I recently had the privilege of speaking with Podcaster Phil Johnson on his wonderful show “Under the Crossbones”, Episode 170, now available through your favorite podcast providers! You can also click to play the episode directly below. We had a wonderful conversation about the Bouchard “pirate” myth in California, and the ways in which the history is being reevaluated now 200 years later. Be sure to subscribe to the show and do check out the past guests, there are some fascinating and informative episodes available.
Alta California’s former capital, Monterey, was host to a packed Saturday of events on November 17th, 2018, in commemoration of the Battle of Monterey’s bicentennial. A mix of historical lectures and costumed re-enactments were organized for the public’s benefit, bringing California in the Age of Revolution to life. Two centuries ago, French-Argentine Captain Bouchard and his privateers fought the local Spanish forces in the Battle of Monterey, the only battle fought in California during the Latin American wars of independence. Monterey was surrendered to the South American insurgents, and Argentina’s blue-and-white flag was raised over California’s capital, where it flew for several days before Bouchard’s two ships headed south along the coast, and into Californian legend.
Monterey’s mayor Clyde Roberson opened the bicentennial proceedings, and live narrators retold the history for a crowd of more than 1,000 spectators. Costumed groups of historical re-enactors performed as both local defenders and privateer attackers, under the direction of Harriet Lynn. As the sound of cannons boomed throughout Monterey Bay, the tall ship Lady Washington menaced in the harbor (representing the historic vessel Santa Rosa). The privateers soon came ashore in Monterey’s Historic Naval Ship’s Boats (led by local naval historian John Middleton-Tidwell). As the “insurgents” landed, and quickly took over the area around the Custom House (standing in for the former Spanish Presidio), the gruff Captain Bouchard was portrayed with dark-humored aplomb by local thespian Howard Burnham, and the Argentine flag of the era was lifted high, to the sounds of the Himno Nacional Argentino.
To accompany the re-enactments, I was one of several historians present who gave lectures about the context of this under-appreciated episode from California’s past. Many thanks are due to Michael Sovereign and the Monterey Museums and Cultural Arts Commission, for organizing the day’s wonderful series of events, honoring this unique international history, and for inviting me to participate. Thanks also to Middlebury Institute of International Studies for hosting the lectures.
That Saturday I also had the privilege of recounting the Battle of Monterey’s history, to passengers aboard the Lady Washington during the re-enactment. It was an engaged (if captive!) audience, and there was an uncanniness in the air, as the exhilarating events of two centuries past were conjured up.
Muchas gracias to Zachary Stocks, Captain Smith, and the Crew of Lady Washington for a memorable sail!
I’m honored to report that The Patriot Pirate has been accepted into the California State Library. The California State Library is the oldest continually operating public library in the Western United States (established in 1850). If you’ve never been, do check out their beautiful headquarters right in downtown Sacramento, where many informative exhibits are open to the public and you can browse the many volumes of their California History Room. My thanks to Supervising Librarian Kathleen Correia.
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.