The lure of buccaneering drained Jamaican plantations of white servants while it supplied the island’s colonial regime with valuable military labour to plunder Spanish America for gold, silver and slaves. It offered freedom to white men who had endured forced labour and jump-started the Jamaican economy. At the same time it left the island devoid of military labour to put down slave revolts. And as colonial officials also recognized, the buccaneers themselves had grown strong enough to master or destroy Jamaica. Buccaneering thus emerged as one of the most complex features of early modern political economy, at once creating a route to freedom for poor whites, a labour shortage for planters, a labour source for the inter-colonial slave trade, military labour for the empire, and a military threat to Jamaica’s plantation economy.
John Donoghue is Associate Professor of History at Loyola University Chicago where he teaches courses on colonial America, the United States, and history of the Atlantic world. His research focuses on the impact of radical politics, abolitionist thought, and religion in the seventeenth-century Anglo-American Atlantic world.