Pirates and Buccaneers

Pirates and Buccaneers

From Oxford, Pete, and Graham Watkins. Galapagos: Both Sides of the Coin. Morgansville: Imagine Publishing, 2009. Print. Available for purchase in our online store.

Sir Richard Hawkins

During the 17th century, pirates became commonplace along the Spanish trade routes near the Americas, looting Spanish convoys and towns on the west coast of South America. These pirates were the first people to “use” the Galapagos Islands. The coastal attacks began with Sir Francis Drake who traversed the Magellan Straits in 1578; Dutchman Jacob L’Hermite Clerk and Englishman Richard Hawkins soon followed him around the Cape Horn. Many of these pirates—also known as privateers or buccaneers—operated with the tacit support of their home countries, mainly France, Britain, and Holland, whose interest lay in draining the resources of the Spanish empire. The islands were strategically convenient for pirates, because they were sufficiently distant from the mainland to permit escape, yet close enough to the trade routes and coastal cities for raids. The islands were also useful as a source of food in the ever-abundant giant tortoises. Even though there was little fresh water, there was enough for the pirates and privateers to survive.

Crowley's early chart of Galapagos

In the 1680s, the Englishmen William Dampier and William Ambrosia Crowley visited the islands. By 1678, Crowley’s initial chart of the archipelago appears, naming islands after English royalty and nobility. Dampier was one of the first of many writers to describe the Galapagos Islands from a naturalist’s perspective when he published A New Voyage Round the World in 1697—the first English language account of the islands. Dampier coined the word “sea lion” and added more than 1,000 other words to the English language; his account included the importance of the numerous land turtles and their oil, used instead of butter.

Dampier returned to the islands in 1709 on the Duke, under the command of Woodes Rogers, and on the Duchess. These two ships, before arriving in Galapagos, had found Alexander Selkirk marooned on the Juan Fernandez Islands; Selkirk provided the inspiration for Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe. John Clipperton seems to have been one of the last pirates recorded as visiting the Galapagos, in 1720. This initial brush with humanity, from the 1620s to the 1720s, almost certainly left the islands with some of the first unwelcome, invasive species and began the decline of the giant tortoises, but otherwise, probably had little impact.

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