Nowadays the term buccaneer is generally used interchangeably with the term pirate. However this is not entirely accurate as many sailed aboard British privateers for a time. The buccaneers were truly the original pirates of the Caribbean.
The original Buccaneers lived on what was then called Hispaniola and which today is the Dominican Republic and Haiti. They were French in origin and lived by hunting feral pigs and cattle the Spaniards had originally brought to the island.
The term buccaneer traces its origins back to the Caribbean Arawak word buccan, a wooden frame for smoking meat, from which the French word boucane for smoked meat is derived and boucanier was one who prepared meat this way.
Some of these men made their way to the nearby island of Tortuga. Originally the island was colonized by Spain but in 1625 English and French began arriving there and Tortuga traded hands between the French and English settlers and the Spaniards at least four times. During this time the Buccaneers began sailing as privateers against Spain under English, French and Dutch flags.
“Viewed from London, buccaneering was a low-budget way to wage war on England’s rival, Spain. So, the English crown licensed buccaneers with letters of marque, legalizing their operations in return for a share of their profits. The buccaneers were invited by Jamaica’s Governor Thomas Modyford to base ships at Port Royal. The buccaneers robbed Spanish shipping and colonies, and returned to Port Royal with their plunder, making the city the most prosperous in the Caribbean. There even were Royal Navy officers sent to lead the buccaneers, such as Christopher Myngs. Their activities went on irrespective of whether England happened to be at war with Spain or France.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buccaneer
This was the golden age for the pirates of the Caribbean. They could carry on their pirating with official sanction and had two friendly, ”neutral” ports where they could tie anchor.
“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.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tortuga_%28Haiti%29
The Brethren Of The Coast was a loose confederation and there was a pirate code of sorts which was surprisingly democratic in nature. Captains for example could be voted in or out and the crew decided whether a ship was to be attacked or not and not the captain. There was a system of shares for the spoil and even a system of compensation for a pirate who lost an arm or leg for example.
The term buccaneers began to gradually be applied to all privateers and pirates of the Caribbean and by the late 1600’s the term was synonymous for pirates. Meanwhile as the power of Spain decreased so did the usefulness of buccaneers.
With Spain out of the way their unruliness began to create problems for English and French shipping and there was concern this rashness could start a war. This change in politics resulted in the decline of pirating. Some buccaneers found employment in other ways, some joined navies and others headed off for the Indian Ocean, Africa or North America to continue their pirating but by about 1700 the golden age of the buccaneer was all but over.