Indies. They descended on colonies like Puerto Rico, Hispaniola and Cuba, and caused heavy destruction that they never really recovered from. Finally in the early 1560’s, Spain was forced to react with expensive long-term defenses. Since the Spanish waited so long to do so they not only lost wealth because of what was captured, but now they also had to spend money to protect what was left.
Moreover, French corsairs turned to contraband trading. They would go into small remote Spanish ports and sell to the settlers slaves, cloth and other goods that they had...