Discover the Real Pirates of the Caribbean
A Lesson In Saint Lucia's Pirate History
Whether you choose to describe them as corsairs, freebooters, privateers or sea rovers, pirates and The Caribbean and have been inextricably linked since well before Hollywood made the connection. According to the Royal Museums Greenwich website, as far back as the 17th century, "buccaneers lived on the Caribbean island of Hispaniola and its tiny turtle-shaped neighbour, Tortuga. At first, they lived as hunters, and shot wild pigs with their long-barrelled muskets. Their name came from the special wooden huts called boucans where they smoked their meat."
Later, the corrupt governors of some Caribbean islands paid these buccaneers to attack Spanish treasure ships and ports. Although raids started off with official backing, the buccaneers gradually became out of control, attacking any ship they thought carried valuable cargo, whether it belonged to an 'enemy' country or not. As gold and silver gave way to slave trading, tobacco, sugar and so on, the Caribbean remained an important trading route ensuring a steady supply of attractive targets for those who had become true pirates.
Saint Lucia has it's own pirate past which also goes further back than its starring role on 'Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl.' The natural arch at Marigot Bay was the site in which Johnny Depp sees the hanging skeletons of captured pirates in the first film of the franchise, and a local day charter became a co-star as the 'Henrietta.
The 138-foot long Brig Unicorn was built in the late 1940’s in Finland and featured in at least three of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, as well as in the iconic 1970’s TV series 'Roots'. The 'Unicorn' served Saint Lucia as a fully-pirate-themed day sea excursion and beloved dockside bar from 1980 until she sank off the coast of St. Vincent in 2014 en route to a full refit.
Even before the downfall of the buccaneers, in the late 1550s the legendary French pirate François le Clerc and his crew of 330 men were the first Europeans to settle the island, setting up a camp on Pigeon Island in Saint Lucia, from which they attacked passing Spanish treasure galleons.
Le Clerc was a 16th-century French privateer, originally from Normandy and known as 'Jambe de Bois' due to his wooden leg. In fact, he is credited as the first pirate in the modern era to have a 'peg leg. He was often the first to board an enemy vessel during an attack or raid, and this brazen style had caused him to suffer the loss of his leg while fighting the English at Guernsey in 1549. Many pirates would have had their careers ended by such an injury, but le Clerc refused to retire and instead expanded the scope of his piracy.
After a life of skulduggery on the seas, in 1563 Jambe de Bois died as he lived, but his name lives on in Saint Lucia's history books, as well as a well-known restaurant at the foot of Fort Rodney in Pigeon Island National Landmark, which is managed by the Saint Lucia National Trust.
For more about the Real Pirates of the Caribbeam, visit the Royal Museums Greenwich website and click here for more about Francois Le Clerc.