Two hundred years ago, on December 16th, 1818, Privateer Captain Hipólito Bouchard anchored his two ships in what’s now known as Dana Point, and demanded supplies from the local authorities. The Californians replied that they had plenty of powder and shot to give. And so began a story that would spiral into California legend. The following day, Bouchard ordered a supply raid at Capistrano—140 men stormed ashore, the local defenders soon fled to a distant hill, and the stores around Mission Capistrano were looted. Many of the crew grew intoxicated under the locally-produced wine, and various structures were burned before they returned to the ships. All of this contributed to a mythical narrative of Bouchard as “California’s only pirate”, but what’s often forgotten is that this was an episode during wartime—the wars of independence that had spread across the dying Spanish Empire in those years. Captain Bouchard, already a military hero in newly-independent Argentina, was on an epic privateering voyage against Spanish territories (such as Alta California, a stronghold of Spanish loyalists). The men who drunkenly lost control in Capistrano were duly punished by the Captain, when he learned what had happened.
Under the auspices of both the San Juan Capistrano and Dana Point Historical Societies, on November 4, 2018, Captain Hipólito Bouchard was finally put on trial for his actions on that fateful day. An audience filled the San Juan Capistrano Community Center, and listened to the proceedings. Local historian Bob Minty led a spirited defense of Bouchard, squaring off against fellow historian Jan Siegel as prosecutor. The plaintiff Captain Bouchard was played with relish by reenactor Duane Matthews, and there was a jury filled with members of the Spurs & Satin Historical Reenactment Society; audience members were also invited to vote on the verdict. The honorable Warren Siegel, retired from Orange County Superior Court, served as judge. Local reenactors were summoned as witnesses, and the case was presented with a mix of history and embellishment; in the end, the thorny Captain Bouchard was acquitted, after two centuries of calumny.
Bravo to all those who organized and contributed to this unique commemoration, and my thanks for the opportunity to promote The Patriot Pirate during the festivities.
For an in-depth history of the Capistrano raid, do check out Eric Plunkett’s thorough investigation on the blog Visions of California.