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

Villany On A Grand Scale

When L'Olonnois landed on the disreputable shores of Tortuga, he was received by all circles of the vicious society of the island with loud acclamation. He had not only taken a fine Spanish ship, he had not only bearded the Governor of Havana in his fortified den, but he had struck off ninety heads with his own hand. Even people who did not care for him before reverenced him now. In all the annals of piracy no hero had ever done such a deed as this, and the best records of human butchering had been broken.

Now grand and ambitious ideas began to swell the head of this champion slaughterer, and he conceived the plan of getting up a grand expedition to go forth and capture the important town of Maracaibo, in New Venezuela. This was an enterprise far above the ordinary aims of a buccaneer, and it would require more than ordinary force to accomplish it. He therefore set himself to work to enlist a large number of men and to equip a fleet of vessels, of which he was to be chief commander or admiral. There were a great many unemployed pirates in Tortuga at that time, and many a brawny rascal volunteered to sail under the flag of the daring butcher of the seas.

But in order to equip a fleet, money was necessary as well as men, and therefore L'Olonnois thought himself very lucky when he succeeded in interesting the principal piratical capitalist of Tortuga in his undertaking. This was an old and seasoned buccaneer by the name of Michael de Basco, who had made money enough by his piratical exploits to retire from business and live on his income. He held the position of Mayor of the island and was an important man among his fellow-miscreants. When de Basco heard of the great expedition which L'Olonnois was about to undertake, his whole soul was fired and he could not rest tamely in his comfortable quarters when such great things were to be done, and he offered to assist L'Olonnois with funds and join in the expedition if he were made commander of the land forces. This offer was accepted gladly, for de Basco had a great reputation as a fighter in Europe as well as in America.

When everything had been made ready, L'Olonnois set sail for Maracaibo with a fleet of eight ships. On the way they captured two Spanish vessels, both of which were rich prizes, and at last they arrived before the town which they intended to capture.

Maracaibo was a prosperous place of three or four thousand inhabitants; they were rich people living in fine houses, and many of them had plantations which extended out into the country. In every way the town possessed great attractions to piratical marauders, but there were difficulties in the way; being such an important place, of course it had important defences. On an island in the harbor there was a strong fort, or castle, and on another island a little further from the town there was a tall tower, on the top of which a sentinel was posted night and day to give notice of any approaching enemy. Between these two islands was the only channel by which the town could be approached from the sea. But in preparing these defences the authorities had thought only of defending themselves against ordinary naval forces and had not anticipated the extraordinary naval methods of the buccaneers who used to be merely sea-robbers, who fell upon ships after they had left their ports, but who now set out to capture not only ships at sea but towns on land.

L'Olonnois had too much sense to run his ships close under the guns of the fortress, against which he could expect to do nothing, for the buccaneers relied but little upon their cannon, and so they paid no more attention to the ordinary harbor than if it had not been there, but sailed into a fresh-water lake at some distance from the town, and out of sight of the tower. There L'Olonnois landed his men, and, advancing upon the fort from the rear, easily crossed over to the little island and marched upon the fort. It was very early in the morning. The garrison was utterly amazed by this attack from land, and although they fought bravely for three hours, they were obliged to give up the defence of the walls, and as many of them as could do so got out of the fort and escaped to the mainland and the town.

L'Olonnois now took possession of the fort, and then, with the greater part of his men, he returned to his ships, brought them around to the entrance of the bay, and then boldly sailed with his whole fleet under the very noses of the cannon and anchored in the harbor in front of the town.

When the citizens of Maracaibo heard from the escaping garrison that the fort had been taken, they were filled with horror and dismay, for they had no further means of defence. They knew that the pirates had come there for no other object than to rob, pillage, and cruelly treat them, and consequently as many as possible hurried away into the woods and the surrounding country with as many of their valuables as they could carry. They resembled the citizens of a town attacked by the cholera or the plague, and in fact, they would have preferred a most terrible pestilence to this terrible scourge of piracy from which they were about to suffer.

As soon as L'Olonnois and his wild pirates had landed in the city they devoted themselves entirely to eating and drinking and making themselves merry. They had been on short commons during the latter part of their voyage, and they had a royal time with the abundance of food and wine which they found in the houses of the town. The next day, however, they set about attending to the business which had brought them there, and parties of pirates were sent out into the surrounding country to find the people who had run away and to take from them the treasures they had carried off. But although a great many of the poor, miserable, unfortunate citizens were captured and brought back to the town, there was found upon them very little money, and but few jewels or ornaments of value. And now L'Olonnois began to prove how much worse his presence was than any other misfortune which could have happened to the town. He tortured the poor prisoners, men, women, and children, to make them tell where they had hidden their treasures, sometimes hacking one of them with his sword, declaring at the same time that if he did not tell where his money was hidden he would immediately set to work to cut up his family and his friends.

The cruelties inflicted upon the inhabitants by this vile and beastly pirate and his men were so horrible that they could not be put into print. Even John Esquemeling, who wrote the account of it, had not the heart to tell everything that had happened. But after two weeks of horror and torture, the pirates were able to get but comparatively little out of the town, and they therefore determined to go somewhere else, where they might do better.

At the southern end of Lake Maracaibo, about forty leagues from the town which the pirates had just desolated and ruined, lay Gibraltar, a good-sized and prosperous town, and for this place L'Olonnois and his fleet now set sail; but they were not able to approach unsuspected and unseen, for news of their terrible doings had gone before them, and their coming was expected. When they drew near the town they saw the flag flying from the fort, and they knew that every preparation had been made for defence. To attack such a place as this was a rash undertaking; the Spaniards had perhaps a thousand soldiers, and the pirates numbered but three hundred and eighty, but L'Olonnois did not hesitate. As usual, he had no thought of bombardment, or any ordinary method of naval warfare; but at the first convenient spot he landed all his men, and having drawn them up in a body, he made them an address. He made them understand clearly the difficult piece of work which was before them; but he assured them that pirates were so much in the habit of conquering Spaniards that if they would all promise to follow him and do their best, he was certain he could take the town. He assured them that it would be an ignoble thing to give up such a grand enterprise as this simply because they found the enemy strong and so well prepared to meet them, and ended by stating that if he saw a man flinch or hold back for a second, he would pistol him with his own hand. Whereupon the pirates all shook hands and promised they would follow L'Olonnois wherever he might lead them.

This they truly did, and L'Olonnois, having a very imperfect knowledge of the proper way to the town, led them into a wild bog, where this precious pack of rascals soon found themselves up to their knees in mud and water, and in spite of all the cursing and swearing which they did, they were not able to press through the bog or get out of it. In this plight they were discovered by a body of horsemen from the town, who began firing upon them. The Spaniards must now have thought that their game was almost bagged and that all they had to do was to stand on the edge of the bog and shoot down the floundering fellows who could not get away from them. But these fellows were bloody buccaneers, each one of them a great deal harder to kill than a cat, and they did not propose to stay in the bog to be shot down. With their cutlasses they hewed off branches of trees and threw these clown in the bog, making a sort of rude roadway by means of which they were able to get out on solid ground. But here they found themselves confronted by a large body of Spaniards, entrenched behind earthworks. Cannon and musket were opened upon the buccaneers, and the noise and smoke were so terrible they could scarcely hear the commands of their leaders.

Never before, perhaps, had pirates been engaged in such a land battle as this. Very soon the Spaniards charged from behind their earthworks, and then L'Olonnois and his men were actually obliged to fly back. If he could have found any way of retreating to his ships, L'Olonnois would doubtless have done so, in spite of his doughty words, when he addressed his men, but this was now impossible, for the Spaniards had felled trees and had made a barricade between the pirates and their ships. The buccaneers were now in a very tight place; their enemy was behind defences and firing at them steadily, without showing any intention of coming out to give the pirates a chance for what they considered a fair fight. Every now and then a buccaneer would fall, and L'Olonnois saw that as it would be utterly useless to endeavor to charge the barricade he must resort to some sort of trickery or else give up the battle.

Suddenly he passed the word for every man to turn his back and run away as fast as he could from the earthworks. Away scampered the pirates, and from the valiant Spaniards there came a shout of victory. The soldiers could not be restrained from following the fugitives and putting to death every one of the cowardly rascals. Away went the buccaneers, and after them, hot and furious, came the soldiers. But as soon as the Spaniards were so far away from their entrenchments that they could not get back to them, the crafty L'Olonnois, who ran with one eye turned behind him, called a halt, his men turned, formed into battle array, and began an onslaught upon their pursuing enemy, such as these military persons had never dreamed of in their wildest imagination. We are told that over two hundred Spaniards perished in a very short time. Before a furious pirate with a cutlass a soldier with his musket seemed to have no chance at all, and very soon the Spaniards who were left alive broke and ran into the woods.

The buccaneers formed into a body and marched toward the town, which surrendered without firing a gun, and L'Olonnois and his men, who, but an hour before, had been in danger of being shot down by their enemy as if they had been rabbits in a pen, now marched boldly into the centre of the town, pulled down the Spanish flag, and hoisted their own in its place. They were the masters of Gibraltar. Never had ambitious villany been more successful.