Posts Tagged ‘Pirates’

Henry Morgan, Prince of Pirates

November 3, 2011

Henry Morgan, Prince of Pirates

A COUNTRY boy, son of a Welsh farmer, was wandering about the docks of Bristol, England, staring at the odd waterfront sights, when he was kidnapped and carried aboard a ship bound for the West Indies. He was taken to Barbadoes and there sold to a planter as a slave.

The boy was Henry Morgan. He began his career as a penniless, ill-treated servant. By sheer villainy he rose to wealth and rank. Some writers say he ended his life in misery.

Central America and much of the neighboring territory were under Spanish rule. Greedy governors and heartless soldiers wrung vast treasure from the Indians and in other ways amassed untold fortunes for themselves and for Spain. Galleons would come from Europe with provisions, clothing, etc., and go home laden with precious metals and gems. Of course, these treasure ships attracted pirates as sugar attracts flies. And the Spanish Government kept powerful fortresses and warships in the New World to protect their wealth. The clash between Spain and the buccaneers was everlasting.

Image from the Smithsonian‘s Ocean Portal

The word “buccaneer” means “a drier of beef.” The buccaneers used to make a living by butchering and selling wild cattle, until the local Spaniards made life unpleasant for them. Then they took to the sea and proceded to revenge themselves upon their tormentors by looting every treasure they could lay hands on. They were not, at first, common pirates, though “pirate” and “buccaneer” came afterward to mean much the same thing.

Morgan, escaping from slavery, fled to the island of Jamaica. There he joined a crew of buccaneers. By genius and cruel cunning he quickly became their captain. Then he joined his crew to that of a powerful buccaneer who called himself “Admiral” Mansfield. Mansfield soon afterward was killed; and Morgan was at the head of all the neighboring freebooters. His real life-work had begun.

He persuaded some of his companions not to throw away every penny of their gains on drink, gambling and finery, as had been their custom, but to save it for the expenses of a great expedition. Thus he quickly found himself in charge of the largest, strongest pirate fleet ever seen in the Spanish Main. The Spaniards had grown overcautious about risking their treasure ships in such dangerous waters. So Morgan decided to attack them by land. He swooped down on one rich fortified town after another, destroying its defenders or holding them for heavy ransom and seizing their treasure. In this way he soon became very rich.

Panama was the foremost treasure city in Spain’s New World possessions. It was strongly fortified and lay far off the pirates’ track. To reach it miles of poisonous jungle and Indian-infested forests must be passed. The place was deemed safe and there many millions of dollars’ worth of gold and jewels were kept. The hope of such wondrous plunder was enough to make Morgan try to do what every one had declared impossible. He turned from ravaging Cuba and the American mainland, and on Jan. 9, 1670, set out on the terrible river-and-jungle trip to Panama.

The Spaniards had word of his coming. All food supplies were removed from the route. The forests were alive with hostile savages. The hardy buccaneers endured daily starvation, fever and battle, but pushed on fearlessly until they came before the walls of the treasure city, Panama. There they thrashed a Spanish and Indian force more than three times the size of their own and rushed into the city. The mass of treasure was seized, the town burned to the ground and hundreds of captives held for ransom. Each buccaneer received only about $200 worth of plunder. Morgan kept the bulk of the hoard for himself.

Image of Henry Morgan in Panama City – also from the Ocean Portal

As a feat of daring and of military genius, Morgan’s dash to Panama excited the wonder of the world. Morgan, however, was summoned to England to give account of his crimes. He went without fear. For, on England’s throne sat King Charles II — as great a blackguard as Morgan himself. The pirate chief arrived in London, had a private interview with the King, and, it is said, slipped a goodly share of his Panama winnings into the royal pocket. Thereupon, instead of being punished, he was made a knight and was sent back to the West Indies as Lieutenant-Governor of Jamaica and commander-in-chief of the British forces there. He married and lived a life of luxurious ease, sternly condemning to death those of his old comrades who were brought before him on piracy charges, and playing the rich aristocrat to perfection. He died in 1668 at the age of fifty-three.

The Gettysburg Times (Gettysburg, Pennsylvania) Jun 17, 1912

Jean Lafitte, and the “Pirate Trust”

October 23, 2011

Jean Lafitte, and the “Pirate Trust”

TWO young Frenchmen — Jean and Pierre Lafitte — started a blacksmith shop in New Orleans in 1809. They had not the look or manner of blacksmiths. Probably Jean — a splendid, handsome giant, the hero of this story — never wielded hammer or shod a horse in all his career. Instead, he made negro slaves do the rough work while he strolled about the city and planned bigger enterprises.

Jean Lafitte was a blackguard. But he was a manly, likeable blackguard. And, once at least, he did our country valiant service. He was a pirate. Yet some historians say he went to sea but twice in his life — once when he came from France to New Orleans as a youth and once when he sailed away from America in 1820, never again to be heard of. Others say it was Pierre who set sail in 1820 and who perished somewhere in the ocean, while Jean went to Yucatan and lived six years longer in ill-earned luxury. The fact remains that there is no absolute knowledge as to whence Jean Lafitte came or whither he vanished. He was a man of mystery.

Louisiana in those days consisted largely of rich, unsettled land. Into these waste spaces the pioneers began to come. Huge plantations sprang up. To work the plantations there was need for thousands of negro slaves. And the slave trade between Africa and America throve tremendously. A negro that cost $20 in his African jungle could often be sold for $1,000 in the New Orleans market. Then the United States declared the horrible African slave trade illegal. This stopped the imports. The planters clamored for more slaves. Gangs of smugglers met the demand by secretly buying slaves intended for Spain’s Cuban and South American plantations and landing them by night in the Louisiana bayous. There was money in this sort of business. More than in blacksmithing. So, the Lafitte brothers became slave smugglers.

Then Jean’s fertile brain still further improved his business in a rather original way. What was the use of buying negroes from the Spanish slave ships off the Cuban coast when, by seizing those ships, he could get the negroes for nothing? It was a clever idea and he at once put it into practice. He also seized vessels laden with other valuables, and altogether he prospered exceedingly.

Lafitte himself did not go in search of such prey. He was a business man, not a cheap sea rover. By this time he had a number of good ships and nearly one thousand men to send on his piratical errands. He had a fortified town and harbor of his own at Barataria and made that place his headquarters. Jean had marvelous control over his men, and, though he seldom troubled himself to fight, he was unconquerable. One night a band of mutineers attacked him in is cabin. Lafitte, single-handed, slew six of them and beat off the rest.

The pirates called Lafitte, behind his back, “The Old Man.” To his face they called him “Bosse” (meaning literally “prominence”). And thus the word “boss” came into our own language. He seldom spoke to his men except when he had to and held aloof from them.

By judicious bribes to the right authorities he managed to steer clear of active prosecution, though countless governmental threats were hurled at him.
When the British planned their attack on New Orleans in the War of 1812 they offered Jean Lafitte a captain’s commission and $30,000 to join them with his men. Instead of accepting, he sent word of the offer (and of the British plot against New Orleans) to the American government, volunteering his services in exchange for a pardon. The British, in revenge, destroyed his Barataria stronghold and seized his ships. But the American general, Andrew Jackson (after cursing him for a “hellish bandit”) accepted Lafitte’s offer. And the pirate fought bravely for America in the battle of New Orleans, receiving a pardon for all past crimes.

After the war Lafitte went blithely back to his old ways. With his men he settled on an abandoned island, where now stands the city of Galveston, and made that place his new headquarters. Thus he was in a sense the real found of Galveston. He hit on an odd way to sell his smuggled slaves. He would arrange for Colonel Bowie (inventor of the bowie knife) to seize them from him and take them to New Orleans. There, as confiscated goods, they were placed on sale, and Lafitte and Bowie each reaped a goodly profit.

A visitor to the pirate lair wrote:

“Gold pieces are as plentiful here as biscuits.”

In 1820 the government captured Lafitte’s Galveston camp and hanged many of his followers.

Adams County News (Gettysburg, Pennsylvania) Jun 8, 1912

UPDATE:

Thanks to commenter, Robert R., here is a Google ebook preview link regarding Jean Laffite’s death:

Title: The Pirates Laffite: The Treacherous World of the Corsairs of the Gulf
Author: William C. Davis
Edition: reprint, illustrated, annotated
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2006
ISBN: 0156032597, 9780156032599
Google eBook preview (can be purchased for $9.99)
Jean Laffite’s death – Page 463

This might not be the same book, but it is the same author. Thanks, Robert!