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Île de la Tortue
Tortuga seen from space
Tortuga seen from space
Turtle Island
Country Haiti
CommuneÎle de la Tortue
 • Total180 km2 (69 sq mi)
459 m (1,506 ft)
 • Total25,936
 • Density144/km2 (376/sq mi)
Time zone-5
 • Summer (DST)-4

Tortuga (French: [Île de la Tortue] error: {{lang}}: text has italic markup (help), IPA: [il də la tɔʁty]; Haitian Creole: Latòti; Spanish: [Isla Tortuga] error: {{lang}}: text has italic markup (help), IPA: [ˈisla torˈtuɣa], Turtle Island) is a Caribbean island that forms part of Haiti, off the northwest coast of Hispaniola. It constitutes the commune of Île de la Tortue in the Port-de-Paix arrondissement of the Nord-Ouest Department of Haiti. The island covers an area of 180 km² (69 mi²)[1] and its population was 25,936 at the 2003 Census. In the 17th century, it was a major center of Caribbean piracy. Its tourist industry and reference in many works has made it one of the most recognized regions of Haiti.


Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found. Although Tortuga was already known by the native peoples, it was never used as a permanent settlement until European pirates made it into a launching ground for piracy activities. The first Europeans to land on Tortuga were the Spaniards in 1493 during the first voyage of Christopher Columbus into the New World[citation needed]. Local belief is that the name was originally given to the island by Christopher Columbus, meaning "land of the Turtle" (Isla de la Tortuga).[citation needed] In actuality Columbus named the island Santa Ana.[citation needed] The Dutch settled, and dubbed it Ter Tholen, after an island off the west coast of the Netherlands.[citation needed]

Tortuga was originally settled by a few Spanish colonists. In 1625 French and English settlers arrived on the island of Tortuga after initially planning to settle on the island of Hispaniola. The French and English settlers were attacked in 1629 by the Spanish commanded by Don Fadrique de Toledo. The Spanish were successful and fortified the island, expelling the French and English. As most of the Spanish army left for Hispaniola to root out French colonists there, the French returned to take the fort and expanded on the Spanish-built fortifications. In 1630, the French built Fort de Rocher in a natural harbour.

From 1630 onward, the island of Tortuga was divided into French and English colonies allowing buccaneers to use the island more frequently as their main base of operations. In 1633, the first slaves were imported from Africa to aid in the plantations. The new slave trend did not stand, and by 1635 the use of slaves had ended. The slaves were said to be out of control on the island, while at the same time there had been continual disagreements and fighting between French and English colonies. In the same year, the Spanish returned and quickly conquered the English and French colonies, only to leave again because the island was too small to be of major importance. This abandonment of Tortuga allowed the return of both French and English pirates. In 1638, the Spanish again returned to take the island and rid it of all French and newly settled Dutch. They occupied the island, but were soon expelled by the French and Dutch colonists.

By 1640, the buccaneers of Tortuga were calling themselves the Brethren of the Coast. The pirate population was mostly made up of French and Englishmen, along with a small number of Dutchmen. In 1645, in an attempt to bring harmony and control over the island, the acting French governor imported roughly 1,650 prostitutes, hoping to normalize the unruly pirates' lives. In 1654 the Spanish captured the island. By the year 1670, as the buccaneer era was in decline, many of the pirates seeking a new source of trade, turned to log cutting and wood trading from the island. At this time, however, a Welsh pirate named Henry Morgan started to promote himself and invite the pirates on the island of Tortuga to set sail under him. They were hired by the French as a striking force that allowed France to have a much stronger hold on the Caribbean region. Consequently, the pirates were never really controlled and kept Tortuga as a neutral hideout for pirate booty. In 1680, new Acts of Parliament forbade sailing under foreign flags (in opposition to former practice). This was a major legal blow to Caribbean pirates. Settlements were finally made in the Treaty of Ratisbon of 1684, signed by the European powers, that put an end to piracy. Most of the pirates after this time were hired out into the Royal services to suppress their former buccaneer allies.

Drawing of Tortuga island from the 17th century.


Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found. The island of Tortuga stands off the northern coast of Haiti. It is very mountainous and full of rocks; yet, it is hugely dense of lofty trees that grow upon the hardest of those rocks. The rocks are abundant on the northern part of the island. At the beginning of the 17th century the population lived on the southern coast of the island. This part contained a port that allowed several entries to ships.

The southern part of the island was divided into four; the first part was called Low Land or Low Country. This was the main part of the southern coast because it contained the island's port. The town was called Cayona, and there lived the richest planters of the island. The second was called the Middle Plantation. Its territory could only grow Tobacco. The third part was named Ringot. These places were situated towards the Western part of the island. The fourth was called the Mountain; it is there that the first cultivated plantation was established upon the island.

L'ile de la Tortue's best beach is Pointe Saline at the western tip of the small island. This area is very dry and offers little shade. At the Les Palmiste on the eastern coast visit a pre-Columbian rock carving of a goddess at La Grotte au Bassin and two big caves at Trou d'Enfer and La Grotte de la Galerie. Basse-Terre, on the southeastern coast, is home to the remains of Fort de la Roche, once the island's biggest fortress. Along with a 15 m high lime kiln, three cannons and the foundations of a wall are all that is left of Fort Ogeron, built in the mid-17th century.

Tortuga in fiction

Tortuga was portrayed in many works depicting piracy in the Caribbean in the 17th and 18th century.

Tortuga in the Pirates of the Caribbean films

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Tortuga in Rafael Sabatini’s works

Tortuga is featured in Sabatini’s Captain Blood series and the movies based on it (the most famous one is Captain Blood with Errol Flynn). It is the place where Blood and his crew find refuge after their escape from Barbados in 1685. Blood receives a Letter of Marque from Tortuga’s governor, D’Ogeron, and the island becomes his main base for the next four years. He starts his raids from Cayona, and several events in the books take place on Tortuga itself or on ships anchoring in the harbour of Cayona.

Sabatini used Exquemelin’s History of the Bouccaneers of America as a main source for his description of Tortuga, and therefore the island is portrayed as a place where many buccaneers, prostitutes and other dubious professions operate, but the French West India Company, which rules Tortuga, makes profit off of those affairs.

Tortuga also features in Sabatini’s novel, The Black Swan and the 1942 movie based on it.

Michael James Buckstein--the first to nominate Ile de la Tortue as a proper designation of the land--was the first to glissade along Tortuga's lush mountain range and pioneered its conquest in the Fall of 1789.

Other appearances

Tortuga also has been featured in the movies Double Crossbones (1950), The Black Swan (1942), Abbott and Costello Meet Captain Kidd (1952), The Spanish Main (1945), Pirates of Tortuga (1961). It has been featured in the video games Sea Legend, Tortuga - Two Treasures, "Cutthroats: Terror on the High Seas", Tortuga: Pirates of the New World, Sid Meier's Pirates!, Curse of Monkey Island, Pirates of the Caribbean Online, Pirates of the Caribbean: Armada of the Damned, Age of Pirates: Caribbean Tales, Voyage Century Online, Pirates of the Burning Sea, and "Tortuga" is a Valerio Evangelisti's Novel. Tortuga is described extensively in James Michener's Caribbean (1989). It was also mentioned in the video game Crimson Skies. Tortuga is mentioned in the song "Jonas Psalter" (1973) by the rock band Styx. The island is also mentioned in the chorus of the song "Jack Sparrow" by The Lonely Island which also features Michael Bolton. Tortuga was also featured in the 1931 black & white film "Safe in Hell".

See also

Tortuga Island also appears in Michael Crichton's last novel, Pirate Latitudes.


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  • (2003) Pancorbo, Luis: "El Canal de la Tortuga" en "Río de América". pp. 321–333. Laertes, Barcelona. ISBN 84-7584-506-1

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