Editor’s Note: In this second of two columns, guest columnist Jan Siegel explores the life of Hipolito Bouchard, who was seen as a patriot by the South American countries of Argentina and Peru, but a pirate in much of the rest of the world. To read Siegel’s first column on the topic, click here.
By Jan Siegel
Hipolito Bouchard was made Captain and given his first command for his adopted country. His first outing did not fare well. He was attacked by a Spanish ship, lost control over his crew and abandoned the ship, and put on trial as a coward. He was found not guilty since it was determined the Spanish fleet was too strong for this new Navy.
A more professional Navy would have to be formed. In this attempt, Bouchard did captain a ship, took part in a battle in which he secured a Spanish flag and as a result was granted citizenship.
On March 8, 1812, Bouchard married Norberta Merlo, daughter of a well-connected merchant family. On September 12, 1815 Bouchard was given a corsair license to fight the Spanish.
Corsair is the Spanish word for pirate.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary a corsair is “a person who sails in a ship and attacks other ships in order to steal from them, especially one given permission by a government to attack an enemy ship.”
The first outing as a corsair was a successful raid on the Peruvian coast, which resulted in the capturing of Spanish ships and booty. This time Bouchard returned to Buenos Aires a hero.
On July 9, 1816, the government proclaimed the independence of Argentina.
One of the Spanish boats that Bouchard had captured was refitted and renamed La Argentina. This would be Bouchard’s flag ship as he began his two-year, round-the-world voyage on July 9, 1817.
International slave trade had been outlawed by Britain, the United States and Argentina. Slave ships could now be attacked for supplies and their slave cargo could be freed. Bouchard was not concerned about the fate of the crew.
He was known to have sunk ships with the entire crew still on board, and also executed “pirates” from captured ships. He was not alone in these practices.
His voyage would take him from Madagascar to Java, Sumatra, Borneo, the Philippines, the Hawaiian Islands and eventually California. Scurvy took its toll on the crew of the La Argentina. Some freed slaves stayed on as crew. Bouchard also hired new men at the different ports when needed. The plunder of ships was as much for needed supplies as it was for booty. Also, because of constant battles with enemy ships the La Argentina was in need of many repairs. This required time spent in various ports.
The Pacific Ocean was crowded with sailing ships. So prevalent were Spanish ships that it was known as the “Spanish Lake”. So it came as no surprise that a watchman from the tip of the Monterey Bay sighted two Argentine ships heading for the coast of California.
Monterey had enough time to prepare for the “raid.” However, the fort was not able to hold back Bouchard and his men and after a short battle the Argentine flag flew over Monterey for six days. During that time they stole cattle, burned the fort, the artillery headquarters, the governor’s residence and the Spanish houses. The residents were unharmed.
Bouchard proceeded to Santa Barbara, but it was better fortified and no looting took place. (It really was not that well-fortified; it was the same small unit of men who just changed cloths behind bushes to make it look as if there were more men.) Santa Barbara sent word to San Juan Capistrano that Bouchard was on his way, so the missionaries had time to take the valuable church artifacts away from the Mission.
On Dec. 16, 1818, “sailors marched in with a flag of truce and a message that the town would be spared if supplies would be provided, according to Pam Gibson, in “Two Hundred Years in San Juan Capistrano.” Santiago Arguello, who was in charge of the town’s defense, read the message skeptically. He told them not to expect a warm welcome. The next day they raided the town.
A commander of one of the ships noted that the raiders – 140 strong with two cannons – were met by Spanish horsemen who fired a couple of shots and then fled, leaving the town to be plundered. The commander wrote, ‘We found the town well stocked with everything but money and destroyed much wine and spirits, and all the public property, set fire to the Kings stores, barracks and governor’s house, and about two o’clock marched back, although not in order as many men were intoxicated.'”
Bouchard finally arrived in Valparaiso, Chile after a successful raid in Mexico. He arrived with four ships, but the Chilean government put him on trial for piracy. The trial ended with Bouchard getting back his ships, but the Chilean government confiscated all artillery from the ships and all booty. Bouchard returned to Buenos Aires with four worthless boats.
In 1820, bankrupt with no ships, Bouchard went to Peru to fight for its war of Independence. Strangely, it was in Peru that his naval career was most successful, and he rose in rank to Vice Admiral. He was paid in property.
Upon retirement, he opted to stay on his plantations in Peru. He forgot about his family in Argentina and started corresponding with his family in France. He changed his name back to Andre Paul.
He was now the owner of slaves who complained about his behavior toward them. On July 4, 1837, five slaves murdered him on his own property. He was 57 years old.
Andre Paul Bouchard became a patriot in both Argentina and Peru. The rest of the world regard him as a pirate or privateer.
You can spend a Moment in Time by viewing the story of piracy at the San Juan Capistrano Historical Society and by participating in the “trial” of Bouchard at the San Juan Capistrano Community Center on Sunday November 4 at 2:30 and deciding whether the place in history for Bouchard is as a patriot, pirate or privateer.
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.