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 Flags of Cofresí
- 6 See also
- 7 References
- 8 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.
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.
- This vessel is referred to as Dolphin in the English version of the account, due to its employment of different names depending on the flag being flown. The ship operated under Danish registration.
- Pariser 1995, pp. 182
- Acosta 1987, pp. 94
- Gladys Nieves Ramírez (2007-07-28). "Vive el debate de si el corsario era delincuente o benefactor" (in Spanish). El Nuevo Día. Retrieved 2013-11-10.
- Acosta 1987, pp. 89
- Fernández Valledor 2006, pp. 92
- Fernández Valledor 1978, pp. 42
- Acosta 1987, pp. 91
- Fernández Valledor 1978, pp. 49
- Puerto Rican Folkloric Dance, Retrieved April 2, 2008
- Fernández Valledor 2006, pp. 80
- Fernández Valledor 2006, pp. 81
- Fernández Valledor 1978, pp. 46
- Fernández Valledor 1978, pp. 47
- Acosta 1991, pp. 58
- Fernández Valledor 2006, pp. 91
- Freeman Hunt (1846). "Naval and Mercantile Biography". Hunt's Merchants' Magazine. Retrieved 2015-04-21.
- Fernández Valledor 1978, pp. 50
- Héctor Sánchez. Bioluminiscencia: otra joya del país (in Spanish). La Perla del Sur. Retrieved 2013-11-10.
Americanoswas invoked but never defined (see the help page).
Cite error: The named reference
- Fernández Valledor 1978, pp. 125
- Fernández Valledor 1978, pp. 127
- Eugenio Astol (1936-05-09). El contendor de los gobernadores (in Spanish). Puerto Rico Ilustrado.
- Fernández Valledor 1978, pp. 56
- Fernández Valledor 1978, pp. 58
- Luis Ascencio Camacho (2013). "Singularidades y posibles irregularidades en el juicio de Roberto Cofresí" (in Spanish). Academia.edu. Retrieved 2013-10-08.
- Antonio Heredia (2013-06-24). "Viceministro de Educación dictará conferencia en PP; pondrá en circulación libro" (in Spanish). Puerto plata Digital. Retrieved 2013-11-11.
- Clammer, Grosberg & Porup 2008, pp. 150
- Fernández Valledor 1978, pp. 57
- Fernández Valledor 1978, pp. 105
- Fernández Valledor 1978, pp. 60
- Fernández Valledor 1978, pp. 104
- Fernández Valledor 1978, pp. 59
- Ojeda Reyes 2001, pp. 7
- Fernández Valledor 1978, pp. 68
- "Spanish Colonial History". National Museum of American History. c. 2000. Archived from the original on 2000-05-11. Retrieved 2013-12-02.
- Fernández Valledor 2006, pp. 125
- Cabo Rojo: datos históricos, económicos, culturales y turísticos. Municipio Autónomo de Cabo Rojo. n.d. p. 15.
- Fernández Valledor 1978, pp. 61
Bookwas invoked but never defined (see the help page).
Cite error: The named reference
- Luis R. Negrón Hernández, Jr. "Roberto Cofresí: El pirata caborojeño" (in Spanish). Retrieved 2007-05-25.
- Fernández Valledor 1978, pp. 62
- Fernández Valledor 1978, pp. 65
- Fernández Valledor 2006, pp. 106
- Fernández Valledor 1978, pp. 63
- Fernández Valledor 1978, pp. 64
- Fernández Valledor 2006, pp. 108
- Fernández Valledor 2006, pp. 117
- Fernández Valledor 2006, pp. 118
- Fernández Valledor 1978, pp. 66
- Fernández Valledor 2006, pp. 102
- Fernández Valledor 2006, pp. 36
- "April 21, 1825: The Maryland Gazette from Annapolis, Maryland". The Maryland Gazette. 1825-04-21. Retrieved 2015-03-29.
- Singer 2004, pp. 84
- Fernández Valledor 1978, pp. 67
- Fernández Valledor 2006, pp. 37
- DEPARTMENT OF THE NAVY -- NAVAL HISTORICAL CENTER, Retrieved April 2, 2008
- My Gold Rush Tales by John Putnam
- "¿Qué pasó hoy?" (in Spanish). NotiCel. 2012-07-01. Retrieved 2013-11-04.
- Fernández Valledor 2006, pp. 11
- "Parroquía de Cabo Rojo" (in Spanish). MayaWest Magazine. 2012. Retrieved 2013-11-13.
- Carmen Dolores Trelles (1991-01-09). "En busca de Cofresí" (in Spanish). El Nuevo Día. Retrieved 2013-11-11.
- Cayetano Coll y Toste (1824). "El Pirata Cofresí" (in Spanish). Biblioteca Digital del Caribe. Retrieved 2013-11-11.
- Millie Gil (2010-11-08). "Cofresí, llega al quinto aniversario del Western Ballet Theatre de Mayagüez" (in Spanish). ¡Mayagüez sabe a mangó! (Municipality of Mayagüez). Retrieved 2013-11-11.
- Maldonado-Denis 1988, pp. 41
- Pérez Morís 1975, pp. 31-35
- Héctor L. Sánchez (2014-10-29). "La bandera de Lares: del mito al hito" (in Spanish). Periódico La Perla del Sur. Retrieved 2015-04-03.
- Fernández Valledor 1978, pp. 80
- Acosta, Ursula (1987). New Voices of Old- Five centuries of Puerto Rican Cultural History. Permanent Press. ISBN 0-915393-20-4.
- Acosta, Ursula (1991). Cofresí y Ducoudray: Hombres al margen de la historia. Editorial Edil. ISBN 9780317616286.
- Clammer, Paul; Grosberg, Michael; Porup, Jens (2008). Dominican Republic & Haiti. Ediz. Inglese. Lonely Planet. ISBN 978-1-74104-292-4.
- Fernández Valledor, Roberto (1978). El mito de Cofresí en la narrativa antillana. Publisher: Editorial Universitaria, Universidad de Puerto Rico. ISBN 0-8477-0556-0.
- Fernández Valledor, Roberto (2006). Cofresí: El pirata Cofresí mitificado por la tradición oral puertorriqueña. Casa Paoli. ISBN 0-8477-0556-0.
- Kenemore, Scott (2010). The Code of the Zombie Pirate: How to Become an Undead Master of the High Seas. Skyhorse Publishing Inc. ISBN 978-1616081201.
- Maldonado-Denis, Manuel (1988). Puerto Rico: una interpretación histórico-social. Siglo XXI Editores. ISBN 9682303451.
- Ojeda Reyes, Félix (2001). El Desterrado de París: Biografía del Dr. Ramón Emeterio Betances (1827–1898). Ediciones Puerto. ISBN 0942347471.
- Pariser, Harry S. (1995). Adventure Guide to Dominican Republic. Hunter Publishing, Inc. ISBN 1-55650-277-X.
- Pérez Moris, José (1975). Historia de la insurrección de Lares. Editorial Edil. ISBN 1249023769.
- Reid, Alana B. (2011). Piracy, Globalization and Marginal Identities: Navigating Gender and Nationality in Contemporary Hispanic Fiction. ProQuest. ISBN 1243662247.
- Singer, Gerald (2004). Vieques: A Photographically Illustrated. Sombrero Publishing Company. ISBN 0-9641220-4-9.
- Solórzano, Carlos (2014). World Encyclopedia of Contemporary Theatre: Volume 2: The Americas. Routledge. ISBN 0415867630.
- Van Atten, Suzanne (2009). Moon Puerto Rico. Moon Handbooks. ISBN 9781598801828.
- Harold J. Lidin (1982). History of the Puerto Rican Independence Movement: 19th century. Waterfront Press. ISBN 0943862000.
- Antonio Benítez-Rojo (1997). The Repeating Island: The Caribbean and the Postmodern Perspective. Duke University Press. ISBN 9780822318651.
- José Morales-Dorta (2006). El Morro, testigo inconquistable. Isla Negra Editores. ISBN 1932271791.