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

A Pirate Potentate

Sometime in the last half of the seventeenth century on a quiet farm in a secluded part of Wales there was born a little boy baby. His father was a farmer, and his mother churned, and tended the cows and the chickens, and there was no reason to imagine that this gentle little baby, born and reared in this rural solitude, would become one of the most formidable pirates that the world ever knew. Yet such was the case.

The baby's name was Henry Morgan, and as he grew to be a big boy a distaste for farming grew with him. So strong was his dislike that when he became a young man he ran away to the seacoast, for he had a fancy to be a sailor. There he found a ship bound for the West Indies, and in this he started out on his life's career. He had no money to pay his passage, and he therefore followed the usual custom of those days and sold himself for a term of three years to an agent who was taking out a number of men to work on the plantations. In the places where these men were enlisted they were termed servants, but when they got to the new world they were generally called slaves and treated as such.

When young Morgan reached the Barbadoes he was resold to a planter, and during his term of service he probably worked a good deal harder and was treated much more roughly than any of the laborers on his father's farm. But as soon as he was a free man he went to Jamaica, and there were few places in the world where a young man could be more free and more independent than in this lawless island.

Here were rollicking and blustering "flibustiers," and here the young man determined to study piracy. He was not a sailor and hunter who by the force of circumstances gradually became a buccaneer, but he deliberately selected his profession, and immediately set to work to acquire a knowledge of its practice. There was a buccaneer ship about to sail from Jamaica, and on this Morgan enlisted. He was a clever fellow and very soon showed himself to be a brave and able sailor.

After three or four voyages he acquired a reputation for remarkable coolness in emergencies, and showed an ability to take advantage of favorable circumstances, which was not possessed by many of his comrades. These prominent traits in his character became the foundation of his success. He also proved himself a very good business man, and having saved a considerable amount of money he joined with some other buccaneers and bought a ship, of which he took command. This ship soon made itself a scourge in the Spanish seas; no other buccaneering vessel was so widely known and so greatly feared, and the English people in these regions were as proud of the young Captain Morgan as if he had been a regularly commissioned admiral, cruising against an acknowledged enemy.

Returning from one of his voyages Morgan found an old buccaneer, named Mansvelt, in Jamaica, who had gathered together a fleet of vessels with which he was about to sail for the mainland. This expedition seemed a promising one to Morgan, and he joined it, being elected vice-admiral of the fleet of fifteen vessels. Since the successes of L'Olonnois and others, attacks upon towns had become very popular with the buccaneers, whose leaders were getting to be tired of the retail branch of their business; that is, sailing about in one ship and capturing such merchantmen as it might fall in with.

Mansvelt's expedition took with it not only six hundred fighting pirates, but one writing pirate, for John Esquemeling accompanied it, and so far as the fame and reputation of these adventurers was concerned his pen was mightier than their swords, for had it not been for his account of their deeds very little about them would have been known to the world.

The fleet sailed directly for St. Catherine, an island near Costa Rica, which was strongly fortified by the Spaniards and used by them as a station for ammunition and supplies, and also as a prison. The pirates landed upon the island and made a most furious assault upon the fortifications, and although they were built of stone and well furnished with cannon, the savage assailants met with their usual good fortune. They swarmed over the walls and carried the place at the edge of the cutlass and the mouth of the pistol. In this fierce fight Morgan performed such feats of valor that even some of the Spaniards who had been taken prisoners, were forced to praise his extraordinary courage and ability as a leader.

The buccaneers proceeded to make very good use of their victory. They captured some small adjoining islands and brought the cannon from them to the main fortress, which they put in a good condition of defence. Here they confined all their prisoners and slaves, and supplied the island with an abundance of stores and provisions.

It is believed that when Mansvelt formed the plan of capturing this island he did so with the idea of founding there a permanent pirate principality, the inhabitants of which should not consider themselves English, French, or Dutch, but plain pirates, having a nationality and country of their own. Had the seed thus planted by Mansvelt and Morgan grown and matured, it is not unlikely that the whole of the West Indies might now be owned and inhabited by an independent nation, whose founders were the bold buccaneers.

When everything had been made tight and right at St. Catherine, Mansvelt and Morgan sailed for the mainland, for the purpose of attacking an inland town called Nata, but in this expedition they were not successful. The Spanish Governor of the province had heard of their approach, and met them with a body of soldiers so large that they prudently gave up the attempt,—a proceeding not very common with them, but Morgan was not only a dare-devil of a pirate, but a very shrewd Welshman.

They returned to the ships, and after touching at St. Catherine and leaving there enough men to defend it, under the command of a Frenchman named Le Sieur Simon, they sailed for Jamaica. Everything at St. Catherine was arranged for permanent occupation; there was plenty of fresh water, and the ground could be cultivated, and Simon was promised that additional forces should be sent him so that he could hold the island as a regular station for the assembling and fitting out of pirate vessels.

The permanent pirate colony never came to any- thing; no reŽnforcements were sent; Mansvelt died, and the Spaniards gathered together a sufficient force to retake the island of St. Catherine, and make prisoners of Simon and his men. This was a blow to Morgan, who had had great hopes of the fortified station he thought he had so firmly established, but after the project failed he set about forming another expedition.

He was now recognized as buccaneer-in-chief of the West Indies, and he very soon gathered together twelve ships and seven hundred men. Everything was made ready to sail, and the only thing left to be done was to decide what particular place they should favor with a visit.

There were some who advised an attack upon Havana, giving as a reason that in that city there were a great many nuns, monks, and priests, and if they could capture them, they might ask as ransom for them, a sum a great deal larger than they could expect to get from the pillage of an ordinary town. But Havana was considered to be too strong a place for a profitable venture, and after several suggestions had been made, at last a deserter from the Spanish army, who had joined them, came forward with a good idea. He told the pirates of a town in Cuba, to which he knew the way; it was named Port-au-Prince, and was situated so far inland that it had never been sacked. When the pirates heard that there existed an entirely fresh and unpillaged town, they were filled with as much excited delight as if they had been a party of school-boys who had just been told where they might find a tree full of ripe apples which had been overlooked by the men who had been gathering the crop.

When Morgan's fleet arrived at the nearest harbor to Port-au-Prince, he landed his men and marched toward the town, but he did not succeed in making a secret attack, as he had hoped. One of his prisoners, a Spaniard, let himself drop overboard as soon as the vessels cast anchor, and swimming ashore, hurried to Port-au-Prince and informed the Governor of the attack which was about to be made on the town. Thus prepared, this able commander knew just what to do. He marched a body of soldiers along the road by which the pirates must come, and when he found a suitable spot he caused great trees to be cut down and laid across the road, thus making a formidable barricade. Behind this his soldiers were posted with their muskets and their cannon, and when the pirates should arrive they would find that they would have to do some extraordinary fighting before they could pass this well-defended barrier.

When Morgan came within sight of this barricade, he understood that the Spaniards had discovered his approach, and so he called a halt. He had always been opposed to unnecessary work, and he considered that it would be entirely unnecessary to attempt to disturb this admirable defence, so he left the road, marched his men into the woods, led them entirely around the barricades, and then, after proceeding a considerable distance, emerged upon a wide plain which lay before the town. Here he found that he would have to fight his way into the city, and, probably much to his surprise, his men were presently charged by a body of cavalry.

Pirates, as a rule, have nothing to do with horses, either in peace or war, and the Governor of the town no doubt thought that when his well-armed horsemen charged upon these men, accustomed to fighting on the decks of ships, and totally unused to cavalry combats, he would soon scatter and disperse them. But pirates are peculiar fighters; if they had been attacked from above by means of balloons, or from below by mines and explosives, they would doubtless have adapted their style of defence to the method of attack. They always did this, and according to Esquemeling they nearly always got the better of their enemies; but we must remember that in cases where they did not succeed, as happened when they marched against the town of Nata, he says very little about the affair and amplifies only the accounts of their successes.

But the pirates routed the horsemen, and, after a fight of about four hours, they routed all the other Spaniards who resisted them, and took possession of the town. Here they captured a great many prisoners which they shut up in the churches and then sent detachments out into the country to look for those who had run away. Then these utterly debased and cruel men began their usual course after capturing a town; they pillaged, feasted, and rioted; they gave no thought to the needs of the prisoners whom they had shut up in the churches, many of whom starved to death; they tortured the poor people to make them tell where they had hid their treasures, and nothing was too vile or too wicked for them to do if they thought they could profit by it. They had come for the express purpose of taking everything that the people possessed, and until they had forced from them all that was of the slightest value, they were not satisfied. Even when the poor citizens seemed to have given up everything they owned they were informed that if they did not pay two heavy ransoms, one to protect themselves from being carried away into slavery, and one to keep their town from being burned, the same punishments would be inflicted upon them.

For two weeks the pirates waited for the unfortunate citizens to go out into the country and find some of their townsmen who had escaped with a portion of their treasure. In those days people did not keep their wealth in banks as they do now, but every man was the custodian of most of his own possessions, and when they fled from the visitation of an enemy they took with them everything of value that they could carry. If their fortunes had been deposited in banks, it would doubtless have been more convenient for the pirates.

Before the citizens returned Morgan made a discovery: a negro was captured who carried letters from the Governor of Santiago, a neighboring city, to some of the citizens of Port-au-Prince, telling them not to be in too great a hurry to pay the ransom demanded by the pirates, because he was coming with a strong force to their assistance. When Morgan read these letters, he changed his mind, and thought it would be a wise thing not to stay in that region any longer than could be helped. So he decided not to wait for the unfortunate citizens to collect the heavy ransom he demanded, but told them that if they would furnish him with five hundred head of cattle, and also supply salt and help prepare the meat for shipment, he would make no further demands upon them. This, of course, the citizens were glad enough to do, and when the buccaneers had carried to the ships everything they had stolen, and when the beef had been put on board, they sailed away.

Morgan directed the course of the fleet to a small island on which he wished to land in order that they might take an account of stock and divide the profits. This the pirates always did as soon as possible after they had concluded one of their nefarious enterprises. But his men were not at all satisfied with what happened on the island. Morgan estimated the total value of the booty to be about fifty thousand dollars, and when this comparatively small sum was divided, many of the men complained that it would not give them enough to pay their debts in Jamaica. They were utterly astonished that after having sacked an entirely fresh town they should have so little, and there is no doubt that many of them believed that their leader was a man who carried on the business of piracy for the purpose of enriching himself, while he gave his followers barely enough to keep them quiet.

There was, however, another cause of discontent among a large body of the men; it appears that the men were very fond of marrow-bones, and while they were yet at Port-au-Prince and the prisoners were salting the meat which was to go on the ships, the buccaneers went about among them and took the marrow-bones which they cooked and ate while they were fresh. One of the men, a Frenchman, had selected a very fine bone, and had put it by his side while he was preparing some other tidbits, when an Englishman came along, picked up the bone, and carried it away.

Now even in the chronicles of Mother Goose we are, told of the intimate connection between Welshmen, thievery, and marrow-bones; for

"Taffy was a Welshman,

Taffy was a thief,

Taffy came to my house

And stole a leg of beef.

"I went to Taffy's house,

Taffy wasn't home,

Taffy went to my house,

And stole a marrow-bone."

What happened to Taffy we do not know, but Morgan was a Welshman, Morgan was a thief, and one of his men had stolen a marrow-bone; therefore came trouble. The Frenchman challenged the Englishman; but the latter, being a mean scoundrel, took advantage of his opponent, unfairly stabbed him in the back and killed him.

Now all the Frenchmen in the company rose in furious protest, and Morgan, wishing to pacify them, had the English assassin put in chains, and promised that he would take him to Jamaica and deliver him to justice. But the Frenchmen declined to be satisfied; they had received but very little money after they had pillaged a rich town, and they believed that their English companions were inclined to take advantage of them in every way, and consequently the greater part of them banded together and deliberately deserted Morgan, who was obliged to go back to Jamaica with not more than half his regular forces, doubtless wishing that the cattle on the island of Cuba had been able to get along without marrow-bones.