By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest. — Confucius

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

A Just Reward

When L'Olonnois and his buccaneers entered the town of Gibraltar they found that the greater part of the inhabitants had fled, but there were many people left, and these were made prisoners as fast as they were discovered. They were all forced to go into the great church, and then the pirates, fearing that the Spaniards outside of the town might be reŽnforced and come back again to attack them, carried a number of cannon into the church and fortified the building. When this had been done, they felt safe and began to act as if they had been a menagerie of wild beasts let loose upon a body of defenceless men, women, and children. Not only did these wretched men rush into the houses, stealing everything valuable they could find and were able to carry away, but when they had gathered together all they could discover they tortured their poor prisoners by every cruel method they could think of, in order to make them tell where more treasures were concealed. Many of these unfortunates had had nothing to hide, and therefore could give no information to their brutal inquisitors, and others died without telling what they had done with their valuables. When the town had been thoroughly searched and sifted, the pirates sent men out into the little villages and plantations in the country, and even hunters and small farmers were captured and made to give up everything they possessed which was worth taking.

For nearly three weeks these outrageous proceedings continued, and to prove that they were lower than the brute beasts they allowed the greater number of the prisoners collected in the church, to perish of hunger. There were not provisions enough in the town for the pirates' own uses and for these miserable creatures also, and so, with the exception of a small quantity of mule flesh, which many of the prisoners could not eat, they got nothing whatever, and slowly starved.

When L'Olonnois and his fiends had been in possession of Gibraltar for about a month, they thought it was time to leave, but their greedy souls were not satisfied with the booty they had already obtained, and they therefore sent messages to the Spaniards who were still concealed in the forests, that unless in the course of two days a ransom of ten thousand pieces of eight were paid to them, they would burn the town to the ground. No matter what they thought of this heartless demand, it was not easy for the scattered citizens to collect such a sum as this, and the two days passed without the payment of the ransom, and the relentless pirates promptly carried out their threat and set the town on fire in various places. When the poor Spaniards saw this and perceived that they were about to lose even their homes, they sent to the town and promised that if the pirates would put out the fires they would pay the money. In the hope of more money, and not in the least moved by any feeling of kindness, L'Olonnois ordered his men to help put out the fires, but they were not extinguished until a quarter of the town was entirely burned and a fine church reduced to ashes.

When the buccaneers found they could squeeze nothing more out of the town, they went on board their ships, carrying with them all the plunder and booty they had collected, and among their spoils were about five hundred slaves, of all ages and both sexes, who had been offered an opportunity to ransom themselves, but who, of course, had no money with which to buy their freedom, and who were now condemned to a captivity worse than anything they had ever known before.

Now the eight ships with their demon crews sailed away over the lake toward Maracaibo. It was quite possible for them to get out to sea without revisiting this unfortunate town, but as this would have been a very good thing for them to do, it was impossible for them to do it; no chance to do anything wicked was ever missed by these pirates. Consequently L'Olonnois gave orders to drop anchor near the city, and then he sent some messengers ashore to inform the already half-ruined citizens that unless they sent him thirty thousand pieces of eight he would enter their town again, carry away everything they had left, and burn the place to the ground. The poor citizens sent a committee to confer with the pirates, and while the negotiations were going on some of the conscienceless buccaneers went on shore and carried off from one of the great churches its images, pictures, and even its bells. It was at last arranged that the citizens should pay twenty thousand pieces of eight, which was the utmost sum they could possibly raise, and, in addition to this, five hundred head of beef-cattle, and the pirates promised that if this were done they would depart and molest the town no more. The money was paid, the cattle were put on board the ships, and to the unspeakable relief of the citizens, the pirate fleet sailed away from the harbor.

But it would be difficult to express the horror and dismay of those same citizens when, three days afterward, those pirate ships all came back again. Black despair now fell upon the town; there was nothing more to be stolen, and these wretches must have repented that they had left the town standing, and had returned to burn it down. But when one man came ashore in a boat bringing the intelligence that L'Olonnois could not get his largest ship across a bar at the entrance to the lake, and that he wanted a pilot to show him the channel, then the spirits of the people went up like one great united rocket, bursting into the most beautiful coruscations of sparks and colors. There was nothing on earth that they would be so glad to furnish him as a pilot to show him how to sail away from their shores. The pilot was instantly sent to the fleet, and L'Olonnois and his devastating band departed.

They did not go directly to Tortuga, but stopped at a little island near Hispaniola, which was inhabited by French buccaneers, and this delay was made entirely for the purpose of dividing the booty. It seems strange that any principle of right and justice should have been regarded by these dishonest knaves, even in their relations to each other, but they had rigid rules in regard to the division of their spoils, and according to these curious regulations the whole amount of plunder was apportioned among the officers and crews of the different ships.

Before the regular allotment of shares was made, the claims of the wounded were fully satisfied according to their established code. For the loss of a right arm a man was paid about six hundred dollars, or six slaves; for the loss of a left arm, five hundred dollars, or five slaves; for a missing right leg, five hundred dollars, or five slaves; for a missing left leg, four hundred dollars, or four slaves; for an eye or a finger, one hundred dollars, or one slave. Then the rest of the money and spoils were divided among all the buccaneers without reference to what had been paid to the wounded. The shares of those who had been killed were given to friends or acquaintances, who undertook to deliver them to their families.

The spoils in this case consisted of two hundred and sixty thousand dollars in money and a great quantity of valuable goods, besides many slaves and precious stones and jewels. These latter were apportioned among the men in the most ridiculous manner, the pirates having no idea of the relative value of the jewels, some of them preferring large and worthless colored stones to smaller diamonds and rubies. When all their wickedly gained property had been divided, the pirates sailed to Tortuga, where they proceeded, without loss of time, to get rid of the wealth they had amassed. They ate, they drank, they gambled; they crowded the taverns as taverns have never been crowded before; they sold their valuable merchandise for a twentieth part of its value to some of the more level-headed people of the place; and having rioted, gambled, and committed every sort of extravagance for about three weeks, the majority of L'Olonnois' rascally crew found themselves as poor as when they had started off on their expedition. It took them almost as long to divide their spoils as it did to get rid of them.

As these precious rascals had now nothing to live upon, it was necessary to start out again and commit some more acts of robbery and ruin; and L'Olonnois, whose rapacious mind seems to have been filled with a desire for town-destroying, projected an expedition to Nicaragua, where he proposed to pillage and devastate as many towns and villages as possible. His reputation as a successful commander was now so high that he had no trouble in getting men, for more offered themselves than he could possibly take.

He departed with seven hundred men and six ships, stopping on the way near the coast of Cuba, and robbing some poor fishermen of their boats, which he would need in shallow water. Their voyage was a very long one, and they were beset by calms, and instead of reaching Nicaragua, they drifted into the Gulf of Honduras. Here they found themselves nearly out of provisions, and were obliged to land and scour the country to find something to eat. Leaving their ships, they began a land march through the unfortunate region where they now found themselves. They robbed Indians, they robbed villages; they devastated little towns, taking everything that they cared for, and burning what they did not want, and treating the people they captured with viler cruelties than any in which the buccaneers had yet indulged. Their great object was to take everything they could find, and then try to make the people confess where other things were hidden. Men and women were hacked to pieces with swords; it was L'Olonnois' pleasure, when a poor victim had nothing to tell, to tear out his tongue with his own hands, and it is said that on some occasions his fury was so great that he would cut out the heart of a man and bite at it with his great teeth. No more dreadful miseries could be conceived than those inflicted upon the peaceful inhabitants of the country through which these wretches passed. They frequently met ambuscades of Spaniards, who endeavored to stop their progress; but this was impossible. The pirates were too strong in number and too savage in disposition to be resisted by ordinary Christians, and they kept on their wicked way.

At last they reached a town called San Pedro, which was fairly well defended, having around it a great hedge of prickly thorns; but thorns cannot keep out pirates, and after a severe fight the citizens surrendered, on condition that they should have two hours' truce. This was given, and the time was occupied by the people in running away to the woods and carrying off their valuables. But when the two hours had expired, L'Olonnois and his men entered the town, and instead of rummaging around to see what they could find, they followed the unfortunate people into the woods, for they well understood what they wanted when they asked for a truce, and robbed them of nearly everything they had taken away.

But the capture of this town was not of much service to L'Olonnois, who did not find provisions enough to feed his men. Their supplies ran very low, and it was not long before they were in danger of starvation. Consequently they made their way by the most direct course to the coast, where they hoped to be able to get something to eat. If they could find nothing else, they might at least catch fish. On their way every rascal of them prepared himself a net, made out of the fibres of a certain plant, which grew in abundance in those regions, in order that he might catch himself a supper when he reached the sea.

After a time the buccaneers got back to their fleet and remained on the coast about three months, waiting for some expected Spanish ships, which they hoped to capture. They eventually met with one, and after a great deal of ordinary fighting and stratagem they boarded and took her, but found her not a very valuable prize.

Now L'Olonnois proposed to his men that they should sail for Guatemala, but he met with an unexpected obstacle; the buccaneers who had enlisted under him had expected to make great fortunes in this expedition, but their high hopes had not been realized. They had had very little booty and very little food, they were hungry and disappointed and wanted to go home, and the great majority of them declined to follow L'Olonnois any farther. But there were some who declared that they would rather die than go home to Tortuga as poor as when they left it, and so remained with L'Olonnois on the biggest ship of the fleet, which he commanded. The smaller vessels now departed for Tortuga, and after some trouble L'Olonnois succeeded in getting his vessel out of the harbor where it had been anchored, and sailed for the islands of de las Pertas. Here he had the misfortune to run his big vessel hopelessly aground.

When they found it absolutely impossible to get their great vessel off the sand banks, the pirates set to work to break her up and build a boat out of her planks. This was a serious undertaking, but it was all they could do. They could not swim away, and their ship was of no use to them as she was. But when they began to work they had no idea it would take so long to build a boat. It was several months before the unwieldy craft was finished, and they occupied part of the time in gardening, planting French beans, which came to maturity in six weeks, and gave them some fresh vegetables. They also had some stores and portable stoves on board their dismantled ship, and made bread from some wheat which was among their provisions, thus managing to live very well.

L'Olonnois was never intended by nature to be a boat-builder, or anything else that was useful and honest, and when the boat was finished it was discovered that it had been planned so badly that it would not hold them all, so all they could do was to draw lots to see who should embark in her, for one-half of them would have to stay until the others came back to release them. Of course L'Olonnois went away in the boat, and reached the mouth of the Nicaragua River. There his party was attacked by some Spaniards and Indians, who killed more than half of them and prevented the others from landing. L'Olonnois and the rest of his men got safely away, and they might now have sailed back to the island where they had left their comrades, for there was room enough for them all in the boat. But they did nothing of the sort, but went to the coast of Cartagena.

The pirates left on the island were eventually taken off by a buccaneering vessel, but L'Olonnois had now reached the end of the string by which the devil had allowed him to gambol on this earth for so long a time. On the shores where he had now landed he did not find prosperous villages, treasure houses, and peaceful inhabitants, who could be robbed and tortured, but instead of these he came upon a community of Indians, who were called by the Spaniards, Bravos, or wild men. These people would never have anything to do with the whites. It was impossible to conquer them or to pacify them by kind treatment. They hated the white man and would have nothing to do with him, They had heard of L'Olonnois and his buccaneers, and when they found this notorious pirate upon their shores they were filled with a fury such as they had never felt for any others of his race.

These bloody pirates had always conquered in their desperate fights because they were so reckless and so savage, but now they had fallen among thoroughbred savages, more cruel and more brutal and pitiless than themselves. Nearly all the buccaneers were killed, and L'Olonnois was taken prisoner. His furious captors tore his living body apart, piece by piece, and threw each fragment into the fire, and when the whole of this most inhuman of inhuman men had been entirely consumed, they scattered his ashes to the winds so that not a trace should remain on earth of this monster. If, in his infancy, he had died of croup, the history of the human race would have lost some of its blackest pages.