Monument of Roberto Cofresí located in Boquerón Bay.
|Nickname||El Pirata Cofresí|
|Born||June 17, 1791|
|Place of birth||Cabo Rojo, Puerto Rico|
|Died||March 29, 1825(aged 33)|
|Place of death||San Juan, Puerto Rico|
|Base of operations||Isla de Mona|
|Commands||El Mosquito (alt. Relámpago)
Ana (alt. El Mosquito II)
|Battles/wars||Capture of the El Mosquito|
|Wealth||Approx. 8,800 pieces of eight (Confirmed)
Completed by a large unreported quantity.
Roberto Cofresí y Ramírez de Arellano[nb 1] (June 17, 1791 – March 29, 1825), better known as El Pirata Cofresí, was a notorious pirate from Puerto Rico. Despite being born into a noble family, the political and economic difficulties that the island faced as a colony of the Spanish Empire during the late 18th and early 19th centuries meant that his own household was impecunious. Cofresí became interested in sailing at a young age, when he acquired his first ship and became acquainted with the Mona Passage. He employed this knowledge early in his adult life, but was only able to earn a meager salary. Eventually, Cofresí decided to abandon a merchant's life and became a pirate, adopting Isla de Mona as his den. Despite previous links with land-based criminal activities, the definitive reason for this turn is unknown. But historians have speculated that Cofresí may have worked as a privateer aboard the Escipión, a ship owned by one of his cousins, which would have served as a transition between vocations.
Nevertheless, the timing of his decision proved critical in establishing him as the dominant pirate in the Caribbean during this era. The beginning of his rapidly ascending career took place in early 1823, filling a role that had remained vacant in the Spanish Main after Jean Lafitte's death, which allowed him to become the sole major threat in the hemisphere until his own demise. This was a title that would only be contested by lesser or regional freebooters such as Charles Gibbs, Mansel Alcantra (also spelled Alcántara) or Samuel Hall Lord. Despite operating during a time where piracy was heavily monitored and most pirates rarely achieved success, Cofresí was confirmed to have plundered at least eight vessels and has been credited with over 70 captures. This led to a reputation of being difficult to capture, fueled by the fact that he continued to pillage while successfully avoiding the Spanish Armed Forces and United States Navy.
Throughout his life Cofresí commanded at least three different vessels, with the most infamous being a fast six-gun schooner named El Mosquito, displaying a preference for speed and maneuverability over firepower. He staffed these with a small and rotating crew, with most contemporary documents and accounts placing its quorum between 10 to 20 men. Though most members were recruited locally, men from the other Antilles and even expatriate Europeans joined the pirates on occasion. Unlike his predecessors, Cofresí is not known to have enforced any variant of the Pirate code upon his crew. Instead, his leadership was enhanced by a bold and audacious personality, a trait acknowledged even by those who pursued him. However, there are 19th century reports stating that he did have a rule of engagement establishing that when a vessel was captured, only those that were willing to join his crew were allowed to live. His influence extended beyond this group and also included a large number of civil informants and associates, which formed a network so vast that it took 14 years after his death to fully dismantle it.
Eventually, the cost of his actions became too high for the local authorities to ignore. Despite never admitting to any murder, reports claim that he boasted about his crimes and that the number of persons that died as a consequence of his pillaging ranged between 300 and 400 victims, most of them foreigners. Eventually the pressure proved too much for the local authorities, who being unable to contain him by themselves began pursuing international cooperation to capture Cofresí, even when it meant ignoring diplomatic conflicts. Under these circumstances, Spain proved willing to create a brief alliance with the West Indies Squadron, despite the fact that this entity served its direct adversary for control of the region. On March 5, 1825, this cooperation yielded success by setting an trap which forced El Mosquito into a naval battle. After 45 minutes, Cofresí abandoned his ship and escaped by land, but he was recognized by a local who ambushed and injured him. This facilitated his capture and imprisonment, where Cofresí made one last unsuccessful attempt at escaping by offering part of a hidden stash to an official. Afterwards the pirates were sent to San Juan, Puerto Rico, where a brief military trial found them guilty and ordered a death sentence. On March 29, 1825, Cofresí and most members of the crew were executed by a firing squad.
After his execution, Cofresí's life was the inspiration for several stories and myths, most of them highlighting the Robin Hood-like "steal from the rich, give to the poor" philosophy that became associated with him. Through poetry and oral tradition, this portrayal has evolved into legend, being commonly accepted as veridical in Puerto Rico and throughout the rest of the West Indies. A secondary aspect of this romanticism is the association of his figure to the Puerto Rican independence movement and other secessionist initiatives, including Simón Bolívar's campaign against Spain. Both the historical and mythical accounts of his life have inspired countless songs, poems, plays, books and films. In Puerto Rico several caves, beaches and other places that supposedly functioned as hideouts or the location of buried treasures, have been named after Cofresí. He also serves as namesake for a resort town located near Puerto Plata, in the Dominican Republic.
- 1 Early years
- 2 Reigniting piracy in the 19th century
- 3 Capture and trial
- 4 Execution and legacy
- 5 Traits and perception
- 6 Influence in modern culture
- 7 Flags of Cofresí
- 8 See also
- 9 References
- 10 External links
Cofresí was born in El Tujao or Guaniquilla, located near the coast of Cabo Rojo, Puerto Rico. His father, Franz von Kupferschein (1751–1814), who was of aristocratic Austrian descent, was born in Trieste, a free city of the Holy Roman Empire. According to Professor Úrsula Acosta, a historian and member of the Puerto Rican Genealogy Society, the Kupferschein family emigrated from Austria to Trieste, where Franz von Kupferschein became known as Francesco Confersin. The reason behind the name change is unknown, but it must have been either to mislead or to acclimatizatize. Documents from the era support the former and suggest that he had been forced to leave Trieste, being listed as a fugitive by the Roman government in 1778. When Francesco Confersin (Franz von Kupferschein) immigrated to Puerto Rico, he went to live in the coastal town of Cabo Rojo and changed his name to Francisco Cofresí, which made it much easier for the Spanish authorities to pronounce. He was linked to illegal commerce in his homeland and presumably relocated there because of its strategic value, featuring a port located far away from the main port of San Juan, to distribute contraband.
Francisco Cofresí met and married María Germana Ramírez de Arellano, whose father was the cousin of Nicolás Ramírez de Arellano, the founder of Cabo Rojo. The couple had four children: a daughter by the name of Juana, and three sons—Juan Francisco, Ignacio, and their youngest, Roberto. He was baptized under the Roman Catholic Church fifteen days after being born. The father in charge of the sacrament was the first parishioner of Cabo Rojo, José de Roxas. Cofresí was four years old when his mother died. He and his siblings went to private school in his hometown of Cabo Rojo. There he was mentored by Ignacio Venero, who taught him Roman Catholic catechism, literature and arithmetic, among other subjects. The young Cofresí displayed a particular interest in geography. Living in a coastal municipality, the brothers often came into contact with visiting sailors. They were inspired to become seamen by the tales that they heard from the sailors who visited their town. Cofresí eventually purchased a small boat, which he christened El Mosquito ("The Mosquito"). His brothers attempted to convince him to quit these ventures, but their requests were ignored. His original intention was to become an honest merchant, making a living from the sea. Afterwards, Cofresí met and married Juana Creitoff, in the San Miguel Arcángel Parish of Cabo Rojo. Contemporary documents are unclear about her birthplace, which is also listed as Curaçao, but she was most likely born in Cabo Rojo to Dutch parents. They had two sons, both of whom died soon after birth. Despite belonging to a renowned family, Cofresí was not wealthy, instead living with his wife's family. In 1818 he paid a low amount of money in taxes, likely due to spending most of his time at sea and having a low wage. Historian Walter Cardona Bonet believes that he also likely worked in a series of fishing corrals that were located at Boquerón Bay. His first appearance as a sailor in the government's registry was during the following year.
Cofresí is popularly said to have worked a route between Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic for some time, until a Spanish vessel stole his goods in a move that is purported to have influenced his move towards piracy. An alternative theory blames the British. This one, presented by historian Ramón Ibern Fleytas, claims that Cofresí attempted to sell fish and fruit to the crew of a brigantine. However, since the sailors did not understand Spanish they mocked these intentions and pushed him off the boat, precipitating a fall. Despite this incident, Cofresí was stated to continue as a merchant. He was subsequently recruited to deliver several documents to a British ship, since the vessels' captain had forgotten them at customs. Cofresí completed this task, but was still assaulted by one of the sailors when he picked some sugar from a barrel. A few days later, another ship rammed El Mosquito, damaging it. According to this version, the sailors aboard ignored his requests for help, forcing him to swim to the coast by himself. These acts are said to have pushed him towards a life of piracy. There is no evidence linking him to any other jobs in Cabo Rojo, with his name being absent from all surviving lists. However, Cofresí was not the first member of his family to become involved in this world, since his cousin José María Ramírez de Arellano had received a privateering contract from the Spanish government. A respected man and the first mayor of the municipality of Mayagüez, he was the owner of a sailing ship named Escipión, which was captained by José Ramón Torres. In Orígenes portorriqueños, historian Enrique Ramírez Brau questions if Cofresí was aboard this vessel, or if seeing a family member become a privateer influenced his decision to become a pirate. If this was the case, he likely turned to piracy after Spain stopped issuing privateering contracts in 1823, the same year that they lifted their embargo on Venezuela.
However, documents from the era contradict these angles and establish that Cofresí's criminal career had an earlier beginning than this. His name was associated with a group of collaborators which were linked with several illegal land-based activities such as cattle raiding around the southwest region of Puerto Rico. He was arrested in July 1821 under unspecified circumstances, although it is likely that his disruptive actions gained the attention of the authorities and led to him becoming a wanted man. Cofresí was initially held in the municipality of San Germán as a preventive measure until he could be transported to the capital of San Juan. It was under these conditions that he began creating a reputation for being elusive and difficult to contain, escaping this temporary confinement before the transfer could be completed. Despite challenging the authorities, Cofresí was apparently able to return his life to relative normalcy and in 1822 he and Juana had a daughter, whom they named María Bernada.
In 1846, Boston Traveller reporter Freeman Hunt published a short biography in Hunt's Merchants' Magazine describing an account of Cofresí's life that was purportedly narrated by the pirate himself. According to this version "his father was a gentleman of wealth, but was cheated out of it", precipitating the young man to adopt a life of gambling and piracy "to get back what the world owed him". Despite these inclinations, Hunt notes that Cofresí was well educated and describes him as possessing an "eye of remarkable brilliancy", which was reflected in an "intelligent countenance", who even expressed disdain in the lack of bravery that the average member of his crew exhibited. This biography includes an origin story, where he began plundering aboard a canoe with two black men as his crew, only to be dragged to the Dominican Republic during a storm, where he was placed in jail. There Cofresí gained the thrust of the jailer's wife and daughter, who would request him to do menial tasks and treat him as a member of the family. After waiting for a year, he is said to have employed another storm as a distraction to escape along his crew, docking at the Mona Passage for food before eventually returning to Cabo Rojo. However, the reliability of the account is questionable, since some of the elements reflect events that were known to have taken place in different timeframes and Cofresí is described as a "young man of twenty-six or twenty-seven", several years younger than his age in 1825.
Reigniting piracy in the 19th century
Establishing a presence and reputation
Most likely in 1823 (although 1818 is also commonly quoted), Cofresí decided to become a full-fledged pirate and organized a crew composed of eight to ten men from his hometown. Among them was Joaquín Hernández, the second-in-command of this original crew, who was known by the nickname "Campechano". Hunt describes this events differently, claiming that the pirate took a "large boat" with his original underlings and forced the sailors to join them. According to him, Cofresí adopted a rule specifying that "no witnesses [were allowed] to remain unless they joined his crew", which made their number grow in a fashion that allowed them to secure some "rich captures" early, which they "gambled away" before returning to sea for more. This author notes that this tendency backfired, recounting an instance where the authorities were alerted about the pirate's presence in a covert gaming house in the woods of Cabo Rojo, stealthily mobilizing a captain and twenty soldiers during the night. Being the only one to act on intuition, Cofresí is said to have jumped out of a window, only managing to escape after clearing a seven-foot fence.
The men established a hideout in Isla de Mona (lit. "Monkey Island"), located between Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. Easily accessed from the coast of Cabo Rojo, this place had been associated with pirates for more than a century. Among others, Mona received the notorious visit of William Kidd, who in 1699 landed on its shores after fleeing with a load of gold, silver and iron. Folklore also lists the Bioluminescent Bay of the adjacent La Parguera as a favored route of escape, citing that he would sail into the illuminated waters while his pursuers would disengage, fearing some sort of supernatural influence in what they believed to be a cursed area. It was a common practice then for the Spanish Crown to look the other way when pirates such as the crew of El Mosquito attacked ships that did not carry the Spanish flag, making this venture lucrative. Cofresí's success was an oddity, considering that it came nearly a century after the conclusion of the Golden Age of Piracy. By this time, the joint effort of different governments had eradicated the rampant buccaneering by Anglo-French seamen, mostly based in the adjacent islands of Jamaica and Tortuga, which had turned the Caribbean into a haven for pirates that made a living by attacking the shipments of the Spanish colonies in the region.
Cofresí and his crew targeted all sorts of victims, both local and foreign, creating a rift in the economic stability of the entire region. This situation was complicated due to various factors, most of them related to geopolitics. The Spanish Empire had lost most of her possessions in the New World and her last two possessions, Puerto Rico and Cuba were faced with economic problems and political unrest. Due to their involvement in the Caribbean trade, these actions quickly gathered the attention of the United States Navy, which responded by sending the USS Beagle for the specific purpose of capturing Cofresí and his men. The schooner had been newly commissioned and this was its first voyage, with it serving as an specialized anti-piracy vessel that experienced success in other locations of the Caribbean. The incursion took place in 1823, but several of the pirates were able to elude the crew of the military boat.
The earliest known document directly linking Cofresí to piracy is a letter dated July 5, 1823, and that originated in Aguadilla, Puerto Rico, which was published in the St. Thomas Gazette. The missive discusses how a brigantine loaded with coffee and West Indian indigo from La Guaira was assaulted by pirates on June 12, 1823. The hijackers ordered that the ship was navigated to Mona, where its captain and crew were ordered to unload the cargo. After completing this task, the pirates reportedly killed the crew and sank the brigantine. Upon learning of these events, the coronel in command of the Spanish military in the west half of Puerto Rico, comprised by the regions of Ponce through Arecibo, ordered an incursion in Mona. A small boat with a crew of 20 was sent, but as soon as the pirates noticed it they docked in the coast and ran inland. According to the letter, the soldiers pursued the pirates and managed to maim and kill one of them, which was misidentified as a "Portuguese named Cofresin". However, the document also notes how despite receiving some injuries, several of the pirates including their captain (presumably the actual Cofresí) managed to escape. The body of the misidentified victim, was transported to Mayagüez, where its head and severed hand were placed on display. His nationality was misreported because he was also confused with another crewmember nicknamed "El Portugúes", who died the following year. Six other pirates were captured and sent to the mainland along the body. Cofresí's purported death was made public and with the gibbeting of his supposed body the case was considered closed. His subsequent reappearance may have influenced the myths that linked his figure to supernatural elements.
In an article published in the May 9, 1936, edition of the Puerto Rico Ilustrado periodical, journalist Eugenio Astol recounts an incident that happened between Cofresí and prominent Puerto Rican doctor and politician, Pedro Gerónimo Goyco. In this column, the author reports that the events took place in 1823. That year, when Goyco was only 15 years old, he was transferred to a school in Santo Domingo to begin his secondary education. The voyage was done in a schooner and he was not accompanied by any relatives. Halfway through the journey, Cofresí intercepted the vessel. After hijacking the schooner, the pirates boarded the ship. Once aboard, Cofresí rounded the passengers and began requesting their names and the identity of their parents. Upon learning that Goyco was among them, the pirate ordered that they change course and landed in a beach near Mayagüez. There, Goyco was allowed to disembarck and go free. Cofresí explained that he knew his father, an influential immigrant from Bocche di Cattaro named Gerónimo Goicovich that settled in Mayagüez, and that allowing his son to go free was actually an act of gratitude. Goyco returned home safely and would later attempt the voyage again. Prior to this encounter, Goicovich had favored members of Cofresí's family, despite the fact that they were associated to a pirate. Goyco grew up to become a militant abolitionist, working along the likes of Ramón Emeterio Betances and Segundo Ruiz Belvis towards this end.
On January 23, 1824, Lieutenant General Miguel Luciano de la Torre y Pando (1822–1837), the Governor of Puerto Rico appointed by Spain, issued several anti-piracy measures based on the economic losses that the Spanish government was sustaining and the political pressure from the United States. Despite the official posture on piracy and his bold actions capturing Cofresí would prove complicated, since he was already gathering a mythical reputation in Puerto Rico and becoming highly influential. Guayama's major, Francisco Brenes, documented how the pirates gathered several friends among the local population who would also protect them. His figure was held with such regard that some members of the higher classes were arrested due to their links with Cofresí. Cofresí was said to exploit this in his favor, creating an underground circle that would share information with him. This group was mostly composed by common citizens, among those linked to it are a teacher and a waitress. He had informants in different parts of Puerto Rico, in places such as Ponce and Mayagüez. The priest of a church in Arecibo is said to have shared information about the moves of the military in the vicinity.
Operating in the Dominican Republic
As the most established pirate in the Caribbean during his time, Cofresí also pillaged the shorelines of Hispaniola with regularity. The presence of the crew was recorded in the littoral zone off the Puerto Plata Province, where they would rest during their voyages. In one of these excursions, the pirates were intercepted by Spanish patrol boats while sailing off the coast of Samaná Province in the Dominican Republic. With no visible escape route, Cofresí preferred to order the sinking of his own ship, which sailed into Bahía de Samana before finally coming to rest next to the town of Punta Gorda. This caused enough distraction to allow him to join his crew in a successful escape plan, where they boarded skiffs and rowed to shore and into adjacent wetlands, where the larger Spanish vessels could not follow them. What remains of the ship, which was reportedly full of plunder, has not yet been found.
Shortly after De la Torre's initiative was enacted, Cofresí and his crew had a confrontation with the Spanish military in Mona. He escaped, but during the course of the battle he lost his ship and six men, along which were "Portugués" and Pepe Cartagena. Cofresí escaped in another of his boats along "Campechano" Hernández, resuming his attacks shortly after the encounter. However, between the days of September 8 and 9, 1824, a hurricane affected southern Puerto Rico and passed directly over the Mona Passage. Cofresí and his reduced crew were caught in the storm, which flinged their ship towards Hispaniola. Aware of this, weeks later the schooner Aurora, property of Nicolás Márquez and a boat named Flor de Mayo belonging to José María Marujo, were commanded by Fajardo's Commander Ramón Aboy and sailed towards the islands of Vieques, Culebra, and the smaller islands of Barlovento in search of the pirates. However, after weeks of search the expedition failed and the fate of Cofresí remained a mystery.
Continuing to drift, Cofresí and his crew were captured after his ship arrived at Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic. They were sentenced to six years in prison and sent to a keep named Torre del Homenaje. Cofresí and his men escaped from prison, however they were captured once again and imprisoned. The group decided to escape once more, they broke the locks of their cell doors and climbed down the walls of the prison's courtyard during a stormy night using a rope that was made of their clothes. Along Cofresí two other inmates escaped, a man known as Portalatín and Manuel Reyes Paz, the former boatswain of a Spanish privateer. The pirates reached the providence of San Pedro de Macorís and boarded a ship. Leaving Hispaniola, the vessel was sailed to Naguabo. From there it parted to the island of Vieques, where they established another hideout and reorganized with a new crew of fourteen men. Cofresí then selected six of them and traveled to the main island of Puerto Rico, where they hijacked a schooner named Ana and forced the crew to jump into the ocean. During the highjacking of Ana, Cofresí was said to steal $20 directly from the pocket of the ship's captain and owner, John Low. Despite being coerced to figuratively "walk the plank", the sailors survived the incident. The survivors reported the assault to the governor of St. Thomas. In honor of his first boat, Cofresí renamed the captured ship El Mosquito. They then proceeded to steal a cannon from another ship that was under construction. The crew members of El Mosquito armed themselves, with the weapons found in the vessels that they boarded. Another theory suggests that he actually bought Ana from its owner, Toribio Centeno, for twice its price. However, legal documents state that Toribio had been paid to make the ship for Low prior to this. Accompanied by his crew, Cofresí set out to the sea once again aboard this schooner, continuing to attack merchant ships in the Caribbean.
Expansion of Cofresí's fleet
An edition of El Colombiano published a document dated February 18, 1824, that mentions a series of attacks that took place in Cofresí's domain. In this paper, a report to the military explains how, Renato Beliche, the captain of a corvette named Bolívar, rescued the crews of two brigantines, the British Boniton and French Bonne Sopfic, off the west coast of Puerto Rico. The events took place on February 12, 1824, near Puerto Real and in both cases the sailors were left beaten and locked, while their ships were plundered. The Bolívar was unable to capture the pirates, but described the ship as being painted black and armed with a rotating cannon. The crew was identified as being composed of twenty Puerto Rican men, though no individual names were provided. On June 22, 1824, a sailor named Pedro Alacán organized a party of volunteers for an incursion at Mona. The operation was coordinated locally, with the goal being to ambush and apprehend Cofresí in his own hideout when he least expect it. Alacán captained the mission aboard his own vessel, a small sailboat named Avispa, and the expedition left the coast of Cabo Rojo with the Action Stations already in place. Despite sailing through unfavorable conditions, the party braved the sea and arrived to their destination. However, they failed to capture Cofresí, only retrieving some members of the pirate crew. Upon returning to Puerto Rico with these prisoners, Alacán was homaged by the Spanish government. By October 1824, piracy in the region had been drastically reduced, with only two vessels commanded by Cofresí remaining as the only targets of concern.
Among the ships that they plundered was a cargo vessel named Neptune. The freighter, with a haul that consisted of fabrics and provisions, was attacked while it was docked. The Neptune belonged to Salvador Pastorisa, who escaped upon being boarded. During this attack, an Italian with residence in Puerto Rico named Pedro Salovi was reported to serve along the pirates. After navigating the boat out of Jobos Port, a harbor located in a bay near the vicinity of Fajardo, Puerto Rico, Cofresí adopted the vessel as a pirate ship. In February 1825, the Neptune was used to capture a Danish schooner property of W. Furniss, a company based in Saint Thomas, off the coast of Ponce, gaining control of a load of imported merchandise. After the assault, Cofresí and his crew left the ship abandoned in the ocean. The boat was later seen floating with the masts broken and was presumed lost at sea. Some time later, they boarded another vessel owned by the same company and repeated the same action as before. This time, the ship was intercepted at Guayama. Like its predecessor, it was seem close to Caja de Muertos (lit. "Dead Man's Chest") before disappearing. Shortly afterwards, Cofresí continued to use Ana as his main ship. Neptune's final fate remains unknown.
The people on the coasts of Puerto Rico are said to have protected him from the authorities. The pirates communicated with their informants through a series of coastal signs, where the associates on land would preemptively warn them of any danger. According to the Puerto Rican historian Aurelio Tió, Cofresí shared his spoils with the needy, especially members of his family and close friends, being regarded by many as the Puerto Rican version of Robin Hood. Conflicting reports state that he would organize improvised markets in his native Cabo Rojo, where the plunder would be sold in an unsanctioned manner similar to modern rummage sales. According to this version, merchant families would buy these items and then re-sale them to the general public. This process was facilitated by local collaborators such as Juan Bautista Buyé, a contrabandist of French origin. Cofresí's crew continued to assault several ships and on one occasion they attacked eight consecutive ships, including one from the United States. This earned him the attention of the North American media, who began referring to him by a mistranslated onomatopoeic variant of his last name, "Cofrecinas". Cofresí's last successful assault took place on March 5, 1825, when he commanded the hijacking of a boat property of Vicente Antoneti in Salinas, Puerto Rico.
Capture and trial
The Spanish government received many complaints from the nations whose ships were being attacked by "El Pirata Cofresí", as he became to be known. By 1825, the crew of El Mosquito remained the last real pirate threat in the Caribbean and the authorities felt compelled to have them pursued and captured. The extent of this interest was such that the local military took the rare step of ignoring diplomatic concerns, requesting help from the anti-piracy task force known as the West Indies Squadron which operated under the flag of the Empire's direct adversary, the United States. The Spanish government recruited the service of three vessels, two of them sloops. These were San José y Las Animas[nb 2] which belonged to Juan Bautista Piereti, an unnamed ship property of Salvador Pastorisa and the USS Grampus which belonged to the United States Navy. After locating El Mosquito, the float led by Captain John D. Sloat, commander of the specialized anti-piracy schooner, engaged Cofresí in battle. There are two official accounts of this event, submitted by those involved in it.
Spanish government's version
The Spanish government's version states that on March 2, 1825, the commander of the island's south military division requested the service of three vessels. The most notable boats of this excursion were San José y Las Animas, loaned for the mission, and the Grampus, which belonged to the United States. The mayor of the municipality of Ponce asked Capt. John D. Sloat to command a recon mission with the intention of capturing Cofresí. Three American officers and a doctor accompanied Sloat in this mission, they were: Garred S. Pedergrast, George A. Magrades and Francis Store plus a crew of twenty-three sailors were assigned to the mission. The sailors were heavily armed and a new cannon was mounted on the ship. On the afternoon of the third day one of the ships located Cofresí, near the entrance of Boca del Infierno between Guayama and Salinas. When the pirates spotted the San José y Las Animas vessel, they confused it with a merchant ship and proceeded to attack it. The crew of the ship hid until the pirates were within shooting distance, when they opened fire. Both vessels exchanged cannon fire. Cofresí commanded El Mosquito to go near land, but was forced to disembark in the coast and to retreat into a nearby forestal area.
The Grampus 's crew sent their sailors to look for the pirates by land, while the ships closed the access to the beach. Sloat estimated that Cofresí had lost a third of his crew in the previous exchange, based on the number of bodies on the water surrounding the boat. Aboard Ana, they found a four-pound cannon, several muskets, guns, a type of sword known as alfanje and knives. The schooner was then sailed towards St. Thomas, arriving there by March 11, 1825. Later that day the mayor of the town of Los Jobos issued a statement which detailed the pirate's entrance into the beach, and he subsequently notified the local authorities about the event. A search operation was launched and during the dusk hours six pirates were captured. The Spanish government then sent military personnel to block all the roads and plains surrounding the area. Two of the search groups believed that the pirates would have to pass through a certain road in order to escape and planned to ambush them there. The pirates reached the location at 10:30 p.m. and tried to escape, but were intercepted. The pirate captain was identified by a man named Juan Garay, who injured his arm with a blunt object in their confrontation. Cofresí tried to defend himself with a knife, but his injury facilitated their capture. His injuries were severe, but a doctor declared that they were not lethal. The rest of the crew was captured by the police departments of Patillas and Guayama on March 7 and 8. The names of the known crewmembers are Juan Carlos de Torres and Santiago Díaz. Both men exhibited recent gun wounds, with the former still carrying fifteen Spanish coins, handkerchiefs, two fake pearl necklaces, a list written in English, two earrings, two razors and three bullets, among other things. In the aftermatch, Cofresí and eleven members of his crew were turned over to the Spanish government.
The American version states that Commander Sloat solicited permission for the use of two small ships after becoming aware of Cofresí's latest actions. After becoming acquainted with Cofresí, John Low was brought in along the crew. The report claims that Sloat was aware of an evasion strategy that was used by the pirates to escape when using large ships, which consisted of traveling as close to the coast as possible, thereby avoiding being followed. Therefore, he used the small ships in order to pursue them while attempting this strategy. Both vessels were armed and began working in an exploratory manner, traveling through several ports and coastal towns. On the third day while sailing near Ponce, the group located a ship in Boca del Infierno and identified it as El Mosquito (Ana). When Cofresí saw the loaned ship that was sent, he confused it with a merchant vessel, since it was not flying its actual colors, and ordered his crew to attack. When El Mosquito approached the ship, the crew revealed that it was a military vessel by hoisting the Navy jack and opened fire. The subsequent exchange lasted forty-five minutes and ended when the pirates abandoned their ship and swam to the nearby beach. Vicente Antoneti, who was traveling along Sloat in Bautista Piereti's boat, disembarked and notified the local Spanish military unit about the event. Two of the pirates died in the battle and six others, including Cofresí, were injured.
Hunt elaborates and recounts that upon landing ashore, Cofresí employed sly tactics to avoid the soldiers, first exploiting the chaos to evade the cavalry and then stealing the clothes and animals from a herdsman. The pirate then hid in plain sight by directing the herd towards the soldiers and scattering them away by providing false information about the location of his crew while unrecognized. Hunt notes that Cofresí was close to escaping, but a child present at the last guard post recognized him due to bilateral syndactyly, forcing him to run and be wounded by a shot to the neck. Despite bleeding, the pirate recovered quickly and unfurled his knife, gaining an upper hand until more soldiers were attracted by the noise. One of them hit Cofresí with the stock of a carbine, taking advantage that he was still struggling with the first. His hands were then bound and his feet where fastened to a horse.
Immediately after being captured, the pirates were temporally held at a prison in Guayama, before being transferred to the capital. Hunt claims that despite his injuries, Cofresí was placed in iron handcuffs and that a soldier was assigned to his bedside. Other unusual precautions were reportedly taken due to his reputation, including the doubling of guards throughout the prison and an "officer [being] made responsible with his head for the [fate] of the prisoner". During this brief imprisonment, Cofresí managed to have a reunion with mayor Francisco Brenes, where he offered him a large amount of money in exchange for his liberty. The offer was 4,000 pieces of eight, which he assured were still in his possession. Despite being a key part of modern myths, this is the only historical account that may reference that Cofresí actually hid any treasure. Brenes declined the bribe and the process continued according to norm. Hunt states that during this arrest the pirate narrated his life, explained his motivations and also boasted about his athletic capacity by claiming to have been "the most active man" and "best runner on the island". Cofresí and his crew remained jailed in Castillo San Felipe del Morro (Fort San Felipe del Morro) in San Juan for the remainder of their lives.
Cofresí was assigned a War Council trial, with the possibility of a civil trial being completely discarded. The case was hastened, which was an oddity since other cases that were as serious or more grave often took longer, months or years in some instances. It has been reported that he was judged as an insurgent corsair and listed as such in Spain, in a subsequent explanatory action. This responded to the measures enacted by Governor Miguel de la Torre the year before. It has been theorized that the reason behind these irregularities was that the Spanish Government was under international scrutiny, with several neutral countries filing official complaints about pirate and privateer attacks in Puerto Rican waters. There was additional pressure due to the beginning of David Porter's trial in the United States, after illegally invading the municipality of Fajardo. The ministry took an accelerated pace with the Cofresí trial, denying Cofresí and his crew the summoning of defense witnesses or testimony as dictated by the protocol of all military or civil trials. The entire trial was based on the confession of the pirates, with the legitimacy or the circumstances that lead to them not being established.
The other pirates tried were Manuel Aponte Monteverde from Añasco; Vicente del Valle Carbajal from Santo Domingo; Vicente Jiménez from Cumaná; Antonio Delgado from Humacao; Victoriano Saldaña from Juncos; Agustín de Soto from San Germán; Carlos Díaz from Trinidad de Barlovento; Carlos Torres from Fajardo; Juan Manuel Fuentes from Havana and José Rodríguez from Curaçao. Among those captured, Carlos Torres stood out, since he was an African man and Cofresí's personal slave. He was among the few people sentenced on piracy that were not executed, his sentence was to be sold in a public auction, with the money being assigned to cover the trial's costs. Cofresí's confession declared that he had captured a French sloop in Vieques; a Danish schooner; a sail ship from St. Thomas; a bergatine and a schooner from the Dominican Republic, a sloop captured in Boca del Infierno with a load of cattle; a boat from which he stole 800 pieces of eight in Patillas and an American schooner with a haul worth 8,000 pieces of eight, which he abandoned and burned at Punta de Peñones. Despite being pressured, he was adamant in stating that he was unaware of the current whereabouts of these vessels or their crews, but that nobody was ever killed by him. This version was also offered by the other pirates. However, according to a letter sent to Hezekiah Niles' Weekly Register, Cofresí admitted off-the-record that he had murdered nearly 400 people, but not a single Puerto Rican.
The defendants' social status and association with criminal or otherwise outlaw elements precipitated the expedite course of action. Captain José Madrazo served as judge and prosecutor during the trial, taking place over the course of a single day. It has been speculated that Governor Miguel de la Torre influenced the process, with negotiations possibly taking place between him and Madrazo beforehand. Details of the trials were suppressed, with only the government's La Gaceta de Puerto Rico (lit. "The Gazette of Puerto Rico") publishing its account. This result was highly suspicious due to the Caribbean press' high interest in piracy, suggesting an media blackout or coverup. Despite this, the United States press quickly acted to propagate its knowledge of the case in order to influence the Porter trial, since he justified his invasion by claiming that Puerto Rico had become a Government-sanctioned pirate's nest. By April, newspapers such as The Maryland Gazette were reprinting the government's account of the events. On July 14, 1825, a contemporary congressman named Samuel Smith would expose that Henry Clay, the incumbent United States Secretary of State, pressured the Spanish Governor to execute the pirates.
Execution and legacy
On the morning of March 29, 1825, a firing squad was assembled to carry out the sentence imposed against the pirates. The execution was public and a large number of spectators were present early. The entire process was overseen by the Regimiento de Infantería de Granada and the act was officially held between eight and nine. Catholic priests were present to issue confessions or otherwise comfort the prisoners. While the pirates repeated the prayers, they were executed before a silent crowd. San Felipe del Morro remains the accepted place of the execution. However, Alejandro Tapia y Rivera, whose father was a member of the Regimiento de Granada, places the event near Convento Dominico in the Baluarte de Santo Domingo, part of modern-day Old San Juan. Historian Enrique Ramírez Brau claims that in one final act of defiance, Cofresí refused to have his eyes covered after being tied to a chair, but the soldiers imposed a blindfold on him. Richard Wheeler claims that while refusing, the pirate said that after killing three or four hundred victims, it would be strange if he was not accustomed to death. Cofresí's last words have been quoted as "I have killed hundreds with my own hands, and I know how to die. Fire!"
According to legend, Cofresí maldijo (placed a curse on) Captain Sloat and the USS Grampus before he died. In 1848, the schooner was lost at sea with all hands aboard, However, Captain Sloat was not among those who perished, he went on to become the Commander of the Norfolk Navy Yard. Cofresí and his men were buried behind the cemetery on what is now a lush green hill that overlooks the cemetery wall. They were not buried in the Old San Juan Cemetery (Cementerio Antiguo de San Juan), as believed in the local lore, since they were executed as a criminals and therefore could not be laid to rest in this Catholic cemetery. However, a letter that Sloat sent to the United States Secretary of the Navy, Samuel L. Southard, implies that at least some of the pirates were "beheaded and quartered, and their parts sent to all the small ports around the island to be exhibited".
During this time, defendants were forced to pay for trial expenses and Cofresí's family was charged 643 pieces of eight, two reales and 12 maravedí. Era documents suggest that Juana Creitoff had little to none support from Cofresí's brothers and sisters, being left with the burden of the debt. His bothers distanced from the trial and the legacy of their brother, with Juan Francisco leaving Cabo Rojo for Humacao. Historical evidence suggests that Ignacio also disassociated himself from Creitoff and her daughter. Due to Cofresí's tendency to hide the treasure gathered through piracy, the only asset that the Spanish government could seize towards covering the debt was that of Carlos Torres. Torres was Cofresí's personal slave and as previously stated, one of the few members of Cofresí's crew who was tried and not executed. He was priced at 108 pesos and 2 reales. The remaining quantity was paid from a loan by a the Mattei family of San Germán. Félix and Miguel Mattei are now presumed to have been anti-establishment smugglers that were related to Henri La Fayette Villaume Ducoudray Holstein and the Ducoudray Holstein Expedition. The loan was likely never paid back, since Juana Creitoff died a year later. Records suggest that upon reaching adulthood the couple's daughter married a Venezuelan immigrant named Etanislao Asencio Velázquez, perpetuating Cofresí's blood lineage in the municipality of Cabo Rojo to this day. Since his contacts extended throughout the west, south and east coasts of Puerto Rico, the authorities continued investigating and arresting people that were considered to have been associates of the pirates. There were so many linked to Cofresí, that this process extended until 1839.
One of his most notable descendants was Ana González, better known by her abridged marriage name Ana G. Méndez. She was Cofresí's great granddaughter, directly descended from the Cabo Rojo bloodline through her mother, Ana González Cofresí. González was known for her interest in education, becoming the first member of her branch of the Cofresí family to earn high school and university diplomas. An accomplished teacher, she became notorious for founding the Puerto Rico High School of Commerce during the 1940s, an era where women's rights were still underdeveloped and most women rarely completed a formal degree. By the turn of the century, this initiative had evolved into the largest conglomerate of private universities in Puerto Rico, the Ana G. Méndez University System. Another direct descendant was Severo Colberg Ramírez, a politician who served as Speaker of the House of Representatives of Puerto Rico during the 1980s. Colberg made a notable effort to popularize the figure of Cofresí, in particular the heroic legends that followed his death.
After his death, some of the items associated with the pirate have been conserved or put on display. To this day, his birth certificate is still maintained at San Miguel Arcángel Church, along those of other notable figures including Ramón Emeterio Betances and Salvador Brau. A set of earrings that are said to have been worn by Cofresi were owned by Ynocencia Ramírez de Arellano, one of his maternal cousins. Her great-great-grandson, collector Teodoro Vidal Santoni, granted custody of the items to the National Museum of American History in 1997 following a period of negotiations. The institution initially displayed them in a section dedicated to Spanish Colonial History.
Traits and perception
As is the case with other pirates, the actual traits of Cofresí became romanticized and entangled in the mythic aura that surrounds his person long ago. One of the few undisputed facts is his social class, he was known to be a criollo. Cofresí was known to be bold and risky, to the point that Salvador Brau argues in Historia de Puerto Rico that had he lived during the 18th century, he would have even eclipsed the accomplishments of Miguel Enríquez. This particular aspect, has been heavily mystified, with most legends emphasizing his bravery. The Spanish authorities actually recognized this trait, which Pedro Tomas de Córdova lists in his compilation, Memorias. Cardona Bonet also supports this notion, noting that he acted with "a lot of courage and bravery", with his leadership being further established by his "charisma [and] intelligence". Cofresí is said to have possessed a rebellious personality and to have been rather independent, taking decisions under his own criteria.
He also appeared to be very keen, to the point of being capable of causing the ridicule of the authorities that pursued him. During his lifetime, the Spanish authorities made efforts to portray him as a fierce and violent criminal. His nickname, "The Terror of the Caribbean", reflects his position as the unopposed "Pirate Lord" of the region during the early 19th century. As a consequence, following his death there was a sharp decline in piracy. There were still pirates, but none would be notably successful in the Caribbean until "The Rajah" John Boysie Singh in the 20th century.
Cofresí's physical appearance has been idealized, often being described as athletic, muscular, agile, with masculine traits and of medium height. However, as part this process he has also been differentiated from most contemporary Puerto Ricans, with multiple authors describing him as possessing blue eyes and curly blonde hair. Based on both tradition and the physical appearance of those related to him, Ursula Acosta supports this notion, stating that he most likely had blonde or brown hair and light-colored eyes. She also notes that the Ramírez de Arellano line also had a heavy Nordic origin. Some accounts incorrectly label him as tanned or mestizo, product of Taíno and Spanish bloodlines. These likely attempted to adapt Cofresí to what is now regarded as the common Puerto Rican ethnicity composed of Spanish, Taíno and African heritage.
Stories have linked him to a host of women, including an account where he serves as the lover of a Cacique's wife, despite the fact that by the 19th century the Taíno's domain had fallen apart. One particular tale names his lover "Ana", after his ship. These contradict historic documents that actually place Cofresí close to Juana throughout his life, offering no further evidence supporting this reputation. However, given the era's cultural approach and customs there is a possibility that he may had several unrecorded lovers. This interpretation of Cofresí's personality found its way to the angloparlant public during the first half of the 20th century. The September 17, 1939, edition of The Milwaukee Sentinel relays an account in which the pirate crew capture a schooner that had several Spanish women as passengers. According to this story, the captured ship attempted to escape under the cover of darkness. However, the staff of the schooner was unfit to travel under stormy weather and the vessel came close to sinking. The account concludes with Cofresí defying the weather and rescuing the women, but not before charming them with his manners.
Influence in modern culture
Cofresí's life and death have inspired several myths and stories. These included those depicting him as a generous figure, who used to share what he stole with the region's poor population. In these myths he is generally described as a benevolent person, with authors writing about his supposed personality. They portray him as a noble gentleman who became a pirate out of necessity; as a generous man, claiming that on one occasion he went as far as saving the life of a baby in a confrontation and providing money for his upbringing and as a brave man, showing disregard for his life on several occasions. The "generous thief" archetype that is associated with Cofresí was predominant during the 19th century, being promoted by the romanticism present in the work of several prominent authors. Further influenced by an anti-establishment sentiment that arose from the dire conditions of the general population, the poor people quickly identified with these "rebels", "who were simply trying to make justice in an unfair social structure where the poor would always take the worst part". Shortly after his death, the popular songs that described his life painted his actions in a positive light, as "feats" instead of crimes. Another copla testifies how the general public praises his bravery, while labeling the authorities as cowards. However, the merchant class also had its own oral tradition, which portrayed him as a "tyrant" of the seas and celebrates that with him gone the business would be normalized. The Spanish government tried to create a parallel reputation, perpetuating Cofresí as a vile murder and thief. The American government fueled this, describing him as a "famous piratical chief" that ran a "bloodthirsty" leadership.
In modern oral tradition, the fact that no other pirate, regardless of nationality, has been said to recurrently share his loot with the poor is emphasized. With time, popular culture has come to grant Cofresí the quality of chivalry, describing him as a gentleman, especially with women. This contrast is further noted when rival pirates are portrayed as ruthless cutthroats, that only want to invade his territory. In reality, little is known about the interactions between Cofresí and other pirate groups, but a folktale claims that when another captain named Hermenegildo "El Tuerto" López attempted to plunder the Ana, he defeated them and adopted the survivors into his own crew. Cofresí is further dignified with accounts that place him freeing captive slaves during a time where slavery was both accepted and widespread. Besides the widespread notion that he was generous, folklore has also claimed that he would protect the weak, in particular children. Ibern Fleytas claims that Cofresí was also protective of his daughter, once confiscating a set of emerald earrings that another crew-member had given to her. He is also portrayed a fervent protector of women and guardian of their well being. Ultimately, the depiction of Cofresí fits within the same swashbuckler archetype seen in modern media, but precedes the genre's popularization in film by several years. The use of an ax or hatchet is seen frequently in oral tradition, to the point that the weapon is even named "Arturo" and described as an "inseparable friend". The axe is actually associated with Cabo Rojo, due to a territory dispute where its residents defended their land with said tool, and has since become the symbolic representation of its inhabitants. Its inclusion in the myths is likely meant to reflect the municipality's cultural identity. His physical appearance has been largely able to escape the modern stereotype of the pirates in popular culture, being rarely described with clichéd elements like an eye patch, large hat or a wooden leg.
Several of these oral stories deviate from the historical account and from each other. One particular aspect that is rarely consistent are the circumstances of his death, which has been described from a peaceful death along his wife in Caja de Muertos to mutiny or being hanged at Ponce or Humacao. Another prefers to say that Cofresí died by drowning, in an effort to deny the government the credit for capturing him. Another notable contrast in the myths is that he is also often depicted as a man that was a pirate by choice, since belonging to a wealthy family meant that he had no economic need to do so, instead living as a pirate to donate the wealth. Likewise, the stories surrounding his involvement in piracy are contradictory, while most center around vengeance, the actual reasons vary. Depending on the story he would become a pirate for something as pedestrian as other fishermen stealing his haul to the rape of his sister and the murder of his father or son. A particular tale lists the responsibility of the local authorities, specifically the Spanish Civil Guard, which is made responsible for the death of his girlfriend. His birthplace is mostly correct, but some stories vary with Mayagüez and even the middle of the sea being mentioned. Even his background is inconsistent, with him being portrayed as both a member of an influential family and of a working low class family.
Other myths and stories describe Cofresí as an evil or demonic figure. Among them there are myths that claim that during his life he had sold his soul to the devil in order to "defeat men and be loved by women". Accounts of apparitions of his spirit include versions claiming that when summoned in medium sections, the strength of Cofresí's spirit was excessive, to the point of killing some of the hosts he possessed. An article authored by Margarita M. Ascencio and published in Fiat Lux, a magazine published in Cabo Rojo, notes that several persons in that municipality have said that they have witnessed the pirate's spirit. This was explained in an account explaining that the reason for these is that his soul can not rest until somebody finds one of his buried chests. And so, every seven years he appears on seven consecutive nights, looking for someone to free him of this curse. According to this tradition, he appears engulfed in flames and has been witnessed by several fishermen in Aguada. Another claims that he possessed a mystical characteristic known as "Capilares de María", a series of capillaries arranged in unique fashion in one of his arms and which rendered him immortal, being able to even survive being stabbed through the heart. In the Dominican Republic, folktales attribute magic abilities to Cofresí, who has been referred to as a mystic; these say that he was able to make his boat disappear when surrounded or that he was resuscitated by wicked forces after his death. This was based on a hideout that he had established in a cave located in a nearby beach. Some even suggest that he was reincarnated in another body after dying. There are other miscellaneous accounts, such as a moralistic story in which Cofresí confessed the location of his treasure to his lover while drunk, only for her to betray him and plunder it along another man. Even his ship has been mystified, with stories depicting it as a partially submersible vessel made from bamboo that was capable to easily avoid being seen by potential victims.
By intercepting merchant vessels that traveled from Europe to the West Indies, Cofresí is said to have gathered a significant amount of loot. To this day the location of his buried treasures remains a key aspect of the oral tradition surrounding his figure. In Puerto Rico, the undiscovered loot is said to be dispersed throughout the beaches in the west coast. The locations have been several, ranging from Cabo Rojo to Rincón. Specific beaches such as Guajataca, Puerto Herminia, Pico de Piedra or La Sardinera are mentioned depending the municipality where the stories originate. His treasure has been placed as far north as Añasco River's mouth and as far east as Tamarindo del Sur in Vieques, where fishermen reportedly saw boxes tied with chains. Some excavations have met moderate success near these places, with people retrieving a small quantities of silver and gold coins in Guaniquilla (a sector located between Cabo Rojo and Aguada), which further fueled the idea that a larger treasure could be nearby. Few of these accounts agree with each other, but a ritual where he would kill a crewmember and leave his body besides the treasure is recurrent and seen in most accounts, even some with notable variations. Another story claims that while a countryman traversed a road to an near town, he encountered a well dressed man riding a white horse. While casually discussing the fate of Cofresí's treasure, the man began irradiating with a yellow light and revealed the location of it under an higüero. However, the countryman was terrified and only took a single gold coin, which he used to pay in a tavern that he frequented. The owner of the establishment asked where he found the coin and was told the entire account, ordering his sons to retrieve the treasure. When the countryman returned to the location, the treasure was gone.
A story claims that after boarding a ship in Aguada, he buried the treasure captured under a palm tree, under which he also buried the body of a comrade that fell during that battle. According to this legend, the spirit of the dead pirate would guard it to this day. Another story elaborates this version, claiming that Cofresí would ask his crew who wanted to guard the loot and if he noticed anyone being particularly enthusiastic, he would bring that person along him when go ashore, murdering his companion and Burying it along the treasure. An alternative presents him as a hoarder, placing everything in a large chest that was bound with chains (sometimes claimed to be made of gold), which he eventually cast into the sea, which still protects it to this day by turning rough when approached. Another version of this account claims that he would throw the chests in the sea along the head of a member of his crew, which as was the case in other myths, would guard them for eternity. If someone is lucky enough to find one of his treasures, it is said that bad luck or madness will follow them for the rest of their life.
Some legends were darker in nature. Among these, one claims that the chest containing the loot was hidden in the water under a Ceiba tree and was only visible while the light of the full moon directly illuminated it. According to this legend, the treasure was guarded by a fish school that would constantly swim around it to keep it disguised under the murky water and were also capable of transforming into sharks, devouring any one that approached it when there was no moonlight and taking their souls to Davy Jones' Locker. Death was also said to be the price for looting a chest hidden at the El Ojo del Buey, a rock formation in Dorado. A myth from Aguadilla, says that when a fisherman tried to retrieve a treasure buried in the sector of Playitas, Cofresí's soul manifested itself as a bull and tried to prevent the liberation of the pirate that had been left behind as guardian. In Cabo Rojo, folklore claims that his treasure might be buried at the end of an anchor's chain, but that when trying to pull it out with bulls, the animals won't budge after perceiving the presence of death nearby. Another claimed that at Poza Clara in Isabela there was a large loot, but that the only way to reach it was to sacrifice a newborn at the site, an action that would cause the water to part and allow access to the area without interacting with its guardian soul.
Outside Puerto Rico, there are similar accounts. El Uvero in Mona is supposed to hold a treasure waiting to be discovered. A second account explores the notion that Cofresí killed a crewmate when burying loot, claiming that after noticing that Hermenegildo "El Tuerto" López was planning to kill him, he took the initiative and murdered him instead, throwing the body on top of the chest that they intended to hide. In the Dominican Republic, the pirates are purported to have buried treasure in several locations. Among the places listed are Gran Estero in Santo Domingo, where he is supposed to have hidden a large amount of loot, Bahía Escocesa, Río San Juan, Sosúa, Cabarete, Puerto Plata and Maimión. These legends claim that Cofresí would leave hints so that he could retrieve them, which included planting recognizable trees nearby. Other accounts list other distinctions, including a series of silver medallions engraved with the initials "R.C." or a chain that emerged from the sea and went into the jungle. Throughout the Dominican Republic, there are supposedly nearly 30 locations where loot was buried along these medallions, most of which remain undiscovered.
Disruption and exploitation of trade
Popular beliefs state that Cofresí was influenced by the secessionist faction which was supporting Puerto Rico's independence from Spain. According to these accounts, he felt that the Spaniards were oppressing the Puerto Ricans in their own home and then began assaulting Spanish ships, particularly those that were being used to export local resources such as gold, as well as American and English vessels that visited the local ports to trade. Cofresí would do this in order to debilitate the Spanish economy, justifying it by allegedly saying that he "wouldn't allow foreign hands to take a piece of the country that saw his birth". In a twist to the British origin theory, his move towards piracy has also been blamed on the United States and said to have originated when he was once caught eating sugar from an American cargo ship without paying, being injured by the ship's captain. Authors from the 19th century fed off this theory, writing that Cofresí generally ignored the ships that came from other nations including those from France, the Netherlands and England, with his attacks being mainly focused on ships from the United States. According to these depictions, Cofresí had declared war on all of those that operated under the flag of the United States. He is portrayed displaying a cruel behavior against hostages that were on these vessels, including an interpretation where he ordered that his captives were to be nailed alive to El Mosquito's deck.
In reality, Spain and the United States were experiencing diplomatic and political differences, therefore the administrators of the colonial government would not pursue Cofresí or his crew as long they assaulted American ships. The government would interpret such actions as patriotic, due to the collateral effect of disrupting the trade of its adversary. Local lore claims that among the hideouts used by Cofresí was a fortress located in Quebradillas, Puerto Rico. The small structure was constructed in the 18th century in the Puerto Herminia beach, serving as an storage building for Spanish customs where materials that entered through the local port were held. According to these legends, the pirates would use the merchant activity to pass unnoticed and use the rivers to go inland, where they hid the pludered treasure inside sewer systems. Employing this tendency for smuggling in his favor, Cofresí supposedly used this fortress as his strategic base and was supported by the local population, which he rewarded for its support. The remains of the stone masonry structure still stand in the coast, having become a tourist attraction due to the mysticism surrounding it.
Tributes and homages
In Puerto Rico, several places are named after Cofresí. Playa Cofi in Vieques was named in his honor, since he was known to frequent the island and sail its waters. Cayo Pirata near Ensenada Honda in Culebra is named after the pirate, having also served as a brief hideout. Supposedly a series of excavations near its vicinity retrieved gold coins (mostly Spanish doubloons) and jewels. Cofresí's Cave is located in a sector of Cabo Rojo called Barrio Pedernales found south of Boquerón, which also hosts a plaza named after him. According to local legend, after Cofresí shared some of his treasure with his family and friends, he would hide what was left over in this grotto. Throughout the years no one has found any treasure in the cave. A similar tale surrounds another cavern, Cueva de las Golondrinas, located in Aguadilla. Another example of "Cofresí's Cove" is found at Boca de Yuma in the La Altagracia province of the Dominican Republic, where several such homages are found. North of this place is the eponymous town of Cofresí, found ten kilometers west of Puerto Plata. This province also features Playa Cofresí, which was named to serve as a tourist trap, with the intent of attracting foreigners that were interested in the legends despite the fact that no historical accounts place the pirates near its vicinity.
To this day, the municipality of Quebradillas is nicknamed La guarida del pirata (lit. "The pirate's hideout") and several of its sports teams are named after these stories, including its most notable one, the Baloncesto Superior Nacional's Piratas de Quebradillas. In his native Cabo Rojo, he is honored by the Roberto Cofresí Soccer Club (affiliated to the Liga Nacional de Fútbol) and the Roberto Cofresí Cup, both in the discipline of association football. In 1972, the Cofresí Motorcycle Club was also established in this municipality. Other kinds of tributes have been made to commemorate Cofresí both locally and internationally. In Puerto Rico, a monument in his image was built by José Buscaglia Guillermety in Boquerón Bay, a water body located in Cabo Rojo. Despite the fact that tributes within the aviation industry are scarce, the few examples that cite Cofresi's name have been linked to notable events. Puertorriqueña de Aviación, the earliest flag carrier company recorded in Puerto Rico, christened its first seaplane with the cognomen of "Kofresí".  In the only copycat crime dedicated to his name, Antulio Ramírez Ortíz adopted the pseudonym "Elpirata Cofresí" when he seized control of National Airlines' Flight 337 and redirected it to Cuba by holding the pilot hostage with a knife. This was the first act of air piracy that involved an American airline in the history of the United States.
Literature and theater
Cofresí has been the subject of numerous biographical books which include El Marinero, Bandolero, Pirata y Contrabandista Roberto Cofresí by Walter R. Cardona Bonet; El Mito de Cofresí en la Narrativa Antillana by Robert Fernandez Valledor and Roberto Cofresí: El Bravo Pirata de Puerto Rico by Edwin Vázquez. Bienvenido G. Camacho published, El Aguila Negra; ó Roberto Cofresí: intrépido pirata puertorriqueño, el terror de los navegantes., a book that claimed to be a historical account of Cofresí's life, but was actually a fictional novel. Corsario: Última Voluntad y Testamento Para La Posteridad del Capitán Don Roberto Cofresí y Ramírez de Arellano de Cabo Rojo by Luis Ascencio Camacho, El caribe huele a pólvora: La verdad sobre un corsario llamado Roberto Cofresí by Joaquín Rozas Joaco and ¡Cofresí en Armas! ¡Presente! by Osvaldo Torres Santiago are semi-fictional and based on the research of its authors. Painter Roland Borges Soto has published a series of works directed towards a juvenile audience, including the coloring books The boy who dreamed of being a Pirate: Cofresi's Treasures and Piratas: Coloring Book, as well as a fictional novel titled Último Pirata del Caribe: Cofresí. Poet Georgina Lázaro wrote Leyendas del Oeste de la Isla: El Pirata Cofresi y El Milagro de Hormigueros, which introduces the mythical aspects of the pirate to this audience. Midiam Astacio Méndez's Voces de la Cultura: Serie Juvenil 3. El Corsario Cofresí: Héroe Puertorriqueño reinterprets the theory that Cofresi could have been a privateer in a children-friendly manner.
Several foreign authors have also depicted him in their works, notably in the adjacent Dominican Republic. In La gloria llamó dos veces, author Julio González Herrera offers a tale that links the pirate with one of that country's most iconic figures, Juan Pablo Duarte, which serves as a reflection of the impact that he retained throughout the Caribbean. In a similar context, fellow Dominican Francisco Carlos Ortea published El tesoro de Cofresí, which follows a modern family that travels to Mona and finds a hidden treasure. However, this influence has expanded beyond Latin American countries, reaching Europe in the form of Germany, where Angelika Mechtel published Das Kurze Heldenhafte Leben Des Don Roberto Cofresí. In 1999, Robert L. Muckley collaborated with Adela Martínez-Santiago on Stories from Puerto Rico, which translated some popular legends into English. Lee Cooper wrote a book titled The Pirate of Puerto Rico, which offers a fictional account that was aimed to portray the Cofresí as a positive role model to English-speaking children. The pirate also plays a prominent role in the 2014 romance novel Wind Raven, authored by Regan Walker. The pirate also plays secondary parts in other works. In Anthony Bjorklund's I Just Had To Go Back To Di Island his treasures serve as a plot element. Reyna Ramírez-Arellano, a major character of Rick Riordan's The Blood of Olympus, is portrayed as a descendant of Cofresí and Marion Frederic Ramírez de Arellano.
Several short stories detailing legends have been published in compendiums. Defunct newspaper, El Imparcial distributed a series of folkloric accounts, among which was a story titled Cofresí authored by José Luis Vivas Maldonado. Pueblos Hispanos, a weekly publication based in New York, dedicated a section to the analytical work, El Buen Borincano. In Cuentos de la tierra y cuentos del mar, Néstor A. Rodríguez Escudero includes three different narratives. Some of these publications where even used in public instruction. In 1926, professor Paulino Rodríguez published Gotas del estío, which included a brief work titled La caja de Cofresí. A story written by Juan B. Huyke for his book Cuentos y leyendas was selected by the Puerto Rico Department of Public Instruction for Secretos y Maravillas, which was used in public schools. Another titled El Puerto Rico Ilustrado, published several notes that discuss the topic, including a short story titled Palabra de militar by Vicente Palés Matos, which portrays the life of the pirate from the perspective of the people and politicians involved. Curiously, a 19th-century author and poet named Félix Matos Benier used the pen name "Cofresí", despite still remaining under the domain of the same Spanish authorities that executed him. This might have fueled the rumors that the pirate still roamed Puerto Rico.
Among the works created by Alejandro Tapia y Rivera, the most notable Puerto Rican playwright of the 19th century, were biographical plays about important figures of the era such as Cofresí (an eponymous book was published in 1876) and Ramón Power y Giralt. In this work, the pirate undergoes a pseudo-deification, receiving abilities rivaling those of a Homeric hero such as commanding the wind with a simple whisper. Between 1944 and 1945, another play written by Edna Coll was staged in the University of Puerto Rico's Río Piedras Campus, where it won the first place on a theater contest. In the 1940s, Rafael Hernández Marín, one of the most notable composers in Puerto Rico during the 20th century, authored an operetta simply titled Cofresí. The musical was first staged at Teatro Tapia de San Juan on December 21, 1949. Nearly 30 years after, the Puerto Rican Zarzuela and Operetta Foundation held a second function. However, afterwards it was lost with time. The operetta was reinterpreted in 2013 for the Interamerican University of Puerto Rico's 100th anniversary, with a script based on the original by Gustavo Palés Matos and adapted by Pablo Cabrera. The cast was heavily local, led by Rafael Dávila as Cofresí and counting with Elaine Ortiz Arandes, Manolo González, Guido Lebrón, Ilca López and Gil René as support cast. With the help of Rafael's son, Alejandro "Chalí" Hernández, the work had to be reconstructed from remnants of the original version, with the process taking two years. Directed by Roselin Pabón, the play was recorded live by the Puerto Rico Symphony Orchestra for an eponymous album produced by Julio Bagué along Gerardo Lopez, Alfonso Ordoñez, Juan Cristobal Losada and Michael Bishop. The production was nominated in the "Best Classical Album" category of the Latin Grammy Awards of 2013. Cofresí... O un bubulú caribeño, a musical written by José Luis Ramos Escobar and featuring choreography by José Félix Gómez debuted at the theatre of the University of Puerto Rico on November 3, 1990. The play featured talent from the campus' drama department and was headlined by Gustavo Rodríguez, Marcos Garay, Sonia Gándia, Julio Augusto Cintrón, Tony Váldes, Víctor Corrian and Miguel Morales, with escenography by Cheko Cuevas and wardrobe by Gloria Sáez.
Sociohistorical and subjective analysis
Based on his actions and the political environment of his time, the possibility that Cofresí may have been an insurgent privateer instead of a pirate has also been explored, both by historians and in narratives. His career as a pirate coincided directly with Simón Bolívar's independence movement, which gathered the participation of figures from several other Latin American countries and colonies, reaching Puerto Rico in the figure of Antonio Valero de Bernabé. In 1819, this campaign resulted in the creation of the Republic of Colombia, now known as Gran Colombia, in its original constitution. This country emerged from direct conflict against the Spanish Empire and soon became antagonized by the postures of the United States. Both Cuba and Puerto Rico were listed by Bolívar as future targets for his movement, but this was mostly deterred due to internal problems within Colombia. Citing a source from the United States as support for this theory, Juan Antonio Corretjer noted how he believed that under these circumstances, Cofresí's own interest influenced him to join this revolution by working as privateer for Bolívar. It has been propossed that among his cooperations with this campaign, he may have donated captured ships during the ongoing Venezuelan War of Independence. Another of his possible motivations has also been analyzed. In the comedic work The Code of the Zombie Pirate: How to Become an Undead Master of the High Seas, satirist Scott Kenemore discusses how Cofresí and other notorious pirates decided to baptize their ships with names that do not sound threatening, in direct contrast to their reputation. El Mosquito is mentioned among several other examples, including Bartholomew Roberts' Little Ranger and several of Edward Low's vessels such as Fancy, Rose Pink and Merry Christmas. In line with the comedic tone of the book, the author questions if this ironic naming was a display of machismo or if it was done intentionally, so that sailors would avoid facing them just to prevent the ridicule of reporting their loss to a ship with an inoffensive name.
In Piracy, Globalization and Marginal Identities: Navigating Gender and Nationality in Contemporary Hispanic Fiction, Alana B. Reid notes how the narratives based on Cofresí differ from the mainstream format seen in other Spanish work. These were mostly used in a political manner that either served as propaganda for the Spanish Empire or to cast their opponents as villains. As a rebel hometown hero, Cofresí's depiction is an antithesis of the norm. She also lists how it differs from contemporary pirate literature, where the authors choose to depict pirates that share their own cultural identity as vile and unredeemable characters. This is the case with angloparlant writers J. M. Barrie and Robert Louis Stevenson, who created the villainous figures of Captain Hook and Long John Silver. She traces this depiction of Cofresí as a righteous pirate to Tapia y Rivera, who portrays him as a moral man who had trouble retaining his faith in a world filled with injustice. Reid links this to the fledgling Puerto Rican nationalism during the 19th century, with subsequent authors adopting the same editorial line during the next century as a way to reinforce a now established identity that continues in conflict with an ambiguous political status. To this end, he has also been depicted wielding the machete, a weapon commonly associated with Puerto Rican nationalism and resistance.
Outside his reputation as a pirate, Cofresí has also been directly linked to the creation of what later became the official beverage of Puerto Rico, the piña colada. According to this account, when the crew's morale was low, he would mix them a beverage that contained coconut, pineapple and white rum. This connection has been commercially exploited by different elements of the alcohol industry. In 2014, California-based The Bruery introduced a piña colada variant of the traditional American sour ale and named it "El Pirata Cofresí" after this legend. During the 20th century, a rum brand adopted his patronymic as its namesake. Rum Kofresí was distributed in Puerto Rico and was merchandised in a bottle that depicted an stereotypical pirate, wearing a large black hat, belts, and wielding a sword and a gun around his waist. Since then the namesake has been used by other distilleries, including Dominican-produced Ron Cofresí and the New York-based Cofresí Rum Company.
Other products and services have been merchandised under the "Cofresí" brand, including belts, terrace building companies and a brand of windows named Grand Corsair. Furthermore, countless businesses have used the pirate's reputation to attract customers. There are bakeries, small inns, hotels, grocery stores, bars and villas bearing his name. This trend even made its way to the United States, where an international moving and hauling company, Agencia Cofresí, was named after him. The name holds such notoriety, that Enrique Laguerre once considered writing a book based on his life but intended to rename the protagonist "Roberto Caribe", to avoid exploiting Cofresí's reputation. The author immediately noticed how the work lost its merchantability. In the earliest effort to introduce pirate's myth to the commercial music industry, Italian singer Tony Croatto compossed an eponymous song, where he offers a concise summary of the fictionalized version of his life and death.
The very first cinematographic company was Cine Puerto Rico established in 1912, which produced films until going bankrupt in 1917. After this organization closed, renowned poet Luis Llorens Torres purchased its production materials and created his own entity, Cine Tropical. After his first film was a success, Llorens programmed a series of projects. The first scheluded was Los misterios de Cofresí, also known as El Tesoro de Cofresí, which was meant to be released in the chapter play format. However, the filming was stopped in mid-production when the lead actor, Aquiles Zorda, suddenly left Puerto Rico and did not return. The onset of World War I prevented the continuation of Cine Tropical, which was now unable to import materials, and the movie was never finished. In 1919, Juan Emilio Viguié began filming another production titled La Vida de Cofresí. The municipality of Ponce served as setting, but like its predecessor the film could not be completed. Another attempt was made in 1973 when Boquerón Films, Inc. employed several actors and began a study of the myths in Cabo Rojo. Conversations were recorded in order to prepare a script.
Flags of Cofresí
When Spain issued a decree blocking foreign countries from trading, selling or buying merchandise in its Caribbean colonies, the entire region became engulfed in a power struggle among the naval superpowers. The newly independent United States later became involved in this scenario, complicating the conflict. As a consequence, Spain increased the issuing of privateering contracts, a development that was in turn exploited by pirates. In the midst of this chaos, Cofresí freely hoisted the flags of Spain and Colombia, sailing under them with the intent of approaching unsuspecting ships before plundering their cargo. He was known to use this tactic in attacks that took place in the coastlines of Ponce, Fajardo, Vieques, Peñuelas, Guayama and Patillas. Other flags have been associated with Cofresí, however, no historical proof has been provided to support their use.
In his literary work El Pirata Cofresí, historian Cayetano Coll y Toste links him to the traditional Jolly Roger, describing his use of the "flag of death" or "the black flag used by pirates", without elaborating further. While other sources state that upon capture, El Mosquito was flying "the red flag of Puerto Rico". This coloration became a symbol for several social and political struggles in Puerto Rico throughout the 19th century. The earliest recorded use of this design was in a military conspiracy within the Regimiento de Granada and led by Andrés Vizcarrondo, Buenaventura Valentín Quiñones and Juan Vizcarrondo, which intended to assassinate several key figures before declaring independence. The red flag would remain in use for the following decades and was unfurled by Manuel Rojas, General Commander of the Liberation Army during the Grito de Lares. Despite the widespread use, it's association with Cofresí is most likely anachronistic and related to the several legends linking him to the Puerto Rican independence movement. This trend is repeated in A History of the United States Navy, where author Fletcher Pratt directly states that the pirates would sail under the "flag of the independent Puerto Rico Republic".
- This name uses Spanish naming customs; the first or paternal family name is Cofresí and the second or maternal family name is Ramírez de Arellano.
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