Wednesday, January 11, 2012

People: "A Blood-thirste Piratte"

Spanish pirates are not often heard of in the record of the Golden Age. Though Spanish buccaneers were not uncommon, with most of them preying on their foreign Brethren rather than merchants of other countries, they seem to have become almost extinct after the turn of the 18th century. Of course this is probably a simple issue of record; certainly there were as many Spaniards who went a-pirating as men from any other nation. Most freebooters, it must be remembered, slipped into oblivion as far as history is concerned. We can’t all grow up to be Blackbeard.

That is why one brief entry in Philip Gosse’s The Pirate’s Who’s Who is so very tantalizing. The two paragraphs tell the story of the probable grisly demise of a Spanish “piratte” named Antonio Mendoza, and reading the purported original record can lead to some curious speculations on why and when a man might be branded a villain of the waves.

Mendoza is said to be from the island of Hispaniola. There is no reference to ships or a history of freebooting, but only a paragraph from “a very interesting document” which Gosse claims was discovered on the island of St. Kitts by Alpheus Hyatt Verrill.

Verrill was an adventurer, naturalist, explorer and author, among other things, who wrote extensively in genres from anthropology to science fiction. He was also involved in a number of archaeological digs in the Caribbean. Theodore Roosevelt once said that it was “… my friend Verrill here, who really put the West Indies on the map.” While many who came before might disagree with Teddy, Verrill’s experiences certainly make him a creditable source for the information Gosse offers.

That information is in the form of an English indictment against one Antonio Mendoza from the year 1701. It reads as follows (note that the English here is updated to the best of my ability for the convenience of the reader; should you care to read “ye olde originalle”, Gosse’s book is available online here).

An assize and general gaol delivery held at St. Christophers Colony from the nineteenth day of May to the 22nd day of the same month 1701 Captain Josias Pendringhame Magistrate etc. The jury of our Sovereign Lord the King do present Antonio Mendoza of Hispaniola and a subject of the King of Spain for that the said on or about the 11 day of April 1701 feloniously deliberately and maliciously and in contrary to the laws of Almighty God and our Sovereign Lord the King did in his cups saucily and arrogantly speak of the Governor and Lord the King and by force and arms into the tavern of John Wilkes Esq. did enter and there did horrible swear and curse and did feloniously use threatening words and did strike and cut most murderously several subjects of our Sovereign Lord the King. Of which indictment he pleads not guilty but one present Master Samuel Dunscombe mariner did swear that said Antonio Mendoza was of his knowledge a bloodthirsty pirate and guilty of diabolical practices and the Grand Inquest finding it true bill to be tried by God and the Country which brings a jury of 12 men sworn find him guilty and for the same he be adjudged to be carried to the Fort Prison to have both his ears cut close by his head and be burned through the tongue with a hot iron and to be cast chained in the dungeon to await the pleasure of God and Our Sovereign Lord the King.

It is curious, or telling, that at no point in the indictment is Mendoza himself referred to as a seaman. It is only the testimony of “Samuel Dunscombe mariner” that puts Mendoza plundering on the high seas. Aside from that, the Spaniard’s only crimes appear to be drunkenness, ill-advised language and a bar fight. The question that arises, at least for me, is how many men “in their cups” were fingered as pirates so that the law could take them in hand and subject them to what can only be called ghastly torture?

What became of Antonio Mendoza of Hispaniola is lost to history. It is not hard to imagine his possible death in the dungeon at Fort Prison, however. One hopes that it was quick given what he had to suffer beforehand.

Header: Brimstone Hill Fortress on St. Kitts via Wikipedia


Timmy! said...

Ahoy, Pauline! Well, I guess tht's one way to handle "troublemakers"... Seems more than a little harsh to me, but I guess that is to be expected.

Pauline said...

I have to agree. It seems like Mendoza was punished for being Spanish more than anything else. And, as you note, pretty harshly at that.

Capt. John Swallow said...

Another great post mate!
Spanish Pyrates indeed...they certainly put a new spin on the idea while pillaging, burning & murdering in the New World...of course everyone else took it out on them afterwards! Karmic justice?

Might be good to point out to the uninitiated that indeed Hispaniola is a real we call it Haiti & The Dominican Rep.

Pauline said...

Thankee, Captain, and well said. Good point as well; Hispaniola and her history are still there today. A rose by any other name, or something like that.