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

A Resurrected Pirate

When L'Olonnois arrived at Tortuga he caused great astonishment among his old associates; that he had come back a comparative pauper surprised no one, for this was a common thing to happen to a pirate, but the wonder was that he got back at all.

He had no money, but, by the exercise of his crafty abilities, he managed to get possession of a ship, which he manned with a crew of about a score of impecunious dare-devils who were very anxious to do something to mend their fortunes.

Having now become very fond of land-fighting, he did not go out in search of ships, but directed his vessel to a little village called de los Cayos, on the coast of Cuba, for here, he thought, was a chance for a good and easy stroke of business. This village was the abode of industrious people, who were traders in tobacco, hides, and sugar, and who were obliged to carry on their traffic in a rather peculiar manner. The sea near their town was shallow, so that large ships could not approach very near, and thus the villagers were kept busy carrying goods and supplies in small boats, backwards and forwards from the town to the vessels at anchor. Here was a nice little prize that could not get away from him, and L'Olonnois had plenty of time to make his preparations to seize it. As he could not sail a ship directly up to the town, he cruised about the coast at some distance from de los Cayos, endeavoring to procure two small boats in which to approach the town, but although his preparations were made as quietly as possible, the presence of his vessel was discovered by some fishermen. They knew that it was a pirate ship, and some of them who had seen L'Olonnois recognized that dreaded pirate upon the deck. Word of the impending danger was taken to the town, and the people there immediately sent a message by land to Havana, informing the Governor of the island that the cruel pirate L'Olonnois was in a ship a short distance from their village, which he undoubtedly intended to attack.

When the Governor heard this astonishing tale, it was almost impossible for him to believe it. The good news of the death of L'Olonnois had come from Campeachy to Havana, and the people of the latter town also rejoiced greatly. To be now told that this scourge of the West Indies was alive, and was about to fall upon a peaceful little village on the island over which he ruled, filled the Governor with rage as well as amazement, and he ordered a well-armed ship, with a large crew of fighting men, to sail immediately for de los Cayos, giving the captain express orders that he was not to come back until he had obliterated from the face of the earth the whole of the wretched gang with the exception of the leader. This extraordinary villain was to be brought to Havana to be treated as the Governor should see fit. In order that his commands should be executed promptly and effectually, the Governor sent a big negro slave in the ship, who was charged with the duty of hanging every one of the pirates except L'Olonnois.

By the time the war-vessel had arrived at de los Cayos, L'Olonnois had made his preparation to attack the place. He had procured two large canoes, and in these he had intended to row up to the town and land with his men. But now there was a change in the state of affairs, and he was obliged to alter his plans. The ordinary person in command of two small boats, who should suddenly discover that a village which he supposed almost defenceless, was protected by a large man-of-war, with cannon and a well-armed crew, would have altered his plans so completely that he would have left that part of the coast of Cuba with all possible expedition. But the pirates of that day seemed to pay very little attention to the element of odds; if they met an enemy who was weak, they would fall upon him, and if they met with one who was a good deal stronger than themselves, they would fall upon him all the same. When the time came to fight they fought.

Of course L'Olonnois could not now row leisurely up to the town and begin to pillage it as he had intended, but no intention of giving up his project entered his mind. As the Spanish vessel was in his way, he would attack her and get her out of his way if the thing could be done.

In this new state of affairs he was obliged to use stratagem, and he also needed a larger force than he had with him, and he therefore captured some men who were fishing along the coast and put them into his canoes to help work the oars. Then by night he proceeded slowly in the direction of the Spanish vessel. The man-of-war was anchored not very far from the town, and when about two o'clock in the morning the watch on deck saw some canoes approaching they supposed them to be boats from shore, for, as has been said, such vessels were continually plying about those shallow waters. The canoes were hailed, and after having given an account of themselves they were asked if they knew anything about the pirate ship upon the coast. L'Olonnois understood very well that it would not do for him or his men to make answer to these inquiries, for their speech would have shown they did not belong to those parts. Therefore he made one of his prisoner fishermen answer that they had not seen a pirate vessel, and if there had been one there, it must have sailed away when its captain heard the Spanish ship was coming. Then the canoes were allowed to go their way, but their way was a very different one from any which could have been expected by the captain of the ship.

They rowed off into the darkness instead of going toward the town, and waited until nearly daybreak, then they boldly made for the man-of-war, one canoe attacking her on one side and the other on the other. Before the Spanish could comprehend what had happened there were more than twenty pirates upon their decks, the dreaded L'Olonnois at their head.

In such a case as this cannon were of no use, and when the crew tried to rush upon deck, they found that cutlasses and pistols did not avail very much better. The pirates had the advantage; they had overpowered the watch, and were defending the deck against all comers from below. It requires a very brave sailor to stick his head out of a hatchway when he sees three or four cutlasses ready to split it open. But there was some stout fighting on board; the officers came out of their cabins, and some of the men were able to force their way out into the struggle. The pirates knew, however, that they were but few and that were their enemies allowed to get on deck they would prove entirely too strong, and they fought, each scoundrel of them, like three men, and the savage fight ended by every Spanish sailor or officer who was not killed or wounded being forced to stay below decks, where the hatches were securely fastened down upon them.

L'Olonnois now stood a proud victor on the deck of his prize, and, being a man of principle, he determined to live up to the distinguished reputation which he had acquired in that part of the world. Baring his muscular and hairy right arm, he clutched the handle of his sharp and heavy cutlass and ordered the prisoners to be brought up from below, one at a time, and conducted to the place where he stood. He wished to give Spain a lesson which would make her understand that he was not to be interfered with in the execution of his enterprises, and he determined to allow himself the pleasure of personally teaching this lesson.

As soon as a prisoner was brought to L'Olonnois he struck off his head, and this performance he continued, beginning with number one, and going on until he had counted ninety. The last one brought to him was the negro slave. This man, who was not a soldier, was desperately frightened and begged piteously for his life. L'Olonnois, finding that the man was willing to tell everything he knew, questioned him about the sending of this vessel from Havana, and when the poor fellow had finished by telling that he had come there, not of his own accord, but simply for the purpose of obeying his master, to hang all the pirates except their leader, that great buccaneer laughed, and, finding he could get nothing more from the negro, cut off his head likewise, and his body was tumbled into the sea after those of his companions.

Now there was not a Spaniard left on board the great ship except one man, who had been preserved from the fate of the others because L'Olonnois had some correspondence to attend to, and he needed a messenger to carry a letter. The pirate captain went into the cabin, where he found writing-materials ready to his hand, and there he composed a letter to the Governor of Havana, a part of which read as follows: "I shall never henceforward give quarter unto any Spaniard whatsoever. And I have great hopes that I shall execute on your own person the very same punishment I have done to them you sent against me. Thus I have retaliated the kindness you designed unto me and my companions."

When this message was received by the dignified official who filled the post of Governor of Cuba, he stormed and fairly foamed at the mouth. To be utterly foiled and discomfited by this resurrected pirate, and to be afterwards addressed in terms of such unheard-of insolence and abuse, was more than he could bear, and, in the presence of many of his officials and attendants, he swore a terrible oath that after that hour he would never again give quarter to any buccaneer, no matter when or where he was captured, or what he might be doing at the time. Every man of the wretched band should die as soon as he could lay hands upon him.

But when the inhabitants of Havana and the surrounding villages heard of this terrible resolution of their Governor they were very much disturbed. They lived in constant danger of attack, especially those who were engaged in fishing or maritime pursuits, and they feared that when it became known that no buccaneer was to receive quarter, the Spanish colonists would be treated in the same way, no matter where they might be found and taken. Consequently, it was represented to the Governor that his plan of vengeance would work most disastrously for the Spanish settlers, for the buccaneers could do far more damage to them than he could possibly do to these dreadful Brethren of the Coast, and that, unless he wished to bring upon them troubles greater than those of famine or pestilence, they begged that he would retract his oath.

When the high dignitary had cooled down a little, he saw that there was a good deal of sense in what the representative of the people had said to him, and he consequently felt obliged, in consideration of the public safety, to take back what he had said, and to give up the purpose, which would have rendered unsafe the lives of so many peaceable people.

L'Olonnois was now the possessor of a fine vessel which had not been in the least injured during the battle in which it had been won. But his little crew, some of whom had been killed and wounded, was insufficient to work such a ship upon an important cruise on the high seas, and he also discovered, much to his surprise, that there were very few provisions on board, for when the vessel was sent from Havana it was supposed she would make but a very short cruise. This savage swinger of the cutlass thereupon concluded that he would not try to do any great thing for the present, but, having obtained some booty and men from the woe-begone town of de los Cayos, he sailed away, touching at several other small ports for the purpose of pillage, and finally anchoring at Tortuga.