Pirates & Privateers

| September 01, 2023

Next week I shall return to writing about finance, taxes, and financial planning. For those who are interested, below is blog number two of my Biarritz adventure. Let us know if you would like me to send my third and final post on the subject.

The death of Jeanne’s son at the hands of pirates is unsurprising. Being cut in half by a cannonball, often in front of a brother, father, or son was an unavoidable part of life for my French-Basque ancestors. Among a people whose occupational choices included shepherding or fishing, globalization offered the possibility of adventure and fortune. The Encyclopedia Britannica recounts that “the Basques were traditionally seafarers. Basques played a leading part in the colonization of the New World, sailing with the conquistadors and being among the first to exploit the whaling grounds of the Bay of Biscay and the cod fisheries off Newfoundland.”  Others carried manufactured goods to the Caribbean and returned with piastre’s (pieces of eight), mahogany, sugar, and cocoa. Some, including many members of my family, engaged in la guerre de course.

Corsairs are the French version of privateers. During 18th century globalization, European governments licensed private persons to carry arms and wage war in the pursuit of profits. My fifth great-grandfather, Adam Manesça, who was also one of Jeanne’s four fathers-in-law, departed from Bayonne in October 1742 for La Gujaira, Venezuela, as captain of l’Hercule, 302 tons and armed with 16 canons. While there, a squadron of seven English ships attempted to blockade the port and a battle ensued that lasted from 1:00 in the afternoon until 7:00 in the evening, after which the English ships took to sea.

Adam left La Guaira on the 26th of March 1743 with a cargo of 4,600 fanègues (a fanègue = 50 kilos) of cocoa beans,17,000 piastres in gold and silver, and 400 sides of beef. En route and without the support of other French vessels, two English warships captured l’Hercule, taking Adam and his crew to the island of Saint Christophe. The website Histoire du Chocolat recounts that “Manesca and his men were treated ignominiously (sic) suffering sometimes from hunger and thirst, considered as prisoners of an enemy nation.” The Dutch governor helped Adam escape, loaning him a boat and crew that took him to Martinique “where he arrived sick on the 15th of June.”

Adam returned to Bordeaux in October to give his account to the shipowner, Jacques Féger, and to the Admiralty of Guyenne. From there, he took to politics. According to Les Marins et les Corsairs de Biarritz “this captain was elected mayor of Biarritz in 1744, and enriched, he bought the watermill at Brindos. He died a widower at 86 years old on August 14, 1779.” Apparently, being a political corsair proved better for one’s pocketbook and for one’s longevity, at least before the revolution that forced Adam’s family to flee to the New World.