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Types of Pirates: Buccaneer, Corsair, and Privateer.

By jasonlee1037 Feb 26, 2006 512 Words
Imagine witnessing the trial of a pirate who was trying to prove to the Admiralty Court that he was a privateer. There were many different types of pirates. Being one and not another "could mean the difference between life and death" (Konstam 10). There were three main types of pirates: buccaneers, corsairs, and privateers.

First, buccaneers, from the French word boucanier, were pirates who were stationed in the Caribbean. They consisted mostly of runaways, fugitives, and seamen who deserted their crew. These pirates often hunted wild boar and oxen on the islands of Haiti, Hispaniola, and Dominican Republic. They smoked their hunt on a barbeque grill, also known as a boucan, which they learned from the Arawak Indians. When the Spanish tried to dispose of them, they decided to raid Spanish ships and towns (Cindy Vallar 1). By the 17th century, a buccaneer meant a French or English pirate or privateer who operated in the West Indies preying on the Spanish. A buccaneer was much like a corsair who had bases in the Caribbean.

Second, corsairs, derived from the French word la course, meaning privateer, were pirates and privateers who operated in the Mediterranean (Konstam 11). Instead of goods, these pirates looked for people to capture to sell into slavery or hold for ransom (Cindy Vallar 1). They attacked ships for their religion, country, and goods. The Barbary corsairs, a famous corsair group, were privateers hired to attack Christian shipping lanes. Famous pirates of that group were the Barbarossa Brothers (Red Beard) and Dragut Reis. Also, the Maltese Corsairs were the Christian opposition to the Muslim threat. However, these men turned corrupt and became "full-fledged pirates, with no interest in religion ideals" (Wilczyński 1).

Lastly, privateers were pirates under a government contract who could legally attack enemy ships during wartime. This contract was called the Letter of Marque, and meant that while the government gave them a safe haven and a license to attack, the issuer would also receive a share of the earnings (Konstam 10). This was an inexpensive way (by keeping away from the costs of maintaining and creating a navy) to harass and weaken the enemy. A privateer could not be charged with piracy with a letter of marque, and if captured, they had to prove in front of an Admiralty Court "that their plunder was legal game" (Wilczyński 1). However, privateers often turned to piracy in times of peace.

In conclusion, there were three main types of pirates: buccaneers, corsairs, and privateers. Buccaneers were the Spanish-hunting meat-grillers, the corsairs were the pirates and privateers of the Mediterranean who fought for religion, and privateers were the pirates who were hired by the government. The difference between the three could mean the outcome of the pirate's life when captured.


Konstam, Angus. The History of Pirates. New York: The Lyons Press, 1999.

Vallar, Cindy When is a Pirate not a Pirate?. Online. 6 Feb 2006.


Wilczynski, Krzysztof Types of Pirates: A Buccaneer. Online. 6 Feb 2006.


Wilczynski, Krzysztof Types of Pirates: A Corsair. Online. 6 Feb 2006.


Wilczynski, Krzysztof Types of Pirates: A Privateer. Online. 6 Feb 2006.


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