THE PLUNDER OF CARTAGENA.
DESPOILING THE SPANIARDS.
The paroled soldiers were forbidden to enter the houses of the inhabitants until an officer of the fleet had made an inspection, catechised the inhabitants, and ascertained what available money and goods were in the dwelling. A reward was proclaimed for information of hidden wealth, and a tenth of all that was thus discovered was to be paid to the informer, while the punishment of death was denounced to all who should endeavor to conceal or carry off money or valuables, thus defrauding the victors of their spoils.
With these incitements the citizens of Cartagena exhibited great readiness to disclose the state of their affairs, having good reasons for the alacrity they displayed; for, although the methods of the French contrasted favorably with those of the filibusters and Buccaneers, there was a certain suggestive sharpness in the proclamations and warnings of Monsieur de Pointis, which made the Cartagena people rather careful as to how they undertook to deceive his inspectors. An office for the reception of property was opened, and in French fashion the people were formed en queue, to take their turn at delivering up their property. The scenes witnessed during this part of the exercises were both humorous and pathetic, for the French were not at all scrupulous in adhering to the published terms of the proclamation, and sometimes appropriated more than fell to their share. An old man of the line whose sole wealth consisted of one bar of silver of the value of ten dollars, brought it up to the inspector and declared it to be his all. "O, well," said this worthy personage, "it is hardly worth while to divide this," so he threw the bar, without further comment, into the French pile. An aged negro stood in the line loaded with six chickens, expecting to keep half, but to his intense disappointment, the whole were carried off by the greedy Frenchmen. A widow brought four crowns, something less than six dollars, and in a fit of generosity the officer let her keep the whole, but just round the corner waited a filibuster, who at once relieved her of her little store. So great were the deliveries that the officers could not weigh the money or store the merchandise fast enough.
In spite of the professions of regularity made by the Admiral, peculations were innumerable. The officers who were charged with the house-to-house inspection often compromised with the inhabitants, personally securing a part of the booty and allowing the Admiral to be defrauded. Years afterward it was noted as a curious fact that every one of de Pointis' inspectors became wealthy. Not a man of them made less than one hundred thousand crowns, about sixty thousand dollars, and some three or four times this much. Nor did the strict orders issued to the troops prevent innumerable little robberies which were perpetually taking place all over the city. The French sailors stole, the colonists stole; in fact it was a stealing expedition from the Admiral down to the humblest seaman. Everybody seemed to consider it the one most favorable opportunity of his life to become wealthy.
A QUARREL OVER THE SPOILS.
During the first few days of occupation, a difference arose between the Admiral and de Casse about the plunder. The latter having been appointed governor of the city, naturally considered himself as having some authority and entitled to some respect. While the plundering was going on much of the stolen property was brought to him, and of it he took charge; but the Admiral was in no way desirous that de Casse should trouble himself about this part of the business, and sent him word that all assessments must be paid to the King's officers, as appointed by himself, that the King's clerks would take account of the moneys and merchandise collected, and that the colonists and filibusters should have their due share. But all the time, as fast as the money was weighed it was packed in boxes and carried into the King's ships, not even a single chest being allowed to go into the vessels of the colonists. De Casse suspecting that some roguery was in contemplation, insisted that the colonists should have officers to assist at the collection of the treasury, and that they should also be represented by clerks who would take account of the payments made by the Cartagena people. This proposition, however, was so far from satisfactory to the Admiral that he most emphatically declared it to be an infringement of his dignity in nowise to be permitted. Finding himself, therefore, deprived of all but the semblance of authority, de Casse replied with a protest against what he termed the illegality of the whole proceeding. De Pointis cared nothing for his protest, and the collection went on as before, the Admiral proving that although he professed great contempt for the filibusters, he had been able from their methods to learn much which proved of value to him in the emergency in which he found himself at Cartagena. In short, he was an adept in the filibuster principles, and needed but an opportunity to become a skilful leader of the brotherhood.
The regulated collection did not, as already stated, save the citizens from enterprising men both among the filibusters and the French who sought to do a little business on their own account. Complaints were made both to the Admiral and de Casse, and orders were issued to prevent irregular depredations. But the officers neglected to enforce these orders and the men refused to pay the slightest attention to them. In despair the citizens sought to protect themselves, and some hired filibusters to guard their houses from unlicensed thieving. It is said that some of the freebooters faithfully performed the work they covenanted to do and religiously kept all other rogues at a distance; but it is equally certain that others, after receiving the money paid them as guards, turned and robbed the houses they had agreed to protect. In this line of action the filibusters seemed to be the leaders, and the Admiral hearing rumors that they were getting more than their share of the plunder, determined no longer to be hampered by their presence but at the earliest possible moment to get them out of the city. By his connivance, if not at his suggestion, a report was spread abroad that an army of ten to fifteen thousand Indians and Spanish were approaching to attack the invaders and the filibusters and colonists were ordered out to meet them, while the soldiers and sailors of the French were to constitute a reserve line. Suspecting nothing, the colonists and freebooters marshalled their companies, marched out of the city in good order, took the road to the neighboring hills where they made a stand in a mountain pass and waited for some days, in the meantime prowling through the woods in search of the expected foe. After several days of waiting for an enemy that failed to come, they returned to the city and were almost paralyzed with astonishment at finding the gates shut, artillery mounted and a formidable guard of French holding the city against them. Asking what this meant, they received a polite message from the Admiral to the effect that he thought it better they should remain without the walls until the fleet was ready to sail.
A WILY AND AVARICIOUS ADMIRAL.
Their rage at this treatment was extreme. All sorts of measures were suggested, and they even proposed to attack the city, but as the French display* of force was great, and the freebooters had no artillery, an assault was hopeless and their leaders dissuaded them from so vain a purpose. They were kept without the walls for fifteen days, during which time the whole of the plunder had been collected and sent on board the French fleet, and not until the last dollar was safe in the coffers of the Admiral were the gates opened and the freebooters readmitted.
Naturally they expected that a division of the plunder would at once take place, and besieged the Admiral's quarters with inquiries as to when they should get their share. To all questions, whether from the freebooters or the colonists, the clever de Pointis had but one answer, that the clerks had not yet cast up the accounts, and until the whole of the treasure had been counted, no settlement was possible, for he could not tell what would be his or their amount until the whole was known. This seemed reasonable, so with no little impatience the freebooters waited a few days longer, and again making application, received precisely the same answer. Perceiving, however, their impatience, and hearing of the threats which they were beginning to make, the Admiral issued a proclamation assigning large rewards to the captains of the filibusters, declaring what amounts should be allowed, each man being specified by name. No money, however, was paid, and although all the plunder was on the French fleet, the fair promises of the Admiral and his apparent sincerity in speaking of the affair made the filibusters so hopeful of receiving justice at his hands that they permitted themselves to be dissuaded by their leaders from making any disturbance and peacefully awaited the anticipated division. The wildest estimates were afloat as to the value of the plunder. Cartagena was known to be the wealthiest city on the American continent, and although much valuable property had been carried away at the first approach of the fleet to the city, so much remained for the French invaders that the estimates of the French collections make the amount to have been about forty million livres (about eight million dollars), a fact which shows what a fat plum for the freebooters was a Spanish city of the olden time.
Whatever the amount, however, after it was all (including even the plate and decorations of the churches, which in spite of his smooth words had been taken by the Admiral) safely on board the French fleet, de Pointis announced his intention of leaving, making as an excuse for his change of purpose that the country was so unhealthy his men were dying by the wholesale. So he went on board, forgetting his manners to that extent that he gave neither de Cassa nor the filibusters notice of his embarkation, took all his troops, and on May 25th evacuated the city. Still trusting almost against hope, the filibusters embarked and followed him, hoping to receive their share. The two fleets dropped down the harbor to its mouth, and then the open sea was in sight. De Pointis then announced that the accounts were complete, that calculations had been made, and from the best estimates the share of all the filibusters, colonists and negroes would be about forty thousand crowns, equivalent to twenty-four thousand dollars. This decision was graciously communicated to de Casse, and by him given to the captains of the irregular troops.
THE FILIBUSTERS CHEATED.
To say that the filibusters broke into a savage rage at the announcement, inadequately expresses their feelings. They were not yet out of the bay, and between them and the open sea lay the Admiral's fleet. So enraged were they that a proposition to attack the flag-ship, a great French man-of-war mounting eighty-four guns, was seriously discussed, and would have been attempted had not its hopelessness been apparent even to the most desperate. They broke out into imprecations against de Pointis; he was a thief, he was no better than a common swindler. The filibusters had borne the burden and heat of the day; they had done all-the fighting, and now were defrauded of their share of the plunder.
De Casse explained and remonstrated in vain. He promised to secure for them redress in France, but they doubted his ability to do so. "If he cannot keep de Pointis from cheating us here, how can he prevent our being cheated in France?" was a question to which there was no answer. But their rage soon found an expression in action. Somebody proposed that as de Pointis had secured everything and they could not take the booty from, him, they should go back to Cartagena and help themselves. The idea spread like wildfire. "Let the villain go; he has left our share at Cartagena, we will go back and get it." With one accord the filibuster ship set sail and started back up the bay. De Casse ordered them to return; they laughed at him. He sent word to the Admiral of the intention of the filibusters, but de Pointis was eager to get away, for he knew what they did not, that an English fleet was daily expected in the West Indies, and he was extremely desirous of getting his plunder to a place of safety. Besides he did not want to fight the enraged filibusters. He had seen with what desperation they could carry on a conflict, so he contented himself with saying to de Casse, "Your men are great rogues, and ought all to be hanged," and with this as the last word he, on June 1st, started for France with his plunder, leaving his recent assistants to do what they pleased. On the same day, de Casse set sail to return to San Domingo, and thus Cartagena was abandoned to twelve hundred men without officers, with no control, and deserted by all the persons whose duty it should have been to remain and restrain their lawlessness. The unfortunate inhabitants of Cartagena had assembled in the churches to return thanks for the departure of the robber fleets; they now crowded the wharfs and quays in a state of the utmost panic, on seeing the filibuster ships coming back, and remained in painful anxiety to ascertain the cause. It seems, their money having been taken, they anticipated nothing less than a general massacre, but the filibusters acted with more moderation than was usually their custom. As soon as they occupied the city, they seized all the male population and locked them Tip in the churches, then issued a proclamation to the effect that as they had been robbed by the French, so in turn they must equalize matters by robbing the Spanish, and concluded this interesting state paper by demanding five millions of livres, or one million dollars as the ransom of the city. If this were paid at once, they promised "on the honor of gentlemen" to leave without disorder; if it were not, they promised with equal faithfulness that the town should be burned, every man should be shot, and every woman and child carried off to Hispaniola in slavery.
A SECOND PLUNDER OF CARTAGENA.
It seems incredible that after the rigid demand for money which had been made by the French, the freebooters could have expected to get so much more, and still more incredible that they actually got it. They tortured some, and terrified others; they plundered the graves, ransacked the churches; probed every garden, explored every hiding place, and such was their diligence and success that in five days most of the sum mentioned had been accumulated, and the robbers were ready to depart. On the eve of their doing so, the usual quarrel broke out among themselves. The regular filibusters claimed that the colonists and negroes were but amateurs at the business of robbery, and therefore not entitled to the same amount of plunder that was due men of large experience and great ability. On the other hand, the colonists and blacks asserted that their fighting had been as valiant as that done by the filibusters, and that in every respect they were the equals of the freebooters and entitled to the same share of plunder. How far the controversy might have gone can never be conjectured, had it not been cut short by the arrival of a swift boat from Martinico, which had been sent expressly for the purpose of giving them notice that the English and Dutch fleet had arrived, and not finding the French and filibusters at Hispaniola, was then on its way to Cartagena.
ESCAPE OF DE PONTIS, AND CAPTURE OF THE DISAFFECTED ROBBERS.
This piece of alarming intelligence at once reconciled the difficulties between the freebooters and the colonists. The plunder was hastily divided; each man received about twelve hundred dollars, while the captured negroes and merchandise were placed in the ships for a future division, and the expedition prepared to leave. By this time the allied fleet was very close at hand, and less than one hundred miles from the entrance to the bay sighted de Pointis, who was then on his way to Europe. But the French admiral had no mind to fight; the allied force was too large, he had too much at stake, and had no desire to risk the enormous booty which was now in the holds of his ships. So he ran away, and with a favorable wind in his quarter, outsailed the allies and escaped into the Atlantic.
The French having thus eluded the English vessels, the allies directed their course to Cartagena, and arrived there just in time to sight the filibusters coming out of the harbor. The latter had destroyed all their smaller ships, and loaded themselves, their slaves and their plunder into nine of the largest, but scarcely had they sailed out of the bay, and were not yet out of sight of land, when they caught sight of the sails of the allied fleet on the horizon. The filibuster vessels scattered in nine different directions; it was "every man for himself and the English take the hindmost." Their two large ships were taken; two others, in the effort to escape, went aground near Cartagena, and their crews fell into the hands of the Spaniards, who at once made slaves of them; one was blown up by a shot from an English gun, one was never heard of afterwards, and but three returned safely to Hispaniola.
A SINGULAR APPEAL TO THE LAW.
Of course the booty captured by the English and Dutch fleet was completely lost, and in despair at realizing nothing from so important and dangerous an expedition the filibusters who returned from the Cartagena raid determined as a last hope to institute legal proceedings in France against De Pointis and the subscribers who furnished the funds with which the fleet was equipped. Everyone knew that the plunder had been enormous, and everyone also knew that the colonists and filibusters who aided in the expedition had received nothing, for in their rage at the manifest swindle practised on them by the French admiral they had not waited to take even the petty allowance he announced as their portion.
De Casse declared himself warmly in favor of the scheme for obtaining redress, indeed had committed himself to it as a means of pacifying the filibusters when they were about to return to Cartagena. So an assessment for the necessary legal expenses was made among the parties interested, who were not only the filibusters and colonists who actually went to Cartagena, but planters who sent able-bodied slaves as soldiers, capitalists who supplied money for arms, uniforms, ammunition and provision, merchants who had extended credit to those who went, ship-owners who had hired their vessels for the transport of troops and had seen their property destroyed by the enemy's fleet; in short, in the whole colony there was scarcely a man or a family but was in some way interested in the Cartagena spoils.
It was a strange sight to see men whose lives had been spent in outraging the law appealing to legal forms to secure what they had been accustomed to take by force, and nothing more strikingly illustrates the degeneracy of buccaneering than the spectacle of Buccaneers going to law. However, they carried their claims to court, De Casse returning to France to manage the case, and the best lawyers at the French bar were retained to advocate the cause of the freebooters and colonists. The claims were presented in a manner which appeared to establish their justice, but nevertheless decision was delayed many years and until most of those originally interested were dead, but was finally given, awarding the filibusters and colonists 1,400,000 livres ($28,000) as their share of the Cartagena plunder. On a final settlement being made, however, it was discovered that costs, fees and lawyers' charges exceeded this sum, as the brethren of the long robe did not then, any more than since, work for love of their fellow men, and instead of a division the plaintiffs were presented with a bill. It is not recorded that they paid it, but with its presentation perished the last hope of the colonists getting anything from, the capitalists who had helped De Pointis to sail.
AMBITIONS OF A DYING MONARCH.
The Cartagena affair closed the history of both filibusters and Buccaneers in the West Indies, and to this consummation the condition of affairs in Europe materially contributed. The peace of Ryswick, while it did not long continue, nevertheless lasted long enough to enable all parties to see the bad state of affairs in the West Indies, and to desire a cessation of the private wars which had been going on there for two hundred years.
There was another consideration no less powerful. During the reign of Charles II of Spain, the last prince of the House of Hapsburg, wars with France had been almost incessant, but this King was now near the end of his days and both France and Austria were eager to conciliate the Spanish people; the former, that the throne might be secured for a grandson of Louis XIV; the latter, that Leopold I might place thereon an Austrian prince. The dying King had, it is said, made a will in favor of the latter, but the French Minister, by means best known to himself, procured a change to the grandson of Louis, a fact which made that monarch more than ever desirous of pleasing the people who were in future to be the allies of the French. In order to carry out his plan of conciliation, he went so far as to take from de Pointis the gold and silver vessels and ornaments which the latter had abstracted from the Cartagena churches and to send them back, with his compliments, as a special favor to his good friends of that city. The Spaniards were delighted and this happy act, perhaps more than anything else, contributed to the success of the French candidate, who, under the name of Philip V, ascended the Spanish throne. The will of Charles, however, was disputed by Germany, England and Holland, and the result was the War of the Spanish Succession, which desolated Europe for thirteen years, gave Marlboro a reputation, and finally established a Bourbon prince on the Spanish throne.
DANGERS THAT THREATENED THE BUCCANEERS.
But the war which ruined Europe brought peace to America, for the Spanish and the French were now allies, and the English Buccaneers being already suppressed, the French followed suit by abolishing the occupation of the filibusters. They were no longer allowed to fit out ships to prey on the Spaniard and although some of them, for a time, kept themselves in practice by plundering, the English and Dutch, there was not much profit and no end of danger in the business, for both nations kept strong fleets in that part of the world and the Dutch and English captains had a habit of hanging filibusters as soon as caught, a little peculiarity which divested the calling of much of its old-time charm.
Every inducement was offered by the French authorities to the filibusters to give up their roving ways and to settle down as quiet, useful citizens, and many of them did so. Some became planters; some established themselves on the isthmus among the Darien Indians with whom, they intermarried; others were persuaded to become merchantmen in the seas through which they formerly swaggered as freebooters. But, as Owen Meredith says:
Far stronger than passion in this world of ours,"
and many of the filibusters finding work hard to get and harder to perform, disliking the monotony of steady employment, and retaining ships suitable for cruising, kept on their old courses. But the West Indies were now too hot to hold them and they scattered to other parts of the world as pirates - men more desperate than the Buccaneers, since their profession was more hazardous. Acknowledged outlaws, they preyed on ships, of every country and were sought for with diligence by men-of-war flying every flag.
THE LAST OF THE BUCCANEERS.
The fall of the Buccaneer power in the West Indies not only closes one of the most remarkable movements recorded in history but also furnishes the most striking example of a lost opportunity. It was in the power of these men to establish a great independent state, but they let the time slip by; their leaders chose to be plunderers rather than founders. Under wise administration the bands of robber-hunters might have grown to an empire, comprising Central America and the West Indian islands, but the family element was lacking; neither Buccaneer nor filibuster had family ties to bind him to one place and the proverb about the lack of ability of the rolling stone to gather moss is as true of a community as of an individual.
The days of the Buccaneers are gone forever. Save on the smallest scale and for a very limited time, neither buccaneering nor piracy is possible in any quarter of the world. The strength of men-of-war, the progress of geographical knowledge which has explored every nook and corner of the globe where a pirate could find a hiding place, the commercial spirit which renders the gains of trade larger than the rewards of robbery, the interlacing of lands together by means of cables and telegraphs by which intelligence can be flashed around the world in a few hours, the use of steam by vessels designed for war, the employment of long range guns, the understanding among nations that hostile operations, whether by land or sea, shall be carried on in a manner as humane as the nature of things will permit, have all combined to render buccaneering and piracy impossible and thus the tale of the Buccaneer exploits is one chapter of history which can never be repeated.