Tuesday, August 7, 2012

People: The Devout Buccaneer

Today’s pirate is of the boucanier variety.  Known only by his surname, as Captain Daniel, the historians who have written about him agree that he was from France.  His exploits seem to have occurred in the French islands of the Caribbean and it is possible, from one specific connection, to speculate that he may have dealt in slaves.  However, only one story of Captain Daniel has come down to us in tact.  Fortunately, it’s a good one.

In Philip Gosse’s The Pirate’sWho’s Who, Gosse quotes the now famous Pere Labat who was the Procurator General of the Antilles by 1696.  This priest, who lived many years in the Caribbean, owned a large sugar plantation and devised new ways of harvesting and processing the cane.  He kept a large number of slaves, the bulk of whom he is said to have treated with uniform brutality (for more on the life of a slave on Caribbean sugar plantations, see this excellent post by my friend Leah Marie Brown).  With that, or perhaps because of it, he was particularly fond of the buccaneers who sailed in and out of his island’s ports, and wrote of them in his book A New Voyage to the Islands of America, published in 1722.

Gosse tells us that Daniel put in to “one of the Saintes” in the Caribbean in search of “wine, brandy and fowls.”  Though the locals were at first skittish about the pirates rummaging around their town for supplies, Daniel was adamant that he had no intention of doing violence upon them.  Apparently to show his good will, he invited the town’s elite to board his ship and be his guests.  One of those herded onto the pirate vessel was the local priest. 

While the provisions were being loaded aboard ship, Daniel showed his guests around.  At some point, apparently focusing his attention on the terrified priest, he asked that the man say Mass for his guests and his crew.  A request “which the poor priest dared not refuse.”  Going on to quote from Harling, who is probably paraphrasing Labat, Gosse gives us a clear picture of what happened next:

So the necessary sacred vessels were sent for and an altar improvised on the deck for the service, which they chanted to the best of their ability.  As at Martinique, the Mass was begun with a discharge of artillery, and after the Exaudiat and prayer for the King, was closed by a loud “Vive le Roi” from the throats of the buccaneers.  A single incident, however, somewhat disturbed the devotions.  One of the buccaneers, remaining in an indecent attitude during the Elevation, was rebuked by the captain and instead of heeding the correction, replied with an impertinence and a fearful oath.  Quick as a flash Daniel whipped our his pistol and shot the buccaneer through the head, adjuring God that he would do as much to the first who failed in his respect to the Holy Sacrifice.  The shot was fired close by the priest who, as we can readily imagine, was considerable agitated. “Do not be troubled, my father,” said Daniel; “he was a rascal lacking in his duty and I have punished him to teach him better.”

Presumably, Mass went on and afterward the offender’s body was tossed into the sea.  The guests, who surely had a story to tell for years to come, were thanked and excused.  The priest was paid for his service, Gosse says, in “some goods out of [the pirates’] stores and the present of a negro slave.”

This last point makes me wonder about the Labat connection.  The Procurator General’s ill treatment of his own slaves meant he would have needed a steady supply of new ones coming in.  Did men like Daniel help the priest turned planter out with human chattel at lower prices than the market had set?  I have no proof of such dealings with buccaneers, but it would explain Labat’s soft spot for the violent freebooters who roamed the Caribbean when he was there.

Header: Looting Buccaneers by Howard Pyle via Wikipedia


Timmy! said...

It seems that there have always been (and probably always will be) some priests who are really not so nice 9to put it mildly) Pauline.

Pauline said...

Boy, isn't that the truth. So much for "all God's children" and the like...