Thursday, December 15, 2011
History: For Beluche's Birthday
With so many note-worthy actions packed into one 80 year life (and they say corsairs died young!) it is not surprising that Uncle Renato is occasionally claimed by other families in the Western Hemisphere as their own. Who wouldn’t want a golden apple among the branches of their family tree?
Perhaps the most debated, if not necessarily famous, argument for Renato Beluche quite literally being someone else comes from the family of Puerto Rican freedom fighter Mathias Brugman. As an example, some Brugman historians offer the comparison signatures of Pierre Brugman (top) and Renato Beluche (bottom) above. They note that the bold, looping Bs of both signatures seem too similar to have been written by different hands. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Mathias Brugman was born in New Orleans in 1811 where his parents, in the baptismal records of St. Louis Cathedral, are listed as Pierre (or Pedro) Brugman, born in Curacao and Isabel (or Ysabel) Duliebre, birthplace unknown. Mathias had a brother and a sister whose births are also noted in the same records. In 1816, the family permanently relocated to Puerto Rico.
The name Brugman (sometimes noted as Bruckman or Brukman) is the source of the speculation that Mathias may in fact have been the son not of Pierre Brugman, Dutch merchant, but of Renato Beluche, American privateer.
Some specific discussion on the issue appears at the Brugman Family Commentaries on the Familia website where it seems the argument is that the two men may have been one and the same. The evidence for this is slim; particularly when one looks at the commentaries themselves, but the argument seems to continue, bouncing around the web like a curious if little-known meme. Feel free to read the entire commentaries for yourself, but allow me to point out a few specific items.
The text notes that Beluche’s date of birth was December 7, 1780 and that his father’s place of birth is listed as Tours, in France. As Jane Lucas De Grummond notes in her definitive biography Renato Beluche: Smuggler, Privateer and Patriot, 1780-1860, the corsair was born on December 15 and baptized on the following 7th of January. The records list his father as Rene Beluche of New Orleans. According to the genealogical data I have been able to uncover, Rene was the son of Charles Beluche who was born in France in 1697, possibly in the village of Pigot on the Bay of Biscay. It should be noted that, in typical fashion, the baptismal record at the Cathedral is somewhat incorrect; the baby’s given name is listed as Raynado, not Renato.
The real confusion begins with a French letter of marque issued in March of 1810 for the brig L’Intrepide. The owner of the ship is listed as Joseph Sauvinet, a prominent New Orleans merchant and Laffite associate from the earliest days of Barataria. Her captain, according to Dr. De Grummond who is taking her information from legal documentation of the U.S. Navy, is named as Pierre Brugman. A description of Brugman, also in the ship’s papers, shows him to be a virtual twin of Beluche: He is thirty years old, five feet three inches tall and has brown hair. Probably the most arguable point in favor of this Captain Brugman being the revolutionary Mathais’ father is the birthplace he gives: Curacao.
From here, however, the argument begins to unravel. L’Intrepide was, in fact, captured as a pirate by Commodore David Porter in March when she came into the mouth of the Mississippi “in distress” and her captain’s name was then given as Brugman. The captain was never found aboard her, however, and Beluche – not Brugman – appeared at the French consulate a few days later seeking redress for the unlawful seizure of his ship by the U.S. Navy. The ship in question’s name is listed as L’Intrepide.
By May of 1810, L’Intrepide was back in the Gulf where a documented prize, La Ynvicta Espana, was taken by her. As De Grummond notes, this prize is listed in the Historic New Orleans Collection Catalogue No.44-2; the captain of L’Intrepide in this document is named Beluche.
The name Pedro Brugman is again connected with privateering activity in 1815. He is listed as captain of the privateer La Popa in connection with a cross complaint filed against the U.S. Navy. La Popa was owned by Renato Beluche and the complaint referred to a prize taken by her almost immediately after the Battle of New Orleans under a Cartagenan letter of marque. Given that the U.S. had not yet officially recognized Cartagena as a separate state and Beluche was awaiting official pardon from the President after serving on the line with Andrew Jackson, one can easily see why he would want to use an alias in such a case.
Perhaps the most head-scratching evidence provided by the Brugman Family Commentaries is the line “…Beluche, alias Brugman, disappeared during late March 1810 eluding charges for smuggling and did not resurface until February 1817.” Though smuggling charges were certainly brought up on more than one occasion against more than one Beluche, those would have been the least of Renato’s worries. In fact, much of his time between 1810 and 1817 was spent in well documented and above-board pursuits. His name appears on a U.S. letter of marque issued in 1812 as captain of the schooner Spy which would go on to capture the British warship Jane in December. Beluche’s name appears in court records in connection with the libel of Jane the following January. Within a few months of this filing, Beluche would be listed among the mariners holding some of the first letters of marque issued from Cartagena and his service as gun captain of a 24 pound cannon on Rodriguez Canal during the Battle of New Orleans is more than well documented.
I personally have no doubt that Beluche and Brugman were two separate men and that Mathias Brugman, the Puerto Rican revolutionary, is not the son of my ancestor. The curious point though, at least for me, is not those distinctive signatures. It is the letter of marque with Brugman’s name listed as captain of L’Intrepide and the accuracy in the documentation of his birthplace. Did Brugman in fact command the brig until her capture by Porter at the Balize? When she was released, did he turn over her command to Beluche or did Sauvinet, her rightful owner, select someone else – namely Beluche – in his stead? Or did Beluche know Brugman personally and simply choose the guise of an acquaintance when the need for discretion arose?
Finally, are the signatures shown above so very similar that they can unequivocally be said to have been consistently penned by the same hand? For that, I have an answer; no, they’re not. Beyond that, well, this is what makes history – and genealogy – so much fun.
Header: Comparison of Pierre Brugman and Renato Beluche signatures via Familia