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Piracy has existed since ancient times when a man put a sail on a boat and went to sea. Immediately there were sea robbers who began to rob everyone, they were called pirates and criminals. But in the Middle Ages, some monarchs thought of using pirates. In 1243, King Henry III of England was providing his sailors with privateer licenses to capture enemy ships. The royal patent guaranteed the privateer protection from the gallows, in exchange for a share of booty. During the conquest of the New World, all European monarchs resorted to this kind of partnership. They needed a fleet at home to defend their possessions in Europe. So they hired captains and gave them licenses to plunder in the New World. One of the most famous English privateers was Francis Drake, who was knighted and made an admiral by Queen Elizabeth I for his exploits. When warring parties made peace, privateers were losing their licenses. Accustomed to easy money, some of them continued to plunder illegally. So they were becoming pirates. And the king, who yesterday had given his vassal a license to plunder, now was declaring him a criminal and sent orders to kill him.
The pirates were called “filibusters”. Adventurers and gentlemen of fortune, they learned the sweetness of freedom in their free trade. Forbidden fruit is sweet, and with this sweetness they seduced others, and more and more joined the pirate trade. It’s like the biblical story of the serpent that tempted the first man. Soon the monarchs began to realize the growing threat to their crowns. The moment came when all the kings forgot their feuds and declared war on piracy. But could cannons stop the wind?
Contemporary writers and historians who describe the piracy of the time write about pirates with a dose of sarcasm, considering them second-class men, scum. Perhaps, because of the long-held belief that all pirates were robbers and thugs. There’s a lot of truth in that, of course. But there was another side to the coin. In the waters of the New World, some pirates were educated sailors and officers, from wealthy families, even gentlemen. They had a name in society, large estates, and plenty of money in the bank. And in the name of what, they threw themselves into adventure, risked their heads, and chose a life of danger and hardship? This story is about those who were on the other side of the coin.


His career lasted sixteen years and was so eventful that his adventures in the New World are legendary. Michel de Grammont was born in Paris, the son of a royal guard officer. His noble father died young and his mother remarried. His beautiful sister was courted by a certain officer of the Guard who often visited their home. Young Michel watched his sister’s affair with jealousy and once advised her admirer to visit less often. A scandal erupted, and the officer became furious and insulted de Grammont.

“If I were older, my sword would teach you a lesson,” the young man replied. The affair ended in a duel in which de Grammont’s sword was faster. He mortally wounded his attacker. In those days, honor was more precious than gold, and the dying man bequeathed part of his fortune to de Grammont. He also swore that he was to blame for what had happened and asked that the young man not be punished.

King Louis XIV, informed of the incident, ordered the duelist to be sent to a naval cadet school. There the young Gascon mastered the science of naval navigation and also gained a reputation as a first-rate brawler and bully. In the West Indies, de Grammont served as a junior officer on a French warship. The skirmishes and enemy ship captures were commonplace, and after a few such things, the ambitious de Grammont was hungry for leadership.
With borrowed money, he outfitted an old frigate and set out to sea where captured a Dutch merchant ship full of treasure. He shared the spoils generously with the crew, taking a share of 80,000 francs in silver. The ill-gotten wealth made a young hustler’s head spin. De Grammont was spending money on expensive clothes, parties, and dice. His command decided that debauchery and scandalous adventures did not befit the epaulets of a royal officer. De Grammont was dismissed.
But the young pirate’s adventures were just beginning. They continued on the island of Martinique, where within a few years de Grammont was captain of his ship, with a privateer’s license from the island’s authorities. It is not known how the disgraced officer found himself among the buccaneers, the first pirates of the Caribbean. Among his new comrades, the vain de Grammont demanded to be called “Chevalier”, a nickname that soon spread known to the coasts of all the Caribbean colonies.

And in Europe, the struggle for overseas lands continued. In 1678, war broke out between France and the Netherlands. In the New World, the combined forces of the French fleet planned to attack the island of Curaçao, a Dutch colony. The expedition was led by Admiral d’Estre. Under de Grammont’s command was an army of 1,200 buccaneers from Tortuga and the country of St Dominic (now Haiti).
On the approach to the island of Curaçao, several ships of the squadron were thrown by a storm on the reefs of Bird Island. The expedition failed, and Admiral d’Estre with the remnants of the fleet sailed back to Martinique. But the brave de Grammont decided to plunder the Spanish settlements in the Maracaibo Lagoon. He had 700 brigands with him in six ships.
They attacked and took the Spanish fort guarding the entrance to the lagoon. But there was nothing to plunder in the settlements. Pirate Olone and buccaneer leader Morgan had already taken everything. Leaving part of the fleet at the entrance to the lagoon, de Grammont took three ships and sailed south of the lagoon to the town of Trujillo, ten miles inland. On the way, the pirates captured a village whose inhabitants fled in terror.

  • “Captain, we have a hundred horses and now have meat,” reported the chief of the detachment.
  • “We have no meat yet, my friend,” Chevalier stared at him without blinking, “Where are you from?”
  • “I grew up in Jamaica,” the pirate said proudly.
  • “I see you are not from Paris,” Chevalier smiled, lighting his cigar, “and what other wild animals have you encountered besides boars?”
  • “The Spaniards, Captain, the Spaniards,” laughed the pirate.
  • “Horses are not to be touched!” de Grammont became serious, “gather all those who can ride. These horses will win the town for us! The Spaniards are no fools if they can find and conquer these lands. They are just not trained to fight,” he puffed on his cigar. ***Trujillo was defended by 350 soldiers and a battery of 30 cannons. The pirate cavalry in small groups attacked the town from the rear, causing panic among the inhabitants. The pirates returned to their ships with rich booty.
    Putting his men on captured horses, de Grammont invented a new type of army, the flying cavalry. Such units soon will appear in the armies of all the European powers.

In 1680, de Grammont sailed to the coast of Cumana with one hundred and eighty pirates. There they attacked Puerto Cavallo and captured two forts, destroying them and seizing all the cannons. They were opposed by an army of two thousand Spanish soldiers and natives. During the battle, de Grammont was seriously wounded in the neck and the pirates carried off their wounded captain. They fought with such ferocity that the Spanish were forced to retreat. The pirates took 150 prisoners, including the town’s governor, and left the port in their ships.
While waiting for ransom for the prisoners, they were caught in a hurricane off the coast of Goaiva, which washed their ships ashore. Among them was the flagship, a 52-gun vessel containing all of de Grammont’s wealth. It took a long time for Chevalier to recover from his wound. He became quite impoverished. But one day his old friend Nicholas van Hoorn appeared and offered to settle his financial affairs by taking the gold from the Spanish that they had looted in the colonies. The offer was so tempting that de Grammont expressed his desire to join the venture, even as a mere sailor. He had no fleet anymore.

  • “My friend,” said van Hoorn, “everyone here knows that you are a brave man and an experienced sailor. In addition to all your virtues, you are a nobleman, and honor means a great deal to you. I appreciate your qualities and your courage. And I offer you a frigate with three hundred men at your command.” Nicholas van Hoorn was smoking his cigar with a smile.

His focus was the Mexican port of Veracruz. Built by the conquistador Hernan Cortez, the port was a secure fortress with 60 cannons and a garrison of three thousand men. The nearest ports also had garrisons, a total of 15,000 men. Veracruz was a promising prize, but they didn’t have enough men for such a dangerous venture. They needed one more partner.

He was Dutch and began his maritime robberies in Holland as the owner of a fishing boat with three dozen armed thugs on board and a fishing patent. They also robbed their compatriots, which eventually led to conflict with the authorities. Van Hoorn managed to buy a shipload of weapons in Ostend and fled to France. There he was helped by relatives of his wife, Mademoiselle Leroux, who was French. Her father was an agent of the West India Company, and it was probably through his patronage that van Hoorn was appointed chief commissary of prizes in the Spanish port of La Coruña, in the service of the French king. Looking at the untold treasures brought back from the New World, van Hoorn, now a civil servant, remembered his pirate life and applied for a license to become a privateer. He crossed the ocean and in a few years had a small fleet, and his adventures were soon known to many.
One day his audacity nearly cost him his head. Van Hoorn attacked a French merchant ship. News of this reached Versailles, and the governor of the overseas colony was ordered to arrest the privateer. Admiral d’Estre sent a warship after him, and when the chase caught up with Van Hoorn, he, realizing how things might end for him, in a boat with a dozen reliable men went to settle the matter.
Van Hoorn made up a story that he supposedly became aware of a few crew members who had escaped from him and were now on a French ship. He therefore tried to get them back by force. But they did not believe him and van Hoorn was taken into custody.

Van Hoorn was furious:

Are you going to do this? Do you think my men will let you steal me away before their eyes? You should know that my men are swift and obey my orders without question. They have faced worse dangers and are not afraid of death!
The determined expression on the guests’ faces told the commander that their leader was not joking. He had orders to arrest the privateer, but not to risk the lives of the king’s subordinates. So he decided to let Van Hoorn go, more for political reasons than any other.

One day van Hoorn learned that a caravan of Spanish galleons was waiting in Puerto Rico for a military escort to sail under his protection. Van Hoorn had a privateer’s license from the French governor, which by law allowed him to attack Spanish ships and he decided to play the game. He travelled to Puerto Rico and on arrival offered the governor his fleet to escort a caravan across the Atlantic to Spain. The naive Spaniards agreed. Once on the high seas, van Hoorn plundered and sank several galleons, taking the most valuable cargoes – gold, jewelry, and precious stones – as his spoils.
In boarding fights, van Hoorn himself would kill his men if they showed the slightest sign of cowardice or fear. The crew both feared and respected their captain. They knew they would die for their transgression. But they also knew that if the operation was a success, the captain would not be stingy with his money. This fierceness of temper and generosity for bravery were combined in him with a peculiar coquetry. Nicholas van Hoorn wore luxurious clothes, a string of large oriental pearls around his neck, and a ring with a large ruby on his finger.

Dutchman Lawrence de Graff was one of those people who were lucky in everything. An artillery expert, he first served the Spanish and even fought against pirates. Once he was captured and sold into slavery, but escaped and became a pirate in the New World, living among the buccaneers and marrying a famous hunter, the widow of Pierre Long, founder of Port-au-Prince on Santo Domingo. De Graaf’s experience and bravery soon made him a terror and a scourge to the Spaniards.

One day his small ship was pursued by two Spanish galleons with sixty guns. One was the flagship of an admiral and the other was under the command of a vice-admiral. The galleons had 1,500 men on board and were firing from all guns. The forces were unequal, the Spaniards had the pirate ship in a pincer, threatening to board it from either side. To many pirates, the end seemed near.
But de Graaf passionately appealed to his crew that a shameful death in terrible agony awaited them all in captivity. His emotion stirred the desperate resolve of the crew to fight to the end or die with their weapons in their hands.
He ordered one of the bravest pirates to take a burning fuse and stand at the open hatch to the powder chamber, waiting for the sign he would give when the last hope was lost. At the same time, his skilled buccaneers fired muskets, killing the dozens of Spaniards who crowded the decks of the enemy ships as they prepared to board.
De Graaf was wounded in the thigh but used all his artillery skills. His cannonball broke the main mast of a Spanish ship, causing panic among the enemy.
Taking advantage of the enemy’s confusion, the pirates broke pincer-free and fled, sails to the wind. Once again, luck favoured de Graaf! Madrid was furious at this disgrace, and the captain of the warship who had dishonored his flag was beheaded. De Graaf gained fame and notoriety.

A year later, searching for a prize, he prowled the waters off Cartagena. There his two ships were attacked by three Spanish warships. The pirates proved more desperate and captured all three Spanish ships. De Graaf was not without a sense of humor and sent a letter to the governor of Cartagena thanking him for such a generous Christmas present. The whole pirate world laughed, and de Graaf’s victory fuelled the ambitions of his mates van Hoorn and de Grammont. As they planned their raid on Veracruz, they remembered the successful de Graaf.
At first, de Graaf refused their offer. Despite his penchant for such ventures, he felt that a raid on Veracruz might be unsuccessful. He preferred to plunder Spanish ships on the high seas rather than fight a land war with land forces. But Nicholas van Hoorn did not want to lose such a worthy associate and reminded him of de Grammont’s successful raids on the Spanish settlements, adding confidence in the success of the upcoming case. Besides, Van Hoorn had royal authorization to plunder Spanish ships and settlements. And he added that such opportunities were unlikely to arise again in the foreseeable future.
In the end De Graaf agreed.

After assessing all the risks, the three hotheads began to consider how to carry out their plan. Just in time, Van Hoorn had received valuable information. Two merchant ships loaded with cocoa were about to arrive in Veracruz. Trinity planned to take advantage of the situation by disguising their ships as these merchants.

Veracruz was a fortress, its fortifications could withstand the attack of an entire army. But that didn’t deter the trio. They knew that cunning and determination could work wonders. They had a fleet of a dozen ships and an army of a thousand three hundred sabers and muskets. It was an impressive force for the time, the largest since Morgan’s raid on Panama in 1671.
But even with such a force, attacking Veracruz, surrounded by garrisons of 15,000 Spanish soldiers, was madness. But night was a pirate’s best friend! The Spanish always ended up on the losing side because they didn’t take pirates seriously, relying on their soldiers.
When they saw the long-awaited Spanish-flagged ships, all the people of Veracruz, young and old, rushed to the port, rejoicing that they would now have cocoa, their favorite chocolate drink.
The people’s joy was replaced by surprise when they noticed that the ships were keeping their distance and not entering the harbor. Suspicion gripped many and they reported the matter to the governor, Don de Cordova. But the governor assured them that they were the very ships reported to him and that they matched the description. The commandant of the fort received the same answer but advised the governor to be cautious. Night fell upon the town, and the people dispersed to their homes.

In the pitch darkness of the southern night, the remaining ships of the pirates came from behind the horizon and joined their three ships. The fleet headed for shore and the pirates landed on an unguarded promontory near the old town. They immediately captured and killed the sentries on shore, and in exchange for his life, one agreed to be a guide and led the pirates to the unguarded city gates. The pirates entered the city and the massacre began.

De Graaf led his detachment to the fortress that protected the town from attack from the sea, and they took it. Here the pirates turned around the twelve cannons that had been set up to protect the town from the pirate ships. Now the pirates fired these cannons at the buildings of the town, direct fire.
The Spanish soldiers, awakened by the sound of explosions, smoke, and flames, could not think straight. The next day was a Catholic feast day and many soldiers thought that some of the citizens had thought of starting the feast early. Even the screams of the pirates’ victims they heard were taken as a sign of joy. In short, the defenders of the city were the last to know that there was nothing left to defend, the city was already in the hands of the filibusters.

Finally, the soldiers, realizing what was happening, began to shout with all their might that “las drones” (thieves, robbers) were in the city. Enraged by the soldiers’ resistance, the pirates killed everyone they could get their hands on. By dawn, all the soldiers had been killed, some had fled, and the city’s officials and rich men had been captured.
The prisoners were locked in the cathedral and all entrances were barricaded with barrels of gunpowder. Guards were posted with lighted fuses, ready to blow up the church and everyone inside at the slightest attempt to escape.

All day and into the next night they plundered and carried the loot to their ships. A cursory count put the booty at 6 million in gold, silver, coins, and gems. Time was running out, and the pirates feared that troops stationed nearby were about to descend upon them. They rushed the prisoners to their ships, expecting to get for their souls as much, if not more than they had already taken.
When it came to counting and dividing the booty, the two companions, van Hoorn and de Graaf, disagreed. They also disagreed on the method of collecting the ransom.
Van Hoorn wanted to burn the merchant ships in the harbor and execute some of the captives, claiming that this would intimidate the Spaniards and speed up ransom payments.
De Graaf disagreed, insisting that it would be wiser not to wait for the Spanish troops and their ships, but to leave with booty and prisoners that could be ransomed later through diplomacy. The contending parties were not averse to verbal abuse, and the matter ended in a duel.
De Grammont shared Lawrence’s opinion but did not interfere in the dispute between the two Dutchmen.

The duel took place on a neighboring island on the twenty-ninth of May 1683. According to the terms of the duel, the winner would be the first to shed his opponent’s blood. De Graaf was lucky in this duel. The wounded van Hoorn was confined to the bed in his quarters. The pirates received their ransom and left.
Nicholas van Hoorn died of an infected wound and was buried on the small island of Loggerhead Cayo. This was the end of one of the cruelest and most cunning pirates.

Meanwhile, the French King tried to end the destructive feud and make peace with the Spanish Kingdom. Peace was declared, but French privateers and pirates were aided and abetted by the Spanish themselves. Despite the truce, they continued to seize French ships.
The governor of Martinique, de Cussy, who respected de Grammont’s courage and ability, presented his candidacy to the French government in the most plausible light, suggesting that the privateer be appointed governor of the southern part of the island of San Domingo. Paris agreed, and de Grammont was flattered by the confidence shown in him. But he decided to celebrate the end of his pirate career with one last raid into the Gulf of Mexico. As a gambler, he wanted to end the game with an ace of trumps!


In early 1686, the leaders of all the buccaneers and pirates gathered on Cow Island, southwest of Española, for a council. Chevalier proposed a raid on Campeche, a Mexican port on the Gulf Coast. His comrades, remembering the last raid on Veracruz, expressed doubts, arguing that the venture would risk death. No one wanted to die. The Spaniards hanged captured pirates without trial. But the privateers were vassals of their king, and politics was involved, so they were sent to prison. From there was a chance of returning to a prisoner exchange or simply escaping.
De Grammont appealed to Governor de Cussy for a privateer’s charter. But in Europe, the monarchs had already negotiated an armistice. So de Cussy refused the Chevalier’s request and sent him a letter informing him that the French government forbade all attacks on the Spanish and would soon send warships to force all pirates to obey.
This news hit the pirates like a red rag on a bull and gave de Grammont a better chance of success. He was persistent, and in another letter to the governor, he repeated the request, alluding to the fact that the king did not know the true situation in the colonies. But the governor could not disobey his sovereign. Still aware of de Grammont’s influence among the buccaneers, the official promised him, on behalf of the government, a special reward if he would renounce his brotherhood with the pirates forever and return to public service.
To which de Grammont replied: “There are no traitors in our brotherhood. If my comrades-in-arms agree to renounce their intentions, I am prepared to do the same.”

Tired of this diplomacy, the pirate leaders declared that if the governor would not grant them a privateer’s charter, they would dispense with the paper, for their goal remained the same: to capture the beasts that defied them. One thousand two hundred cutthroats saluted with their sabers.
On 5 July 1686, their ships were fifteen miles from Campeche. Here the 900 fighters jumped into the boats and worked the oars. In the rainy twilight, they approached the shore. There a few hundred unsuspecting guards warmed themselves by the fires. The pirates sneaked up and attacked them, hacking many to pieces.
They then infiltrated the town, where the church bell had already caused panic. The fort garrison began firing cannons at the attackers, but de Grammont ordered his best marksmen to kill anyone who approached the cannons. The cannons fell silent.

After taking the fortress, the pirates aimed the cannons at the city. After the first shells blew the walls of the houses to pieces, the town capitulated. Armed with sabers and muskets, the pirates in a few hours took the city, fortified according to all the rules of military art, with a large garrison, cannons, and fortifications.
Among the prisoners was an Englishman who had served with the Spaniards as an artilleryman. The young officer preferred to die rather than flee the battle. De Grammont was surprised by the nobility of the prisoner and released him.
While the pirates were plundering Campeche, help arrived from a neighboring town. An army of 800 men was led by the governor himself. Some of the pirates were ambushed, losing two dozen killed, and a few were captured by the Spaniards.

De Grammont began negotiations, offering to release all captured officials and wealthy townspeople in exchange for the prisoners. He added that if the commander of the army refused such a generous exchange, he would order all the prisoners to be chopped to pieces and the city burnt.
The governor commanding the army replied haughtily:

  • The pirates are free to burn and kill. We have enough money to rebuild the city, and enough troops to destroy you all, which is the main purpose of my campaign…”
    Enraged at such boasting, de Grammont led the governor’s envoy through the streets of the city, ordered several houses to be set on fire, and executed five Spaniards before his eyes.
  • Go to your master and tell him that I have begun to carry out his orders and will do so with all the other prisoners,” he said, smiling.
    The governor did not risk bringing his army into the city. The Spaniards were gone.

For two months the pirates drank and debauched themselves, waiting for a ransom. God only knows how many French-blooded children were born after that. The women know, of course. But they always keep quiet about their sins. Not getting what they wanted, the pirates burned the town and returned to Tortuga. De Grammont didn’t kill the prisoners, he let them go.

His friend Lawrence de Graaf also took part in that raid. On the way back, their two ships separated, and de Graaf’s ship was chased by two Spanish warships. The day passed under fire exchange, and at night the pirate managed to elude his pursuers. The lucky man de Graaf was so damn lucky again!
Later, finishing with piracy, de Graaf pursued a career in politics, becoming a government official and helping to organize French Louisiana in America in 1699.

And his friend’s ship was caught in a hurricane in Florida waters, killing all 180 souls on board. No one ever heard of the pirate nicknamed “Chevalier” again.
What is there to add…? Don’t sit down to play cards with Destiny, no matter how high your ace is…

© Copyright: Walter Maria, 2023 Certificate of Publication No. 223021802023

Published inPirates

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