Wednesday, Nov. 19, 2008

Jean Fleury Hijacks Aztec Gold: 1523

Spain's conquests of native American empires in the early 16th century had produced enormous amounts of loot — much of it shipped across the Atlantic. Enter Fleury, the first to prey on the well-armed but slow-moving Spanish treasure ships. The Frenchman's squadron of swift corsairs captured three off the coast of Portugal, heavy with gold, jewels and exotic animals from the recently conquered kingdom of Montezuma. From then on, Spain would be on the watch for sea dogs inspired by Fleury. Indeed, governments would eventually license such "privateers" to commit legal acts of piracy — in exchange for a cut.