Monday, April 10, 2017

The Pirate Attack on Veracruz

One of the final actions of the Age of Buccaneering Pirates was the Attack on Veracruz, which took place in 1683. The attack includes spies, deception, forced marches through the south American jungle, a duel and a band of intrepid Dutch pirates.


First among them was Laurens de Graaf, a man of mysterious origins. Rumored to be a Spanish slave of African ancestry, de Graaf was captaining a French privateer and dabbling in piracy as early as 1670. Even before this, he is said to have been part of a raiding party that attacked the Mexican region of Campeche. The pirates successful captured the town, and burned a warship that was undergoing construction.

Then in a mad turn of fate, a merchant ship sailed into the harbor, unaware that it was in the hands of pirates. The pirates, who had already looted the town, took another 120,000 pesos in silver and goods.

By 1682, de Graaf was so famous that Sir Henry Morgan, once a famous buccaneer and now Governor of Jamaica, sent the frigate Norwich to hunt him down.

The Spanish were even more determined to end de Graaf’s career. They gathered a small armada, led by the war ship Princessa to get revenge for his raids. De Graaf sailed out the meet the Princessa and defeated her in a fight that took 50 Spanish lives. De Graaf had lost only 8 of his own men, and was kind enough to put the badldy wounded Spansih commander ashore with his servants and surgeon. De Graff then took the Princessa as his flagship, renaming her the Francesca, after his wife.

Nicholas van Hoorn had been a merchant sailor before becoming a pirate. Van Hoorn was engaged in the Dutch merchant service from about 1655 until 1659, and then bought a vessel with his savings.

Originally working as a privateer by the French against the Spanish, van Hoorn eventually quarreled with his employers and turned to the Spanish for help. He entered a New-World Spanish port as two huge galleons were being loaded and begged for the protection of the Spanish. He was persuasive enough that he was hired to protect the two galleons on their journey back to Spain. He immediately attacked and looted the galleons, taking 2,000,000 livres of silver, then headed out to Africa to loot the locals and join the slave trade.

By 1682, he and his flagship, the Saint Nicholas's Day, were wanted by the French, the English, and the Spanish.

Chevalier de Grammont was a French nobleman pirate, who was first run out of France for killing a man in a duel. He served the French navy in the Caribbean, and won the title of “pirate” by attacking and raiding Spanish settlements during peacetime.

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In 1682, at the request of the governor of Haiti, he joined Nicholas van Hoorn to harass Spanish shipping. De Grammont had always had s checkered career, full of incredible victories and embarrassing failures. (Among these – running his second command aground, and taking part in a fleet action that ended when all 17 vessels were wrecked.)

Together de Grammont and van Hoorn attacked several ships which, unknown to them, belonged to Laurens de Graaf. This led to a meeting with de Graaf on Bonaco Island. De Grammont and van Hoorn were so impressed that they asked de Graaf to join them. De Graaf refused at first, but later changed his mind when he was called upon to contribute manpower for a daring plan. They wanted to attack and sack the Spanish city of Veracruz.

On the 17th of May,1683 the pirates arrived off the coast of Veracruz. Their fleet included 5 large vessels, 8 smaller vessels and around 1300 pirates. At its head sailed two Spanish ships, possibly the galleons previously captured by van Hoorn. The plan was to confuse the townsfolk into thinking the fleet was Spanish.


While the fleet was anchored offshore, de Graaf set out in longboats and landed some distance from the town. He and his men waited until early the following morning. Then, while most of the town's militia were sleeping, they attacked and disabled the town's fortifications. This allowed van Hoorn and his group of pirates, who had marched overland, to enter the city and take out the remaining defenses. Together, the pirates sacked the town and took a large number of hostages including the town's governor.

As the pirates entered the second day of plundering, the Spanish fleet, with a large number of warships, appeared on the horizon. The pirates secured their hostages and retreated to the nearby Isla de Sacrificios. They intended to threaten the lives of these important men, and demanded ransoms.

When payments did not arrive immediately, Van Hoorn ordered the execution of a dozen prisoners. In a shocking display, he then had their heads sent to Veracruz as a warning.

De Graaf was furious. The two argued, the issue came to blows, and they arranged and fought a duel. De Graaf won - Van Hoorn received a slash across the wrist and was taken back to his ship in shackles. This was the 17th century, and even a small wound could be dangerous. The slash soon became infected, which led to gangrene, and Van Hoorn died.

The ransoms still did not come. Finally, giving up on further plunder, the pirates left the island, slipping past the Spanish without hindrance.

In July 1685, de Grammont and de Graaf sacked the Mexican city of Campeche: however, after two months of plundering the city with little result, de Grammont sent a demand for ransom to the governor, who refused. De Grammont then began to execute prisoners, but de Graaf stopped the killings and he and de Grammont parted ways.

De Grammont was last seen in April 1686 sailing northeast direction from of St. Augustine, Florida. His ship was reported lost with all hands in a storm shortly after he set sail.

De Graaf continued to fight the Spanish, the English and local governments. He blockaded the coast of Jamaica for six months, then attacked Santo Domingo. Here he met forces three times the size of his own, and was soundly defeated. He narrowly escaped with his life.

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In March 1693, a woman named Anne Dieu-le-Veut threatened to shoot de Graaf, because she claimed he had insulted her. He apologized and married her. He then spent the summer leading buccaneers against Jamaica in several raids. The English retaliated in May 1695 and captured de Graaf's family.


Laurens de Graff was last known to be near Louisiana, where he was to help set up a French colony near present-day Biloxi, Mississippi. Some sources say he died there; others claim locations in Alabama. He would have been about 42 years old.

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