Saturday, April 18, 2009

From Fort Caroline to Somalia

Observers of the current Somali pirate activity often ask whether the United States or some other Western power should not simply destroy the havens the pirates use along the Somali coast.

Sixteenth century Spain did just that to a Huguenot corsair outpost that had been established at Fort Caroline, near what is now Jacksonville, FL.

Huguenots, under the direction of their leader, Gaspard de Coligny, Admiral of France, began to establish an outpost along the Atlantic seaboard in 1562. By 1564, Fort Caroline had been established.

Huguenots long had been privateering the Spanish Main, and the Spanish also viewed this French outpost as a challenge to their monopoly of the Americas. The Florida Huguenots cooperated with the English sea dog, Sir John Hawkins, who was then attempting to penetrate the Caribbean slave market. Accordingly, in 1565, the Spanish, under Don Pedro Menéndez de Avilés attacked and destroyed the Huguenot settlement.

This was part of a broader Spanish backlash against Protestant incursions into the Spanish Main. They would also attack Hawkins in 1568. This Spanish backlash abated but did not end Protestant incursions into the Spanish Main. Coligny's strategy of a seaborne privateering swarm upon the Iberian powers would finally bear fruit a century later, as English, Huguenot, and Dutch buccaneers swept over the Caribbean.

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