Buccaneers and Pirates of our Coasts - F. R. Stockton

The Surprising Adventures Of Bartholemy Portuguez

As we have seen that the buccaneers were mainly English, French, and Dutch sailors, who were united to make a common piratical warfare upon the Spaniards in the West Indies, it may seem a little strange to find a man from Portugal who seemed to be on the wrong side of this peculiar fight which was going on in the new world between the sailors of Northern and Southern Europe. But although Portugal is such a close neighbor of Spain, the two countries have often been at war with each other, and their interests are by no means the same. The only advantage that Portugal could expect from the newly discovered treasures of the West were those which her seafaring men, acting with the seafaring men of other nations, should wrest from Spanish vessels homeward bound.

Consequently, there were Portuguese among the pirates of those days. Among these was a man named Bartholemy Portuguez, a famous flibustier. It may be here remarked that the name of buccaneer was chiefly affected by the English adventurers on our coast, while the French members of the profession often preferred the name of "flibustier." This word, which has since been corrupted into our familiar "filibuster," is said to have been originally a corruption, being nothing more than the French method of pronouncing the word "freebooters," which title had long been used for independent robbers.

Thus, although Bartholemy called himself a flibustier, he was really a buccaneer, and his name came to be known all over the Caribbean Sea. From the accounts we have of him it appears that he did not start out on his career of piracy as a poor man. He had some capital to invest in the business, and when he went over to the West Indies he took with him a small ship, armed with four small cannon, and manned by a crew of picked men, many of them no doubt professional robbers, and the others anxious for practice in this most alluring vocation, for the gold fields of California were never more attractive to the bold and hardy adventurers of our country, than were the gold fields of the sea to the buccaneers and flibustiers of the seventeenth century.

When Bartholemy reached the Caribbean Sea he probably first touched at Tortuga, the pirates' head-quarters, and then sailed out very much as if he had been a fisherman going forth to see what he could catch on the sea. He cruised about on the track generally taken by treasure ships going from the mainland to the Havanas, or the island of Hispaniola, and when at last he sighted a vessel in the distance, it was not long before he and his men had made up their minds that if they were to have any sport that day it would be with what might be called most decidedly a game fish, for the ship slowly sailing toward them was a large Spanish vessel, and from her portholes there protruded the muzzles of at least twenty cannon. Of course, they knew that such a vessel would have a much larger crew than their own, and, altogether, Bartholemy was very much in the position of a man who should go out to harpoon a sturgeon, and who should find himself confronted by a vicious swordfish.

The Spanish merchantmen of that day were generally well armed, for getting home safely across the Atlantic was often the most difficult part of the treasure-seeking. There were many of these ships, which, although they did not belong to the Spanish navy, might almost be designated as men-of-war, and it was one of these with which our flibustier had now met.

But pirates and fishermen cannot afford to pick and choose. They must take what comes to them and make the best of it, and this is exactly the way in which the matter presented itself to Bartholemy and his men. They held one of their councils around the mast, and after an address from their leader, they decided that come what may, they must attack that Spanish vessel.

So the little pirate sailed boldly toward the big Spaniard, and the latter vessel, utterly astonished at the audacity of this attack,—for the pirates' flag was flying,—lay to, head to the wind, and waited, the gunners standing by their cannon. When the pirates had come near enough to see and understand the size and power of the vessel they had thought of attacking, they did not, as might have been expected, put about and sail away at the best of their vessel's speed, but they kept straight on their course as if they had been about to fall upon a great, unwieldy merchantman, manned by common sailors.

Perceiving the foolhardiness of the little vessel, the Spanish commander determined to give it a lesson which would teach its captain to understand better the relative power of great vessels and little ones, so, as soon as the pirates' vessel was near enough, he ordered a broadside fired upon it. The Spanish ship had a great many people on board. It had a crew of seventy men, and besides these there were some passengers, and regular marines, and knowing that the captain had determined to fire upon the approaching vessel, everybody had gathered on deck to see the little pirate ship go down.

But the ten great cannon-balls which were shot out at Bartholemy's little craft all missed their aim, and before the guns could be reloaded or the great ship be got around so as to deliver her other broadside, the pirate vessel was alongside of her. Bartholemy had fired none of his cannon. Such guns were useless against so huge a foe. What he was after was a hand-to-hand combat on the deck of the Spanish ship.

The pirates were all ready for hot work. They had thrown aside their coats and shirts as if each of them were going into a prize fight, and, with their cutlasses in their hands, and their pistols and knives in their belts, they scrambled like monkeys up the sides of the great ship. But Spaniards are brave men and good fighters, and there were more than twice as many of them as there were of the pirates, and it was not long before the latter found out that they could not capture that vessel by boarding it. So over the side they tumbled as fast as they could go, leaving some of their number dead and wounded behind them. They jumped into their own vessel, and then they put off to a short distance to take breath and get ready for a different kind of a fight. The triumphant Spaniards now prepared to get rid of this boat load of half-naked wild beasts, which they could easily do if they should take better aim with their cannon than they had done before.

But to their amazement they soon found that they could do nothing with the guns, nor were they able to work their ship so as to get it into position for effectual shots. Bartholemy and his men laid aside their cutlasses and their pistols, and took up their muskets, with which they were well provided. Their vessel lay within a very short range of the Spanish ship, and whenever a man could be seen through the portholes, or showed himself in the rigging or anywhere else where it was necessary to go in order to work the ship, he made himself a target for the good aim of the pirates. The pirate vessel could move about as it pleased, for it required but a few men to manage it, and so it kept out of the way of the Spanish guns, and its best marksmen, crouching close to the deck, fired and fired whenever a Spanish head was to be seen.

For five long hours this unequal contest was kept up. It might have reminded one of a man with a slender rod and a long, delicate line, who had hooked a big salmon. The man could not pull in the salmon, but, on the other hand, the salmon could not hurt the man, and in the course of time the big fish would be tired out, and the man would get out his landing-net and scoop him in.

Now Bartholemy thought he could scoop in the Spanish vessel. So many of her men had been shot that the two crews would be more nearly equal. So, boldly, he ran his vessel alongside the big ship and again boarded her. Now there was another great fight on the decks. The Spaniards had ceased to be triumphant, but they had become desperate, and in the furious combat ten of the pirates were killed and four wounded. But the Spaniards fared worse than that; more than half of the men who had not been shot by the pirates went down before their cutlasses and pistols, and it was not long before Bartholemy had captured the great Spanish ship.

It was a fearful and a bloody victory he had gained. A great part of his own men were lying dead or helpless on the deck, and of the Spaniards only forty were left alive, and these, it appears from the accounts, must have been nearly all wounded or disabled.

It was a common habit among the buccaneers, as well as among the Spaniards, to kill all prisoners who were not able to work for them, but Bartholemy does not seem to have arrived at the stage of depravity necessary for this. So he determined not to kill his prisoners, but he put them all into a boat and let them go where they pleased; while he was left with fifteen men to work a great vessel which required a crew of five times that number.

But the men who could conquer and capture a ship against such enormous odds, felt themselves fully capable of working her, even with their little crew, Before doing anything in the way of navigation they cleared the decks of the dead bodies, taking from them all watches, trinkets, and money, and then went below to see what sort of a prize they had gained. They found it a very good one indeed, There were seventy-five thousand crowns in money, besides a cargo of cocoa worth five thousand more, and this, combined with the value of the ship and all its fittings, was a great fortune for those days.

When the victorious pirates had counted their gains and had mended the sails and rigging of their new ship, they took what they wanted out of their own vessel, and left her to sink or to float as she pleased, and then they sailed away in the direction of the island of Jamaica. But the winds did not suit them, and, as their crew was so very small, they could not take advantage of light breezes as they could have done if they had had men enough. Consequently they were obliged to stop to get water before they reached the friendly vicinity of Jamaica.

They cast anchor at Cape St. Anthony on the west end of Cuba. After a considerable delay at this place they started out again to resume their voyage, but it was not long before they perceived, to their horror, three Spanish vessels coming towards them. It was impossible for a very large ship, manned by an extremely small crew, to sail away from those fully equipped vessels, and as to attempting to defend themselves against the overwhelming power of the antagonists, that was too absurd to be thought of even by such a reckless fellow as Bartholemy. So, when the ship was hailed by the Spanish vessels he lay to and waited until a boat's crew boarded him. With the eye of a nautical man the Spanish captain of one of the ships perceived that something was the matter with this vessel, for its sails and rigging were terribly cut up in the long fight through which it had passed, and of course he wanted to know what had happened. When he found that the great ship was in the possession of a very small body of pirates, Bartholemy and his men were immediately made prisoners, taken on board the Spanish ship, stripped of everything they possessed, even their clothes, and shut up in the hold. A crew from the Spanish ships was sent to man the vessel which had been captured, and then the little fleet set sail for San Francisco in Campeachy.

An hour had worked a very great change in the fortunes of Bartholemy and his men; in the fine cabin of their grand prize they had feasted and sung, and had gloried over their wonderful success, and now, in the vessel of their captor, they were shut up in the dark, to be enslaved or perhaps executed.

But it is not likely that any one of them either despaired or repented; these are sentiments very little in use by pirates.