Saint-Malo is a port city in northwestern France on the English Channel. As you can tell from the picture, the town even today has a very closed in, medieval feel. The walls are sturdy and the harbor is cozy. The town is a tight knit place and, even though it can swell to well over 200,000 people during the summer, the 50,000 odd permanent residents are basically all family one way or another. They're also damn proud of their privateer ancestors.
In the 17th century, Saint-Malo became the port of choice for French privateers who preyed on English merchant vessels in the Channel. Over the course of that century, Saint-Malo grew rich with privateering profits and, like a factory town, everyone in Saint-Malo worked at the business of privateering. To the French, Saint-Malo was La Cite Corsaire. To the English, it was The Nest of Wasps. The French word for privateer - corsaire - was virtually born in Saint-Malo. The men who sailed out to plunder English shipping were said to pursue la course which meant, in this case the errand or the race. Privateering had a new name.
The corsairs of Saint-Malo were national heroes in France. They were the rock stars of the age. Girls of Brittany and beyond kept engraved cards with the visages of privateers near their bedsides. Whole families and even church officials grew rich on the profits. City streets in Saint-Malo were named after famous native sons who worked la course like Rene Duguay-Trouin, Robert Surcouf and Jean Bart. Even Jean Laffite claimed at some point or other to have been born in Saint-Malo (his family was actually from Bordeaux but whose counting?)
In 1693 the English got fed up and decided to take Saint-Malo out with what was then referred to as an "infernal machine". They packed an 85 foot long ship full of explosives, literally jamming everything from barrels of black powder to missiles and bombs into the unmanned frigate. They set their weapon of mass destruction off to blow a hole in the city's fortified wall one night but things didn't quite work out. The ship hit a rock, the all important black powder got a little more than damp and the whole thing fizzled rather than exploded. The resulting fireworks killed an unfortunate cat but did no damage what ever to the city. Impotent at best.
Saint-Malo continued her predations through the Napoleonic wars, her corsaires being some of the few French ships that could thumb their noses as the English blockades. After that, though, the time of privateering was done. Saint-Malo is still a great port, but today her snug harbor is full of luxury yachts instead of daring corsaires. Sigh.