The true story book/Adventures of Bartholomew Portugues, a Pirate

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illustrator: H. J. Ford; translator: May Kendall


A CERTAIN pirate, born in Portugal, and from the name of his country called Bartholomew Portugues, was cruising from Jamaica in his boat (in which he had only thirty men and four small guns) near the Cape de Corrientes, in the island of Cuba. In this place he met with a great ship bound for the Havana, well provided, with twenty great guns and threescore and ten men, passengers and mariners. This ship he assaulted, but found strongly defended by them that were on board. The pirate escaping the first encounter, resolved to attack her more vigorously than before, seeing he had sustained no great damage hitherto. This resolution he boldly performed, renewing his assaults so often that after a long and dangerous fight he became master of the great vessel, having lost only ten men, and had four wounded.

Having possessed themselves of such a ship, and the wind being contrary for returning into Jamaica, the pirates resolved to steer towards the Cape of St. Anthony, on the western side of the isle of Cuba, there to repair themselves and take in fresh water, of which they had great necessity at the time.

Being now very near the cape above mentioned, they unexpectedly met with three great ships that were coming from New Spain, and bound for the Havana. By these, not being able to escape, were easily retaken both ship and pirates. Thus they were all made prisoners through the sudden change of fortune, and found themselves poor, oppressed, and stripped of all the riches they had won.

Two days after this misfortune there happened to arise a huge and dangerous tempest, which separated the ships one from another. The great vessel in which the pirates were arrived at Campeche, where many considerable merchants came to salute and welcome the captain. These knew the Portuguese pirate as one who had committed innumerable crimes upon these coasts, not only murders and robberies, but also lamentable burnings, which those of Campeche still preserved very fresh in their memory.

The next day after their arrival the magistrates of the city sent several of their officers to demand and take into custody the prisoners from on board the ship, with intent to punish them according to their deserts. Yet fearing lest the captain of the pirates should escape out of their hands on shore (as he had formerly done, being once their prisoner in the city before), they judged it more convenient to leave him safely guarded on board the ship for the present. In the meanwhile they caused a gibbet to be erected, whereon to hang him the very next day, without any other form of trial than to lead him from the ship to the place of punishment.

The rumour of this tragedy was presently brought to the ears of Bartholomew Portugues, and he sought all the means he could to escape that night. With this design he took two earthen jars, in which the Spaniards usually carry wine from Spain to the West Indies, and he stopped them very well, intending to use them for swimming, as those who are unskilled in that art do a sort of pumpkins in Spain, and in other places they use empty bladders. Having made this necessary preparation, he waited for the night when all should be asleep, even the sentry that guarded him. But seeing he could not escape his vigilance, he secretly purchased a knife, and with the same gave him a stab that suddenly deprived him of life and the possibility of making any noise. At that instant Bartholomew Portugues committed himself to the sea, with those two earthen jars before mentioned, and by their help and support, though never having learned to swim, he reached the shore. Having landed, without any delay he took refuge in the woods, where he hid himself for three days without daring to appear, not eating any food but wild herbs.

Those of the city failed not the next day to make diligent search for him in the woods, where they concluded him to be. This strict search Bartholomew Portugues watched from the hollow of a tree, wherein he lay concealed. Seeing them return without finding what they sought for, he adventured to sally forth towards the coast, of Golfotriste, forty leagues distant from the city of Campeche. Here he arrived within a fortnight after his escape from the ship, in which time, as also afterwards, he endured extreme hunger, thirst, and fear of falling again into the hands of the Spaniards. For during all this journey he had no provision but a small calabash with a little water: neither did he eat anything but a few shellfish, which he found among the rocks nigh the seashore. Besides this, he was compelled to pass some rivers, not knowing

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well how to swim. Being in this distress, he found an old board which the waves had thrown upon the shore, in which there stuck a few great nails. These he took, and with no small labour whetted against a stone, until he made them sharp like knives. With these, and no other instruments, lie cut down some branches of trees, which he joined together with twigs and osiers, and as well as he conld made a boat, or rather a raft, with which he crossed over the rivers. Thus he reached the Cape of Golfotriste, as was said before, where he happened to find a certain vessel of pirates who were great comrades of his own, and were lately come from Jamaica.

To these pirates he instantly related all his misfortunes, and asked of them a boat and twenty men to return to Campeche and assault the ship that was in the river, from which he had escaped fourteen days before. They readily granted his request, and equipped him a boat with the said number of men. With this small company he set forth for the execution of his design, which he bravely performed eight days after he separated from his comrades; for being arrived at the river of Campeche, with undaunted courage he assaulted the ship before mentioned. Those that were on board were persuaded that Bartholomew's was a boat from the land that came to bring goods, and therefore were not on their defence. So the pirates assaulted them without any fear of ill success, and in a short space of time compelled the Spaniards to surrender.

Being now masters of the ship, they immediately weighed anchor and set sail, determining to fly from the port, lest they should be pursued by other vessels. This they did with extreme joy, seeing themselves possessors of such a brave ship especially Bartholomew Portugues, their captain, who now, by a second turn of fortune's wheel, was become rich and powerful again, who had been so lately in that same vessel a poor miserable prisoner, and condemned to the gallows. "With this plunder he designed to do great things, for he had found in the vessel a great quantity of rich merchandise. Thus he continued his voyage towards Jamaica for four days. But coming nigh to the isle of Pino, on the south side of the island of Cuba, fortune suddenly turned her back once more, never to show him her countenance again; for a horrible storm arising at sea caused the ship to split against the rocks, and it was totally lost, and Bartholomew, with his companions, escaped in a canoe.

In this manner he arrived in Jamaica, where he remained but a short time, till he was ready to seek his fortune anew. But from that day of disaster it was always ill-luck with him.