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Bouchard, Pirate Or Patriot?

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Location: Monterey County, California

PostPosted: Mon Apr 14, 2008 2:23 pm    Post subject: Bouchard, Pirate Or Patriot? Reply with quote

ON AN October day, 1818, when early Barbarenos were given to assembling in favored spots for gay meriendas, a brig flying the American colors sailed into port—the Clarion.

At once a courier rowed ashore, and dashed with all haste to the Santa Barbara Presidio, with a message for the comandante, Captain Jose de la Guerra y Noriega.

“Two pirate ships are crossing the Pacific to take the Mission towns—heading for Monterey. Hypolite Bouchard, a Frenchman, is their commander, flying the revolutionary flag of the Argentine.”

Couriers were dispatched at once to Governor Pablo Vicente de Sola at Monterey, to prepare to defend the country. Comandante de la Guerra set about protecting Santa Barbara, hiding treasure, and preparing to send women and children into the hinterland. The cattle and horses of Mission and Presidio were made ready to be driven into the hills at the first alarm. They would fool that Frenchman.

After two days of hard riding, the courier broke the news to Governor Sola. If disturbing, it was exciting.

Orders were at once issued to remove all articles of value from exposed Presidios and Missions in the territory to designated places in the interior.

Women and children should be ready to move at a moment's notice. The livestock, except horses needed for immediate use, were to be driven inland at the first sign of the invaders.

And so waited the town—Mission and Presidio— for something to happen. Sentries doubled. Little sleep in the capital.

On November 27th, the pirate—or patriot—arrived on schedule.

There was great hurrying and scurrying, the women taking to the carretas that were available, piling them full of children, dogs and other belongings, scared and tearful; but undoubtedly thrilled at the excitement, and their chance to play a part in it. And off they rattled to the ranchos of relatives in the Salinas Valley and beyond. And soon Governor de Sola followed them into security.

Peter Corney, who skippered the Santa Rosa—300 tons, carrying eighteen guns of twelve and of eighteen pounds—describes the adventure in his rare Early Northern Pacific Voyages, the story not only of an eyewitness, but of a frank and hearty participant.

"We carried a complement of 100 men, thirty of whom were Sandwich Islanders, the remainder were composed of Americans, Spaniards, Creoles, Negroes, Portuguese, Manila men, Malays and a few Englishmen. The Argentina had 260 men, fifty of whom were Islanders, the remainder a mixed crew, nearly similar to that of the Santa Rosa.

"On our passage towards California we were employed exercising the great guns and putting the ships in good condition for fighting.

"After getting a supply of eggs, oil, etc., from the Russians [at Fort Ross, coming down from the landfall near Cape Mendocino] we made sail for the bay of Monterey. The Commodore ordered me into the bay, and to anchor in a good position to cover the landing, while he would keep his ship under weigh, and send his boats in to assist me. Being well acquainted with the bay, I ran in and came to at midnight, under the fort; the Spaniards hailed me frequently to send a boat on shore, which I declined. Before morning they had the battery manned, and seemed quite busy.

"I got a spring on the cable, and at daylight opened fire on the fort, which was briskly returned by two batteries. Finding it useless to fire at the batteries, the one being so much above us that our shot had no visible effect, the Commodore came in with his boats, and we landed on Point Pinos, about three miles to the westward of the fort; and before the Spaniards had time to bring their field-pieces to attack us, we were on our march against it.

"We halted at the foot of the hill where it stood, for a few minutes, beat a charge and rushed up, the Sandwich Islanders in front with pikes. The Spaniards mounted their horses and fled; a Sandwich Islander was the first to haul down their colors. We then turned our guns on the town, where they made a stand [within the Presidio walls], and after firing a few rounds, the Commodore sent me with a party to assault the place, while he kept possession of the fort.

"As we approached the town, the Spaniards fled again, after discharging their field-pieces [two six-pounders], and we entered without opposition. It was well stocked with provisions and goods of every description, which we commenced sending on board the Argentina.

"The Sandwich Islanders, who were quite naked when they landed, were soon dressed in the Spanish fashion, and all the sailors were employed in searching the houses for money, and breaking and ruining everything. We took several Creole prisoners, destroyed all the guns in the fort, etc.

"We had three men killed and three taken; next day a party of horsemen came in sight, to whom the Commodore sent a flag of truce, requiring the governor to give up our people and save the town. Three days were granted to consider this proposition, and on the third day, not receiving an answer, he ordered the town to be fired, after which we took plenty of live-stock on board, wood, water, etc, and on the 1st day of December got under weigh from Monterey and stood along the coast to the southland.”

After five full days of pillaging and carousing, the lovers of "God and Liberty" departed. As they sailed away, in the gayest of spirits, a sorry spectacle was left behind. Much of the labors of half a century had been wiped out, the Mission suffering with the town.

It may be said in passing that Santa Barbara, better prepared to meet them, was not honored by attack, But the "patriots" pillaged the Rancho del Refugio on the coast, home of Don Jose Ortega's family. Their next appearance was off shore at the Mission San Juan Capistrano. Here the jolly "patriots" plundered and pillaged the friars, defenseless to protect themselves. But it was all for "God and Liberty"'—so the participants and their sympathizers would have us believe. Peter Corney makes a magnificent attempt at defense of their conduct in his book, having grown virtuous and respectable with his acquisition of spoils. He makes out his case as that of a company sailing for the Argentine, under its new flag, on legitimate business on the high seas. An old, old story, popularized long ago by Drake and Cavendish, and those Dutch free-booters—the Pichilingues, who so virtuously pillaged the Mexican coast in the seventeenth century.

Monterey was years recovering from the Bouchard raid, particularly in the matter of implements and equipment, much of which was destroyed, when undesirable as loot. California's first attack from without, and the only naval attack until the U. S. forces captured California's capital in 1846.

The smoke of battle cleared, Governor de Sola and his small staff emerged from their hiding-place, Rancho del Rey (near Salinas). And the sequestered women and children, servants and dogs, came back from the ranchos in the Salinas Valley, even from as far north as San Juan. Life was soon proceeding in its usual tempo.

The episode furnished exciting material for years for gossips and story-tellers, every poblador and caballero having experienced a harrowing fortnight. They all won the war.

At Washerwoman's Bay, at El Estero, where the women assembled to do the quarterly laundering, the heroics of their men were a perpetually absorbing topic.

Incidentally, you may have wondered why the Clarion sailed to Santa Barbara, instead of directly to the capital, bearing warning from Honolulu that the pirates—or patriots—were soon to be on their way to California.

It is a pleasant story, amply authenticated, that the skipper of the Clarion had, some years before, been befriended by Comandante de la Guerra at Santa Barbara, by far the most influential man in California in his day; not only from the viewpoint of character and culture, but as a man of wealth and influence. It was not in the cards, therefore, for the captain to express his gratitude in a material manner. He resolved to bide his time. It came, when Honolulu was agog with the proposed looting of the Missions and Presidios in Spanish California. Honolulu was rather enjoying, in a quiet sort of way, the impending difficulties of the Spanish friars and their Indian Missions. The old unpleasant line of demarcation—religious prejudice, today dying in the closer contacts of men and nations.
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