Where was “the Pirate Republic” located and how did the name originate?

The Dry Tortugas are a small group of islands, in what is now known as the Cayman Islands, and is also known as the Pirate Republic.

It started out as a stopover for buying preserved meat, but eventually the meat curers decided that looting and pillaging was more profitable than making beef jerky.

France had set up a little colony in Jamaica and had begun curing beef from cows that had been left behind when an earlier Spanish settlement was abandoned. Passing ships would anchor nearby, and the meat merchants would row out to sell their wares.

However, the meat curers realized that they’d get more business if they were closer to a major shipping route, and so moved their business to Tortuga.

Tortuga means “turtle” in Spanish. Christopher Columbus had named the entire chain of islands Las Tortugas because the place was crawling with sea turtles. It still is.

As with any harbor town at the time, Tortuga began accumulating sailors who had abandoned their ships. A number of them got themselves hired into the meat-curing business.

Some of the rougher ones realized that they had a splendid opportunity that went beyond mere salt pork. After all, ship crews trusted them to approach in their canoes and board their ships bearing beef carcasses and sharp knives.

Perhaps they could find a better use for those knives.