In the 16th century began the attacks of European pirates and corsairs in the Caribbean. The corsairs were individuals who were financially backed by their governments to make violent armed attacks on Spanish possessions in the Americas. With their violent attacks, they sacked, robbed and destroyed everything in their path, spreading terror throughout the Caribbean coasts.

French corsairs carried out the first attacks. Under the orders of their king, these corsairs roamed the Antillean waters to intercept Spanish ships that were returning to Spain full of goods from the Americas. These pirates made their bases mainly on Mona Island, on the shipping route between Hispaniola and San Juan.

In 1528, they attacked and destroyed the port of San Germán and in 1553 the French corsair François Le Clerc led a fleet that systematically sacked and burned Antillean ports, paralyzing trade between Hispaniola and Puerto Rico. In 1554, another strategic attack by Jacques Sores destroyed Havana.

In the second half of the 16th century, beginning in the 1570s, the English joined the ranks of corsairs in the Caribbean. The main reason was because England and Spain, for both political and religious reasons, were mortal enemies at that time.

One of the most famous English corsairs was Sir Francis Drake, who seized the Nombre de Dios port in Panama in 1572, along with a shipment of treasure from Peru that was destined for Spain. Drake was a great and careful strategist and he terrorized the coasts of Puerto Rico en 1559.

Spain reacted to the situation by creating a system of fleets and galleons to provide protection to its commercial ships and later built fortifications to improve the security of San Juan. The first fortification was La Fortaleza, capable of housing a large number of people in case of an attack. The construction of this fortification was followed by El Morro, which faced a big attack by the English while still under construction. The first attack was led by Sir Francis Drake in 1559 and consisted of a fleet of 26 ships with 1,500 sailors and 3,000 invaders. Drake entered the port in the night and burned some of the ships he found. The light from the fire allowed the natives to attack and force Drake to abandon the bay.

In 1598, George Clifford, the Earl of Cumberland, attacked and, unlike Drake, was successful in landing on the beaches of Cangrejos. His men marched along the coast to what is known today as Condado. With this approach, Cumberland took the city and demanded the castle surrender, but when Governor Antonio de Mosquera refused, he ordered an attack on the fortification. The side of San Felipe del Morro facing land was destroyed. Part of the city was burned and sacked and a shipment of slaves, sugar, ginger and hides was taken.

At the beginning of the 17th century, the Dutch added to the attacks because of Spain’s prohibition on trade with them. They made clandestine settlements on the coasts of Venezuela, Guyana and Hispaniola to trade salt, tobacco and hides.

In 1624, a huge Dutch fleet took control of the city of Salvador de Bahia in Brazil, but the Spanish were able to recapture it. Seeking revenge, Balduino Enrico decided to attack and take control of Puerto Rico in 1625. He invaded and took control of La Fortaleza, sacking houses and religious sites. He closed the San Antonio Bridge, establishing a checkpoint that prevented communication with the rest of the island. Balduino demanded surrender, but the governor refused and continued to fight with a surprise attack, both on land and sea. The cannons were recaptured and communication was restored with the rest of the island. Balduino fled after burning and sacking the city. After this attack, Spain rebuilt and made the islet of San Juan a respectable and beautiful citadel.

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Published: September 12, 2014.

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