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Pirates in Nicaragua

The 17th century was the hey day of pirates and many of the most famous ones made their way to Nicaragua by becoming privateers to fight the Spanish (state sponsored piracy that was a form of warfare popular with the British, French and Dutch).

While under British occupation, the Corn Islands served as a safe haven for  pirates who were avoiding the wrath of the Spanish navy. Historically, priates are often remembered for their negative roles -- plundering local towns and villages -- and not for the positive, such as the fact that priates (or privateers) founded the cities of Pueblo Viejo, Bilwi (Puerto Cabezas) and Bluefields.

The Dutch pirate Abraham Blauvelt explored the coasts of Honduras and Nicaragua in the 1630s and, while raiding the Spanish, discovered land on which he wanted to build an English settlement. After proposing this idea to the Queen of England, he created what is now known as Bluefields. Both the Bluefield River and town are named after their Blauvelt founder.

The 192 kilometer San Juan River is the route pirates and English privateers used in the 17th century to get from the Caribbean Sea to Lake Nicaragua where they could easily reach and attack the Spanish city of Granada. The route through San Juan River is also the same one used by Francisco Hernández de Córdoba when he founded Granada in 1524.

The convenience of the San Juan River was a mixed blessing; while it made the landlocked city a wealthy port, the news of Granada’s prosperity meant that the area fell prey to multiple pirate attacks. An armed fort called “El Castillo de La Immaculate Concepción,” or “The Castle of the Immaculate Conception” was built on San Juan River as a response to Granada being attacked by the pirate Gallardillo in 1670. Even with the fort fully constructed, British pirate Frances Dampier still managed to sail through the San Juan River, ravage Granada and set it on fire in 1685.

The “king of all pirates,” Henry Morgan, was reputed to be one of the most cruel and violent of all pirates. Morgan managed to find a loophole in his privateering contract with the British monarchy where he wouldn’t have to split his spoils with the government if he attacked on land. Morgan spent the next few years in Central America making land raids on cities.

In 1663, he convinced David Marteen, John Morris, as well as Captains Jackman and Freeman to take part in a joint mission to attack the Spanish settlements of Villahermosa in Mexico, Trujillo in Honduras and Granada in Nicaragua. By the time the successful bout of pillaging was over, and the men had regrouped in Port Royal, Jamaica, they were all very rich men.

The French, British and Dutch privateering was so legendary, and persisted for so long, that a legacy of fabulous pirate legends remains. Ask Nicaraguans about the priates and you'll hear amazing tales of sunken ships, waterlogged treasure chests and hidden gold. No matter where you're heading in the country, you'll find that tales of pirates -- the violent raids, nautical battles and the riches lost at sea -- make for a mysterious and facinating chapter in Nicaraguan history.

Here are some related tips to help plan your trip to Nicaragua : Granada and Around History, Augusto Sandino, History of Leon and the North West, Aleman and Ortega: "The Pact", José Daniel Ortega Saavedra, Islas Solentiname History, History, The History of Nicaragua, The History of the Corn Islands and Río San Juan History.

By Michelle Lillie
I am currently living on my fourth continent. I think that backpacks are one of the greatest inventions of all times. I adhere to the idea that if...
20 Feb 2009

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