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Did pirates really live on the island of Tortuga?

Tortuga stars as the pirate town in Pirates of the Caribbean – but did any real privateers and buccaneers live there?

Henry Morgan on ship's deck in battle taking a hostage
Published: January 20, 2022 at 8:30 am
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Due to their position – perfect for plundering ships travelling between the New World and Europe – climate and a topography that offered plentiful coves to hide in, 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’.

Dr Rebecca Simon responds to your questions on the 17th-century golden age of piracy and discusses how accurate pop culture portrayals of pirates are on this episode of the HistoryExtra podcast

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.


This content first appeared in the May 2017 issue of BBC History Revealed


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