Pirates, Buccaneers, and Privateers of Guam
published: September 11, 2018
Although the word ‘pirate’ is used in early documents, secondary literature on Guam’s history has also referred to these pirates as ‘adventurers’, ‘buccaneers’ and ‘privateers’ which refer to the same profession of, among other things, preying upon and stealing from ships, with the primary objective being Spanish galleons carrying gold and silver.
The term ‘buccaneer’ originates from the Caribbean Islands and refers to pirates that attacked Spanish and later French shipping in the 17th and 18th centuries. A privateer was a ship authorized by a country to attack enemy shipping and by default those undertaking these attacks became known as privateers.
After a June 1668 royal order requiring all Acapulco originating galleons to stop at Guam in support of the Spanish Christian mission there, fires were kept burning at the highest points of Guam when the ships were thought due so that they would not miss the island. The fires, however, may have also helped attract pirates.
There are accounts of visits to Guam from the following ‘adventurers’
Oliver van Noort
In 1597 the Dutch began raiding into the Pacific, hoping that by attacking the Spanish colonies and ships they could force the Spanish to grant them independence. In 1598 the Dutch launched an expedition to the Pacific under Admiral Oliver van Noort, who was acclaimed a hero for striking at the Spanish and completing the fourth expedition (after Magellan, Hawkins, and Cavendish) to circumnavigate the globe.
Van Noort first sighted Guam on September 15, 1600, approaching the island on the east side. He wrote that a canoe came alongside when they were still half a league away, and soon many more came out in their canoes with fish, coconuts, bananas, yams and sugarcane to barter for iron.
Noted Chamorros swimming abilities
He made note of the how strong the Chamorros were and about their excellent swimming abilities, also saying they were tricksters:
We were coasting the island which runs south and north about seven or eight leagues according to our estimate. We doubled the south cape, from which we saw a low point coming out where we thought we could anchor and the canoes were coming out from all sides to barter. There must have been over 200 canoes and aboard each two, three, four and five men, pressing together noisily, shouting hiero, hiero, which means iron, iron. Because of the pressing we must have crushed two or three underneath our keel; but, they did not care, because they are very good swimmers, know how to upturn their canoes and put back everything that was in it.
These islands bear their true name of Ladrones, because everybody there is inclined to steal, and is very subtle at it, even remarkable, because they cheated us in various ways in trading with them; by placing a handful of rice on top of a basket of coconut leaves; it looks as if there was much inside, but upon opening it, one finds only leaves and other things, because when bartering they place their canoes behind or on the side of the ships without coming aboard, and one must tie a piece of iron to a cord, and take in exchange what they give.
Some of them came aboard the ship, where they were given some food and drink, and one of them seeing one of our people who had a sword in hand, who was doing his turn at guard duty, grabbed it from him and leapt overboard with it, diving under the water. We aimed a few shots at others who had also stolen some things: but they all jumped overboard to avoid the shots, and the others who were not guilty did not care at all.
These people live in the water as well as on land, according to our opinion, because they know how to dive so skilfully, the women as well as the men, which we noticed when we threw five pieces of iron into the water which one single man went in to get all from below, something that amazed us very much.
Van Noort also commented on the canoes:
Their canoes are very beautiful and well made, such as any that we have seen in the Indies, being about 15 or 20 feet in length, and one feet and a half wide: They knew how to handle them well, sailing before the wind rather skillfully, without turning around to tack; rather, they sail against the wind with the other end forward, leaving the sail as is, which is made of reeds like dressed sheepskin.
Some women came aboard as well completely naked as the men, except that they had a green leaf before their middle. They wear their hair long and the men shorn just like we see at home, Adam and Eve in paintings.
By Shannon J. Murphy
John Eaton and William Cowley
Chamorros asked for help
John Eaton and William Ambrosia Cowley, English pirates, visited Guam in March 1685. Jesuit Father Juan Tilpe wrote in a letter that the ship was first thought to be a Spanish ship from Manila with supplies for the Spanish garrison on Guam. It was then believed to be a French warship since its captain communicated in French.
Eaton asked for supplies for his scurvy suffering crew, trading gunpowder and several rifles for pigs, corn, rice, and other foods.
Arriving on Guam at the height of the Spanish-Chamorro Wars, the crew found the governor Don Damian Esplana in a state of uneasiness reporting that a chief named Yula had fought the Spaniards less than a year before, wounding the governor and killing several priests and soldiers.
Cowley wrote that the sailors were well received by the Chamorros who brought them:
“potatoes, mananoes, coconuts and plantains, selling them to us for old nails and old iron. But they being treacherous, we trusted them not for we had always our small arms ready, and great guns loaden with round balls and cartridges. Sometimes we would have our deck full with these infidels but we were always in arms.
Some of the Englishmen went fishing with the Chamorros when the Chamorros surrounded the boat with a net as though to draw it ashore together its crew, Crowley noted. The crew reacted by shooting at the Chamorros.
(We) let go in amongst the thickest of them and killed a great many of their number while the others, seeing their mates fall, ran away. Our other men which were on shoar meeting them, saluted them also by making holes in their hides.
We took our boat immediately thereupon, and went on board, most of our well men being on shoar, and seeing many of these infidels’ boats lie along our ship’s side, did not know what design they might have on board (against) our sick men, but as it fell out, there were boats which came from the governor, with more presents for our refreshment.
Several Chamorros approached “the French” to seek an alliance with them to “wipe out all the Spanish.”
We took four of these infidels prisoners, and brought them on board, binding their hands behind them. But they had not been long there, when three of them leaped overboard into the sea, swimming away from the ship with their hands tied behind them. However we sent the boat after them and found a strong man at the first blow could not penetrate their skins with a cutlace. One of them had received in my judgment, forty shots in his body before he died. And the last of the three that was killed had swam a good English mile first not only with his hands tied behind him, as before, but also with his arms pinion’d.
The governor rewarded the pirates for killing the Chamorros by giving them more supplies after which they saluted him with three guns and sailed away on April 11, leaving behind Chamorros reluctant to attempt to make alliances with any other visiting ships. Shortly after Eaton was gone, the Chamorros nevertheless launched another assault against the Spaniards, killing several soldiers but failing to dislodge them from their Hagåtña fort.
By Nicholas J. Goetzfridt, PhD and Shannon J. Murphy
Just after three frigates under his command had captured the Spanish galleon Nuestra Senora de Encarnacion (which he renamed Bachelor), British privateer Woodes Rogers arrived at Guam on March 11, 1710, asking that Governor Juan Antonio Pimentel enable him to replenish his ships – otherwise he would bombard the island.
On January 4, Rogers had also attempted to take the galleon Nuestra Señora de Begoña, resulting in eight deaths and twenty-eight men wounded in the battle that followed. Rogers was lying in wait on Guam for the Begoña, which failed to show.
Rogers sent a letter ahead from his ship to Governor Pimentel, saying that he wished to purchase all the provisions which could be spared (to be paid for very likely with pieces of eight that were part of the booty), and that furthermore if the Spanish refused to deal with him he would blast their villages with his ships’ guns. Governor Pimentel, who had only 130 troops as compared to Rogers’ 300 men, agreed on the condition that they put ashore the prisoners they had taken from the galleon.
Governor Pimentel directly made a present to Captain Rogers of four bullocks, limes, oranges, and coconuts. In return Rogers invited Governor Pimentel and four of his officers aboard his ship for dining and entertainment. Later, Rogers and his officers also visited the governor’s palace in Hagåtña and were given a feast of more than sixty dishes of various delicacies. Along with needed food supplies, Governor Pimentel added “2 Negro Boys dress’d in Liveries, 20 Yards of Scarlet Cloth-Serge, and 2 Pieces of Cambrick” before Rogers departed the island. For his mandated hospitality, Governor Pimentel was to spend several years imprisoned in Manila.
Rogers and his men were also very impressed with the speed and workmanship of the Chamorro flying proas which they saw all around them in the Guam and Rota waters. Captain Rogers observed:
By what I saw, I believe they may run twenty miles an hour, for they passed our ships like a bird flying.
When Rogers left Guam March 22, 1710, he took one of the flying proas back to London with him as a souvenir.
By Dirk A. Ballendorf, PhD and Nicholas J. Goetzfridt, PhD
William “Bully” Hayes
Slaver captured by Chamorros
William “Bully” Hayes was a blackbirder (slave trader) and criminal who in the nineteenth century terrorized the inhabitants of Micronesia for many years. He was born in Cleveland (Ohio) sometime around 1829 and died in the Marshall Islands in 1877. In the last years of the nineteenth century and early decades of the twentieth he became a legendary figure as an adventurer.
Although the British authorities of the H.M.S. Rosario tried to capture Hayes in Kusaie (now Kosrae) after the accusations made against him by the islanders and his own crew, the credit for the arrest of Hayes shall always be for Chamorro lieutenant and gobernadorcillo (little governor or mayor) of Hagåtña José Pérez Cruz, who captured Hayes in his undergarments, in a cove near Falcona Point in northern of Guam.
Hayes landed at Guam on February 28, 1875. He apparently planned to engage in commerce with a Captain Willney and bought a small schooner – the Joaquina Ana – from Francisco Portusach who would later become the disputed acting governor of Guam after American Captain Henry Glass seized Guam from the Spanish in 1898.
Hayes renamed the ship Arabia and after satisfying official requirements, departed Apra Harbor on April 8 bound for Pohnpei but secretly carrying nine Spanish political deportees sentenced to exile on Guam and six Chamorros wishing to emigrate illegally. These people had apparently paid whatever price Hayes demanded of them.
Eventually alerted to the scheme and the Arabia having been sighted off Falcona Point, Chamorro Lieutenant José Pérez Cruz with twenty men of the local militia walked overland to Falcona. Seeing the Arabia silhouetted against the horizon, Pérez and his men waited through the night and finally saw Hayes approach the shore early the next morning in a boat in his underwear.
Intending from the start to take their money once he got rid of them, Hayes had spent the night pretending the wind was too weak to sail and attempted to get the passengers to go to the shore to swim. Prompted by the reluctance of his clandestine passengers, Haynes took off his clothes to try to demonstrate that he was serious about taking a swim and was promptly seized by Lt. Pérez and his men.
Seeing what was happening on shore, the passengers forced the pilot to pull anchor and sail on to Palau where the Chamorros may have gotten off. The Arabia then sailed on to Singapore where the deportees found their way home to Spain. Hayes was imprisoned in Hagåtña until June 10 when he was sent to Manila, tried and imprisoned for about nine months.
After spending some time in San Francisco, in April 1877 Hayes returned to Micronesia on board the yacht Lotus. While navigating near Jaluit in the Marshall Islands, he was murdered by a blow from an iron fitting. Reportedly, he left a widow and twin daughters in Samoa, and most probably an undetermined number of illegitimate descendants in different islands of the Pacific.
In 1983, Hollywood star Tommy Lee Jones portrayed William Hayes in the movie Nate and Hayes. In 1986, the Federated States of Micronesia issued a number of stamps based on scenes of his tumultuous life.
By Carlos Madrid and Nicholas J. Goetzfridt, PhD