West Indies 1650–1763

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Map Code: Ax00887

The phenomenon of piracy in the Caribbean grew out of the practice of buccaneering, whereby the colonial authorities issued ‘letters of marque’ to privateers to raid and loot the ships and ports of whichever rival they were currently fighting. France’s first base in the Caribbean, Tortuga, began as a privateer stronghold; after Britain seized Jamaica in 1655, Port Royal became the pirate capital. Piracy would eventually be stamped out in the 1730s, when the economic interests of the newer colonial powers, France and England, dictated it. The key to this calculation was the growth of the sugar plantation. Sugar cane was first introduced to the English colony of Barbados in 1640 from Dutch Brazil, and spread through the Caribbean; the plantations were worked by intensive African slave labour. The industry was so valuable that, in 1763, France traded all of Canada to retain sugar-producing Guadeloupe and and Martinique.

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