The Spaniards made little use of Samaná harbor for the first two centuries of their rule, paving the way for pirates to take advantage of the narrow Samaná Channel and the snarl of limestone caves within the dense swamps of Los Haitises.
The most notorious of these ne’er-do-wells was England’s Joseph Bannister, an official government privateer condemned to outlaw status by the 1670 Treaty of Madrid between England and Spain.
In 1690 Bannister was anchored at Samaná with a frigate and another smaller vessel when two English warships tried to enter the harbor to arrest him.
Bannister took his boats to the nearby island of Cayo Levantado and moved his men ashore along with some heavy artillery.
The incoming warships were thus put directly in the line of fire and 125 English soldiers were killed as they cruised into the teeth of Bannister’s defenses.
Bannister’s large vessel was also destroyed in the melee; when his two-hundred-man crew found out that the ship was gone – and that the smaller one could accommodate only a quarter of them – they stampeded aboard the light craft, forty of them killed in the process.
Bannister, though, got away and the islands surrounding the Samaná harbor have been known ever since as the Bannister Cays.