Thursday, September 24, 2009

Pathetic Pirates: Life Isn't Fair

Life isn't fair. I don't need to tell you that. Just because you have pride, ambition and a deep desire to lead men to glory doesn't mean that you will. We can't all be rock stars, as Louis Aury found out so very, very painfully.

Aury was a privateer in the last great days of that swashbuckling profession. If you asked him, he would doubtless have called himself a corsair and freedom fighter. He lives in history - particularly American history - in the shadow of Jean and Pierre Laffite. In South American history, he is eclipsed by men like Renato Beluche. Blood is thicker than water, of course, so some of you might say I'm bias but let me give you the facts we know and you can sort it out for yourself.

Aury was probably born somewhere in France, although we cannot rule out Haiti as his birthplace. His date of birth is unclear as well but it was probably some time around 1785. He turns up before the Haitian Revolution sailing a privateer for France. After the Revolution his home port is the Island of Guadeloupe where his ship was lost either to the Spanish or the invading British.

By 1809 Aury has a new ride and is bringing prizes into Barataria Bay where he is, according to William C. Davis in The Pirates Laffite, "...surely a Laffite acquaintance." This is the year that Aury brings a cargo of slaves worth $17,000 into port. The humans are sold directly to another Laffite acquaintance but are rounded up on their way to the buyer's plantation on Bayou Lafourche. Aury is arrested and his ship is impounded. While he is eventually acquitted, Aury's ship is sold at government auction. Strike two.

By 1813, Aury has turned freedom fighter. Along with my Uncle Renato he has achieved the rank of Lieutenant in the Cartagenan Navy and his ship carries a letter of marque from the fledgling state. Things are turning around until the Commodore of the New Orleans Naval Station, Shaw, catches Aury's ship off the coast of Louisiana. Aury is run aground and his ship is burned. By now, finances have got to be an issue.

Our intrepid if hapless hero is back on the horse by 1814, sending prizes into Cartagena and Barataria. According to Davis he is boasting now that the South Americans have "...filled my strongboxes." It must have been a relief considering that a small sloop could cost well over $50,000 to acquire, refit and man at the time. An independent like Aury would need full strongboxes indeed.

No mention is made of Aury joining Laffite's men against the British at the Battle of New Orleans but I wouldn't discount the possibility. A lot of effort on the part of the Baratarians went unsung and, though Aury probably wouldn't have liked to be called one of "Laffite's men" he may very well have stood with them against the redcoats.

By October of 1815 Aury is in charge of the Cartagenan Navy. Cartagena is under siege by land and blockade by sea. Aury and such familiar privateers and Beluche and Jannet are running the Spanish blockade with food for the inhabitants of the city until the Spanish send reinforcements. Cartagena degenerates into disease and starvation where the population, according to Aury, is eating animal hides and "a thousand other filthy things". Aury and his boys bravely run the blockade, cram the survivors of the siege into fourteen privateers, run the blockade again and head for Haiti. A storm founders some but others make it through to meet Bolivar in Aux Cayes.

The trouble begins again for Aury when, in early 1816, he decides to denounce Bolivar for a coward and says he will no longer follow The Liberator. In his usual straight forward fashion, Bolivar shows Aury the door with nothing but a ship and the loss of $25,000 in the rescue of the refugees.

Aury returns to New Orleans and does some finagling with a shady group of investors known only as "the associates" to make himself "El Supremo" of the currently unclaimed "Galvez Town" and its safe harbor in the Spanish territory of Texas. Here he will represent the Congress of Mexico, print letters of marque and eventually transport men and arms into the interior of Mexico via Matagorda Bay. Things work out for a while, but Aury's heavy-handedness and indecision catch up with him fast. A mutiny ensues. Aury is shot in the chest and through both palms and, when the men and arms show up, he refuses to transport them.

At this point the Laffites, who are among "the associates" appear and sow dissension. It doesn't seem hard to do since Aury is so unpopular but what is interesting is that Jean Laffite manages to talk Aury into transporting those troops to Matagorda. While Aury is away, Laffite steps in as Governor and the privateer community of Galveston is born. Aury returns, only after falling under attack by the Spanish, loosing ships and setting adrift a prize full of 700 sick slaves. He grumbles about his "El Supremo" claim but no one pays much attention. In short order, he hits the road and the Laffites start making money in earnest.

Two more stops await our indefatigable hero. The first is Amelia Island off Florida where he is again made Governor by the Mexican junta. The problem is that the U.S. wants Florida for its own and will not put up with it as a Spanish or Mexican colony. A U.S. Navy force shows up in September of 1817 and Aury is out of a job once again.
Tenacious as a bulldog, he heads for New Providence Island off the coast of Columbia (shown above) where he is given a Governorship by Jose de San Martin of the Argentina junta. He attracts privateers, hands out letters of marque and starts selling prize goods on the mainland. At last the power, the prestige, the recognition. Some even speculate that the mighty Laffite brothers came grovelling for letters of marque after Galveston fell. It seems too good to be true...

In August, 1821, Louis Aury took a tumble, either from his horse or down a set of stone stairs at the fortress of New Providence, cracked his head open and died. After what most would consider a life full of both adventure and disappointment, even a noble demise at sea was denied Louis Aury. Life isn't fair and, apparently, neither is death.


Timmy! said...

Ahoy Pauline! That drawing of Aury must have been when he was pretty young. He looks like a teenager. But I guess he really didn't live very long. I mean he was, what 36 when he died? While not as pathetic as some of your previous "Pathetic Pirates" (after all, he did have some successes) I have to agree that he was still pretty pathetic. Especially at Galvez Town.

Timmy! said...

Oh, and one other thing, wasn't "El Supremo" a Rob Zombie song (or a burrito or something)?

Pauline said...

Ahoy Timmy! Actually, I have mixed feelings about Aury. He did have some success, certainly. Arguably as much as my boys the Laffites. But he was in no way the "freedom fighter" that some folks make him out to be. He was very much a parellel of Jean Laffite, I think. An opportunist hungry for power first and foremost but without the Laffite charisma that made him able to lead men.

And yes, there's a place in Newport Beach that makes a kick ass El Supremo burrito... I just can't remember the name of it.

Timmy! said...

I agree with your assessment on Aury.

And I'll bet that place in Newport Beach plays Rob Zombie on their sound system... I think I was thinking of El Superbeasto...

Frederic Beraud Dufour said...

This is the most funny biography I have ever read about Aury! There is few good books telling the story of this unbelievable freedom soldier :

• Ortiz SE. Franceses en la independencia de la Gran Colombia, Bogotá: editorial ABC, 1971.

• Ferro C. Vida de Louis Aury, Buenos Aires, Argentina: editorial cuarto poder, 1976.

• Aury L. Documentos y correspondencia del Almirante Louis Aury. Biblioteca Luis Angel Arango, Bogotá, 1966.

• Cacua P. El corsario Louis Aury, intimidades de la independencia, Bogotá: Editora Guadalupe, colección bolsilibros, 2001.

and also in English :

. Lancaster E. Dabney, "Louis Aury: The First Governor of Texas under the Mexican Republic," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 42 (October 1938)
. Harry Van Demark, "Pirates of the Gulf," Texas Magazine, May 1910. Harris Gaylord Warren, The Sword Was Their Passport: A History of American Filibustering in the Mexican Revolution (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1943)Harris Gaylord Warren

you can also check serious informations there :

and there :

and I took the panoramic photography that you are using on your page in OLD PROVIDENCE (Colombian island where Aury died) not in New Providence (Bahamas main island)

However, I like the way you are telling this story, it's personal and funny.



Pauline said...

Thank you so much for the additional information Mr. Dufour. Excellent resourcess for anyone interested in further study with regard to both Aury and privateering in the early 19th century. You've added a lot to this post; much appreciated.