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The Pirate Known as La Buse
Olivier Le Vasseur

By Cindy Vallar




Sometime around 1680, a son was born to Paul Le Vasseur, a French corsair, according to Denis Piat, author of Pirates and Privateers in Mauritius. Named Olivier, the boy grew up without his mother, who had died giving birth to him, but his father taught him the art of navigation.1 The next time he surfaced in historical records he was in the West Indies, perhaps as early as 1714.

Some accounts say Olivier Le Vasseur sailed in consort with both Benjamin Hornigold and Samuel Bellamy, but others say he joined forces with Bellamy only after Hornigold’s crew voted him out as captain. Jeremiah Higgins, the boatswain aboard Paulsgrave WilliamsMary Anne, testified on 22 January 1717, that after parting company with Hornigold, they sailed
about from place to place [and] met with another Pyrate sloop called the Postillion off Cape Mayos one Capt. La Boos Commander with whom they consorted and cruized about and Between St. Thomas and Porta Rico they mett with a french ship of about forty guns whom the said Two Sloops Attackett for the space of about an houre and was at last forc’d to quitt her they haveing One Man Kill'd also the Examinent and three more of their men wounded in the Engagemen­t.2 (Whydah, 154)
John Brown contradicted this timeline in his deposition, given in Boston, Massachusetts on 6 May 1717, where he was awaiting trial on a charge of piracy.3 Initially he was a captive, before he signed the articles and joined Bellamy.
About a Year ago he belonged to a Ship Commanded by Capt. Kingston, which in her Voyage with Logwood to Holland was taken to the Leeward of the Havana by two Piratical Sloops, one Commanded by Hornygold and the other by a Frenchman called Labous, each having 70 Men on Board. The Pirates kept the Ship about 8 or 10 Days and then having taken out of her what they thought proper delivered her back to some of the Men, who belonged to her. Labous kept the Examinate on board his Sloop about 4 Months, the English Sloop under Hornygolds command keeping company with them all that time. (Trials, 2:317)
At this time Hornigold was in command of the Benjamin and Le Vasseur was captain of the Postillion (8 guns). They met up in March 1716, at which time they counted 140 men between their two pirate vessels. They would sail in consort until August of that year. Their first prize together was a merchantman, which was smuggling goods ashore at Mariel, Cuba when she was taken. The pirates plundered her for a week before setting sail after spotting a flotilla of vessels heading toward them. Those vessels were under the command of Henry Jennings, but he and Hornigold never got along well.

Le Vasseur and Hornigold next encountered two Spanish brigantines near Cape Corrientes, Cuba, laden with cacao from Maracaibo. The pirates held the ships for ransom, but the Spaniards were unable to raise the necessary funds. After setting the captive crews ashore, the pirates burned both vessels.

They continued to prowl the Cuban coast and came upon several English sloops, which had already discharged their cargo, at Isla de los Pinos. Although they lacked any treasure, the pirates utilized them to careen their own ships before allowing the captured crews to sail off in their sloops. Thereafter, Le Vasseur returned to St. Domingue in late May, 1716.

 In October and November of that year, Le Vasseur again sailed in consort with Sam Bellamy near the Virgin Islands. On the morning of 9 November, they sighted a British sloop. Le Vasseur hoisted his flag, “a death’s head and bones across,” to the top of the mast. (Woodard, 147) They captured the sloop and one of the new recruits who joined Sam Bellamy was a young lad named . The next day, they captured Sultana, which became Bellamy’s ship, after which the pirates sailed for La Blanquilla, located 100 miles from Venezuela, where they spent Christmas and New Year’s and converted the merchant Sultana into a pirate ship. At this point Le Vasseur and his men decided to part ways with Bellamy.

After 30 April 1717, Le Vasseur was in Nassau with a new vessel of 250 tons and twenty guns. His purpose was to garner 150 new hands, before heading north to New England, to reconnect with Sam Bellamy and perhaps venture into the waters around Nova Scotia and Newfoundland. What he didn’t realize at the time was that Bellamy was already dead, having gone down with the Whydah during a storm off Cape Cod.

La Buse's Jolly
                  Roger by TheLastBrunnenG (Source: Wikimedia Commons)In late November, Governor Walter Hamilton of the Leeward Islands was touring the Virgin Islands aboard the twenty-two gun HM Frigate Seaford, commanded by Captain Jonathan Rose. Another vessel “of about 26 guns and 250 men” was spotted near St. Thomas. Flying on her mast was a “white ensign with a figure of a dead man spread on it.” (Woodard, 221) Rose identified her as Le Vasseur’s ship, so they gave chase, but were unable to catch the pirates.

June 1718 found Le Vasseur anchored off La Blanquilla plundering a sloop. On the twelfth of that month, Captain Francis Hume and HMS Scarborough surprised the pirates, but Le Vasseur and many of his men escaped on the sloop. With the Caribbean becoming less safe for pirates, they headed for Africa where they met up with Edward England, Paulsgrave Williams, and other pirate friends from the Bahamas.

In late February 1719, a sloop ventured up the Gambia River where the Royal James, under the command of Howell Davis, was anchored. Being a pirate ship, the men aboard the Royal James prepared to fire a shot across the sloop’s bow until she hoisted her own Jolly Roger and fired upon the James. Seeing the black flag, Davis ordered his own ensign hoisted. The sloop belonged to Le Vasseur and when the two captains met, he revealed that his sloop was armed with fourteen guns and he had a crew of thirty-two Frenchmen and thirty-two blacks. After partying and getting to know each other for more than seven days, the pirates weighed anchor and sailed downriver together on 7 March. They seized a merchant ship along the way, whose master guided them through the channels. They also met up with Edward England, sailing upriver, but he opted not to join Davis and Le Vasseur.

Although Le Vasseur’s sloop was the ideal vessel for a pirate, she was no longer agile and leaked. He was determined to replace her at the first opportunity, which came when they seized another merchantman. This replacement possessed the good qualities of being of stout construction and large; on the other hand, she was also lumbering and slow. Once the master’s knowledge was no longer needed, he, his ship, and his crew were released minus his second mate, a carpenter, a boatswain, and five others who were either forced to join or willingly joined Le Vasseur’s crew.

Their next venture took them to Sierre Leone, where merchant ships put in at the fort to take on cargoes of slaves and ivory. Since it was small and lacked good defenses, the fort posed little threat to the pirates. Around this time, another pirate captain and crew joined them. Le Vasseur knew Thomas Cocklyn because they had sailed together once before. Cocklyn invited his old shipmate and Davis aboard his galley, Mourroon. No sooner did Davis step onto the deck than he was accosted by a sailor who begged for his help in saving the lives of those men taken from the Edward and Steed, which Cocklyn had seized the day before.

The captives’ fear was not without cause, for after Cocklyn and his men plundered their new prize, his boatswain fired a weapon at William Hall. The shot wounded Hall, who fled into the rigging to save himself. Brandishing a cutlass, the boatswain pursued Hall into the shrouds and hacked the wounded man to death before dumping the corpse into the sea. His mates, fearing that some pirate might suddenly decide to end their lives in a similar manner, sought help from Davis and his men.

Davis reprimanded Cocklyn for allowing such a foolish act to occur, especially since the captives had already surrendered without a struggle. Two of Cocklyn’s men didn’t take kindly to the scolding, for their hands strayed close to their weapons, but Davis’s men surrounded them to make certain no harm came to their captain. As far as Davis was concerned the slaughter had been a foolish and cowardly act. Only Le Vasseur’s intervention prevented the two pirate crews from engaging in battle. Draping his arms around the shoulders of the other two captains, he soon had them laughing and led them into Cocklyn’s cabin to discuss what to do next.

In addition to taking the Edward and Steed, Cocklyn had also captured the Two Friends. Since six ships now sheltered close to the fort, it was decided that Davis and Le Vasseur would blockade the river to prevent any of the merchant vessels from escaping. Cocklyn, on the other hand, took his two prizes out for sea trials to see which was the better sailer so he might assume command of her instead of Mourroon. Upon his return the next day, the three pirate crews would attack the fort.

Once the sun rose on the morrow, there was no sign of Cocklyn or his vessels. Le Vasseur thought he and Davis should attack without further delay, but Davis felt three vessels would have a better chance of capturing the fort and the merchant ships anchored there. Rather than wait, Le Vasseur sailed alone toward the merchantmen, who had no intention of surrendering without a fight. They fired several guns. One shot put a hole in Le Vasseur’s mainsail. A second ball fell close enough to Le Vasseur’s bow to make him veer away. The last shot landed in the water close enough to douse those on board the sloop.

Cocklyn eventually arrived with still another prize in tow. This was the second time this merchant ship had been captured by a pirate, for Davis had taken her at Gambia to use for storage and to provide his wounded and sick with shelter to recover. (He apparently released the ship once he left Gambia.) With Cocklyn’s return, the three pirate captains launched another strike at the fort and merchant ships. This time when Le Vasseur approached in the company of Cocklyn’s Mourroon and Davis’s Royal James, the merchant masters fled their vessels and sought safety within the fort. The pirates easily captured their ships.

Ship's Name
Type of Vessel & Home Port
Master's Name
Robert and Jane Brig from Antigua Captain Bennet
Parnel Snow from Bristol Captain Morris
Nightingale from Bristol
Queen Elizabeth
Captain Creighton
Jacob and Jael from London Captain Thompson
Society from London

Their holds contained ivory, provisions, alcoholic beverages, and cloth. In addition to taking these, the boatswains added to their supplies of rigging, sails, tallow, and pitch, while the master gunners took powder and firearms. Whatever gold and cash had been aboard, however, disappeared with the ships’ masters into the fort. To acquire these sums, the pirates ransomed the vessels back to four captains. Thompson and Bennet refused to pay, so the pirates stove holes in the Robert and Jane and Jacob and Jael. They painted palm leaves with tar, pitch, and sulfur then littered the decks with these flammable objects. They also deposited gunpowder kegs in the holds. Once safely back aboard their own ships, the pirates lobbed fiery torches onto the merchant ships. The wooden ships quickly caught fire. One exploded; her remains sank into the river. As the flames on the other eventually went out, she smoldered through the night.

Once the sun set, the pirates armed themselves, muffled the oars of their boats, and headed for the fort. They attacked at dawn, while those still aboard their vessels fired round shot at the fort’s crumbling walls. Those within the fortification fired their weapons, but the humidity had caused their cannon to rust, making them useless against the bombardment. After a few hours, one wall fell, but the pirates didn’t cease firing. Their attack continued until smoke and flames shrouded the fort. Unable to return fire because they had used up what ammunition they had, the defenders attempted to flee through a rear exit. Some pirates saw the escape attempt and seized them. What occurred next is unknown.

Part 2
Teredo wormsIn April 1719, Le Vasseur needed to replace his sloop again. Teredo worms had bored into her hull and the planks leaked. It was only a matter of time before she sank. Fortune smiled on the Frenchman, for what should arrive but the Bird Galley, captained by William Snelgrave. The three pirate ships gave chase.
[T]he first of them . . . was called the Rising Sun, one Cocklyn Commander . . . had, when I fell into their hands, near 80 Men in all. . . . I found Cocklyn and his Crew, to be a set of the basest and most cruel Villains that ever were. And indeed they told me, after I was taken, “That they chose him for their Commander, on account of his Brutality and Ignorance . . . .” (Snelgrave, 196 & 199)
With Le Vassuer’s need so great, he claimed the Bird. She carried an armament of twenty-four guns. As with many pirate vessels, she had to be refitted to meet Le Vasseur’s needs. Snelgrave wrote:
For my own People that did not enter with the Pirates, were mostly obliged to work on board the Prize, in fitting her for them . . . .

By . . . about the 20th of April, the Ship they had taken from me was compleatly fitted, and the next day was appointed to name her, to which Ceremony I was invited. When I came on board, the Pirate Captains told me, “It was not out of Disrespect they had sent for me, but to partake of the good Cheer provided on this occasion:” So they desired I would be chearful, and go with them into the great Cabin. When I came there, Bumpers of Punch were put into our Hands, and on Captain Cocklyn’s saying aloud, God bless the Windham Galley, we drank our Liquor, broke the Glasses, and the Guns fired.

The Ship being Galley-built, with only two flush Decks, the Cover of the Scuttle of the Powder-Room was in the great Cabin, and happened at that time to be open. One of the aftermost Guns blowing at the Touch-hole, set fire to some Cartouch-boxes, that had Cartridges in them for small Arms, the Shot and Fire of which flew about us, and made a great smother. When it was over, Captain Davis observed, there had been great Danger to us from the Scuttle’s being open; there being under, in a Room, above twenty thousand weight of Gunpowder. Cocklyn replied, “He wished it had taken fire, for it would have been a noble blast, to have gone to Hell with.[”] (Snelgrave, 262-264)
During his captivity, Snelgrave witnessed an incident involving Le Vasseur, Cocklyn, and Davis. He later recounted this in his memoir.
Amongst my Adventure of Goods, I had in a Box three second-hand embroidered Coats. One day the three Pirate Captains . . . enquired for them, saying, “They understood by my Book such Clothes were in my Ship.” I told them, “They were in a Box under the bed place in the State-room. So they ordered them to be taken out, and immediately put on.” But the longest Coat falling to Cocklyn’s share, who was a very short Man, it almost reached as low as his Ancles. (Snelgrave, 255-256)
This didn’t set well with Cocklyn, who asked to switch coats with Le Vasseur or Davis. Both men refused, claiming African women were strangers to European fashion and wouldn’t think his coat was overly long.
“Moreover, as his Coat was Scarlet embroidered with Silver, they believed he would have the preference of them, (whose Coats were not so showy) in the opinion of their Mistresses.” This making him easy, they all went on Shore together. (Snelgrave, 256)
The problem was that those three coats were part of the captured booty and, therefore, the captains had no right to take the coats without consulting the quartermaster, who was in charge of the entire haul prior to its sharing out among the pirates.
[I]t gave great Offense to all the Crew; who alledg’d, “If they suffered such things, the Captain would for the future assume a Power, to take whatever they liked for themselves.” So, upon their returning on board next Morning, the Coats were taken from them, and put into the common Chest, to be sold at the Mast. And it having been reported, “That I had a hand in advising the Captains to put on these Coats,” it gained me the ill-will in particular of one Williams, who was Quarter-master of Le Boose’s Ship. He seeing me . . . swore, “That . . . he would cut me to pieces, for the advice I had given the Captains.” (Snelgrave, 257-258)
This Williams was none other than Paulsgrave Williams, who used to sail in consort with Samuel Bellamy. Another captive explained that Williams was often surly unless he was addressed by his former position of captain, so Snelgrave explained to Captain Williams what had truly transpired. Williams then gave Snelgrave “a Keg of Wine, and was my Friend ever after.” (Snelgrave, 259)

Sometime after this, Cocklyn’s men took a French ship that did not resist being seized. Since the French captain didn’t immediately surrender when the pirates put a shot across his ship’s bow,
[t]hey put a Rope about his Neck, and hoisted him up and down several times to the Main-yard-arm, till he was almost dead. Captain Le Boose coming at that instant, luckily saved his Life: And highly resenting this their cruel usage to his Countryman, he protested, “he would remain no longer in Partnership with such barbarous Villains.” So, to pacify him, they left the Frenchmen with the Ship in his care; and after the Cargoe was destroyed, they cut the Ship’s Masts by the board, and run her on Shore, for she was very old, and not fit for their purpose. (Snelgrave, 261-262)4
The final vessel that the three pirate captains captured together was a merchantman and her hold netted them sails, slaves, cash, and jewelry. Some of the sailors also joined the pirates. Thereafter, the three pirate captains reached an impasse as to where to sail next. Davis voted for following the African coast as far as Principe, but Le Vasseur and Cocklyn were reluctant to sail farther east. With no accord reached, the pirates dissolved their partnership and went their separate ways.

Following their departure, Le Vasseur acquired another ship, the Indian Queen. She could carry 250 tons and was armed with twenty-four guns. His men numbered ninety. Somehow she wrecked in the Comoro Islands, which was where John Taylor and his men encountered Le Vasseur.5

In late August 1720, Edward England, his quartermaster John Taylor, and their men sighted three ships, sailing home from the East Indies, off the island of Johanna. When the two Dutch vessels escaped, Taylor pursued them aboard Defiance, while England’s Fancy traded broadsides with Cassandra. The English master, James Macrae, and some of his crew managed to escape onto the island. Thirty-seven Cassandras died in the battle, whereas England lost more than ninety pirates. Upon plundering the Cassandra, they discovered £75,000 worth of cargo.

Hungry and thirsty, Macrae and his men emerged from the jungle seven days later, hoping the pirates wouldn’t kill them. Taylor and many of the pirates argued against sparing their lives, but England favored mercy. Eventually, his preference carried the day and Macrae and his crew were given the damaged Fancy to sail away in.6 This earned England the enmity of some of his crew and led to his being ousted as captain and marooned. John Taylor was voted to succeed him, and he assumed command of Cassandra. The pirates sailed to another Comoro Island, where they met Le Vasseur and his men. Deciding to sail in consort, Taylor gave a prize named Victory to Le Vasseur and the two crews headed for Bourbon Island (now Réunion Island), southwest of Mauritius, arriving there on 26 April 1721.

Damaged during a storm, the 700-ton Portuguese carrick Nossa Senhora do Cabo was already anchored there while her crew worked to repair her. Le Vassuer and Taylor took advantage of the situation and sailed in under English flags to opposite sides of the prey. Striking the English flags, they hoisted their black ones. With only twenty-one guns and thirty-four muskets for a crew of 130, Cabo was ill-prepared to defend herself against well-armed pirates who greatly outnumbered them.7 Two versions of what happened next exist. François Duval claimed that in 1725 the former Viceroy of Goa and fifth Count of Ericeira recounted that once the pirates attacked, the Count returned to Cabo to fight with his men. The Count wielded his sword until the blade broke in two, yet he refused to cease fighting. Such bravery earned Captain Taylor’s respect and he ordered the pirates to give the Count quarter. Even though gold and diamonds decorated the hilt of his sword, it was returned to him. The pirates even offered to return his personal possessions, but he refused since none of his companions were to receive theirs.

Dutch hydrographer Jacob de Bucquoy, who was already one of Taylor’s prisoners, had a different version of events. Once the Cabo was taken, Taylor summoned the Count to come aboard the prize. The Count proffered Taylor his sword, but Taylor said, “Keep it; I bequeath it to you in memory of your unfortunate fate.” (Piat, 59)8

The pirates ransacked the vessel, which carried £500,000 in diamonds and Chinese silks, spices, porcelain, pearls, ebony and rosewood furniture, and other exotic luxuries from the Far East valued at £375,000 – still considered the richest haul in pirate history.9 Also among the cargo was the Fiery Cross of Goa – a cross of gold encrusted with rubies and weighing nearly 220 pounds – which belonged to the Catholic Church and was among the goods being transported by the Archbishop of Goa. When they discovered the Count’s priceless Asian manuscripts and ancient books, they ripped out the pages to replenish their supply of wadding and cartridge paper for the guns.

Bourbon’s governor paid a ransom of £400, which secured the Count’s release. Legend, however, says that the following exchange supposedly decided the ransom amount. It took place at dinner that evening at which Le Vasseur, the Count, and Réunion’s governor were present.
“How much are you asking for the Viceroy’s ransom?” asked the governor.

“A thousand piastres will do,” the pirate replied.

“That’s too little for a brave man like you and for a great lord like him. Ask for a lot or for nothing.

Hé bien! Let him go free,” said the generous corsair. (Earle, 125)10
Another version of the ransoming involved not only the governor but also Christopher Condent. The bargaining took a lot of time; in the end Le Vasseur and Taylor agreed to 2,000 piastres. This story also placed Le Vasseur in command of Cabo, and this was the vessel that he renamed Victorieux.

The two pirate ships sailed back to Île Sainte Marie (St. Mary’s Island off Madagascar), where they divided the plunder among 240 pirates. Each man’s share included forty-two diamonds as well as other treasure valued at £4,000. One pirate, instead, received one large diamond. The quartermaster deemed its value equivalent to forty-two small diamonds, but the pirate refused to believe him. Using a hammer, he smashed the large diamond and afterward boasted that he now had more than the forty-two everyone else had. As part of his share, Le Vasseur acquired the Fiery Cross of Goa.

On 30 December 1721, he and his men seized La Duchesse de Noailles, a slave ship out of France. Several of her officers became captives and she was thoroughly plundered. It was Le Vasseur’s habit to release most of the ships he took, but this time the pirates put her to the torch. It was an act that he would regret nine years later.

With the passing of one year, Taylor and Le Vasseur severed their partnership. Some pirates accepted the Bourbon governor’s offer of a French pardon and settled on that island. Others opted to retire on Île Sainte Marie. Taylor and those of his men who remained loyal to him sailed to Panama, where they obtained a pardon. Taylor became a wealthy officer in command of a pirate-hunting vessel that patrolled the waters near Portobello. He eventually retired to Jamaica, got married, and raised four children.

What became of Le Vasseur and his men was left to rumors. He may have stayed on Madagascar, or he retired to Bourbon. Some said he considered taking the French pardon, but wasn’t willing to pay the price the governor wanted. Disguising his identity, he retired to the Seychelles.

In 1725 the governor died and Pierre Benoît Dumas replaced him. Unlike his predecessor, he abhorred piracy. Five years later, he ordered Méduse, under the command of Captain L’Hermitte, to go hunting for Le Vasseur. On 26 April 1730, the pirate captain was behind bars in Saint Paul on Bourbon. Thrice he was interrogated and on 3 July was pronounced guilty and sentenced to death.
Pirate executionBy virtue of the Council, the extraordinary criminal trial carried out and instructed at the behest and diligence of the Procurer General of the King [unreadable] and accusation against Olivier Le Vasseur otherwise known as La Bouse [sic], accused of the crime of piracy, prisoner in our prisons, defendant of the statement[s] made on 26th March and 19th May by Sieur L’Hermitte captain of the ship the Méduse, the letter of the said Le Vasseur dated 25th March 1724 addressed to Monsieur Desforges signed Olivier La Buse, authenticated by him, signed and initialled, without modification. Letter of the Superior Council to Sieur La Buse in reply dated 23rd September of the same year granting amnesty and personal guarantees, interrogation endured by the accused on 15th and 20th May 1730 and on the 3rd of the present month. First general conclusion of the King of the 4th, preparatory judgement of the same day which ordains that it shall be taken as the definitive judgement given the public notoriety. Final conclusion of the Procurer General of the King of the 6th, interrogation carried out in the chamber of the Council [unreadable] and all things considered the Council has declared and ]unreadable] the aforenamed Olivier Le Vasseur otherwise known as La Buse native of Calais gravely tainted by the cognizance of the crime of piracy over a period of several years, of having commanded several pirate vessels having taken and taken off from the port of Île Bourbon a vessel belonging to the King of Portugal and another named the Ville d’Ostende belonging to the Company of the same town but equally participating in the taking of, plundering and burning of the vessel the Duchess de Noailles belonging to the Company of France and other [unreadable], for reparation of which the Council has condemned him to make honourable amends before the main door of the church of this parish, naked in his shirt, a rope around his neck, in hand a flaming torch of four pounds and there to say and declare in a loud and intelligible voice that wickedly and recklessly he has for several years pursued the trade of pirate for which he repents and asks pardon from God, from the King and from justice. This done [this person] be taken to a public place to be hung and strangled until death follows at a gallows erected for this purpose. [It] will be installed in the accustomed place. His body will remain there for 24 hours and will then be exposed near the sea. [The remainder is undecipherable.]

Decreed and executed in the Council Chamber on 7th July 1730.

Dumas
(Piat, 62)
Four days later, on his way to his execution in the public square, Le Vasseur supposedly threw a coded message into the crowd and defied them to decipher the seventeen-line cryptogram to find his buried treasure. At five o’clock in the afternoon, the authorities hanged him “high and short until dead.”11 The crowd in attendance cheered his death.12

Le Vasseur's
                  cryptogram (source:
                  https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Crypto_de_la_buse.jpg)
Le Vasseur's Cryptogram (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Many have tried over the years, but so far the whereabouts of his alleged hoard remain a mystery. If you would like more information on Le Vasseur’s cryptogram, I recommend The Cryptogram of ‘La Buse,’ The Cipher Foundation, Pirates-Corsairs.com (French website), and Buried Treasure.

Le Vasseur's
                  grave by Tonton Bernardo
Le Vasseur's grave on Réunion (Source: Wikimedia Commons)


Notes:
1. In Memoirs of Captain Sam Bellamy, The Prince of Pirates, John Boyd wrote of a manuscript that he acquired access to that claimed to have been written by Bellamy. Unfortunately, no one else has seen this document and Boyd was not permitted to copy it. Aside from recounting Bellamy’s story, it also discusses Le Vasseur’s early life.

Born in 1683, Le Vasseur was the second son of a nobleman whose family lived on the Île de France near Paris. He studied both military history and religion, since he wasn’t destined to inherit his father’s land or title. At sixteen, he became a priest who wished to join the Knights of Malta. This required him to serve a year aboard one of their Mediterranean galleys, where they defended the Catholic faith against the Ottoman Empire. This service permitted Le Vasseur to implement the military strategies he had acquired and he soon acquired the nickname “La Buse” because “[l]ike a buzzard, he would jump from a perch on his ship to the deck of the victim’s ship plummeting downward in a spiral, twisting and turning with his sword in motion towards any enemy he saw, finally reaching his intended target who he ruthlessly dispatched.” (Boyd, 9) Whereas his fellow knights acquired significant treasure and led less than celibate lives, Le Vasseur donated his shares to the order and never took hostages. It was the custom to ransom these hostages and his not doing so angered other knights. Eventually, he asked to be released from his vows and sought a letter of marque from the king of France. After acquiring a ship, he spent seven years privateering in the Mediterranean before heading west to the Caribbean and becoming a pirate.

2. Jeremiah Higgins, who was captured in New York, was later released after news of King George I’s pardon was received. Cape Mayos is Cape Maisi, Cuba.

3. John Brown was found guilty of piracy and hanged.

4. Snelgrave remained a prisoner of the pirates for a month. When they sailed away, he was on shore. He and other captives eventually returned to Bristol on 1 August 1719. His account of the slave trade and his time with the pirates was published in 1734.

5. The Comoro Islands lie east of Mozambique and northwest of Madagascar.

6. By the time Macrae and his men arrived in Bombay, India seven weeks later, they were starving and dehydrated. The East India Company honored his bravery and appointed him to the position of Governor of Madras.

7. Cabo originally had seventy-two guns, but it is believed that the crew jettisoned many of the cannon to keep her afloat during the storm, which Colin Woodard identifies as a cyclone. Only several dozen crewmen were aboard when the pirates attacked. The rest were on the island.

8. This account, which was published in 1744, also claimed that Le Vasseur and some of his men planned to take the Cabo under cover of darkness and slip away to the Caribbean. When they were found out, all the pirates gathered and voted to oust Le Vasseur as captain. He and his fellow conspirators were then flogged and lost their shares of the treasure.

9. The value of the treasure in today’s currency exceeds $1,500,000.

10. When the Count returned to Portugal, his homecoming was not a happy one. He was banished from the royal court in Lisbon for a decade.

11. High and short meant that he was elevated sufficiently for everyone to see, but with a minimal amount of rope.


12. Today, Le Vasseur’s burial spot is popular with tourists visiting Réunion Island. Whether his remains are actually buried there is unknown.



For additional information I recommend the following resources:

Benaben, Yannick. “Sur les Traces du Trésor de La Buse Entre Histoire et Légendes Insulaires,” Au-Delà des Mers et des Océans 15 August 2015. (English translation)
Botting, Douglas. The Pirates. Time-Life Books, 1978.
Boyd, John A. Memoirs of Captain Sam Bellamy, the Prince of Pirates: Saint Croix, 1716-1717. CreateSpace, 2015.
Brooks, Baylus C. Quest for Blackbeard. Baylus C. Brooks, 2016.
Burl, Aubrey. Black Bart: The Real Pirate of the Caribbean. Sutton, 2006.

Captured by Pirates: 22 Firsthand Accounts of Murder and Mayhem on the High Seas edited by John Richard Stephens. Fern Canyon, 1996.
Cordingly, David. Under the Black Flag: The Romance and the Reality of Life among the Pirates. Random House, 1995.

De Bry, John. “Christopher Condent’s Fiery Dragon: Investigating an Early Eighteenth-century Pirate Shipwreck off the Coast of Madagascar” in X Marks the Spot: the Archaeology of Piracy edited by Russell K. Skowronek and Charles R. Ewen. University Press of Florida, 2006.
Dia, Luis. “Pirates, Gold and Ghosts: Goa’s ‘Treasure Island’ Connection Is a Movie Waiting to be Made,” Scroll.in 28 April 2017.
Dolin, Eric Jay. Black Flag, Blue Waters: The Epic History of America’s Most Notorious Pirates. Liveright, 2018.

Earle, Peter. The Pirate Wars. Thomas Dunne, 2003.

Fox, E. T. Pirates in Their Own Words: Eye-witness Accounts of the ‘Golden Age’ of Piracy, 1690-1728. Fox Historical, 2014.

Gosse, Philip. The Pirates’ Who’s Who. Rio Grande Press, 1924.

Konstam, Angus. The History of Pirates. Lyon, 1999.

Little, Benerson. The Golden Age of Piracy: The Truth Behind Pirate Myths. Skyhorse, 2016.

Marley, David F. Pirates of the Americas. ABC-Clio, 2010, 2: 1686-1725.
Mingren, Wu. “French Pirate Olivier Levasseur Left Behind a Curious Cryptogram – Does It Lead to His Long-lost Treasure?Ancient Origins 19 November 2017.

Piat, Denis. Pirates and Privateers in Mauritius. Editions Didier Millet, 2004.

Rediker, Marcus. “The Seaman as Pirate: Plunder and Social Banditry at Sea” in Bandits at Sea: A Pirates Reader edited by C. R. Pennell. New York University, 2001, 139-168.
Rogoziński, Jan. Honor among Thieves: Captain Kidd, Henry Every, and the Pirate Democracy in the Indian Ocean. Stackpole Books, 2000.
Rule, Chris. “Piratical History of Madagascar,” Pirates! Fact & Legend. Date unknown.

Selinger, Gail. The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Pirates. Alpha, 2006.
Selinger, Gail. Pirates of New England: Ruthless Raiders and Rotten Renegades. Globe Pequot, 2017.
Snelgrave, William. A New Account of Some Parts of Guinea, and the Slave Trade. Gale, 2012.

“The Trials of Eight Persons Indited for Piracy,” British Piracy in the Golden Age: History and Interpretation, 1660-1730 edited by Joel H. Baer, volume 2. Pickering & Chatto, 2007, 289-319.

The Whydah Sourcebook compiled and edited by Kenneth J. Kinkor. Unpublished manuscript, 2003.
Woodard, Colin. The Republic of Pirates: Being the True and Surprising Story of the Caribbean Pirates and the Man Who Brought Then Down. Harcourt, 2007.
 

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