Historical tour of pirates, Cayman

With Pirates Week in full swing, the Caymanian Compass decided to take an historical account of piracy, pirates and privateers in the Cayman Islands. This is the second of a four-part series

A French memorandum on the Cayman Islands dating from around 1670 reported that ‘residents of Jamaica and English buccaneers frequent the islands as well as pirates from Ile de la Tortue and that they ‘provision the buccaneers and supply food to a portion of the population of Jamaica.’

On 14 April, 1670, the corsair Manuel Rivero Pardal launched an attack on settlers on Little Cayman. Samuel Hutchinson, commander of a ship at anchor in Hudson’s Hole reported seeing five ships. ‘They appeared about four of ye clock in the afternoone from the south part of ye Island and came to anchor within musket shott without ye Reefs of ye said Hudsons Hole with English colours flying, they firing six or seven guns shott at ye said Hutchinson’s ship, upon which ye said Hutchinson hoisted his colours and fired one gun to leeward whereupon ye Spaniards loarded ye English and hoisted the Burgonia flagg, continued firing and manned ye tartan and severall boates in order ye boarding ye said Hutchinson’s ship, ye said Hutchinson lost only one manm though he had severall gun shott placed in the hull of his ship, his maine yard being shot downe…the Governor of ye Caymanns being then aboard, evening drawing on, went aboard their owne shipps and about 2 o’clock of ye morning, ye Spaniards made false fires towards the north part of the Island, and in the meantime landed about two hundred men upon the easternmost part of the Island.’

The account continues saying the Spaniards eventually left on 17 April with a ketch, some sloops and 18 prisoners. A French manuscript held in the National Library in Paris also refers to the attack in Little Cayman. ‘5 Spanish ships along with some smaller boats, sailed by the Caymans…This force sank the small boats of the English and captured and killed their crews, made up partly of pirates and partly of Jamaica residents. The Spaniards also showed their hostility by burning the hut of the wretched Governor…an old melancholic fool of an Englishman (who) willing left the King’s service to settle on Cayman Brac, assuming the title of governor of the island and ships that pass there salute him by that title as a kind of mockery.’

The Governor of Jamaica Sir Thomas Modyford reported on the incident to Lord Arlington saying the attack ‘has so incensed the whole body of privateers, that he hears they meditate revenge, and have appointed a general rendezvous at Caimanos next month.’ In July Manuel Rivero Pardal posted a challenge to Henry Morgan, which bragged ‘I am he who this year have done that which follows. I went on shore at Caimanos and burnt 20 houses, and fought with Captain Ary, and took from him a catch (Ketch) laden with provisions and a canoa, and I am he who took Captain Baines and did carry the prize to Cartagena and now am arrived to this coast and I come to seek General Morgan, with two ships of 20 guns. I crave that he would come out upon the coast and seek me, that he might see the valour of the Spaniards.’ Morgan and his commanders responded to the challenge and one of them, Captain John Morris caught up with Rivero Pardal off the coast of Cuba. In the ensuing battle Rivero was shot through the throat and immediately died. Most of Riveros crew mates were also shot after jumping off their vessel and into the water. Morris returned to his Admiral Henry Morgan with five prisoners from Rivero’s ship.

In January 1671 John Morris turns up again.

Three ships carrying 470 men had attacked and taken the San Lorenzo Fort, which guarded the mouth of the River Chagres. On the return voyage, one of the vessels, the ten gun Lily was wrecked in Cayman. Captain Richard Norman was able to carry off his guns, rigging and tackle, leaving the Lily behind. A short time later Morris turned up and he used the remnants of the wrecked Lily to repair his own ship. Morris then took on board between 30 to 40 privateers whom he found on Cayman and set off for the South Cays of Cuba. The new privateer crew recruited in Cayman then turned pirate. Governor Lynch reported that ‘they took a piragua laden with tobacco and kept ye men prisoners. The governor later caught up with Morris and he ‘thought it just to have both Captain and ship tried in the Admiralty, where both were condemned for piracy.’ The governor soon pardoned Morris and he returned to official duty as a privateer.

In 1671, one of the most famous buccaneers of all time, Henry Morgan, sacked Panama City.

On the way down he used the Cayman Islands as a point of rendezvous for his fleet. Following the attack the fleet of 36 vessels and 2000 men divided up the loot and the vessels dispersed. ‘Most of the privateers did not follow their Admirall home to Jamaica….Some sailed to leeward, some to windward, some went to search for more plunder…One or two privateers set up as independent pirates off the south coast of Cuba or in the Cayman Islands, surreptitiously selling their prizes to their brethren in Jamaica.’

In 1671 the minutes of the Council of Jamaica records that a proclamation was issued calling ‘upon the soldiers, planters and privateers and other late inhabitants of this island now at Caimanos to return’ to Jamaica.

In October 1671, Governor Modyford noted that Jelles (also known as Yallahs and Yellows) was the only privateer who failed to come in following the action in Panama and HMS Assistance was sent out ‘with orders to make examples of these rogues.’ Morgan Jones was at anchor in Little Cayman when Captains Erasmus and Jelles came aboard his vessel and ‘showed him the orders from Governor Modyford, requiring Yallahs to return to his commission port and to write an answer’ to charges of piracy.

In 1677, Lord Vaughn reported that Dutch privateers had gone to the Cayman Islands with 500 negroes and 28 pounds of gold after they burnt French ships off Hispaniola and taken the Island of Curacao.

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