Tuesday, September 18, 2012

People: Captain Jonnia and Lieutenant Bolivar

Today's individuals are mentioned not only by Philip Gosse in The Pirate's Who's Who but also by our old friend Charles Ellms in The Pirate's Own Book. It is probably safe to say that they were real individuals who sailed together in the vast Caribbean sea, but how much their brief life stories have been altered for the sake of entertainment is up for speculation.

Jonnia and Bolivar (or Bolidar according to Ellms) were in that last wave of piracy that sprang up out of the revolutions in Central and South America. When nations like Argentina, Chile and particularly Simon Bolivar's Grand Columbia discontinued their habit of doling out letters of marque against the Spanish, many a man turned from privateer to pirate. While that cannot be said to be the absolute case with our current subjects, their years of operation - 1821 in particular - hint at such goings on.

Gosse tells us that Jonnia, a Spaniard by birth, commanded a "fast schooner in 1821." He carried a crew of 40 men and for a small ship he appears to have been armed to the teeth. A curious aside in the short paragraph that Gosse allows for Jonnia notes that the schooner "had three Mexican negresses" aboard. Whether or not the ladies were wives or paramours of crewmen or were actually a-pirating themselves is not discussed. What a wonderful piece of historical fiction could be made of their possible adventures, however.

Jonnia's schooner took a Boston merchant, Exertion, on December 17, 1821. Gosse notes that the crew was "considerably drunk at the time" and plundered the merchant with reckless abandon:

The pirates took everything from their prisoners, even their clothes, but as a parting gift sent the captain a copy of the "Family Prayer Book" by the Rev. Mr. Brooks. The prisoners were marooned on a small mangrove quay, but they eventually escaped.

This torturous disposal of the prisoners - imagine being marooned naked on a sun baked, mosquito infested salt water quay - seems to have fallen to Lieutenant Bolivar, whom Gosse describes in particular and amusing detail as:

... a stout, well-built man of swarthy complexion and keen, ferocious eyes, huge black whiskers and beard, and a tremendously loud voice.

Jonnia and his crew took the booty they had carried away from Exertion to Principe, Cuba, doubtless to sell and/or trade. Their next cruise was not so felicitous, however, as Gosse ends the entry: "Jonnia and some of his crew were afterwards captured by an English ship and taken to Kingston, Jamaica, and there hanged." Whether or not the jovial Lieutenant Bolivar was in that batch, Gosse does not say.

Header: Pirates by Howard Pyle via Wikimedia

8 comments:

Timmy! said...

It sounds to me like their karma wasn't too good, Pauline...

Charles L. Wallace said...

With a name like Bolivar, guessing the good Lieutenant mighta had a "Get Out Of Jail, Free" card....

Happy "Talk Like a Pirate Day", everyone! :-D

Elisabeth Philley said...

Pauline, My deepest &sincerest gratitude to you for being so kind as to help me solve this mystery. I received a chill all over when I read your words. Imagine Nassau's bustling main street as my companion and I turned up a iron gated cobblestone alley climbing up the stairs to a small white clapboard house where the proprietor had plunked a small painted wood sign with the words "antiques & local art" into the overflowing flower box next to the doorsteps. As we wandered through the rooms I happened upon my lady gazing up at me from the floor where she was left next to the old iron fireplace. I knew instantly she would sail away with me this day. I've pondered so many times as to her origin given the history of the islands. Was she spoils from some unfortunate ship or a carefully guarded treasure of the original owners. I KNOW I'll never know. As for the chill? People have mistakenly called me Catherine my whole life! Have a beautiful day, and many blessings. I send you light and love. Elisabeth.

Pauline said...

I'm so pleased to hear back from you, Elisabeth. What a delightful experience; it would make a wonderfully engaging short story!

Bright blessings to you and yours. May St. Catherine watch over you always.

Pauline said...

Wally: No kidding on the Bolivar point. Talk about good connections.

And a happy ITLAPD to you and yours; fair winds and following seas.

Pauline said...

Timmy! Shouldn't have stranded those naked prisoners like that, I guess...

Yvette Gilmore said...

Now this just made me interested. Sorry for my ignorance, but really have never read this book yet but surely will. Should be checking more about the story. Sounds really good.

Pauline said...

Yvette: This story is yet another case of fragments of piratical lives coming down to us. Frustrating and fascinating at the same time.