Author Topic: Pirates from Argentina attack Monterey California, November 20, 1818  (Read 816 times)

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Offline WillieBoyd2

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Two hundred years ago a group of Argentine pirates attacked Monterey, California.

November 20, 1818 is a date which will live not in infamy but in historical trivia.

During the Spanish-American wars of independence, privateers from Argentina attacked California, which was under Spanish control. French sea captain Hipólyte Bouchard led the attack and plundered the central coast town Monterey. It was the only time that California was invaded by an enemy.

United Provinces of the Rio de la Plata (Argentina) 8 Reales 1813, Potosi Mint
Silver, 38mm, 26.80gm
Obverse: Sun face and rays / PROVINCIAS DEL LA RIO DELA PLATA
Reverse: Wreath, two hands holding Liberty Cap / EN UNION Y LIBERTAD / 1813

Argentina was known as the "United Provinces of the Rio de la Plata" from 1810 to 1825, after a revolt and separation from Spain. The provinces took the name "Argentina" in 1825 and are usually referred to by that name.

In 1818, Argentina commissioned a privateer named Hipólyte Bouchard to raid Spanish shipping. He headed first for the Spanish Philippines, but found little to raid. He then sailed to Hawaii where he met an Englishman who told him about Monterey and its suspected Spanish riches.

Monterey was the Spanish capital of Alta California and had a Spanish population of about 400. California was low on the scale of Spanish colonies compared to Mexico and Peru as it did not have the gold that the Spanish Conquistadors wanted. The colonists managed by raising cattle and working Indians at missions.

What Spanish gold and silver coins the settlers had in California were imported from Spanish mints elsewhere.

A Spanish gold coin of the period:

Spanish America 8 Escudos "Doubloon" 1806, Mexico City Mint
Gold, 38mm, 26.97gm
Obverse: Charles IV facing right / CAROL IIII D G HISP ET IND R / 1806
Reverse: Crowned shield / IN UTROQ FELIX AUSPICE DEO Mo TH / 8 S (8 Scudi)

A Spanish silver coin of the period:

Spanish America 8 Reales "Piece of Eight" 1806, Mexico City Mint
Silver, 38mm, 26.86gm
Obverse: IV facing right / CAROLUS IIII DEI GRATIA / 1806
Reverse: Crowned shield / HISPAN ET IND REX Mo 8R TH

Bouchard had a privateer authorization letter from the United Provinces to raid Spanish shipping. Some sources state that the letter had expired before he reached Monterey making his raid a pirate attack.

On November 20, 1818, Bouchard's two ships, the La Argentina and Santa Rosa, arrived in Monterey.

The next day, the Santa Rosa opened fire on the El Castillo fort and the return fire from a shore battery caused the Spaniards to reject Bouchard’s demand for surrender. According to the Spanish governor, the pirates landed the next day but were chased off, according to Bouchard they took over the city fort.

The next morning, November 22, Bouchard’s 200 men landed and occupied the fort.

Bouchard's crew left the mission and church alone, but began looting houses and businesses. They didn’t find much money or valuables, possibly a few gold doubloons or silver pieces of eight. They shot some farm animals, and stole whatever Spanish items they could find.

The raiders held the town for six days and then left and headed south. Before leaving, the pirates set fire to the presidio adobe houses but only the wooden roofing burned.

The ships then attacked another California town, San Juan Capistrano, then headed to Mexico for more raiding, and then back to South America.

Hipólyte Bouchard is a national hero in Argentina with statues of him and streets named after him.

Argentina 1980 postage stamp honoring H. Bouchard and his ship the La Argentina

There do not seem to be any motion pictures made about Bouchard and his activities.

The American television series "Death Valley Days" broadcast a dramatization of the raid on February 13, 1958. The episode "Yankee Pirate" had a fictional story of one of Bouchard's crew being captured by the Spanish and later falling in love with a local girl.

The city of Monterey has a small historical plaque commemorating the event, and a sailing ship used in the "Pirates of the Caribbean" films will visit the area in November 2018.

I wanted the above Argentina 8 reales coin because, as I live in California, I had to have coin associated with the state's only pirate raid.

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Offline Figleaf

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Re: Pirates from Argentina attack Monterey California, November 20, 1818
« Reply #1 on: November 19, 2018, 09:41:42 AM »
Superb post, WillieBoyd! :perfect: Great research of an obscure incident that nevertheless gives insight into the wildness and complexity of international relations at the time. Most enjoyable illustrations as well. I particularly liked your mention of Bouchard's Dutch privateer letters. Now, I need to research why the Netherlands and Spain were at odds in 1818. I suspect it had to do with Napoléon, which would explain why some say the letters were no longer valid. To top it all, you managed to post it virtually on the 100th anniversary. The perfect way to celebrate. Thank you. May this inspire many others.

An unidentified coin is a piece of metal. An identified coin is a piece of history.

Offline THCoins

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Re: Pirates from Argentina attack Monterey California, November 20, 1818
« Reply #2 on: November 19, 2018, 09:40:13 PM »
An interesting history and well told ! Thanks !

Offline Arminius

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Re: Pirates from Argentina attack Monterey California, November 20, 1818
« Reply #3 on: November 19, 2018, 10:13:55 PM »
Thanks for these.

I remember reading about Pirate attacks in California in the Chilean author Isabel Allende´s novel "Zorro" (2005).
But as a reader of her novels you only know there is a lot of real history within, mixed with new names and fascinating personalities to keep the reader hanging on.