Setting the Stage: Piracy in the New World
Christopher Columbus' discovery of the New World would trigger an incredible economic boom for Spain that would reshape the power structure of virtually every nation on the European continent. The subsequent plundering of the New World would also completely destroy virtually every civilization that had existed for thousands of years in the Americas. While the conquest and demise of the Incan Empire in South America and the Aztecs in Mexico are well-known, the first New World civilizations to be conquered and destroyed by the Spanish were the native tribes that had originally welcomed Columbus. Columbus had first set foot on islands in the Bahamas and Cuba, but the island now shared by Haiti and the Dominican Republic was where Columbus first placed the Spanish flag.
Columbus claimed the island for Spain in 1492 and named it
Columbus' historic discoveries in 1492 coincided with the increasing influence of a brand-new discovery in communications — the printing press. By 1497, Columbus' travel notes had been translated and distributed throughout most countries in Europe, and hundreds of privateers and pirates flocked to the Americas after reading his tales.
After a few months on the island, Columbus set sail for Spain to proclaim his new discovery, leaving behind a small contingent of thirty-nine Spaniards. These remaining seamen proved to be abusive to their Taino hosts, forcing women to work as servants and concubines. The Taino eventually retaliated by killing the sailors and destroying their encampment. Columbus returned to Hispaniola in 1493 with 1,000 Spanish troops to establish the first settlement of Isabella, and to explore and exploit the island. The Taino Indians were hunted down and either slaughtered or enslaved to work the gold fields. It's estimated that several million Tainos had inhabited Hispaniola when Columbus had first arrived. Within twenty years, through enslavement, murder, and disease, the Taino population would be reduced to less than 50,000.
The remaining Taino Indians learned to avoid the Spanish at all costs, and fled into the forests and mountains. The seeds of hatred for the Spaniards had been firmly planted in the hearts and minds of the natives, and that hatred would become a common link with the hunters and adventurers who would eventually join them to become a painful thorn in the side of Spain's dominance of Hispaniola and the Caribbean. Through the Taino Indians, a breed of individualistic outlaws would learn the art of preserving meat, and through that art, those outlaws would adopt a title that would strike terror in the hearts of Spanish settlements throughout the New World — the