May 17, 2010

Pirates of the Caribbean - Jean-David 'L'Olonnais' Nau

L'OlonnaisJean-David Nau was born in Les Sables-d'Olonne, in France, circa 1635, and brought to the Caribbean as an indentured slave. White slavery was harsh, but had a limit upon it. After seven years, the 'servant' was free to leave and Jean-David Nau did just that. But his life thus far, under the ownership of Spanish masters, had left him with a hatred of all Spandiards. He renamed himself François l'Olonnais and embarked upon one of the most brutal of all pirate careers. Bertrand d’Ogeron, the governor of Tortuga, gave him the ship upon which to do so.

Within a year or two, L'Olonnais (El Olonés to the Spanish) was lying shipwrecked on a beach in Campeche, Mexico. The Spanish soldiers which had destroyed his ship began the systematic approach of killing all survivors. L'Olonnais managed to smear himself in the blood of his fellow pirates and lay amongst the dead. He was overlooked and escaped once the Spanish had left. He walked into Campeche and persuaded slaves to flee their masters, in order to become his crew. The next Spanish ship to attack was overtaken. All of the crew, but one, were tortured and beheaded. The survivor was sent to Havana with a message for the governor: 'I shall never henceforward give quarter to any Spaniard whatsoever.'

L'Olonnais joined Sir Henry Morgan's fleet, as captain of his own ship, and so was there at the sack of Maracaibo, Gibraltar and Panama. He later commanded expeditions of his own, attracting 700 pirates into his fleet to attack Puerto Cabello, in Venuzuela, and San Pedro de las Colonias, in Mexico. However, even amongst such bloodthirsty company, L'Olonnais's cruelties stood out. Alexander Exquemelin, author of 'The History of the Bucaniers of America' (1684), wrote,

'(L'Olonnais) drew his cutlass, and with it cut open the breast of one of those poor Spaniards, and pulling out his heart with his sacrilegious hands, began to bite and gnaw it with his teeth, like a ravenous wolf, saying to the rest: I will serve you all alike, if you show me not another way.'

His other favourite tortures included cutting out tongues, slicing off bits of flesh with his swords or 'woolding', which involved tying knotted rope around his victim's head and tightening it until their eyes popped out.

In the end, it was not the Spanish, but a native tribe in Panama who defeated L'Olonnais. The Kuna lived around Darién and captured L'Olonnais while he and his men foraged for food there. Exquemelin wrote,

'(The Kuna) tore him in pieces alive, throwing his body limb by limb into the fire and his ashes into the air; to the intent no trace nor memory might remain of such an infamous, inhuman creature.'

* Campeche, Mexico: The beach is where L'Olonnais lay shipwrecked taken for dead; the town is where he formed a crew out of deserting slaves, circa 1662.

* San Pedro, Mexico: L'Olonnais raided there in 1667. It is here where he reputedly cut a Spaniard's heart from his chest and ate it raw in front of his victim's eyes.


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