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Roberto Cofresí

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Roberto Cofresí
Statue of the pirate captain Roberto Cofresí.jpg
Monument of Roberto Cofresí located in Boquerón Bay.
Nickname El Pirata Cofresí
Other names Cofrecina(s)
Type Caribbean pirate
Born (1791-06-17)June 17, 1791
Place of birth Cabo Rojo, Puerto Rico
Died March 29, 1825(1825-03-29) (aged 33)
Place of death San Juan, Puerto Rico
Allegiance None
Rank Captain
Base of operations Barrio de Pedernales
Isla de Mona
Commands Flotilla of unidentified vessels
Caballo Blanco
Battles/wars Capture of the Anne
Wealth 4,000 pieces of eight (hidden remnants of a larger fortune)

Roberto Cofresí y Ramírez de Arellano[nb 1] (June 17, 1791 – March 29, 1825), better known as El Pirata Cofresí, was a pirate from Puerto Rico. Despite his birth into a noble family, the political and economic difficulties faced by the island as a colony of the Spanish Empire during the late 18th and early 19th centuries meant that his household was poor. Cofresí worked at sea from an early age; although this familiarized him with the region's geography, it provided only a modest salary. He eventually decided to abandon a sailor's life, becoming a pirate. Despite previous links to land-based criminal activities, the reason for Cofresí's change of vocation is unknown; historians speculate that he may have worked as a privateer aboard the El Scipión, owned by one of his cousins.

The timing of this decision was crucial in establishing him as the dominant Caribbean pirate of the era. Cofresí began his new career in early 1823, filling a role vacant in the Spanish Main since the death of Jean Lafitte, and was the last major target of West Indies anti-piracy operations. When piracy was heavily monitored and most pirates rarely successful, Cofresí was confirmed to have plundered at least eight vessels and has been credited with over 70 captures.[2] At the height of his career, he evaded capture by vessels from Spain, Gran Colombia, Great Britain, Denmark, France and the United States.[3] Cofresí preferred to outrun his pursuers but his flotilla engaged the West Indies Squadron twice, attacking the schooners U.S.S. Grampus and U.S.S. Beagle.

Cofresí commanded several small-draft vessels, the best known a fast six-gun sloop named Anne, and demonstrated a preference for speed and maneuverability over firepower. He manned them with small, rotating crews, which most contemporary documents and accounts numbered at 10 to 20 in size. Although most crew members were recruited locally, men from the other Antilles, Central America and expatriate Europeans occasionally joined the pirates. Unlike his predecessors, Cofresí is not known to have imposed a pirate code on his crew; his leadership was enhanced by an audacious personality, a trait acknowledged even by his pursuers. According to 19th-century reports he had a rule of engagement that when a vessel was captured, only those willing to join his crew were permitted to live. Cofresí's influence extended to a large number of civil informants and associates, forming a network which took 14 years after his death to fully dismantle.

Despite never confessing to a murder, he reportedly boasted about his crimes; the number of people who died as a result of his pillaging ranged from 300 to 400, mostly foreigners. Cofresí proved too much for local authorities who, unable to contain him themselves, accepted international help to capture the pirate; Spain created an alliance with the West Indies Squadron and the Danish government of Saint Thomas. On March 5, 1825, the alliance set a trap which forced Anne into a naval battle. After 45 minutes, Cofresí abandoned his ship and escaped overland; he was recognized by a local resident, who ambushed and injured him. Cofresí was captured and imprisoned, making a last unsuccessful attempt to escape by trying to bribe an official with part of a hidden stash. The pirates were sent to San Juan, Puerto Rico, where a brief military tribunal found them guilty and sentenced them to death. On March 29, 1825, Cofresí and most of his crew were executed by firing squad.

The pirate inspired stories and myths after his death, most emphasizing a Robin Hood-like "steal from the rich, give to the poor" philosophy which became associated with him. In poetry and oral tradition this portrayal has evolved into legend, commonly accepted as fact in Puerto Rico and throughout the West Indies. Cofresí became part of the Puerto Rican independence movement and other secessionist initiatives, including Simón Bolívar's campaign against Spain. Historic and mythical accounts of his life have inspired songs, poems, plays, books and films. In Puerto Rico caves, beaches and other alleged hideouts or locations of buried treasure have been named after Cofresí, and a resort town near Puerto Plata in the Dominican Republic is named for him.

Early years[edit]


In 1945, historian Enrique Ramírez Brau speculated that Cofresí may have had Jewish ancestry.[4] A theory, held by David Cuesta and historian Úrsula Acosta (a member of the Puerto Rican Genealogy Society), held that the name Kupferstein ("copper stone") may have been chosen by his family when the 18th-century European Jewish population adopted surnames.[4] The theory was later discarded when their research uncovered a complete family tree prepared by Cofresí's cousin, Luigi de Jenner,[5] indicating that their name was spelled Kupferschein (not Kupferstein).[4][6] Originally from Prague, Cofresí paternal patriarch Cristoforo Kupferschein received a recognition and coat of arms from Ferdinand I of Austria in December 1549 and eventually moved to Trieste.[7] His last name was probably adapted from the town of Kufstein.[8] After its arrival, the family became one of Trieste's early settlers.[7] Cristoforo's son Felice was recognized as a noble in 1620, becoming Edler von Kupferschein.[7] The family gained prestige and became one of the city's wealthiest, with the next generation receiving the best possible education and marrying into other influential families.[9] Cofresí's grandfather, Giovanni Stanislao Kupferschein, held several offices in the police, military and municipal administration.[10] According to Acosta, Cofresí's father Francesco received a lateinschule education and left at age 19 for Frankfurt (probably in search of a university or legal practice).[11] In Frankfurt he mingled with influential figures such as Johann Wolfgang von Goethe,[12] returning to Trieste two years later.[12]

As a cosmopolitan, mercantile city Trieste was a probable hub of illicit trade,[13] and Francesco was forced to leave after he killed Josephus Steffani on July 31, 1778.[14] Although Steffani's death is commonly attributed to a duel, given their acquaintanceship (both worked at a criminal court) it may have been related to illegal activity.[15] Francesco's name and those of four sailors soon became linked to the murder.[14] Convicted in absentia, the fugitive remained in touch with his family.[16] Francesco went to Barcelona, reportedly learning Spanish there.[16] By 1784 he had settled in Cabo Rojo, Puerto Rico, a harbor town in the municipality of San Germán, where he was accepted by the local aristocracy[17] with the Spanish honorific Don ("of noble origin").[18] Francesco's name was Hispanicized to Francisco Cofresí, which was easier for his neighbors to pronounce.[16][19] Since he was linked to illegal commerce in his homeland, he probably relocated to Cabo Rojo for strategic reasons; its harbor was far from San Juan, the capital.[20] Francisco soon met María Germana Ramírez de Arellano, and they married. His wife was born to Clemente Ramírez de Arellano y del Toro, a noble and first cousin of town founder Nicolás Ramírez de Arellano.[15] Her family, descended from the aristocracy of Navarre, owned a significant amount of land in Cabo Rojo.[21][22] After their marriage the couple settled in El Tujao (or El Tujado), near the coast.[23] Francisco's father Giovanni died on 1789, and a petition pardoning him for Steffani's murder a decade before was granted two years later (enabling him to return to Trieste).[24] However, no evidence exists that Francisco ever returned to the city.[24]

Penniless nobleman and marauder[edit]

The Latin American wars of independence had repercussions in Puerto Rico; due to widespread privateering and other naval warfare, maritime commerce suffered heavily.[25] Cabo Rojo was among the municipalities affected most, with its ports at a virtual standstill.[25] African slaves took to the sea in an attempt at freedom;[26] merchants were assessed higher taxes and harassed by foreigners.[25] Under these conditions, Cofresí was born to Francisco and María Germana. The youngest of four children, he had one sister (Juana) and two brothers (Juan Francisco and Ignacio). Cofresí was baptized into the Roman Catholic Church by José de Roxas, the first priest in Cabo Rojo, when he was fifteen days old.[27] María died when Cofresí was four years old, and an aunt assumed his upbringing.[28] Francisco then began a relationship with María Sanabria, the mother of his last child Julían.[29] A don by birth, Cofresí's education was above average; [30] since there is no evidence of a school in Cabo Rojo at that time, Francisco may have educated his children or hired a tutor.[30] The Cofresís, raised in a multicultural environment, probably knew Dutch and Italian.[31][32] In November 1814 Francisco died,[26] leaving a modest estate;[18] Roberto was probably homeless, with no income.[33]

On January 14, 1815, three months after his father's death, Cofresí married Juana Creitoff in San Miguel Arcángel parish, Cabo Rojo.[17][26] Contemporary documents are unclear about her birthplace; although it is also listed as Curaçao, she was probably born in Cabo Rojo to Dutch parents.[34] After their marriage, the couple moved to a residence bought for 50 pesos by Creitoff's father, Geraldo.[26] Months later Cofresí's father in-law lost his humble home in a fire, plunging the family into debt.[35] Three years after his marriage Cofresí owned no property and lived with his mother-in-law, Anna Cordelia.[33][36] He established ties with residents of San Germán, including his brothers-in-law: the wealthy merchant Don Jacobo Ufret and Don Manuel Ufret.[35] The couple struggled to begin a family of their own, conceiving two sons (Juan and Francisco Matías) who died soon after birth.[17]

Although he belonged to a prestigious family, Cofresí was not wealthy.[37] In 1818 he paid 17 maravedís in taxes, spending most of his time at sea and earning a low wage.[35][38] According to historian Walter Cardona Bonet, Cofresí probably worked in a number of fishing corrals in Boquerón Bay.[38] The corrals belonged to Cristóbal Pabón Dávila, a friend of municipal port captain José Mendoza.[39] This connection is believed to have later protected Cofresí, since Mendoza was godfather to several of his brother Juan Francisco's children.[39] The following year he first appeared on a government registry as a sailor,[38] and there is no evidence linking him to any other jobs in Cabo Rojo.[40] Although Cofresí's brothers were maritime merchants and sailed a boat, the Avispa, he probablly worked as an able fisherman.[41] On December 28, 1819 Cofresí was registered on the Ramona, ferrying goods between the southern municipalities.[36] In addition, her frequent voyages to the Mona Passage and Cofresí's recognition by local residents indicate that he occasionally accompanied the Avispa[42] That year, Cofresí and Juana lived in Barrio del Pueblo and paid higher taxes than the previous year: five reales.[35]

Political changes in Spain affected Puerto Rico's stability during the first two decades of the 19th century.[43] Europeans and refugees from the American colonies began arriving after the Royal Decree of Graces of 1815, changing the archipelago's economic and political environments.[43] With strategic acquisitions, the new arrivals triggered a rise in prices.[44] Food distriution was inefficient, particularly in non-agricultural areas.[45] Unmotivated and desperate, the local population drifted toward crime and dissipation.[43] By 1816, governor Salvador Melėndez Bruna shifted responsibility for law enforcement from the Captaincy General of Puerto Rico to the mayors.[43] Driven by hunger and poverty, highway robbers continued to roam southern and central Puerto Rico.[45] In 1817 wealthy San Germán residents requested help with the criminals, who were invading houses and shops.[46] The following year, Melėndez established a high-security prison at El Arsenal in San Juan.[45] During the next few years, the governor transferred repeat offenders to San Juan.[45] Cabo Rojo, with its high crime rate,[44] also dealt with civil strife, inefficient law enforcement and corrupt officials.[44] While he was still a don, Cofresí led a criminal gang in San Germán which stole cattle, food and crops.[47] He was linked to an organization operating near the Hormigueros barrio since at least 1818 and to another nobleman, Juan Geraldo Bey.[47] Among Cofresí's associates were Juan de los Reyes, José Cartagena and Francisco Ramos,[45] and the criminals continued to thrive in 1820.[46] The situation worsened with the arrival of unauthorized street vendors from nearby municipalities, who were soon robbed.[46] A series of storms and droughts drove residents away from Cabo Rojo, worsening the already-poor economy;[46] authorities retrained the unemployed and underemployed as night watchmen.[44]

The regional harvest was destroyed by a September 28, 1820 hurricane, triggering its largest crime wave to date.[48] Newly-appointed Puerto Rican governor Gonzalo Aróstegui Herera immediately ordered Lieutenant Antonio Ordóñez to round up as many criminals as possible.[48] On November 22, 1820, a group of fifteen men from Cabo Rojo participated in the highway robbery of Francisco de Rivera, Nicolás Valdés and Francisco Lamboy on the outskirts of Yauco.[48] Cofresí is believed to have been involved in this incident because of its timing and the criminals' link to an area headed by his friend, Cristobal Pabón Dávila.[49] The incident sparked an uproar in towns throughout the region, and convinced the governor that the authorities were conspiring with the criminals.[50] Among measures taken by Aróstegui were a mayoral election in Cabo Rojo (Juan Evangelista Ramírez de Arellano, one of Cofresí's relatives, was elected) and an investigation of the former mayor.[51] The incoming mayor was ordered to control crime in the region, an unrealistic demand with the resources at his disposal.[51] Bernardo Pabón Davila, a friend of Cofresí and relative of Cristobal, was assigned to prosecute the Yauco incident.[52] Bernardo reportedly protected the accused and argued against pursuing the case, saying that according to "private confidences" they were fleeing to the United States.[52] Other initiatives to capture highway robbers in Cabo Rojo were more successful, resulting in over a dozen arrests;[53] among them was the nobleman Bey, who was charged with murder.[54] Known as "El Holandés", Bey testified that Cofresí led a criminal gang.[52] Cofresí's primary collaborators were the Ramírez de Arrellano family, who prevented his capture[55] as Cabo Rojo's founding family with high positions in politics and law enforcement.[55] The central government issued wanted posters for Cofresí,[55] and in July 1821 he and the rest of his gang were captured;[52] Bey escaped, becoming a fugitive.[52] Cofresí and his men were tried in San Germán's courthouse, where their connection to several crimes was proven.[52]

On August 17, 1821 (while Cofresí was in prison) Juana gave birth to their only daughter, Bernardina.[17][56][57] Due to his noble status, Cofresí probably received a pass for the birth[56] and took the opportunity to escape;[56] in alternative theories, he broke out or was released on parole.[56] While Cofresí was a fugitive, Bernardo Pabón Davila was Bernardina's godfather and Felicita Ascencio her godmother.[58][59] On December 4, 1821, a wanted poster was circulated by San Germán mayor Pascacio Cardona.[60] There is little documentation of Cofresí’s whereabouts in 1822.[61] Historians have suggested that he exploited his upper-class connections to remain concealed;[62] the Ramírez de Arrellano family held most regional public offices, and their influence extended beyond the region.[62] Other wealthy families, including the Beys, had similarly protected their relatives and Cofresí may have hidden in plain sight due to the inertia of Cabo Rojo authorities.[62] When he became a wanted man, he moved Juana and Anna to her brothers' houses and would visit in secret;[63] Juana also visited him at his headquarters at Pedernales.[63] It is unknown how far Cofresí traveled during this time, but he had associates on the east coast and may have taken advantage of eastern migration from Cabo Rojo.[64] Although he may have been captured and imprisoned in San Juan, he does not appear in contemporary records.[61] However, Cofresí's associates Juan "El Indio" de los Reyes, Francisco Ramos and José "Pepe" Cartagena were released only months before his recorded reappearance.[61]

"Last of the West India pirates"[edit]

Establishing a reputation[edit]

By 1823 Cofresí was probably on the crew of the corsair barquentine El Scipión, captained by José Ramón Torres and managed by his cousin (the first mayor of Mayagüez, José María Ramírez de Arellano).[nb 2][34][66] Historians agree, since several of his friends and family members benefited from the sale of stolen goods.[67] Cofresí may have joined to evade the authorities, honing skills he would use later in life.[67] El Scipión employed questionable tactics later associated with the pirate, such as flying the flag of Gran Colombia so other ships would lower their guard (as she did in capturing the British frigate Aurora and the American brigantine Otter).[68] The capture of the Otter led to a court order requiring restitution, affecting the crew.[69] At this time, Cofresí turned to piracy.[70] Although the reasons behind his decision are unclear, several theories have been proposed by researchers.[70] In Orígenes portorriqueños Ramírez Brau speculates that Cofresí's time aboard El Scipión, or seeing a family member become a privateer, may have influenced his decision to become a pirate[34] after the crew's pay was threatened by the lawsuit. According to Ursula Acosta, a lack of work for privateers ultimately pushed Cofresí into piracy.[70]

The earliest document linked to Cofresí's modus operandi is a letter dated July 5, 1823, from Aguadilla, Puerto Rico which was published in the St. Thomas Gazette.[71] The letter reported that a brigantine, loaded with coffee and West Indian indigo from La Guaira, was boarded by pirates on June 12.[71] The hijackers ordered the ship brought to Mona Island (Monkey Island), a small island in the eponymous passage between Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic,[72][73] where its captain and crew were ordered to unload the cargo.[71] After this was done, the pirates reportedly killed the sailors and sank the brigantine.[71] Both of Cofresí's brothers were soon involved in his operation, helping him move plunder and deal with captured ships.[42] Juan Francisco was able to gather information about maritime traffic in his work at the port, presumably forwarding it to his brother.[39] The pirates communicated with their cohorts through coastal signs, and their associates on land warned them of danger;[74] the system was probably used to identify loaded vessels as well.[75] According to Puerto Rican historian Aurelio Tió, Cofresí shared his loot with the needy (especially family members and close friends) and was considered the Puerto Rican equivalent of Robin Hood.[57] Acosta disagrees, saying that any acts of generosity were probably opportunistic.[76] Cardona Bonet's research suggests that Cofresí organized improvised markets in Cabo Rojo, where plunder would be informally sold;[77] according to this theory, merchant families would buy goods for resale to the public.[77] The process was facilitated by local collaborators, such as French smuggler Juan Bautista Buyé.[78]

On October 28, 1823, months after the El Scipión case was settled, Cofresí attacked a ship registered to the harbor of Patillas[79] and robbed the small fishing boat of 800 pesos in cash.[79] Cofresí attacked with other members of his gang and that of another pirate, Manuel Lamparo, who was connected to British pirate Samuel McMorren (also known as Juan Bron).[80] That week he also led the capture of the John, an American schooner. Out of Newburyport and captained by Daniel Knight, on its way to Mayagüez the ship was intercepted by a ten-ton schooner armed with a swivel gun near Desecheo Island.[81] Cofresí's group, consisting of seven pirates armed with sabers and muskets, stole $1,000 in cash, tobacco, tar and other provisions and the vessel's square rig and mainsail.[81] Cofresí ordered the crew to head for Santo Domingo, threatening to kill everyone aboard if they were seen at any Puerto Rican port.[81] Despite the threat, Knight went to Mayagüez and reported the incident.[81]

Old map of Hispaniola and Puerto Rico
Map of the area where Cofresí and his men usually operated: Puerto Rico, Mona, Vieques (Crab Island), Culebra, Saona, Hispaniola and Saint Thomas

It was soon established that some of the pirates were from Cabo Rojo, since they disembarked there.[82] Undercover agents were sent to the town to track them, and new mayor Juan Font y Soler requested resources to deal with a larger group which was out of control.[82] Links between the pirates and local sympathizers made arresting them difficult.[82] The central government, frustrated with Cabo Rojo's inefficiency, demanded the pirates' capture[83] and western Puerto Rico military commander José Rivas was ordered to exert pressure on local authorities.[83] Although Cofresí was tracked to the beach in Peñones, near his brothers' homes in Guaniquilla, the operation only recovered the John‍ '​s sails, meat, flour, cheese, lard, butter and candles;[83] the pirates escaped aboard a schooner.[84] A detachment caught Juan José Mateu and charged him with conspiracy;[80] his confession linked Cofresí to the two hijackings.[80]

Cofresí's sudden success was an oddity, nearly a century after the end of the Golden Age of Piracy. By this time, joint governmental efforts had eradicated rampant buccaneering by Anglo-French seamen (primarily based on Jamaica and Tortuga), which had turned the Caribbean into a haven for pirates attacking shipments from the region's Spanish colonies; this made his capture a priority. By late 1823, the pursuit on land probably forced Cofresí to move his main base of operations to Mona; the following year, he was often there.[72] This base, initially a temporary haven with Barrio Pedernales his stable outpost, became more heavily used.[72] Easily accessible from Cabo Rojo, Mona had been associated with pirates for more than a century; it was visited by William Kidd, who landed in 1699 after fleeing with a load of gold, silver and iron.[85] A second pirate base was found at Saona, an island south of Hispaniola.[86]

In November a number of sailors aboard El Scipión took advantage of her officers' shore leave and mutinied, seizing control of the ship.[87] The vessel, repurposed as a pirate ship, began operating in the Mona Passage and was later seen at Mayagüez before disappearing from the record.[69] Cofresí was linked to El Scipión by pirate Jaime Márquez, who admitted under police questioning on Saint Thomas that boatswain Manuel Reyes Paz was a Cofresí associate.[88] The confession hints that the ship was captured by Hispaniola authorities.[88] Cofresí is recorded in the Dominican Republic, where his crew reportedly rested off Puerto Plata province.[89] On one excursion, the pirates were intercepted by Spanish patrol boats off the coast of Samaná Province.[90] With no apparent escape route, Cofresí is said to have ordered the vessel's sinking and it sailed into Bahía de Samaná before coming to rest near the town of Punta Gorda.[90] This created a diversion, allowing him and his crew to escape in skiffs they rowed to shore and adjacent wetlands (where the larger Spanish ships could not follow).[90] The remains of the ship, reportedly full of plunder, have not been found.[90]

In an article in the May 9, 1936 issue of Puerto Rico Ilustrado, Eugenio Astol described an 1823 incident between Cofresí and Puerto Rican physician and politician Pedro Gerónimo Goyco.[91] The 15-year-old Goyco traveled alone on a schooner to a Santo Domingo school for his secondary education.[91] In mid-voyage, Cofresí intercepted the ship and the pirates boarded it.[91] Cofresí assembled the passengers, asking their names and those of their parents.[91] When he learned that Goyco was among them, the pirate ordered a change of course; they landed on a beach near Mayagüez,[91] where Goyco was freed. Cofresí explained that he knew Goyco's father, an immigrant from Herceg Novi named Gerónimo Goicovich who had settled in Mayagüez.[91] Goyco returned home safely, later attempting the voyage again. The elder Goicovich had favored members of Cofresí's family, despite their association with a pirate.[91] Goyco grew up to become a militant abolitionist, similar to Ramón Emeterio Betances and Segundo Ruiz Belvis.[91]

Cofresí's actions quickly gained the attention of the Anglo-American nations, who called him "Cofrecinas" (a mistranslated, onomatopoeic variant of his last name).[92] Commercial agent and ambassador to the United States Judah Lord wrote to John Quincy Adams (then United States Secretary of State) describing the El Scipión situation and the capture of the John.[93] Adams relayed the information to Commodore David Porter, leader of the anti-piracy West Indies Squadron, who sent several ships to Puerto Rico.[93] On November 27 Cofresí sailed from his base on Mona with two sloops (armed with pivot gun cannons) and assaulted another American ship, the brigantine William Henry.[86] The Salem Gazette reported that the following month a schooner sailed from Santo Domingo to Saona, capturing 18 pirates (including Manuel Reyes Paz) and a "considerable quantity" of leather, coffee, indigo and cash.[94]

International manhunt[edit]

Cofresí and his crew targeted all sorts of victims, both local and foreign, creating a rift in the economic stability of the entire region. However, when boarding Spanish vessels, Cofresí generally targeted the immigrants brought by the Royal Decree of 1815 and usually ignored his fellow criollos.[95] 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 territories, Puerto Rico and Cuba were faced with economic problems and political unrest. Unsatisfied with its ability to sabotage the commerce of the rebellious ex-colonies, Spain stopped issuing letters of marque and left several sailors unemployed, these turned towards piracy and Cofresí's circle grew exponentially.[96][97] On the diplomatic side, this change in stance also resulted in a crisis, since the pirates assaulted foreign ships while flying the flag of Spain, angering the nations that had reached an agreement concerning the return of the vessels captured by corsairs and an additional compensation for the losses.[98] Aware of the fact that the matter had grown into international territory, Lieutenant General Miguel Luciano de la Torre y Pando (1822–1837), the Governor of Puerto Rico appointed by Spain, made capturing Cofresí a priority.[98] By December 1823, other nations decided to join the efforts to combat Cofresí and sent war ships to monitor the Mona Passage.[99] Gran Colombia sent two corvettes, the Bocayá and the Bolívar, under the command of former privateer and associate of Jean Lafitte, Renato Beluche.[99] After the incident with the William Henry, the British assigned a corvette named H.M.S. Seout to the zone.[100]

On January 23, 1824, De la Torre issued several anti-piracy measures based on the economic losses that the Spanish government was sustaining and the political pressure from the United States.[101][102] Foremost and wanting to create a powerful deterrent, the governor ordered that the crime would now be attended in a military trial, with the accused being judged as an enemy combatant.[103] To ensure these goals, he issued a circular letter that not only requested the pursue of all pirates and bandits, but those that helped and protected them as well.[104] The functionary also established a reward system, hoping to motivate those involved in the operations.[104] Medals and certificates were issued and bounties were paid in gold and silver.[105] In the east coast of Puerto Rico, this initiative proved successful with the capture of Lamparo.[104] Some of the members of his crew then joined other fugitives and became part of Cofresí's crew.[104]

On the other hand, the Secretary of the United States Navy Samuel L. Southard ordered Porter to assign vessels to the Mona Passage, with the commodore sending the schooner U.S.S. Weasel and the brigantine U.S.S. Spark.[94] The ships left with the intention of scouting the zone while information was gathered at Saint Barthélemy and St. Thomas, with the final goal of destroying the base at Mona.[94] Porter warned them that the pirates were said to be well armed and supplied, but also noted that it was unlikely that they would find plunder at the base due to the proximity of ports in the east coast of Puerto Rico.[106] On February 8, 1824, the U.S.S Spark arrived at Mona and landed after some recognizance.[106] On the way, they spotted a suspicious schooner, but captain John T. Newton decided not to pursue it.[106] The crew initially found a small village composed of a hut and other structures.[106] The structures were vacant at the moment, but they found a chest of medicine, sails, books, an anchor and several documents belonging to the William Henry.[106] Newton ordered the destruction of the entire base.[65] The party also disposed of a large canoe found at the vicinity.[106] Porter promptly reported these results to the Secretary of the Navy.[106] Another report states that the vessel sent was the USS Beagle.[85] According to this version, several of the pirates were able to elude the crew of the military boat.[85] However, this did not deter Cofresí, who quickly resettled Mona.[65]

The attack of two brigantines was reported by Beluche on February 12, 1824, and published in an edition of El Colombiano days later.[97] The first dealt with the Boniton, captained by Alexander Murdock, which was sailing off with a load of cocoa from Trinidad and was intercepted en route to Gibraltar.[97] The second was the Bonne Sophie, which was navigating out of Havre de Grace under the command of a man named Chevanche and was transporting dry goods to Martinique.[97] In both cases the sailors were left beaten and locked, while their ships were plundered.[107] The ships where being directed in a convoy towards Puerto Rico, when intercepted by the Bolívar off the coast of Puerto Real, Cabo Rojo.[108] In this assault, Cofresí was leading a ship that Beluche identified as a pailebot.[nb 3][109] The Bolívar was unable to capture it, but described the vessel as being painted black and armed with a rotating cannon.[107] The crew was identified as being composed of twenty Puerto Rican men, though no individual names were provided.[107] It is presumed that Cofresí was leading the vessels to dock at Pedernales, where Mendoza and his brother could facilitate the distribution of its loot under the inaction of the authorities.[97] From there, other associates usually employed Boquerón Bay for transportation and ensured that it reached stores at Cabo Rojo and the adjacent towns.[97] In this municipality, his influence extended beyond to also include the military and municipal structures. The Ramírez de Arellano family was also involved in the contraband and sale of the products looted by Cofresí.[55] Once on land, the loot was hidden in sacks and barrels and the taken for distribution to Mayagüez, Hormigueros or San Germán.[55] When he returned to Colombia, Beluche published a critical article in the press.[97] La Gaceta de Puerto Rico countered and attempted to discredit the incursions led by that nation, accusing him of stealing the Bonne Sophie and linking him with the pirates.[nb 4][110]

On February 16, 1824, the governor enacted more measures, this time ordering the courts to be more aggressive in the prosecution of pirates and a general increase in the pursue of them.[110] The following month, De la Torre ordered a search for the schooner Caballo Blanco, which was reportedly used in the boarding of the Boniton and the Bonne Sophie, as well as other similar attacks.[nb 5][98] In a private communication with José Rivas, military commander of Mayagüez, the governor asked the officer to find someone trustworthy who was capable of cleverly launching a mission to capture "the so-called Cofresin".[98] De la Torres requested to be informed personally of his arrest.[98] The governor allowed the use of force and described the pirate as "one of the evil ones that I am pursuing", also noting that he was aware that the authorities in Cabo Rojo protected him.[98] The operation was convert due to the fact that the mayor was either incapable or unwilling to cooperate, despite direct communication from De la Torre himself.[98] Rivas attempted to track Cofresí at his house twice, finding it vacant.[111] After being unable to track the pirate or his wife, the captain tried to communicate with the mayor, but was unable to fulfill his task.[111] A similar search was undertaken at San Germán, whose mayor reported to De la Torre on March 12, 1824.[111]

On March 22, 1824, the governor of Martinique, François-Xavier Donzelot, wrote to De la Torre concerned about the captures of the Bonne Sophie and the impact of piracy in maritime commerce.[112] This concern soon lead to the inclusion of France in the search for Cofresí.[112] The next day, De la Torre granted that nation authorization to sail the waters and coasts of Puerto Rico with the cooperation of the local authorities, leading to the commission of a frigate named Flora to do so.[112] The mission was led by a military commander named Mallet, who received the order to travel directly to the west coast and pursue the pirates, "until he [was] able to trap and destroy them".[112] Three days after the operation was approved, a circular letter informed of the arrival of the Flora.[113] However, the incursion failed to capture the pirates. In turn Rivas assigned Joaquín Arroyo, a retired militiaman that resided at Pedernales, the task of monitoring any activity near Cofresí's house.[114]

A Spanish wanted poster offering a bounty in gold and silver for the capture of Roberto Cofresí (1824). Below, details of the Avispa's expedition are inscribed over the original document.

In April 1824, the mayor of Rincón, Pedro García, authorized the sale of a vessel property of Juan Bautista de Salas to Pedro Ramírez.[115] The latter, who may have belonged to the Ramírez de Arellano family, was a resident of Pedernales and as a neighbor of both of the pirate's brothers and Cristobal Pabón Davila certainly knew him and his friends personally.[115] Shortly after acquiring the vessel on April 30, 1824, Ramírez sold it to Cofresí, who promptly employed it as a pirate flagship.[115] The irregularity of these transactions was quickly noticed, prompting an official investigation on the actions of García.[116] The scandal affected the already frail thrust in political authority and Matías Conchuela weighted on the issue as the governor's representative.[116] De la Torre requested that the mayor of Añasco, Thomás de la Concha, retrieved the relevant records and certified the accuracy of the witness testimonies.[116] The process, which also included the participation of public attorney Captain José Madrazo of the Regimiento de Granada's Military Anti-Piracy Commission, concluded with the imprisonment of Bautista and the temporary destitution of García.[117] Several members of the Ramírez de Arellano family were also arrested and prosecuted, including the former mayors of Añasco and Mayagüez, Manuel and José María, and others such as Tómas and Antonio.[117] Others that shared the last name but with unclear parentage, such as Juan Lorenzo Ramirez, were also linked with Cofresí.[117]

Continuous searches were unsuccessfully carried throughout Cabo Rojo by the urban militia led by captain Carlos de Espada.[118] Additional operatives were held at San Germán.[118] On May 23, 1824, the military commander of Mayagüez prepared two vessels and sent them to Pedernales following reports that placed Cofresí there.[119] Rivas and the military captain of Mayagüez, Cayetano Castillo y Picado, boarded a ship commanded by sergeant Sebastián Bausá.[119] Sailor Pedro Alacán was the captain of the second schooner.[119] Now best known as the grandfather of Ramón Emeterio Betances, this man was a neighbor of the pirate.[120] The expedition was a failure, only managing to retrieve a military deserter named Manuel Fernández de Córdova.[121] Also known as Manuel Navarro, this man was tied to Cofresí trough Lucas Branstan, a merchant from Trieste who was involved in the Bonne Sophie incident.[121] While this was happening, the pirates fled towards southern Puerto Rico.[122] Ill-supplied after the hasty retreat, Cofresí docked at Jobos Bay on June 2, 1824.[122] There about a dozen pirates trespassed the hacienda of Francisco Antonio Ortiz and raided his cattle.[122] The group also breached a second estate, this one property of Jacinto Texidor, from which they stole plantains from a slavery farm and resupplied their ship.[122] It is now believed that Juan José Mateu provided the pirates with refuge in one of his haciendas, located near Jobos Bay.[80] The following day the news reached the mayor of Guayama, Francisco Brenes, who quickly contacted the military authorities and requested than an operation was carried by land and sea.[122] However, he was informed that there were not enough weapons in the municipality to undertake a mission of that scale, forcing him to request supplies from Patillas.[122] The appeal was granted and twenty guns were rushed.[123]

However, the pirates fled the municipality and traveled west.[124] On June 9, 1824, Cofresí commanded the assault of a schooner named San José y Las Animas, intercepting off the coast of Tallaboa in Peñuelas.[124] The vessel was completing a route between Saint Thomas and Guayanilla carrying over 6,000 pesos in dry goods for Félix and Miguel Mattei, who were also on board.[114] The Mattei siblings are now presumed to have been anti-establishment smugglers that were related to Henri La Fayette Villaume Ducoudray Holstein and the Ducoudray Holstein Expedition.[114] The vessel was property of Santos Lucca, and sailed under captain Francisco Ocasio and a crew of four.[125] The ship was generally used for the transport of cargo throughout the southern region and Saint Thomas, making several trips to Cabo Rojo as well.[125] As soon as Cofresí began the pursue, Ocasio redirected it towards land allowing the Mattei brothers to abandon ship and swim towards the shore, from where they witnessed the cargo being plundered.[124] Portugués was the second-in-command during the boarding of the San José y las Animas, while Joaquín "El Campechano" Hernández was also part of the known crew.[73][126][127] The pirates took the bulk of the merchandise, leaving behind only miscellaneous goods (valued at 418 pesos, tres reales and 26 maravedi).[124] Coincidentally, governor Miguel de la Torre was visiting the adjacent municipalities during this event, which placed additional strain on the authorities.[128] Some of the cargo stolen from the San José y Las Animas was later found at Cabo Rojo and identified because among it were clothes that belonged to the brothers and a painting.[128] Days later, a sloop and a small boat commanded by Luis Sánchez and Francisco Guilfuchi, left Guayama in search of Cofresí.[123] However, the military was unable to track them down, eventually resigning and returning to Guayama on June 19, 1824.[129] Patillas and Guayama enacted measures that intended to prevent more visits to their towns, which were monitored by the governor.[130]

De la Torre continued his tour of the municipalities and upon reaching Mayagüez, ordered Rivas to focus the search on the areas around Cabo Rojo.[131] The operation was relegated to lieutenant Antonio Madrona, leader of the Mayagüez garrison.[131] He assembled his troops and left for Cabo Rojo, where they launched an operation on June 17, 1824, which concluded with the arrest of a pirate, Eustaquio Ventura de Luciano, at the house of Juan Francisco.[132] The troops also came close to capturing a second associate, Joaquín "El Maracaybero" Gómez.[133] Madrona then executed a surprise attack at Pedernales.[131] There they found Cofresí and several of his associates, including Juan Bey, his brother Ignacio and his brother-in-law Juan Francisco Creitoff.[131] Startled by the ambush, the pirates were only left with the option of running away while avoiding the bursts of gunfire.[131] The Cofresí brothers were able to escape, but Creitoff and Bey were caught and prosecuted at San Germán.[131] Afterwards, the troops visited Creitoff's house, where they found Cofresí's wife and mother-in-law.[132] When questioned, the women confirmed the identity of the brothers.[133] The authorities continued searching the houses of those involved and their relatives, where they found large quantities of plunder that had been hidden and prepared for sale.[132] Madrona also found burned loot at an adjacent hill.[132] Juan Francisco Cofresí, Ventura de Luciano and Creitoff were sent to San Juan, along other suspected associates.[133] Of this group, the pirate's brother, Luis de Río and Juan Bautista Buyé were prosecuted as accomplices instead of pirates.[134] Ignacio was later arrested and charged on the same fashion.[134] During the process, the Mattei also made a claim against shopkeeper Francisco Betances, stating that part of his merchandise belonged to the cargo of San José y Las Animas.[134]

Shortly afterwards, José Mendoza acted on information that located the pirates at Mona and in collaboration with Rivas, organized an expedition to that island.[135] On June 22, 1824, Alacán gathered a party of volunteers the incursion.[120] He also loaned a small sailboat named Avispa, which he co-owned and was also employed by José Pérez Mendoza and Antonio Gueyh.[41] It was the very same once used by both of Cofresí's brothers.[41] There were eight volunteers among whom was Arroyo, who may have been Mendoza's source.[135] The operation was coordinated locally, with the goal being to ambush and apprehend Cofresí in his own hideout when he least expect it.[120] The expedition left the coast of Cabo Rojo with the Action Stations already in place.[120] Despite sailing through unfavorable conditions, the party braved the sea and arrived to their destination.[120] However, as soon as they managed to disembark, the Avispa was lost.[136] The pirates were bewildered by the sudden ambush and most were captured without an engagement.[136] However, Juan Portugués, who was Cofresí's second in-command was killed by being shot in the back while fleeing.[136] He was subsequently dismembered by crewmember Lorenzo Camareno.[126] Among the captive, a man known as José Rodríguez was identified.[137] Cofresí was not among his crew.[120] Five days later they returned to Cabo Rojo aboard a boat confiscated from the pirates, bringing with them weapons, three prisoners and part of Portugués' body (his head and right hand, which were likely used to guarantee proper identification when claiming the bounty).[136] Rivas himself contacted De la Torre and informed him of further measures being taken to track the pirates.[136] The governor made sure to make the expedition as public as possible and on July 9, 1824, authored an account published in the government's newspaper, La Gaceta del Gobierno de Puerto Rico.[138] Subsequently, Alacán was homaged by the Spanish government and granted ownership of the vessel recovered from the pirates as remuneration for the loss of the Avispa.[120][139] All of the crew and Mendoza were also honored.[140] Meanwhile, Cofresí reportedly escaped in another of his boats along "Campechano" Hernández, resuming his attacks shortly after the encounter.[140][141]

Shortly after the expedition at Mona, the mayor of Ponce José Ortíz de la Renta launched his own initiative in search of Cofresí.[142] On June 30, 1824, the schooner Unión left port staffed by 42 sailors under the command of captain Francisco Francheschi.[142] However, after three days of searching the operation was abandoned and the vessel returned to Ponce.[142] The governor then enacted more measures directed to capture the pirates, including the commission of gunboats specifically tasked to pursue them.[142] De la Torre also ordered the destruction of any hut or abandoned ship that may aid Cofresí in his escape attempts, an initiative that was carried out in the coasts of several municipalities.[142] Once again acting on clues obtained by interrogation, the authorities were able to track the pirates during the first week of July.[143] However, despite locating a mulatto named José "Pepe" Cartagena and Juan Geraldo Bey in Cabo Rojo and San Germán, Cofresí was able to avoid the troops.[143] On July 6, 1824, Cartagena resisted the arrest and was killed during a shootout.[143] As before, the incidents were featured in La Gaceta del Gobierno de Puerto Rico.[144] During the following weeks, a joint initiative between Rivas and the mayors of the western coast led to the arrest of more of Cofresí's associates identified as Gregorio del Rosario, Miguel Hernández, Felipe Carnero, José Rodríguez, Gómez, Roberto Francisco Reifles, Sebastián Gallardo, Francisco Ramos, José Vicente and a slave of Juan Nicolás Bey (Juan Geraldo's father) known as Pablo.[144][145][146] However, the pirate evaded the authorities once again. In his subsequent confession, Pablo established that Juan Geraldo Bey was an accomplice of Cofresí.[146] Sebastián Gallardo was captured on July 13, 1824, and prosecuted as a collaborator.[147] The accused were eventually transported to San Juan, where they were prosecuted by Madrazo on a military trial overseen by the governor.[148] The process was plagued by irregularities, such as an allegation by Gómez, who claimed that the public attorney had taken a bride of 300 pesos from Juan Francisco to ensure his freedom.[148]

Immersed in the midst of all these searches, the pirates stole a "sturdy, cooper plated boat" from the Cabo Rojo port and escaped the vicinity.[149] The vessel was originally stolen at San Juan by Gregorio Pereza and Francisco Pérez, both previously arrested during the search for the Caballo Blanco, and given to Cofresí.[150] As the news went public, mayor José María Hurtado contacted some local residents and requested them to search for information.[149] On August 5, 1824, Antonio de Irizarry found the boat at Punta Arenas, a cape at barrio Joyuda.[149] The mayor quickly organized his troops, reaching the location on horseback.[149] Aboard the ship they found three rifles, three guns, a carbine, a pedrero cannon, ammunition and general supplies.[151] After searching the nearby forests and failing to locate the pirates, the mayor sailed the craft to Pedernales and handed it to Mendoza.[152] A group that was left behind continued the search, but did not find anyone.[152] Assuming that the pirates fled inland, Hurtado contacted his colleagues within the region, alerting them of the event.[152] The mayor then resumed the search, but limited by a rainstorm and false directions the initiative was abandoned.[152] Peraza and Pérez were later arrested for the event, along José Rivas del Mar, José María Correa and José Antonio Martinez, but Cofresí remained free.[150]

On August 5, 1824, Cofresí and a diminished crew captured the sloop María off the coast of Guayama.[153] The vessel was completing a route between Guayanilla and Ponce under the command of Juan Camino.[153] However, after boarding the ship they decided not to plunder its goods, having noticed a bigger craft sailing towards them.[153] The pirates fled west, where they intercepted a second sloop named La Voladora off Morillos.[153] Like the first one, Cofresí did not plunder its cargo, instead he requested information from captain Rafael Mola.[153] That same month, a boat commanded by the pirates stalked the port of Fajardo, taking advantage of a lack of gunboats capable of pursuing their small draft ships.[154] Shortly afterwards, the United States ordered captain Charles Boarman of the U.S.S. Weasel to monitor the western waters of Puerto Rico, joining several international vessels.[154] While sailing off Culebra, the schooner located a sloop commanded by the pirates, but they fled by sailing to Vieques and running inland into the dense vegetation.[154] Boarman was only able to recover the vessel that was left behind.[154]

On September 3, 1824, the sloop Jordenxiold was intercepted of Isla Palominos while completing a route from Saint Thomas to Fajardo.[155] The pirates plundered some goods and money from the passengers.[155] This incident caught the attention of the Danish government, who commissioned the Santa Cruz (a 16-gun brigantine commanded by Michael Klariman) to monitor the waters of Vieques and Culebra.[155] However, between the days of September 8 and 9, a hurricane named Nuestra Señora de la Monserrate affected southern Puerto Rico and passed directly over the Mona Passage.[102][156] Cofresí and his reduced crew were caught in the storm, which hurled their ship towards Hispaniola.[102] Ramírez Brau claims that an expedition led by Fajardo's Commander Ramón Aboy that explored Vieques, Culebra, and the Windward Islands in search of pirates weeks later was actually after Cofresí.[102] The operation took place aboard the schooner Aurora, property of Nicolás Márquez, and a boat named Flor de Mayo belonging to José María Marujo.[102] However, after weeks of search the expedition failed to locate anything of interest.[102]

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.[157] 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.[157] Along Cofresí two other inmates escaped, a man known as Portalatín and Manuel Reyes Paz, the former boatswain of El Scipión.[102] The pirates reached the providence of San Pedro de Macorís and bought a ship.[156] Leaving Hispaniola the final days of September, the vessel was sailed to Naguabo, where Portalatín disembarked.[155] From there it parted to the island of Vieques, where they established another hideout and reorganized.

Cofresí's flotilla challenges the West Indies Squadron[edit]

By October 1824, piracy in the region had been drastically reduced, with Cofresí remaining the only target of concern.[158] However, that same month Peraza, Pérez, Hernádez, Gallardo, José Rodríguez and Ramos escaped from jail.[150] Three former members of Lamparo's crew, a black man named Bibián Hernández Morales, Antonio del Castillo and Juan Manuel de Fuentes Rodríguez, also broke free.[150] Juan Manuel "Venado" de Fuentes Rodríguez, Ignacio Cabrera, Miguel de la Cruz, Damasio Arroyo, Miguel "El Rasgado" de la Rosa and Juan Reyes joined them.[159] Those that traveled east met with Cofresí, who welcomed them into his crew after arriving to Naguabo seeking recruits following his return from the Dominican Republic.[160] Hernández Morales was an dexterous close combat fighter with a preference for bladed weapons, a skill set that combined with his experience earned him the position of second-in-command of this new crew.[147][161] At the height of their success, this association commanded a flotilla of three sloops and a schooner.[162] The group avoided capture by seeking refuge at Ceiba, Fajardo, Naguabo, Jobos Bay and Vieques.[160] During his time sailing the east coast, Cofresí reportedly flew the flag of Gran Colombia.[155]

On October 24, Hernández Morales led a group of six of the pirates in the robbery of a commercial house named Cabot, Bailey & Company in Saint Thomas, carrying a loot of 5,000 United States dollars.[163] On October 26, 1824, the U.S.S. Beagle left Saint Thomas commanded by Charles T. Platt, navigated by John Low and with shopkeeper George Bedford as a passenger (carrying with him a list of the plundered goods, which were reportedly near Naguabo).[163] Platt sailed to Vieques, where he followed a hint that directed him to a pirate sloop.[163] The Beagle interrupted the capture of a sloop from Saint Croix by opening fire, but the pirates docked at Punta Arenas in Vieques and fled inland.[164] Only one, identified as Juan Felis, was captured following a shootout.[164] However, upon disembarking in Fajardo with the intent of contacting a local associate of Bedford named Juan Campos, the authorities declared that Platt himself was suspected of piracy and he was detained.[164] The officer was allowed to leave later, but the pirates escaped.[165] The reaction of commodore Porter to these actions became known as "The Foxardo Affair", and led to a diplomatic crisis that threatened war between Spain and the United States. Campos was later found to have been involved with the distribution of the loot.[166]

With the increase of vessels under his control, Cofresí increased his activity in the vicinity of Culebra and Vieques.[100] This tendency peaked by November 1824.[100] The international forces reacted by sending more warships to patrol the zone.[100] France assigned a brigantine named Gazelle and a frigate named Constancia, which sailed this region.[100] After the incident at Fajardo, the United States increased its flotilla in the region, with the U.S.S. Beagle being joined by the schooners U.S.S. Grampus and U.S.S. Shark.[100] These ships joined the previously commissioned Santa Cruz and Seout.[100] However, despite facing unprecedented monitoring in the waters of Puerto Rico, the actions of Cofresí only grew bolder. John D. Sloat, the captain of the Grampus, soon gathered intelligence that placed the pirates sailing in a schooner out of Cabo Rojo.[75] On the evening of January 25, 1825, Cofresí sailed one of his sloops directly towards the path of the Grampus, which had been patrolling the west coast.[75] Once in position, the pirate commanded his crew (armed with sabers and muskets) to open fire and ordered the schooner to stop.[75] As soon as Sloat ordered to counter, Cofresí sailed away and disappeared into the night.[75] The skiff and cutters of the Grampus were staffed and sent after the pirates, but failed to locate them after two hours of search.[167]

The pirates sailed east and docked their ship at Quebrada de las Palmas, a river in Naguabo.[167] There Cofresí, Hernández Morales, Juan Francisco "Ceniza" Pizarro and De los Reyes traversed the mangroves and vegetation to barrio Quebrada in Fajardo. [167][168] Joined by a fugitive named Juan Pedro Espinoza, the group trespassed and sacked the house of Juan Becerril.[nb 6][75] The pirates then hid in a nearby house at barrio Río Abajo.[167] Two days later, Cofresí once again led his flotilla to sea.[169] This time, the pirates targeted a Spanish sloop making its way back from Saint Thomas named San Vicente.[169] This time Cofresí attacked with two sloops and ordered his crew to fire with muskets and blunderbusses.[169] However, due to the proximity of the port the San Vicente was able to dissuade the pirates from continuing, despite sustaining heavy damage.[167]

On February 10, 1825, Cofresí plundered a sloop named Neptune.[nb 7][171] The merchant vessel, with a haul that consisted of fabrics and provisions, was attacked while it was docked unloading its dry goods at Jobos Bay.[170] The Neptune belonged to Salvador Pastorisa, who was overseeing the transaction. Cofresí commanded the charge in one of his sloops by opening musket fire on the crew.[170] Noticing the situation, Pastoriza boarded the vessels' boat and left it behind.[170] Despite receiving a bullet wound, Pastoriza was able to identify four of the eight to ten pirates, among them Cofresí himself.[172] An Italian with residence in Puerto Rico named Pedro Salovi was reported to serve along the pirates.[173] According to the testimony, he was performing as second-in-command during this particular attack.[174] The remaining pirates pursued those that were fleeing to prevent any incriminating testimonies, repeatedly shooting them.[172] 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.[173]

As mayor Francisco Brenes attended the issue, the patrol in Guayama was doubled.[172] Salovi was soon placed under arrest, offering his testimony against his shipmates.[174] Meanwhile, Hernández Morales led another of the sloops and intercepted the Beagle off the coast Vieques.[174] But after a naval engagement, the pirate sloop was captured and along it Hernández Morales, who was transported to St. Thomas for trial.[175] However, after receiving a death sentence he escaped from prison and disappeared for years.[176] A citizen claimed that the pirates countered by setting fire to a town of that island on February 12, 1825.[177] That same week, 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.[173] 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.[173] Some time later, they boarded another vessel owned by the same company and repeated the same actions as before.[173] 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.

Cofresí then evaded the Beagle and returned to Jobos Bay.[178] On February 15, 1825, the pirates arrived at Fajardo.[178] Three days later, Low visited boatbuilder Toribio Centeno and obtained a six-gun sloop named Anne (commonly known by its Spanish name, Ana or La Ana) that he had previously commissioned from the craftsman and which he had registered at St. Thomas.[nb 8][178] After Toribio sailed the ship to Fajardo, where he received authorization to dock at Quebrada de Palmas port in Naguabo.[178] As its new owner, Low accompanied him during this voyage, remaining aboard while some cargo was gathered.[179] During the night, Cofresí led a group of eight pirates and stealthily boarded the vessel.[179] The pirates then forced the crew to jump into the ocean.[157] During the capture of the Anne, Cofresí was said to steal $20 directly from the pocket of Low.[173] Despite being coerced to figuratively "walk the plank", the sailors survived the incident.[157] The survivors reported the assault to the governor of Saint Thomas.[173] It is likely that Low attracted the attention of the pirates by docking near one of their hideouts, with the latter still angered by his work aboard the Beagle and hungry for retribution after the capture of Hernández Morales.[180] Low managed to rendezvous with Toribio at his hacienda where he first alerted the Spanish of the incident, and subsequently presenting a formal complaint at Fajardo.[180] Afterwards, Low and his crew sailed to Saint Thomas.[180] Another account suggests that Cofresí actually bought Anne from Centeno, for twice its price.[181] However, legal documents state that the builder had already received payment from Low, making the latter the proper owner.[173] Days later, Cofresí led his pirates to Humacao's shipyard.[182] They then proceeded to steal a cannon from another ship that was under construction. This vessel was one of the gunboats that Miguel de la Torre had commissioned for the purpose of pursuing the pirates.[182] The crew armed themselves, with the weapons found in the ships that they boarded.[181]

Following this hijacking, Cofresí adopted the Anne as his flagship and with it led his flotilla.[179] It is popular belief that the captured ship was renamed El Mosquito, but all official documents use its formal name.[183][184] The vessel was quickly used to intercept a merchant completing a voyage between Saint Croix and Puerto Rico off the coast of Vieques.[182] Like those before it, the fate of the captured ship and its crew was never known.[182] The Spanish countered by launching another expedition from the port of Patillas.[182] Captain Sebastian Quevedo commanded a small boat named Esperanza with the mission of locating the pirates, but failed to do so after days at sea.[182] Parallel to this, De la Torre continued to pressure the military commanders of the different regions to take action against the pirates, and by this time undercover agents were monitoring the maritime traffic of most coastal towns.[182] The pirates then began docking the Anne at Jobos Bay before sunset, a pattern that was reported by the local militias to the commander of the southern region, Tomás de Renovales.[185] During this timeframe, the pirates sailed the Anne towards Peñuelas, where the vessel was identified.[185] Cofresí's last capture took place on March 5, 1825, when he commanded the hijacking of a boat property of Vicente Antoneti in Salinas, Puerto Rico.[186]

Capture and trial[edit]

Main article: Capture of the Anne
An illustration created during the early 20th century to depict the capture of Cofresí's flagship (the sloop Anne, on the right).

By the spring of 1825, the flotilla led by the Anne had become the last real pirate threat in the Caribbean.[187] The incursion that would finally put an end to Cofresí's operation began with serendipity. When Low arrived to his home base in Saint Thomas and informed of the Anne's hijacking, a Puerto Rican ship followed suit with news of a recent sighting.[188] Sloat then requested the use of three international (possessing both Spanish and Danish papers) sloops to the Danish governor, in the process rendezvousing with Pastoriza and Pierety. All four of Cofresí's victims left port shortly after receiving the authorization, with the task force being composed by the Grampus, the San José y Las Animas, an unidentified vessel property of Pierety and a third sloop staffed with the sailors of a volunteer Colombian frigate.[188] After personally sighting the Anne while negotiating the involvement of the Spanish government in Puerto Rico, the task force decided to split and try different routes.[188]

While completing this objective, the San José y Las Animas found Cofresí and set a surprise attack on the pirates. The sailors onboard hid while Cofresí, recognizing the ship as a local merchant vessel, ordered to begin the attack.[189] When the Anne was within range, the crew of the San José y las Animas sprung to action and opened fire. Unsettled, the pirates countered with cannon and musket fire while attempting to outsail the military sloop.[190] However, being unable to shake off the advantage gained by the San José y las Animas during the initial attack and having lost two members of his crew, Cofresí grounded the Anne and fled inland.[191] A third pirate would fall during the landing, but most were scattered throughout rural Guayama and the adjacent areas.[190] Injured himself, Cofresí was accompanied by two of his crewmembers.[192] While half of his crew was captured shortly afterwards, the captain remained on the loose until the next day. At midnight, a local trooper named Juan Candido Garay spotted Cofresí while accompanied by two other members of the Puerto Rican militia.[193] The group set up an ambush and surprised the pirate, who was hit by a blunderbuss shot while running.[193] Despite this injury, Cofresí decided to counterattack with a knife, being eventually subdued when the other militiamen intervened and attacked him with machetes in unison.[193]

Immediately after being captured, the pirates were temporally held at a prison in Guayama, before being transferred to the capital.[194] 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.[195] The offer was 4,000 pieces of eight, which he assured were still in his possession.[195] Despite being a key part of modern myths, this is the only historical account that may reference that Cofresí actually hid any treasure.[195] Brenes declined the bribe and the process continued according to norm.[196] 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.[57] On March 21, 1825, a man only known as Carlos was arrested at Guayama, he was said to be Cofresí's servant.[197]

Military prosecution[edit]

Cofresí was assigned a War Council trial, with the possibility of a civil trial being completely discarded.[198] The only liberty granted to the pirates was choosing their lawyers.[199] However, the arguments allowed to these attorneys were limited and their role was a formality.[199] Madrazo once again served as the prosecutor.[200] 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.[198] This responded to the measures enacted by Governor Miguel de la Torre the year before.[101] 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.[198] There was additional pressure due to the beginning of David Porter's trial in the United States, after illegally invading the municipality of Fajardo.[198] 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.[198] The entire trial was based on the confession of the pirates, with the legitimacy or the circumstances that lead to them not being established.[198]

Fort San Felipe del Morro

The other pirates tried were Manuel Aponte Monteverde from Añasco; Vicente del Valle Carbajal from Punta Espada (or Santo Domingo depending on the report[201]); Vicente Ximénes 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.[2] Among those captured, Carlos Torres stood out, since he was an African man and Cofresí's personal slave.[202] 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.[202] 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.[2]

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.[2] 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.[203] The pirate also confessed burning the merchandise of an American vessel to throw off the authorities.[132] 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.[198] It has been speculated that Governor Miguel de la Torre influenced the process, with negotiations possibly taking place between him and Madrazo beforehand. On July 14, 1825, a congressman named Samuel Smith would expose that Henry Clay, the incumbent United States Secretary of State, pressured the Spanish Governor to execute the pirates.[198]

Execution and legacy[edit]

On the morning of March 29, 1825, a firing squad was assembled to carry out the sentence imposed against the pirates.[204] The execution was public and a large number of spectators were present early.[205] 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.[205] While the pirates repeated the prayers, they were executed before a silent crowd.[205] 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.[205] 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.[158] 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.[206] Cofresí's last words have been quoted as "I have killed hundreds with my own hands, and I know how to die. Fire!"[92]

These earrings, said to have been worn by Roberto Cofresí himself, were on display at the National Museum of American History.[207]

The death certificate of several of the pirates state that they were buried in the shore next to Cementerio Santa María Magdalena de Pazzis.[208] Hernández Morales and several of his associates received the same treatment.[209] 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.[57] 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 meant to be "beheaded and quartered, and their parts sent to all the small ports around the island to be exhibited".[92] The Spanish authorities continued to arrest associates of Cofresí, with the purge lasting until 1839.

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.[198] 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.[198] Such was the case, that one of Ignacio's granddaughters ignored the existence of Bernardina and her descendants.[58] Due to Cofresí's tendency to squander the treasure gathered through piracy, the only asset that the Spanish government could seize towards covering the debt was Carlos. He was priced at 200 pesos and was ultimately sold to Juan Saint Just for 133 pesos.[210] After covering the cost of the auction, only 108 pesos and 2 reales were left. The remaining quantity was paid by Félix and Miguel Mattei.[198] The brothers were forced to pay after reaching a deal with the authorities, which allowed them to receive all of the cargo aboard the San José y las Animas in exchange for future accountability.[210] Juana Creitoff died a year later.[57]

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.[211] She had seven children, José Lucas, María Esterlina, Antonio Salvador, Antonio Luciano, Pablo, María Encarnación and Juan Bernardino.[211] One of his most notable descendants was Ana González, better known by her abridged marriage name Ana G. Méndez.[212] She was Cofresí's great granddaughter, directly descended from the Cabo Rojo bloodline through her mother, Ana González Cofresí.[212] 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.[212] 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.[212] 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.[212] Other branches of the Cofresí family can be found in Puerto Rico, such as the descendants of Juan Francisco in Ponce.[213] Ignacio's lineage can be found throughout the western region.[213] Internationally, the Kupferschein family's lineage still exists in Trieste.[7] Another member of these divergent branches was Severo Colberg Ramírez, a politician who served as Speaker of the House of Representatives of Puerto Rico during the 1980s.[214] Colberg made a notable effort to popularize the figure of Cofresí, in particular the heroic legends that followed his death.[214] He was related to the pirate trough his sister Juana, who married Germán Colberg.[6]

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.[215] 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.[216] 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. Locally, a variety of other documents are preserved at the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture's General Archive of Puerto Rico, the Ateneo Puertorriqueño and the University of Puerto Rico's General Library and Historic Investigation Department. More are kept at the Catholic Church's Parochial Archives. Outside Puerto Rico, records can be found at the National Archives Building and the General Archive of the Indies.[217] However, official documents dealing with his trial and execution have since been lost.[218]

Modern view[edit]

A modern depiction of Cofresí standing on the deck of a ship and preparing for battle.

Few aspects of Cofresí's life and his relationships have been able to avoid the romanticism that surrounds the depiction of pirates in popular culture.[219] Even in life, attempts made by the Spanish authorities to portray him as a menacing figure by emphasizing his role as "Pirate Lord" of the region and granting him the nickname of "Terror of the Seas" aided to establish his name in the collective consciousness.[220] This combined with some of his actual traits, such as a marked boldness, led to the transformation of Cofresí into a swashbuckler-like character that differed from other fictional accounts of pirates during the late 19th century.[221] The ensuing legends are inconsistent in their depiction of historical facts and often contradict each other.[222] Cofresí's race, economic background, personality and loyalties are among the most variable aspects of these stories.[223][224] However, the widespread use of these myths in the media has resulted in a general adoption of them as fact.[225]

The myths and legends surrounding Cofresí are generally divided in two opposing categories, those that portray him as a generous thief or anti-hero and those that depict an overwhelmingly evil force.[226] A less common class represents him as an adventurer, world traveler or womanizer.[227] The reports of historians such as Tió that depict the pirates sharing his loot with the needy have evolved into a detailed mythology trough oral tradition. These accounts often recur to apologetics and try to justify his turn to piracy, blaming it on a host of factors that range include poverty, revenge or attempts to restore his family's honor.[228] In general, they portray him as a class hero that defies the unfairness and corruption of the authorities.[229] He is also said to have been a protector or even a benefactor of children, women and the elderly.[226] A sub-category of this class describes him as a rebel hero and supporter of independence from the Imperial powers of the era.[230]

The legends that describe Cofresí as malevolent generally link him to supernatural elements, which he is said to have acquired trough methods including witchcraft, mysticism or by reaching a deal with the Devil.[231] These generally fall in the category of horror fiction and either highlight his ruthlessness while alive or his unwillingness to remain dead.[232] In others, his ghost is given a fiery aura or extraordinary powers of manifestation and is said to either defend the locations of his hidden treasures or roam aimlessly until they are discovered.[233] A parallel sub-class was created by merchants, who retaliated by vilifying his figure.[234] In general, the legends that portray Cofresí as a benign figure are more prominently seen near Cabo Rojo, while in other areas of Puerto Rico they focus on his purported treasures and usually depict him as a cutthroat.[235] Most of the stories about these hidden treasures hold a moral against avarice and predominantly portray the dark side of the myths. In most cases, those that try to find the plunder are killed, dragged to Davy Jones' Locker or attacked by the ghost of Cofresí or a member of his crew.[236] Rumors about the purported locations of these hidden treasures have taken a life of their own, with dozens of coves, beaches and building being retroactively attributed a link to the pirates in Puerto Rico and Hispaniola. [237]

The onset of the 20th century led to a new interest in the figure of Cofresí, this time within the tourism industry. Municipalities throughout Puerto Rico began highlighting their historical connection with the pirates, which in turn led to numerous homages.[238] By the second half of the century Cofresí served as the namesake of beaches and sports teams in these locations, especially his native Cabo Rojo, where a monument has constructed in his honor. The same trend was seen in the Dominican Republic, where a resort town was named after him.[239] Another consequence of this interest was the commercialization of his name, which led to a variety of products and businesses adopting it and the associated legends to attract the public.[240] Non-commercial homages include serving as namesake of the first flag carrier seaplane in Puerto Rico and even a copycat crime of sky piracy.[241][242] Several attempts have been made to portray his life in film, but all have relied on the legends.[243]

Coplas, songs and number of plays have been adapted from the oral tradition, while formal studies of both the historical Cofresí and the legends surrounding him have been adapted into books.[217] Historians Cardona Bonet, Acosta, Salvador Brau, Ramon Ibern Fleytas, Antonio S. Pedreira, Bienvenido Camacho, Isabel Cuchi Coll, Fernando Géigel Sabat, Ramírez Brau and Cayetano Coll y Toste have researched his life and published the results of their research.[217] Other figures that employed the pirate as inspiration include poets Casáreo Rosa Nieve and brothers Luis and Gustavo Palés Matos.[217] Educators Juan Bernardo Huyke and Robert Fernández Valledor have also published about Cofresí.[217] Among the mainstream media, the actions of Cofresí have been more recently discussed in newspapers that include El Mundo, El Imparcial, El Nuevo Día, Primera Hora, El Periódico de Catalunya and the New York Times.[217][244] Magazines such as Puerto Rico Ilustrado, Fiat Lux and Proceedings have published features on the pirate.[217]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ 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. During his lifetime it was frequently confused, giving rise to variants including Roverto Cofresin, Roverto Cufresín, Ruberto Cofresi, Rovelto Cofusci, Cofresy, Cofrecín, Cofreci, Coupherseing, Couppersing, Koffresi, Confercin, Confersin, Cofresin, Cofrecis, Cofreín, Cufresini and Corfucinas.[1]
  2. ^ This ship is also known as Esscipión or Escipión.[65]
  3. ^ Despite having an etymology based on pilot boat, the term "pailebot" is used in Spanish to describe a small schooner.
  4. ^ The Spanish referred to the vessel as the Princesa Buena Sofia.
  5. ^ This ship was also listed as Los Dos Amigos
  6. ^ Espinoza had previous ties with Pedro Salovi, another of Cofresí's associates
  7. ^ This ship was also known as Esperanza.[170]
  8. ^ The Anne is frequently referred to as a schooner.


  1. ^ Cardona Bonet 1991, pp. 202
  2. ^ a b c d Fernández Valledor 1978, pp. 66
  3. ^ Cardona Bonet 1991, pp. 25
  4. ^ a b c Acosta 1991, pp. 14
  5. ^ Acosta 1991, pp. 16
  6. ^ a b Acosta 1991, pp. 212
  7. ^ a b c d Acosta 1991, pp. 27
  8. ^ Acosta 1991, pp. 13
  9. ^ Acosta 1991, pp. 28
  10. ^ Acosta 1991, pp. 29
  11. ^ Acosta 1991, pp. 30
  12. ^ a b Acosta 1991, pp. 31
  13. ^ Acosta 1991, pp. 26
  14. ^ a b Acosta 1991, pp. 32
  15. ^ a b Acosta 1991, pp. 17
  16. ^ a b c Acosta 1991, pp. 33
  17. ^ a b c d Acosta 1987, pp. 94
  18. ^ a b Acosta 1991, pp. 36
  19. ^ Acosta 1987, pp. 89
  20. ^ Fernández Valledor 2006, pp. 92
  21. ^ Acosta 1991, pp. 41
  22. ^ Acosta 1991, pp. 43
  23. ^ Acosta 1991, pp. 34
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  • Acosta, Ursula (1987). New Voices of Old- Five centuries of Puerto Rican Cultural History. Permanent Press. ISBN 0915393204. 
  • Acosta, Ursula (1991). Cofresí y Ducoudray: Hombres al margen de la historia. Editorial Edil. ISBN 9780317616286. 
  • Cardona Bonet, Walter A. (1991). El Marinero, Bandolero, Pirata y Contrabandista Roberto Cofresí (1819-1825). Sociedad Puertorriqueña de Genealogía. ISBN 9781933545059. 
  • Clammer, Paul; Grosberg, Michael; Porup, Jens (2008). Dominican Republic & Haiti. Ediz. Inglese. Lonely Planet. ISBN 978174104292-4. 
  • Fernández Valledor, Roberto (1978). El mito de Cofresí en la narrativa antillana. Publisher: Editorial Universitaria, Universidad de Puerto Rico. ISBN 0847705560. 
  • Fernández Valledor, Roberto (2006). Cofresí: El pirata Cofresí mitificado por la tradición oral puertorriqueña. Casa Paoli. ISBN 0847705560. 
  • 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. 
  • Singer, Gerald (2004). Vieques: A Photographically Illustrated. Sombrero Publishing Company. ISBN 0964122049. 

Further reading

  • José Morales-Dorta (2006). El Morro, testigo inconquistable. Isla Negra Editores. ISBN 1932271791. 

External links[edit]