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

The Story Of L'olonnois The Cruel

In the preceding chapter we have seen that the buccaneers had at last become so numerous and so formidable that it was dangerous for a Spanish ship laden with treasure from the new world to attempt to get out of the Caribbean Sea into the Atlantic, and that thus failing to find enough richly laden vessels to satisfy their ardent cravings for plunder, the buccaneers were forced to make some change in their methods of criminal warfare; and from capturing Spanish galleons, they formed themselves into well-organized bodies and attacked towns.

Among the buccaneer leaders who distinguished themselves as land pirates was a thoroughbred scoundrel by the name of Francis L'Olonnois, who was born in France. In those days it was the custom to enforce servitude upon people who were not able to take care of themselves. Unfortunate debtors and paupers of all classes were sold to people who had need of their services. The only difference sometimes between master and servant depended entirely upon the fact that one had money, and the other had none. Boys and girls were sold for a term of years, somewhat as if they had been apprentices, and it so happened that the boy L'Olonnois was sold to a master who took him to the West Indies. There he led the life of a slave until he was of age, and then, being no longer subject to ownership, he became one of the freest and most independent persons who ever walked this earth.

He began his career on the island of Hispaniola, where he took up the business of hunting and butchering cattle; but he very soon gave up this life for that of a pirate, and enlisted as a common sailor on one of their ships. Here he gave signs of such great ability as a brave and unscrupulous scoundrel that one of the leading pirates on the island of Tortuga gave him a ship and a crew, and set him up in business on his own account. The piratical career of L'Olonnois was very much like that of other buccaneers of the day, except that he was so abominably cruel to the Spanish prisoners whom he captured that he gained a reputation for vile humanity, surpassing that of any other rascal on the western continent. When he captured a prisoner, it seemed to delight his soul as much to torture and mutilate him before killing him as to take away whatever valuables he possessed. His reputation for ingenious wickedness spread all over the West Indies, so that the crews of Spanish ships, attacked by this demon, would rather die on their decks or sink to the bottom in their ships than be captured by L'Olonnois.

All the barbarities, the brutalities, and the fiendish ferocity which have ever been attributed to the pirates of the world were united in the character of this inhuman wretch, who does not appear to be so good an example of the true pirate as Roc, the Brazilian. He was not so brave, he was not so able, and he was so utterly base that it would be impossible for any one to look upon him as a hero. After having attained in a very short time the reputation of being the most bloody and wicked pirate of his day, L'Olonnois was unfortunate enough to be wrecked upon the coast, not far from the town of Campeachy. He and his crew got safely to shore, but it was not long before their presence was discovered by the people of the town, and the Spanish soldiers thereupon sallied out and attacked them. There was a fierce fight, but the Spaniards were the stronger, and the buccaneers were utterly defeated. Many of them were killed, and most of the rest wounded or taken prisoners.

Among the wounded was L'Olonnois, and as he knew that if he should be discovered he would meet with no mercy, he got behind some bushes, scooped up several handfuls of sand, mixed it with his blood, and with it rubbed his face so that it presented the pallor of a corpse. Then he lay down among the bodies of his dead companions, and when the Spaniards afterwards walked over the battlefield, he was looked upon as one of the common pirates whom they had killed.

When the soldiers had retired into the town with their prisoners, the make-believe corpse stealthily arose and made his way into the woods, where he stayed until his wounds were well enough for him to walk about. He divested himself of his great boots, his pistol belt, and the rest of his piratical costume, and, adding to his scanty raiment a cloak and hat which he had stolen from a poor cottage, he boldly approached the town and entered it. He looked like a very ordinary person, and no notice was taken of him by the authorities. Here he found shelter and something to eat, and he soon began to make himself very much at home in the streets of Campeachy.

It was a very gay time in the town, and, as everybody seemed to be happy, L'Olonnois was very glad to join in the general rejoicing, and these hilarities gave him particular pleasure as he found out that he was the cause of them. The buccaneers who had been captured, and who were imprisoned in the fortress, had been interrogated over and over again by the Spanish officials in regard to L'Olonnois, their commander, and, as they had invariably answered that he had been killed, the Spanish were forced to believe the glad tidings, and they celebrated the death of the monster as the greatest piece of public good fortune which could come to their community. They built bonfires, they sang songs about the death of the black-hearted buccaneer, and services of thanksgiving were held in their churches.

All this was a great delight to L'Olonnois, who joined hands with the young men and women, as they danced around the bonfires; he assisted in a fine bass voice in the choruses which told of his death and his dreadful doom, and he went to church and listened to the priests and the people as they gave thanks for their deliverance from his enormities.

But L'Olonnois did not waste all his time chuckling over the baseless rejoicings of the people of the town. He made himself acquainted with some of the white slaves, men who had been brought from England, and finding some of them very much discontented with their lot, he ventured to tell them that he was one of the pirates who had escaped, and offered them riches and liberty if they would join him in a scheme he had concocted. It would have been easy enough for him to get away from the town by himself, but this would have been of no use to him unless he obtained some sort of a vessel, and some men to help him navigate it. So he proposed to the slaves that they should steal a small boat belonging to the master of one of them, and in this, under cover of the night, the little party safely left Campeachy and set sail for Tortuga, which, as we have told, was then the headquarters of the buccaneers, and "the common place of refuge of all sorts of wickedness, and the seminary, as it were, of all manner of pirates."