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Of the Origin of the most famous Pirates of the coasts of America. A notable exploit of Pierre le Grand
I HAVE told you in the preceding chapters of this book, after what manner I was compelled to adventure my life among the Pirates of America — to which sort of men I think myself obliged to give this name, for no other reason than that they are not maintained or upheld in their actions by any Sovereign Prince. For this is certain, that the Kings of Spain have upon several occasions sent by their Ambassadors, to the Kings of France and England, complaining of the molestations and troubles those Pirates often caused upon the coasts of America, even in the calm of peace. To whose Ambassadors it has always been answered: That such men did not commit those acts of hostility and piracy as subjects of their Majesties; and therefore his Catholic Majesty might proceed against them according- as he should find fit. The King of France, besides what has been said, added to this answer: Thar he had no fortress nor castle upon the Isle of Hispaniola, neither did he receive one farthing of tribute thence. Moreover, the King of England adjoined: That he had never given any patents or commissions to those of Jamaica, for committing any hostility against the subjects of his Catholic Majesty. Neither did he only give this bare answer, but also, out of his Royal desire to pleasure the Court of Spain, recalled the Governor of Jamaica, placing another in his room. All this was not sufficient to prevent the Pirates of those parts from acting what mischief they could to the contrary. But before I commence the relation of their bold and insolent actions, I shall say something of their origin and most common exercises, as also of the chief among them, and their manner of arming before they go out to sea.
The first Pirate that was known upon the Island of Tortuga was named Pierre le Grand, or Peter the Great. He was born at the town of Dieppe, in Normandy. The action which rendered him famous was his taking of the Vice-Admiral of the Spanish flota, near the Cape of Tiburon, upon the Western side of the Island of Hispaniola. This bold exploit he performed alone with only one boat, wherein he had eight and twenty persons, no more, to help him. What gave occasion to this enterprize was that until that time the Spaniards had passed and repassed with all security, and without finding the least opposition, through the Bahama Channel. So that Pierre le Grand set out to sea by the Caicos, where he took this great ship with almost all facility imaginable. The Spaniards they found aboard were all set on shore, and the vessel presently sent into France. The manner how this undaunted spirit attempted and took such an huge ship, I shall give you out of the Journal of a true and faithful author, in the same words as I read. The Boat, he says, wherein Pierre le Grand was with his companions, had now been at sea a long- time, 'without finding- anything, according to his intent of piracy, suitable to make a prey. And now their provisions beginning to fail, they could keep themselves no longer upon the ocean, or they must of necessity starve. Being- almost reduced to despair, they espied a great ship belonging to the Spanish 'Iota, which had separated from the rest. This bulky vessel they resolved to set upon and lake, or die in the attempt. Hereupon they made sail towards her, with desire to view her strength. And although they judged the vessel to he far above their forces, yet the covetousness of such a prey, and the extremity of fortune they were reduced to, made them adventure on such an enterprize. Being now come so near that they could not escape without danger of being all killed, the Pirates jointly made an oath to their captain, Pierre le Grand, to behave themselves courageously in this attempt, without the least fear or fainting. True it is, that these rovers had conceived an opinion that they should find the ship unprovided to fight, and that through this occasion they should master her by degrees. It was in the dusk of the evening, or soon after, when this great action was performed. But before it was begun, they gave orders to the surgeon of the boat to bore a hole in the sides thereof to the intent that, their own vessel sinking under them, they might be compelled to attack more vigorously, and endeavour more hastily to run aboard the great ship. This was performed accordingly; and without -any other arms than a pistol in one of their hands and a sword in the other, they immediately climbed up the sides of the ship, and ran altogether into the great cabin, where they found the Captain, with several of his companions, playing at cards. Here they set a pistol to his breast, commanding him to deliver up the ship to their obedience. The Spaniards seeing the Pirates aboard their ship, without scarce having seen them at sea, cried out, "Jesus bless us! Are these devils, or what are they?" In the meanwhile some of them took possession of the gun-room, and seized the arms and military affairs they found there, killing as many of the ship as made an opposition. By which means the Spaniards presently were compelled to surrender. That very day the Captain of the ship had been told by some of the Seamen that the boat, which was in view cruizing, was a boat of Pirates. To whom the Captain, slighting their advice, made answer "What then? Must I be afraid of such a pitiful thing as that is? No, nor though she were a ship as big and as strong as mine is." As soon as Pierre le Grand had taken this magnificent prize, he detained in his service as many of the common seamen as he had need of, and the rest he set on shore. This being done, he immediately set sail for France, carrying with him all the riches he found in that huge vessel here he continued without ever returning to the parts of America.
The planters and hunters of the Isle of Tortuga had no sooner understood this happy event, and the rich prize those Pirates had obtained, than they resolved to follow their example. Hereupon many of them left their ordinary exercises and common employments, and used what means they could to get either boats or small vessels, wherein to exercise piracy. But not being able either to purchase or build them at Tortuga, at last they resolved to set forth in their canoes and seek them elsewhere. With these, therefore, they cruized at first upon Cape d'Alvarez, whereabouts the Spaniards used much to trade from one city to another in small boats. In these they carry hides, tobacco and other commodities to the port of Havana, which is the metropolis of that island, and to which the Spaniards from Europe frequently resort.
Hereabouts it was that those Pirates at the beginning took a great number of boats, laden with the aforesaid commodities. These boats they used to carry to the Isle of Tortuga, and there sell the whole purchase to the ships that waited in the port for their return, or accidentally happened to be there. With the gain of these prizes they provided themselves with necessaries, wherewithal to undertake other voyages. Some of these voyages were made towards the coast of Campeche, and others towards that of New Spain; in both which places the Spaniards at that time frequently exercised much commerce and trade. Upon those coasts they commonly found a great number of trading vessels and many times ships of great burden. Two of the biggest of these vessels, and two great ships which the Spaniards had laden with plate in the port of Campeche to go to Caracas, they took in less than a month's time, by cruizing to and fro. Being arrived at Tortuga with these prizes, and the whole people of the island admiring their progresses, especially that within the space of two years the riches of the country were much increased, the number also of Pirates augmented so fast, that from these beginnings, within a little space of time, there were to be numbered in that small island and port above twenty ships of this sort of people. Hereupon the Spaniards, not able to bear their robberies any longer, were constrained to put forth to sea two great men-of-war, both for the defence of their own coasts, and to cruize upon the enemies