story of the pirate, or the wicked man in general, no
matter how successful he may have been in his criminal
career, nearly always ends disastrously, and in that
way points a moral which doubtless has a good effect
on a large class of people, who would be very glad to
do wrong, provided no harm was likely to come to them
in consequence. But the story of Peter the Great, which
we have just told, contains no such moral. In fact,
its influence upon the adventurers of that period was
When the wonderful success of Peter the Great became
known, the buccaneering community at Tortuga was wildly
excited. Every bushy bearded fellow who could get possession
of a small boat, and induce a score of other bushy bearded
fellows to follow him, wanted to start out and capture
a rich Spanish galleon, as the great ships, used alike
for war and commerce, were then called.
But not only were the French and English sailors and
traders, who had become buccaneers, excited and stimulated
by the remarkable good fortune of their companion, but
many people of adventurous mind, who had never thought
of leaving England for purposes of piracy, now became
firmly convinced that there was no business which promised
better than that of a buccaneer, and some of them crossed
the ocean for the express purpose of getting rich by
capturing Spanish vessels homeward bound.
As there were not enough suitable vessels in Tortuga
for the demands of the recently stimulated industry,
the buccaneer settlers went to other parts of the West
Indies to obtain suitable craft, and it is related that
in about a month after the great victory of Peter the
Great, two large Spanish vessels, loaded with silver
bullion, and two other heavily laden merchantmen were
brought into Tortuga by the buccaneers.
One of the adventurers who set out about this time on
a cruise after gold laden vessels, was a Frenchman who
was known to his countrymen as Pierre François, and
to the English as Peter Francis. He was a good sailor,
and ready for any sort of a sea fight, but for a long
time he cruised about without seeing anything which
it was worth while to attempt to capture. At last, when
his provisions began to give out, and his men became
somewhat discontented, Pierre made up his mind that
rather than return to Tortuga empty handed, he would
make a bold and novel stroke for fortune.
At the mouth of one of the large rivers of the mainland
the Spaniards had established a pearl fishery, for there
was no kind of wealth or treasure, on the land, under
ground, or at the bottom of the sea, that the Spaniards
did not get if it were possible for them to do so.
Every year, at the proper season, a dozen or more vessels
came to this pearl bank, attended by a man of war to
protect them from molestation. Pierre knew all about
this, and as he could not find any Spanish merchantmen
to rob, he thought he would go down and see what he
could do with the pearl fishers. This was something
the buccaneers had not yet attempted, but no one knows
what he can do until he tries, and it was very necessary
that this buccaneer captain should try something immediately.
When he reached the coast near the mouth of the river,
he took the masts out of his little vessel, and rowed
quietly toward the pearl fishing fleet, as if he had
intended to join them on some entirely peaceable errand;
and, in fact, there was no reason whatever why the Spaniards
should suppose that a boat full of buccaneers should
be rowing along that part of the coast.
The pearl fishing vessels were all at anchor, and the
people on board were quietly attending to their business.
Out at sea, some distance from the mouth of the river,
the man of war was lying becalmed. The native divers
who went down to the bottom of the sea to bring up the
shellfish which contained the pearls, plunged into the
water, and came up wet and shining in the sun, with
no fear whatever of any sharks which might be swimming
about in search of a dinner, and the people on the vessels
opened the oysters and carefully searched for pearls,
feeling as safe from harm as if they were picking olives
in their native groves.
But something worse than a shark was quietly making
its way over those tranquil waters, and no banditti
who ever descended from Spanish mountains upon the quiet
peasants of a village, equaled in ferocity the savage
fellows who were crouching in the little boat belonging
to Pierre of Tortuga.
This innocent looking craft, which the pearl fishers
probably thought was loaded with fruit or vegetables
which somebody from the mainland desired to sell, was
permitted, without being challenged or interfered with,
to row up alongside the largest vessel of the fleet,
on which there were some armed men and a few cannon.
As soon as Pierre's boat touched the Spanish vessel,
the buccaneers sprang on board with their pistols and
cutlasses, and a savage fight began. The Spaniards were
surprised, but there were a great many more of them
than there were pirates, and they fought hard. However,
the man who makes the attack, and who is at the same
time desperate and hungry, has a great advantage, and
it was not long before the buccaneers were masters of
the vessel. Those of the Spaniards who were not killed,
were forced into the service of their captors, and Pierre
found himself in command of a very good vessel.
Now it so happened that the man of war was so far away
that she knew nothing of this fight on board one of
the fleet which she was there to watch, and if she had
known of it, she would not have been able to give any
assistance, for there was no wind by which she could
sail to the mouth of the river. Therefore, so far as
she was concerned, Pierre considered himself safe.
But although he had captured a Spanish ship, he was
not so foolish as to haul down her flag, and run up
his own in her place. He had had very good success so
far, but he was not satisfied. It was quite probable
that there was a rich store of pearls on board the vessel
he had taken, but on the other vessels of the fleet
there were many more pearls, and these he wanted if
he could get them. In fact, he conceived the grand idea
of capturing the whole fleet.
But it would be impossible for Pierre to attempt anything
on such a magnificent scale until he had first disposed
of the man of war, and as he had now a good strong ship,
with a much larger crew than that with which he had
set out, for the Spanish prisoners would be obliged
to man the guns and help in every way to fight their
countrymen, Pierre determined to attack the man of war.
A land wind began to blow, which enabled him to make
very fair headway out to sea. The Spanish colors were
flying from his topmast, and he hoped to be able, without
being suspected of any evil designs, to get so near
to the man of war that he might run alongside and boldly
But something now happened which Pierre could not have
expected. When the commander of the war vessel perceived
that one of the fleet under his charge was leaving her
companions and putting out to sea, he could imagine
no reason for such extraordinary conduct, except that
she was taking advantage of the fact that the wind had
not yet reached his vessel, and was trying to run away
with the pearls she had on board. From these ready suspicions
we may imagine that, at that time, the robbers who robbed
robbers were not all buccaneers.
Soon after the Spanish captain perceived that one of
his fleet was making his way out of the river, the wind
reached his vessel, and he immediately set all sail
and started in pursuit of the rascals, whom he supposed
to be his dishonest countrymen.
The breeze freshened rapidly, and when Pierre and his
men saw that the man of war was coming toward them at
a good rate of speed, showing plainly that she had suspicions
of them, they gave up all hope of running alongside
of her and boarding her, and concluded that the best
thing they could do would be to give up their plan of
capturing the pearl fishing fleet, and get away with
the ship they had taken, and whatever it had on board.
So they set all sail, and there was a fine sea chase.
The now frightened buccaneers were too anxious to get
away. They not only put on all the sail which the vessel
could carry, but they put on more. The wind blew harder,
and suddenly down came the mainmast with a crash. This
stopped the chase, and the next act in the performance
would have to be a sea fight. Pierre and his buccaneers
were good at that sort of thing, and when the man of
war came up, there was a terrible time on board those
two vessels. But the Spaniards were the stronger, and
the buccaneers were defeated.
There must have been something in the daring courage
of this Frenchman and his little band of followers,
which gave him favor in the eyes of the Spanish captain,
for there was no other reason for the good treatment
which the buccaneers received.
They were not put to the sword nor thrown overboard,
not sent on shore and made to work as slaves, three
very common methods of treating prisoners in those days.
But they were all set free, and put on land, where they
might go where they pleased.
This unfortunate result of the bold enterprise undertaken
by Pierre François was deeply deplored, not only at
Tortuga, but in England and in France. If this bold
buccaneer had captured the pearl fleet, it would have
been a victory that would have made a hero of him on
each side of the Atlantic, but had he even been able
to get away with the one vessel he had seized, he would
have been a rich man, and might have retired to a life
of ease and affluence; the vessel he had captured proved
to be one of the richest laden of the whole fleet, and
not only in the heart of Pierre and his men, but among
his sympathizers in Europe and America, there was great
disappointment at the loss of that mainmast, which,
until it cracked, was carrying him forward to fame and