Updated: May 31, 2018
Travelers to Roatan might be impressed by its glimmering blue sea and magnificent underwater beauty home to the world’s largest living coral reef, but anyone who knows about the island’s history might just be impressed by its fascinating pirate past.
Roatan was home to around 5,000 pirates between the sixteenth and seventeenth century. Back then, it was one of those unprotected and vacated islands which were used by traders and settlers for safe harbour and transport. Eventually, the island which was situated north of Honduras became a strategic position for pirates after the Spanish started colonizing the country. From then on, it was used as one of the main hideouts by the Dutch, French, and English pirates who terrorized the Spanish Main. Pirates were known to have set up settlements on the island while they waited to loot Spanish ships returning home to Spain with loads of cargo and treasures.
THE INFAMOUS PIRATES OF ROATAN
This little strip of paradise was once home to history’s most ferocious pirate. Most of you know him by the name Blackbeard as popularized by the Disney movie Pirates of the Caribbean. Also known as Edward Thatch, Blackbeard was an English pirate who was one of the most notorious pirates during piracy Golden Age.
He was a fearless outlaw, clever strategist, and one of the most successful pirates in the early 18th century. But during the winter of 1717-18, at the height of his piracy career, Blackbeard suddenly vanished and nobody knew where he was or what he was up to for several months. New findings today revealed that Blackbeard stayed in Roatan. He spent his winter threatening cargoes coming to and from the port of Veracruz. He would then clean and repair his vessel on the island of Roatan.
Blackbeard wasn’t the only one who was captivated by the beauty of Roatan. Captain John Coxen is one of the most infamous local pirates who once ruled the waters of Roatan from 1687 to 1697.
Coxen was one of the leaders of the Brethren of the Coast, a syndicate of pirate captains that were authorized by the government to capture enemy ships. He was so popular, locals used to refer to the whole island as “Coxen’s Hole”. Today, Coxen Hole is the largest city of Roatan. It was first founded in 1835 when the wealthy families from the Cayman Islands moved to Roatan. Here you can also find the island’s airport called the Juan Manuel Galvez International Airport and the hospital called Woods Medical Facility.
Another notorious pirate to ever set on foot in Roatan is Sir Henry Morgan. However, he wasn’t really a pirate. Sir Henry Morgan was a Welsh privateer, landowner, and lieutenant governor of Jamaica. Morgan was also a legal buccaneer operating under the unofficial support of the English Government. Known for being rich, Morgan was a feared captain for his frequent bloodthirsty raids on settlements and ships on the Spanish Main.
His power and influence were known from all over the Caribbean. In the late 1600s, stories of Henry Morgan, John Coxen, and Dutchman Van Home hiding in Port Royal with cargoes of treasure were spread in the Caribbean. Today in Roatan there are plenty of tourist sites and spots named after him. Legend has it that when Morgan stopped on Roatan he buried untold amounts of treasure and is yet to be found up till this day.
Eventually, the pirates were defeated after Spain attacked their center city, Port Royal. After several violent battles, the surviving pirates surrendered to the Spanish Crown. Under the rule of Spaniards, Port Royal was reconstructed again. By 1797, 5,000 people of black Caribbean descent were placed in Roatan, giving origin to the Garifuna people.
Roatan’s long history of piracy has given the Bay island a unique and interesting past. And thanks to the brilliant tourism campaigns, the famous feature movie about the pirates of the Caribbean, Roatan’s pirate past is now being used by the Government of Honduras in order to attract more visitors.