Monday, January 4, 2010

Home Ports: Beautiful And Dangerous

Petit Goave is located in what is now Haiti. Back when it was the largest pirate port in the Caribbean, it was on the French held island of San Domingue or Hispanola.

Named for the guava fruit, Petit Goave was established as an actual town some time in 1662 but the boucaniers had been using it as a port/hunting camp for several years prior to that. The population was initially comprised of an overwhelming majority of men. Some were men setting up shop as planters in the fertile hills above the large port. Others were Huguenots escaping religious persecution who had turned to freebooting as a way to avenge themselves on the Spanish (remembering the horrors of Fort Caroline). The largest portion were pirates or privateers, mostly Frenchmen, who had outgrown the small island port of Tortuga. The Governor of San Domingue, d'Orgeron, was free with commissions and many a pirate sailed out of Petit Goave as a legal privateer. By the 1670s, the planters were established, some of the freebooters owned land and an entire army of indentured servants and slaves did the hard labor that was necessary.

The town itself - unlike other tent city ports - actually had buildings. There was even a Catholic Church by 1670. Most of the businesses in town, though, were taverns and brothels. The Petit Goave "stews" were famous throughout the Caribbean for their beautiful women. Most of these were mulattoes or quadroons and - much like their sisters in New Orleans the following century - the working girls went out into the streets in little more than filmy shifts. No wonder the sailors on shore leave found them so fascinating and readily handed over their prize money for the ladies' charms.
The place was also gorgeous, as this modern picture from Conrad Louis-Charles' website shows. Despite the climate, which was hot and humid, and the mangrove swamps nearby that produced mosquitoes carrying yellow fever and malaria, Petit Goave became the hub of the buccaneer trade. It was considered the ideal spot for freebooters to retire. Many of the plantation owners were former buccaneers who lived rather luxuriously on their hillside estates.

Petit Goave was not fortified and the Spanish and others raided San Domingue in general and the pirate port in particular more than once. Famously a group of Dutch ships entered the harbor in 1676, setting fire to several buccaneer vessels and blowing one up. The Dutchmen did not, however, venture ashore. The reputations of the men who called Petit Goave home kept them from trying that mode of attack.

Petit Goave maintained her status as piracy's primary commission port in the Caribbean for several decades. Though largely forgotten now, in her time she was more populace and one could even say scandalous than that oh so familiar pirate haven, Port Royal. Beautiful and dangerous and very French, there would not be a place like Petit Goave again until the Laffite brothers opened up shop in Barataria 150 years later.


Timmy! said...

Ahoy, Pauline! "Beautiful and Dangerous"... A good description of you, I would say. Interesting post, Pirate Queen. And yet another place to put on the "wish list" to visit someday. Good photos in the Conrad Louis-Charles' website too!

Pauline said...

Ahoy, Timmy! Awww, so nice. Louis-Charles is an excellent photographer and he really brings the people of Haiti to life for the rest of the world. Good stuff!

I think I could have lived at Petit Goave back in the day. Maybe I'd run a "stew" after retiring from the sea.