The role of a leader was important in the buccaneer brotherhood. They always had a strong and ambitious captain, who was fearless in fights and proven in many deadly battles. Here are some of the notorious leaders of the buccaneer era.
His real name was Jean-David Nau and for almost a decade, he was one of the most feared men in the Caribbean. Frenchman was known for his violent character and he rarely showed any mercy against the captured Spaniards. By l’Olonnais visual appearance, it was hard to tell that this man was a sadistic pirate leader. Visually, he looked elegant – with smooth dark hair and a thin well-groomed moustache and beard.
L’Olonnais slowly, but surely worked his way from the bottom of this rough buccaneer hierarchy. First, working as a servant for one of the buccaneers, later becoming one of them and eventually being selected for the buccaneer leader role. Due to his cruel nature, his presence on the Caribbean was a nightmare for the Spaniards. L’Olonnais is believed to once cut the heart out of the alive man’s chest to frighten the other captives. Various tortures, beheading or throwing the captured Spaniards into the sea were common practices for the Frenchman.
Buccaneers had great respect for l’Olonnais, because of his ambitious character and many successful journeys on the sea and attacks on Spanish towns. His fame grew after every successful raid and hundreds of men wanted to join his ships in new expeditions. L’Olonnais biggest victories were the capture of Maracaibo and Gibraltar. However, greed took its heavy price, when the buccaneer captain called a campaign to San Pedro in Honduras. This turned out to be his final campaign. After several failures on the way to San Pedro, terrifying buccaneer leader was caught and eaten by one of the indigenous cannibal tribes. L’Olonnais final hours of his bloody life were as horrible as his own deeds against all the captured people in his buccaneer’s path.
Morgan was a unique buccaneer in his own way. A son of poor Welsh farmers, this sea raider eventually became a knight and a well-respected figure in England and the Caribbean region. Unlike many other buccaneers, Morgan did not die in the battle or end up as an old broke pirate, who lost all his wealth in alcohol and women. His manners and views often were a strong contrast to flamboyant and careless buccaneer lifestyle.
One of the biggest strengths of Morgan was his ability to lead men on the battlefield. He had the talent of a military commander. It is no surprise that England eventually awarded Morgan with an honor of knight and even made him the governor of Jamaica. Welshman caused a lot of trouble to the rival Spanish colonies in a period when England had a strong desire to strengthen its presence in the New World. Same like l’Olonnais, Morgan led his men on raids to Maracaibo and Gibraltar. His last major campaign was the expedition to Panama. It was relatively successful in terms of loot, but it helped to gain extra admiration from the English Crown.
After retiring from adventures and settling in Jamaica, Morgan became a wealthy landowner and his main task as a governor was to strengthen the island from the possible attacks. He remained an influential and respected figure in the Caribbean until his death in 1688. Morgan died at the age of 53 from illness caused by large alcohol intake. Despite he did not have a habit for crazy drinking as most of the buccaneers did after receiving their share, Welshman still enjoyed a good company with other interesting personalities. Morgan himself can be fairly called the most famous buccaneer. Even the famous rum brand Captain Morgan was named after him.
Michel de Grammont
Nicknamed Chevalier – de Grammont was born in a noble French family and an unlucky duel early in his life and this changed his whole life. He had to leave France to avoid consequences and initially, he served in the French fleet. However, Chevalier was a hot-tempered man and service in the fleet still had plenty of different limitations. Eventually, joining the buccaneers made sense.
De Grammont joined 1200 buccaneers, who were ready to attack Curaçao. The ambitious journey was cut short as the pirate fleet ran on a reef and 7 out of 17 ships sank. Remaining ships took a new destination to the buccaneer favorite town – Maracaibo. There de Grammont earned the respect from the buccaneers. The town was successfully captured and despite it was not as wealthy due to previous attacks of l’Olonnais and Morgan, this still was a solid run.
In the next major expedition to Caracas, de Grammont was seriously injured and he had to spend some time to recover on the Las Aves. After recovery, Frenchmen had a relatively quiet and empty period, until he joined fellow buccaneer leaders Nicholas van Hoorn and Laurens de Graaf in the successful campaign to Veracruz in 1683. Two years later, de Grammont led his last campaign to another Mexican city – Campeche. This journey ended with an unsuccessful idea to get a ransom from the governor, who refused to listen to the threats of buccaneer leader and they had to leave the city with no real loot. In 1686, Frenchman was on the way to the Florida coast, once again full of ambitions, but this turned out to be his fatal journey. His ship was rumored to be lost in a storm. Nothing was ever again heard from the hot-tempered buccaneer captain.
Laurens de Graaf
Not a lot is known about the early life of de Graaf and his image is somewhat controversial. Dutchman started his naval career on the Spanish fleet and in mid-1670’s, he traveled to Hispaniola and joined buccaneers in their raids. De Graaf quickly showed himself as a brave and ambitious buccaneer. His crew started with capturing a small bark and it was only a question of time to catch a bigger «fish».
When de Graaf saw an opportunity to get a solid ship, he took a risk and attacked one of the ships of Spanish Armada that was responsible for the protection of the Spanish colonies. This risky move proved to be a success and de Graaf was influential enough to join the other buccaneer leaders in campaigns against the Spanish colonial towns. He soon collaborated with Frenchman de Grammont and his Dutch compatriot van Hoorn in the attack on Veracruz. However, this partnership did not last long, as eventually the trio was split and de Graaf had a duel against van Hoorn, who eventually died from the deadly wounds.
Since buccaneers respected their rules and duels were a strong component of their lives, de Graaf only strengthened his reputation and soon he captured several Spanish ships. Later he once again joined de Grammont, who in their last journey was on the side of van Hoorn. Together they led a campaign to Campeche where their forces faced strong resistance from the Spanish side. Nevertheless, buccaneers won the city, but their loot was not worth it. Buccaneer leaders once again parted their ways.
De Graaf continued to capture ships and attacks on the various coastal settlements. However, the final years of buccaneer leader are unclear. There are several versions. Some believe he died in Santo Domingo, some believe he helped to establish the Louisiana province and died there. Anyway, Dutchman had a relatively long run as a buccaneer leader and his name was well-known and respected by his peers and brothers in the sword.
Known only by his nickname, this Dutchman was a notorious and feared buccaneer. The one nobody would like to mess with. Especially, when he got drunk. Then he could wander around the town and simply try to mess with the first man, who passed him by. If somebody would refuse to drink with this vicious man – Roche could easily shoot him with no hesitation. Moreover, even when he was not under the influence of alcohol, Dutchman was a mad man with no mercy against other human beings. He could impale a man or slowly roast him on fire, like a pig.
Roche Brasiliano had some great stories, typical to buccaneers, when in a small ship with a way smaller number of men than the opponent had – his crew still captured the bigger ship, loaded with valuable goods. However, he was more of a typical buccaneer in his heart. No matter, how big of a loot his crew got, Roche spent everything until the last penny on the Tortuga and Port Royale. He was a wild and greedy man, but not as ambitious and strategic, as Henry Morgan, for example.
The buccaneer’s career of Roche lasted until 1671, but it remains unclear what happened to him and how his life ended up. Versions include – his ship got lost in a storm in his final journey, he was captured and quietly executed or he simply retired at that point and spent his remaining days without any interactions with the Spaniards or any other of his enemies.
Sources | Cruz Apestegui Cardenal. Pirates in the Caribbean: Buccaneers, Privateers, Freebooters and Filibusters 1493-1720 (2002) | Colin Woodard. The Republic of Pirates: Being the True and Surprising Story of the Caribbean Pirates and the Man Who Brought Them Down (2007) | Alexandre Exquemelin. The Buccaneers of America: In the Original English Translation of 1684 | Edgars Andersons. Senie kurzemnieki Amerikā un Tobāgo kolonizācija (1970)