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By Jan Siegel 

Hipolito Bouchard raided the coast of California and in particular San Juan Capistrano in 1818.

Was he a patriot, privateer or pirate?  The San Juan Capistrano Historical Society and the Dana Point Historical Society are going to spend the next four months trying to answer that question.

An exhibit at the San Juan Capistrano Historical Society features a pirate collection and focuses on the Bouchard raid.

On Saturday, November 3, the “Bouchard pirates” will be camped on the grounds of the San Juan Capistrano Historical Society for the night after coming up from Dana Point and “sacking” the town!

On Sunday, Nov. 4 both Historical Societies will hold a trial with Bouchard as the defendant to answer the question. The event is free to the public and will be held at the Community Center in San Juan Capistrano.

According to Webster’s Dictionary a patriot is “a person who loves and loyally or zealously supports his own country.” The definition of a privateer is, “a person in command of a ship owned and equipped by one or more persons, and licensed by a government to seize or plunder the ships of an enemy in war.” The definition of a pirate is, “a robber of ships on the high seas.” I referenced a dictionary from 1904 so that the definitions would be more suitable for an 1818 person and event.

So who was Bouchard?

Andre Paul Bouchard was born in France in 1780.  At the time of the French Revolution he was a young boy and grew to adulthood in the aftermath of revolution. By the time he was 19 he was already providing for his family. His father had died and his mother was left with two young boys besides Andre. Bouchard was restless and decided to join the French navy.  His first assignment did not go well.  His ship was captured by Lord Nelson and he was held prisoner for a short time before going back to France.  His second did not fare much better. He was assigned to a ship that was to go to Haiti and help put down a revolution by the slaves.  When Napoleon decided to abandon Haiti and all other lands in the New World, Bouchard had had enough of naval life. His mother had remarried a very cruel man and Bouchard saw no future for himself in France. But he was not sure where he would go.  He spent some time in the United States but eventually found his way to Buenos Aires.

Once he arrived in Buenos Aires, he reinvented himself. Andre Paul disappeared and Bouchard chose to be called by his younger brother’s name Hippolyte but with a Spanish spelling of Hipolito. The change was made to keep his emotional ties to his homeland, even though he realized he would never return to his family. The European flavor in Buenos Aires, and the multitude of cultures and languages made Bouchard feel welcome.  He quickly picked up on the Spanish language.

At this time England was at war with Spain while France and Napoleon moved to take over Spain. French rule in Spain was not well received in Buenos Aires. Having thwarted the English, the locals decided to take on the Spanish. What they wanted was independence from European rule. Since the Spanish King had been deposed by the French, the Viceroy in Buenos Aires, having been appointed by the Spanish King was considered to lack any political authority.

It was the perfect climate for a new political order. This was debated in the local assembly and without a shot being fired, the assembly deposed the Spanish and set up Primera Junta, the first assembly on May 25, 1810. The new government was now known as the United Provinces of the Rio de la Plata.  But the new government lacked any military authority.  All of the naval leaders were Spanish loyalists. So a call was made by the Assembly for any able bodied men with naval experience to come forward.

This is what Hipolito Bouchard had been waiting for all his life. As a non-commissioned sailor in the French navy, he now positioned himself as Captain and commanded his first ship, “25 del Mayo” named for the new government. Hipolito Bouchard was 30 years old.

This is the first of a two part article on the Raid of San Juan Capistrano in 1818.  See the conclusion of the life of Hipolito Bouchard next month. In the meantime, you can spend a “Moment in Time” visiting the Pirate exhibit at the San Juan Capistrano Historical Society.

Jan Siegel is a 28-year resident of San Juan Capistrano. She served on the city’s Cultural Heritage Commission for 13 years and has been a volunteer guide for the San Juan Capistrano Friends of the Library’s architectural walking tour for 18 years. She was named Woman of the Year by the Chamber of Commerce in 2005, Volunteer of the Year in 2011 and was inducted into the city’s Wall of Recognition in 2007.


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