Buccaneering Era > Brethren of the Coast
Brethren of the Coast
The Brethren of the Coast also known simply as the Brethren was a group of buccaneers that formed a pirate government during the 17th and 18th centuries in the West Indies. Some of the buccaneers such as Henry Morgan held Letters of Marque that gave them royal designation to be licensed privateers. Some of the privateers were backed by wealthy investors in Europe and the Royal governments themselves. Others were outlaw pirates in all regards.
The Brethren of the Coast were largely based out of the island fortress of Tortuga off the coast of Saint-Domingue and later at the city of Port Royal at British Jamaica. The Brethren of the Coast was the real power structure of the West Indies during the buccaneering era as the royal governors were nothing more than useful puppets for the pirates. The governors required the protection of the Brethren to even establish colonies in the region and protect them from the Spanish so they allowed them to get away with whatever they wanted.
The buccaneering era was not like the Post Spanish Succession Period which saw the development of ship to ship boarding action and featuring a lot of maritime naval conflict. While the buccaneers did engage in this activity and laid the foundations for the later eras what really defined the buccaneering era was the land based engagements and massive formations of buccaneers that sieged Spanish towns and even razed a few to the ground. While infamous outlaw pirates like Edward 'Blackbeard' Teach and Bartholomew Roberts managed to blockade a few ports and cities they never acted with the veracity or scale of the buccaneers.
The buccaneers were the first real British, French and Dutch inhabitants to the West Indies and the colonies of these empires dwarfed those going on in places like British North America. For example the population of Port Royal and Tortuga was way larger than that of fledgling New York City or Boston. The population of the West Indies really boomed following the Thirty Years War.
During this time the Protestant communities of France, Germany and the Netherlands were being persecuted by the Catholic communities and the war eventually involved the use of mass privateers. Letters of marque were issued to the Protestant groups such as the Huguenots and British Protestants who were commissioned to raid the French and Spanish shipping lanes and disrupt their economies. These men flocked to the West Indies to get their chance at some of the massive wealth coming out of the the Spanish Main and were soon joined by African sailors, outlaws, fugitives, brigands, highwaymen, thieves and all manner of criminals and miscreants from Europe just itching at their chance to plunder a treasure laden Spanish settlement.
The Brethren of the Coast were mostly of Protestant and Common Law heritage which meant they did not respect the brutality of Maritime Law and the imperial powers of the time. The Brethren of the Coast was structured in a hierarchal command structure which allowed for individual rights, equitable right to a share of the treasure along with legislative decision making and the first fundamentals of democracy in the New World.
For most of its years the Brethren of the Coast was an informal organization but that all changed under Henry Morgan who managed to organize all of the buccaneers and establish a set system of rules and laws. He managed to unite all of the various buccaneer groups into cohesive groups that could focus their efforts and directly siege and destroy Spanish settlements.
Kemp, Peter Christopher Lloyd. Brethren of the Coast: The British and French Buccaneers of the South Sea. New York: St. Martin, 1960, 1961.
Marx, Jennifer. Pirates and Privateers of the Caribbean. Melbourne, Florida: Krieger, 1992.