Pirates of Lake Nicaragua!
The sacking of Central America’s crown jewel, Granada, was one of the most daring exploits in pirate history, a career coup for dashing up-and-coming buccaneer Henry Morgan and his band of rum-soaked merry men.
It couldn’t have been done in a full-sized sailing vessel – if you follow Morgan’s path up the Río San Juan you’ll see how those rapids would tear a regular ship apart. But this crafty band of quick thinkers appropriated six 12m wooden canoes (after their regular pirate ships were impounded by Spanish authorities) following an equally spectacular sacking of Villahermosa, Mexico. The atypical craft proved more than adequate for further pillaging along the Caribbean coast, which gave the 30-year-old Morgan an idea.
The crew battled the currents of the Río San Juan at night, hiding their canoes during the day. They then made their way across the great lake. The June 1665 attack caught complacent granadinos completely off guard: the pirates occupied the city for 16 hours – just like the Disney ride, but more violent – then stole all the ammunition, sank all the boats and sailed off to a warm welcome, as heroes and legends in Port Royal, Jamaica. Eat your heart out Jack Sparrow.
Between 1665 and 1670, Granada was sacked three times, even as Morgan took more pirate canoes up the Río Coco, where he made powerful allies of the Miskitos. With their help, pirates sacked Ciudad Antigua and Estelí, where Morgan himself stayed for a while, and founded several of the surrounding towns.
Pirates actually founded more cities in Nicaragua than they ever sacked, including Pueblo Viejo and several surrounding towns in the Segovias, Bilwi, on the Caribbean coast, and most famously Bluefields, named for founder Abraham Blewfeldt, a Dutch pirate who worked the waters from Rhode Island to Panama.
Although the 1697 Treaty of Ryswick guaranteed that England, Spain, France and Holland would respect each other’s property in the New World, the pirates continued to try for Granada. In 1769, 17-year-old Rafaela Herrera commanded Spanish forces at El Castillo against pirates trying to sack Granada yet again. She won, signalling the beginning of the end for the pirates of the Caribbean.