Thursday, October 11, 2012

People: The Portuguese Poet

In the general vernacular of piratical events, the 1660s and '70s were the decades of Henry Morgan and his Jamaica buccaneers. Thumbing their nose at Spanish might, these men pounced on the Spanish Main whose strongholds had been weakened by the Frenchmen from Tortuga. They were a new breed of plunderer, successful, brutal, and facing very little in the way of obstacles on land or sea.

The truth of the matter is that Spain tried to turn the tables on Morgan during this very era and the spearhead of their privateering ventures was a man of Portuguese descent who would style himself the new Morgan. Brash, volital and at first surprisingly successful, Manuel Rivero Pardal would take up the flag against Protestant heresy on the high seas in the name of the Queen Regent of Spain.

Where Rivero came from - aside from Portugal - is open for debate. Philip Gosse lists him in The Pirate's Who's Who as "the vapouring admiral of St. Jago", which may give posterity its only clue to the pirate's origin. Stephan Talty, in his wonderful biography of Morgan Empire of Blue Water, fleshes out the elusive Rivero magnificently going so far as to call him the Don Quixote of pirates:

Rivero, at least, tilted at more than windmills and sailors' shacks. He'd taken the war to the English. He was attacking at will; he was exploiting the isolation of the Jamaican settlers; he was clearly as daring and independent as any of the privateers, not waiting for orders from Madrid. It was as if [the Jamaican buccaneers] were facing a Spanish double of Henry Morgan.

Rivero was setting up a new world order where sea captains holding a Spanish letter of marque and reprisal did not have to sit in port waiting endlessly for new orders from Spain. Orders which, it must be noted, might never come at all. They could strike when the English ship was at hand; they could ask forgiveness rather than permission. Rivero's bravado was the perfect foil for English hubris. After the sack of Portobelo, it was the shot in the arm that Spanish morale needed.

The latter day Don took his first English prize in the form of Mary and Jane, a former privateer commanded by a Dutch ex-patriot known as Captain Bart. Using the classic ruse, Rivero's San Pedro y la Fama flew English colors until she was within earshot. At that point, Rivero called out "Defend yourself, dog. I come as a punishment for heretics!" With that Fama opened fire. There was little Mary and Jane could do and, after a few cannon volleys and more than one casualty to the English crew, Bart struck. Rivero allowed many of the English sailors to row back to Jamaica with the word that he was on the hunt and then he sailed off to Santiago de Cuba with his prize in tow.

For a short period in 1670, no more than six months really, Rivero became the scourge of Jamaica. He attacked merchant ships and made raids along the shore of the island, taking not only goods but prisoners for ransom as well. He even left a written challenge to Morgan himself, saying he craved "that Morgan would come out upon the coast and seek me, that he might see the valour of the Spaniards."

The plantation owners on the outskirts of Port Royal worked themselves into a frenzy and demanded that Governor Modyford recall their hero and ersatz savior, Henry Morgan. The now Admiral had been whiling away his hours on his own large estate after "peace" with Spain had been declared.

Morgan and his men were, of course, all too happy to oblige and set off to punish the Spanish for sending their scourge. Rivero seemed to have it in for Morgan personally - something Morgan could not know at the time - for he left poetry, albeit bad, that addressed his spleen at a certain "monster":

I am the defender against this monster
I have been confirmed Captain of these coasts.
By Saint Peter, I wast the first.
My name alone is enough
To make the sea
And all these barbarians

Unfortunately not only for Morgan and Rivero, but for history as well, the two like-minded commanders would never meet and fight it out man to man. Coming into a quay off Cuba in hope of finding respite from a gathering storm, Rivero's Fama was surprised by Captain John Morris' Dolphin. The two ships recognized one another and engaged immediately. Almost as soon as the firefight began, Rivero's men panicked. While standing on deck exhorting his sailors to return to their posts, Rivero was caught in the neck by a musket ball. He fell, and bled out quickly, dying while all around him desperately tried to run away from what he had so eagerly sought throughout his career in the Caribbean.

Doctor Richard Browne would later write of Rivero in sarcastic terms, calling him that "vapouring captain" who was fond of "burning houses and robbing the people and sent that insolent challenge to Admiral Morgan."

A sad ending for a man who, even if half-mad, as Talty implies knew how to "die like a conquistador" and even a poet.

Header: Pirates! by Howard Pyle via Wikimedia


Undine said...

I'm hoping the poem scans better in Portuguese.

A disreputable fellow, no doubt, but I like his moxie.

Pauline said...

Me too; you can read more of that poem in Talty's book. Although you may not want too.

Rivero certainly had more guts than almost any Spanish privateer prior. What is unfortunate is that he is mostly forgotten today. His life would probably make a great historical novel complete with gripping death scene!

Timmy! said...

I was thinking the same ting as Undine with regards to the poem, Pauline... And at least he went down fighting (albiet not against the guy he was trying to call out).

Pauline said...

Agreed. If only he and Morgan could have squared off, though. It would have been (at least potentially) epic!

Blue Lou Logan said...

At least his name is not Inigo Montoya. Why is it Spaniards love to grandstand so much?

I was totally unaware of this character. Don't recall his being mentioned at all by Exquemelin. It is a great tale and one I'm going to have to keep in the mental repertoire.

Pauline said...

Excellent point, Lou. He would have been a combo of characters from "The Princess Bride".

It seems to be the nature of the Latin guy to go for the gusto in personality - as well as everything else. Jean Laffite gives a pretty good example ;)

If you haven't read Talty's book, by the way, I highly recommend it. I think you would very much appreciate it.

Charles L. Wallace said...

"Portuguese" and poetry.... I was wondering how you were going to work in Elizabeth Barrett Browning! hahaha Good thing el Capitan Rivero did not pen proper sonnets....

Anyway, a great tale (and indeed, I did not know of Rivero before this, either). Thank you, Pauline!

Grandstanding? A good question... perhaps because the Latin culture tends to be a bit more expressive (as opposed to Puritan stoicism and such)? Still, the good captain had flair....