In many ways England has revealed itself in the Caribbean to be what Spain has long called it: a nation of pirates! For years, England was limited to a handful of small colonies in the Antilles and Barbados with its sugar, molasses, and rum. But with the capture of Jamaica from Spain—of doubtful lawfulness, but what can Spain do?—England has unleashed its rovers on its hated Inquisitorial enemy. “No peace beyond the line” is the justification, along with pretenses of reprisals against Spanish piracies, which are often in reprisal for piracies by English buccaneers. But England is not only a nation of sea dogs; it is also a nation of merchant traders, and it is by merchantry and trade that they come to rule. As trade with Spain becomes paramount, the buccaneers are slowly suppressed and begin marauding into the South Sea—the Pacific Ocean, that is—coasts of the Spanish Main. Many Englishmen in the Caribbean are opposed to the suppression of the buccaneers, for they are the bulwark of defense at sea against enemy attack.
English Caribbean Militia
The English Caribbean militias are the backbone of English defense in the New World. They are modeled as much, or more, on the English army as they are on the English trainband (loosely trained local militia) soldiers, for there are few English regulars to be found in the Americas, and then often only during wartime. The militia is generally well-armed: the infantry primarily with flintlock muskets, especially after the late 1670s, and the cavalry with carbines, pistols, and broadswords. Many of the militias have red uniforms modeled after the English redcoats. Wealthy planters are often the officers, with local tradesmen, indentured servants, and other working men—including slaves at times—serving in the ranks. Some cavalry units, as in England, are composed of gentlemen. Most of the English militia take pride in their service. They muster regularly, and in times of war are often called to arms. In Jamaica, much of the militia ranks are formed of buccaneers—but these rovers are often away at sea.
(1655 – 1697)
So famous are the English buccaneers that they hardly need explanation! Composed primarily of men from the British Islands and English New World colonies, they may also include men of other nations in their ranks. They are a broad spectrum in origin: mariners, former Cromwellian soldiers, former indentured servants, small planters disenchanted with the soil, tradesmen looking for a purportedly easier way to earn a living, common and uncommon adventurers, fishermen, turtlers, logwood cutters, smugglers, and even some former slaves are among their ranks. They are loyal to England, but only to a point: forbid them their Spanish prey, and they are as likely to serve the French as they are to accept amnesty from the English crown. They are commonly armed with a flintlock musket (often the fusil boucanier), a cartouche box with thirty cartridges, a pistol or two, and a cutlass. They are proud of their martial abilities at sea and ashore, and consider themselves “true buccaneers and soldiers”—and also as privateers so that they may pretend they are never pirates.
English Pirate Hunters
English pirate hunters in the Caribbean and North America are of two sorts: those of the Royal Navy and those locally commissioned either to cruise against a specific pirate or to cruise with a more general purpose of seeking any and all pirates. The latter sort is our concern. These are the local ships, captains, and crews sent out after pirates when the too-few frigates and sloops of the Royal Navy are spread too thinly. When commissioned against a short-term specific pirate prey, these English pirate-hunting crews are usually composed of volunteer seamen and militia. They may be commanded by a sea captain, a militia commander, or even by a former buccaneer such as Sir Henry Morgan. Sometimes, however, commissions are issued to veteran privateers, and, dangerously, also to buccaneers and their crews. Sir William Stapleton, Governor of the Leeward Islands, is particularly prone to commissioning dubious members of buccaneer crews. One might as well say that his commissions go to, for all practical purposes, active buccaneers to seek out “pirates and Indians.” Perhaps the most notorious of these is Bartholomew Sharp. He actually does serve his government well in his official capacity by helping to put down a popular rebellion at Bermuda. That he is soon after arrested for piracy—and acquitted of the crime for the second time!—is another matter.
English Royal Navy
The small station ships of the Royal Navy in the Caribbean and North American colonies—typically fifth and sixth rates, with a sloop in addition at times—usually serve admirably in their missions of pirate hunting, local diplomacy, occasional convoy, and petty naval warfare. This is in spite of often being undermanned, poorly provisioned, underfunded, with crews often stricken by disease, and with captains who often do their best to line their pockets via illicit gains. Rarely, if ever, do the vessels of the Royal Navy shirk their duty in battle. They will follow a pirate to a small island, capture him, and, following orders, hang him in sight of Port Royal. In order to destroy a pirate, his ship, and his shore batteries, they are willing to expend nearly all their powder and lose men killed in action. They will gladly slip into a protected harbor and burn a pirate ship, then escape the hundreds of guns from a Spanish fort when ordered by the local governor to anchor under that very artillery. In times of war, larger men-of-war may briefly be found in the Americas. To understand the Royal Navy, and especially its captains and crews, one must understand its mission: to close violently with the enemy and kill or capture him.
North American English Militia
Less “regular” in many ways than their counterparts in Jamaica and Barbados, the North American colonial English militias reflect their colonies as much as, and perhaps more than, their English homeland. They are responsible for offensive warfare as well as defense against Native Americans, Dutch, French, Spanish and sometimes even combined forces. They may augment pirate hunters and are often employed in expeditionary forces. These militiamen are even responsible at times for defending against local insurrection and rebellion—assuming, of course, that the militias themselves are not on the rebellious side. Their effectiveness is typically in proportion to the strength of their enemies and experience against them. Militias more regularly called upon to fight are clearly more capable than those who do little more than drill only when required and who are seldom forced to face an enemy. The men who man these militias typically range from planters to tradesmen to woodsmen, and hail from the upper, middle, and working classes. North American English militia arms are fairly similar throughout the colonies. Typical arms of the infantry, for example, include a “sanguined” fusil (a flintlock musket with a browned barrel to prevent rust) with a barrel no shorter than three feet, a cartouche box or collar of bandoliers holding at least a dozen cartridges, a sword or hatchet, a powder horn, a dozen flints, a worm and priming wire, and a snapsack. Even so, requirements range from decade to decade and colony to colony: one colony may require six cartridges, another a dozen, another two or three dozen. Few, if any, of these militias, have formal uniforms. In times of war or emergency, independent companies often arise to augment the regular militia force.
English Expeditionary Forces
America in the seventeenth century is an eclectic, yet strangely fluid combination of environments and peoples that range from jungles to deserts and from Native Americans to Africans to Europeans and a variety of those—and other—mixed ethnicities. In times of war, expeditionary forces reflect this unique world of conflict and competition, cobbling together a contrasting mixture of units to get the job done. An expeditionary force may be composed of any combination of the following, depending on time and place: naval men-of-war and their crews, regular army troops, militia, Native American auxiliaries, privateer vessels and their crews, and even buccaneer and flibustier vessels and their crews. Privateers, buccaneers, and flibustiers may fight on sea or land. The addition of allied forces—for example, a combined “army” of English and Spanish—makes management of such diversity in battle even more difficult. Soldiers may stand their ground and fight a conventional action while buccaneers may choose to go where there is more profit to be had. An English company might want to capture and pillage a castle while a Spanish company might prefer to pillage the countryside. And the enemy, of course, has its own ideas. It will take a capable commander, equally versed in courage, tactics, and diplomacy, to lead such a force well.