Monday, July 1, 2019

The Pirates of Dana Point


When you think of pirates and Orange County, you probably start hearing a song in your head about “A pirate’s life for me.”  For the most part, a pirate’s life wasn’t very long.  Once they started a life of pillaging, plundering, and not giving a hoot, a pirate soon became known as a criminal, and was headed for either the gallows or Davy Jones’ locker within two or three years.
From The Bowers Museum
One such pirate managed to outlive the average, and as it would happen, Hippolyte Bouchard spent many days hoping to get a foothold along the California Coast in order to claim it for his home, Argentina.
More a privateer than a buccaneer (meaning he did pirate-like things on behalf of a country), Bouchard was one of the first people to circumnavigate the globe seeking adventure and riches.  He fought in scores of conflicts, each one bloodier and crueler than the previous.  He sailed to the Hawaiian Islands where Bouchard met with Kamehameha I.  Mutineers has seized control of one of Argentina’s ships named the Santa Rosa and tried to sell it to the Kamehameha. 
Bouchard recognized some of the mutineers during his investigation and realized their treachery.  Through complex negotiations with the Hawaiian Ruler, (Kamehameha expected to be repaid for the ship), Bouchard gave the king his sword and Commander’s hat in exchange for the now largely dismantled Santa Rosa.  He had it refitted, pursued the mutineers to Kauai, where he had them savagely whipped and executed.
Next stop: California, to exploit the Spanish trade.
They took their ship and the Santa Rosa and headed east toward the Monterey Peninsula. Bouchard seized control of Monterey, raised the Argentinian flag, and claimed the peninsula. They stormed the fort, raided the armory, stole the cattle and burned the Governor’s mansion and Spanish residences to the ground. The locals were left alone. The Spanish reclaimed what was left of the fort six days later as Bouchard headed south.  
More pillaging north of Santa Barbara, more hostage negotiations.  And then on December 16th, 1818, Bouchard sailed down into Dana Point Harbor.
The Argentinian Captain’s reputation preceded him.  Knowing the bloodthirsty pirate was on his way, the people of San Juan Capistrano hid what valuables they could, especially the artifacts made of gold in the mission chapel.
The Spanish soldiers based there went to meet the pirates as they arrived telling them a large garrison was about to descend on them. But you can’t bluff a pirate. Bouchard ordered his men to pillage the town and take what they could.  “But keep a weather eye especially for rum!”
As far as pirate raids go, it was not the best. What the crew mostly discovered was the local wine, which they carted off to the ship.  There they drank their fill until they were too drunk to fight.  Some even had to be carried back to the ship. When they sobered up, they travelled on to Mexico. The OC got off light.
Bouchard lived long after the OC raid. He served Argentina, Peru, and Chile, finally retiring in a fine residence given to him by the Governor of Chile.  He lived for 58 years and may have lived longer if he had not died at the hand of one of his servants. He never knew his daughter from a period before his world travels began. 
Legend has it that there is still treasure hidden in the nearby hills that the drunken pirates never found. The monks are long gone, and as they say, “Dead men tell no tales.”  But should you live in the hills off Oso parkway, and you come across treasure, you might want to give the Mission San Juan Capistrano a call. 

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