Shallow waters, busy shipping lanes and treacherous reefs only navigable by experienced ship’s captains can lure many a rich merchant ship aground. Add islets and narrow channels that create perfect hiding places for buccaneers, and you’ll soon see why the Caribbean was a hotbed for pirates during the 30-year Golden Age of Piracy (1690-1720), and why many formidable forts were built to protect the treacherous waters.
If you visit the natural harbor of Port Charles, Jamaica, you will see why it was a haven for buccaneers. The British colonists built the 36-gun Fort Charles and dotted smaller forts around the island, but with no garrison, they had to engage intrepid pirates for protection.
Although you’ll find little evidence these days, raids on nearby Spanish shipping lanes made this rough outpost a bustling center of commerce. The town was almost destroyed by an earthquake and tidal wave in 1692, and the rest was destroyed by fire and hurricanes in the 1700s. Today, Fort Charles still stands as a monument to old pirate days. If you’re a budding archaeologist, it is said a nearby dig could turn up some interesting items.
Old Fort Nassau
If you take a trip to Northwest Mayaguana or South Bimini in The Bahamas, you’ll find some pirate watering holes, but Nassau stands as testament to the greatest concentration of pirates ever seen. Its shallow waters and sheltered harbor gave the likes of Edward “Blackbeard” Teach, Henry Morgan and “Calico” Jack Rackham the advantage when raiding heavily laden Spanish galleons.
The massive 22-cannon Fort Nassau was build by the British in 1697, but bombardments by warring colonial powers left it severely damaged — a haven for pirates who thrived in chaos. A privateer turned British governor eventually routed them in 1718. Today, an overnight stay at the British Colonial Hilton is as close as you’ll come to pirate days, as it is located on the site of Old Fort Nassau, Blackbeard’s onetime home.
San Felipe del Morro
The last stand of the infamous pirates was made near San Juan, Puerto Rico. Famous for its port, it became a beacon for colonial rivals and pirates in the 1500s. The French razed all Spanish forts on the island in 1528, except for the formidable 16th-century citadel that still dominates the entrance to San Juan Bay, San Felipe del Morro. A few years later, the privateers captured the island and the castle, marking the only time El Morro was held by an invading force.
Almost 100 years later, the castle became the final home of Roberto “El Pirata” Cofresí, the last real pirate threat on Caribbean seas. In 1825, after battling a fleet of Spanish and U.S. ships, Cofresí was defeated. Despite trying to buy his freedom with 4,000 pieces of eight, he was executed there.
Now part of the National Park Service, El Morro will intrigue you with a labyrinth of dungeons, vaults and lookouts that are rich in pirate history, and the ramparts will offer you some fabulous views of the once-treacherous Caribbean seas.
Image source: Flickr