When pirates attacked California: The Refugio Bay Pirate Cache

Posted: 08/30/2011 in all marine news

Robert Lewis Knecht –

We’ve all heard of the Pirates of Penzance, and the Pirates of the Caribbean. But have you heard of… the Pirate of Monterey?

For April and me, one of the most interesting aspects of treasure hunting is the history that comes alive through the research that must be done before, or after, a new treasure discovery is made. Whether it is treasure we’ve discovered, or items discovered by other “treasure finders” we work with all over the world, research is often where a hunt begins, and it most certainly ends.

And it is this documented history that gives our treasures even more value – to know exactly when and where a treasure was found gives voice to history. It is no longer a “coin I found in Grandpa’s old shoebox,” but rather a living piece of history with a story to tell.

Another fun part of this business is getting to name a treasure discovery. On several occasions over the years, we have been either the first or among the first people to see a treasure cache since it became lost hundreds of years ago.

And so is the case with the Refugio Bay Pirate Cache. Did you know that Monterey, Calif., was once a part of Argentina … for six amazing days? The tale begins with the French and Argentine pirate, Hippolyte de Bouchard. Bouchard was the first Argentine to circumnavigate the globe, and he attacked Monterey in search of Jesuit and Franciscan treasures he had heard were secreted away in California’s Spanish missions.

Now here is an example of one of the many pitfalls that can trip us up when researching and writing about history. We’re often dependent on long-dead historians who wrote said history, and the side of the proverbial “fence” upon which they sat. From the views of the residents of Monterey and the other Spanish settlements Bouchard attacked on his way back to Argentina, he was “Pirata Buchar.”

But to the Argentines, he was a “corsair” and a hero, sailing under a “letter of marque” from the Provincias Unidas del Río de la Plata; the direct predecessor of the present Argentine Republic. This letter gave him permission to prey on all Spanish settlements he encountered. (For more information about what life was like in California at that time, see the historically accurate “Zorro: The Gay Blade,” best enjoyed with a lime and a Tecate… make that a six-pack.)

Now, on to the lost treasure part of this story! On Nov. 18, 1818, Bouchard arrived off Monterey. Even though they didn’t have “texting” back then, (stay tuned for my column “What if Pirates Texted?”), the Spanish had been forewarned that ol’ Hippolyte was on his way and had moved all their valuables and civilians inland. For six days, Bouchard and his men sacked the settlement (not to be confused with the relatively docile “sacked” in football parlance); swords were drawn, cannons fired, and by Nov. 24, the Argentine flag was flying over the Spanish fort at Monterey.

Full story…


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