Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Geography and Anthropology

First Advisor

William V. Davidson


This geographical study of piracy in Spanish America spans from 1536, the beginning date of sustained piratical activity there, to the near dispersion of pirate forces by 1718. It identifies and relates the operations of sixteenth-century corsairs such as Francis Drake, seventeenth-century buccaneers such as Henry Morgan, and eighteenth-century freebooters such as 'Blackbeard'. Regional coverage focuses on Middle America with an occasional foray into the South Sea. The principal national agents considered are English, French, Dutch, and Spanish. The study begins by deriving a working definition of pirates and examining precedent spatial approaches by Henry Mainwaring, Ellen Semple, and Derwent Whittlesey. The remainder divides essentially into three parts. The first addresses those physical, situational, and geopolitical factors which influenced the spatial development of piracy in Spanish America. That pattern is described in terms of pirate routes as they evolved in the Caribbean and Pacific; major targeted Spanish entrepots such as Havana, Cartagena, Panama, Porto Bello, Vera Cruz, and Acapulco; pirate refuges and rendezvous such as Juan Fernandez, the Bay Islands, and the Galapagos, and buccaneer strongholds including Providence Island, Curacao, Tortuga, Port Royal (Jamaica), and New Providence (Bahamas). The pirates' interaction with the natural environment, especially along pirate coasts defined by turtling grounds, careening sites, and logwood stands are considered as are the Spaniards' implementations of convoy routes, fortifications, and changes in settlement. Secondly, detailed historical reconstruction of Tortuga, north of Hispaniola--the regions' premier pirate stronghold--occupies the focal position of this work. Herein described are Tortuga's history as a pirate base and its most infamous buccaneers, its physical site and situation, and the cultural climate which generated the piratical Brethren of the Coast. The third component evaluates the contributions of pirates themselves to the advancement of geographical knowledge. A comparison of their charts and journals exemplifies pirates' participation in the discovery and exploration of the New World. Particular emphasis on maps by William Dampier, Basil Ringrose, Lionel Wafer, Ambrose Cowley, and Alexandre Exquemelin highlights the cartographic achievements of the buccaneers.