Freebooters and Free Traders: English Colonial Prize Jurisdiction in the West Indies 1655-1670

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Colonial prize courts provided two significant contributions to the English imperial efforts in the West Indies. First, they played a key role in the enforcement of the new colonial power’s own trade monopoly against foreign interlopers and smugglers. Second, they helped the newcomer empire to rein in the buccaneers and capers who had populated the Caribbean for decades and to re-deploy them as commissioned privateers. This paper explores in detail the emergence of the British colonial prize jurisdiction after the English conquest of Jamaica in 1655. It shows how colonial prize courts emerged organically from the English expansion in the West Indies, with powers and duties assigned incrementally to colonial administrators to address the practical needs of the growing empire in breaking the Spanish trade monopoly and establishing their own.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)41-70
Number of pages30
JournalJournal of the History of International Law
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • 513 Law
  • International law
  • Prize law
  • English Civil War
  • West Indies
  • 17th Century
  • Privateers
  • Admiralty


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