We all know the tales of the pirates of the Caribbean…stories of treasure and epic battles, heroes and villains. But do you know the tales of the Bay Islands pirates? There were many years of fighting over these precious islands, and pirates were certainly included in those battles for control.
The first European to encounter the Bay Islands was Christopher Columbus himself. In 1502, on his fourth and final voyage to what was called the New World, Columbus and his crew sighted the stunning island of Guanaja.
It was from Guanaja that Columbus and his crew set off and finally realized that an entire continent laid beyond the many islands they had stumbled upon throughout the Caribbean.
After that initial European encounter, the Bay Islands went through centuries of other Europeans coming and going. Some claimed ownership of all the islands, others tried to establish a singular community, and still others merely wanted a safe haven to hide. The latter were the pirates who utilized the Bay Islands for protection.
On Roatan’s East End, you’ll find Old Port Royal, the original attempt at an English settlement. However, that settlement wasn’t quite family-friendly. In fact, it was mostly loggers who first stopped in Old Port Royal to make some money off the natural resources of the islands. Those loggers seem to have become a bit bored by their initial plans, however, as they soon started dabbling in piracy as well.
From their advantageous position in Old Port Royal, these British loggers were able to quickly and easily venture out when a passing ship was spotted. Surprise attacks on these unsuspecting ships enabled them the opportunity to seize whatever wares or treasures were kept onboard, and then retreat back to their base at Old Port Royal.
Predictably, many of these unsuspecting passing ships were Spanish. And it didn’t take long for the Spanish to start getting fed up with these British loggers and decide to put a stop to their escapades.
In 1650, the Spanish attacked Old Port Royal, attempting to oust its British loggers-turned-pirates. After besieging the coastline for days, the English were finally defeated and forced out of Old Port Royal.
The Spanish, however, opted not to establish their own community there in place of the British, leaving Old Port Royal – and the rest of Roatan – open for other pirates to utilize as a safe harbor. And use the island they did. By the mid-1700s it was estimated that some 5,000 pirates were using Roatan, including famous pirates like Henry Morgan, John Coxen, Blackbeard, and Van Horn.This was the golden age of piracy in the Caribbean, short-lived though it was, as the end of the 1700s saw a major decline in piracy activities in the region. The majority of these pirates were English, Dutch, and French, and the Bay Islands became a favorite locale for seeking safe haven.
It seems that even today, people seek a quiet island where nobody else will bother them. And so, foreigners continue to seek refuge in the Bay Islands, establishing new communities and creating new lives for themselves. Luckily, these people aren’t pirates, but are contributing members of society bringing their cultures and traditions to share with everyone in the Bay Islands. They now add to a long and interesting history of people coming and going from these beautiful islands.