The Nefarious Exploits of Nicolaes Van Hoorn, Privateer

Below I send you the complete affidavits concerning Van Hoorn's voyage from England to Spain, Africa, Cayenne and Hispaniola.

Source: GASSER, Jacques, Les mystérieuses disparitions de Grammont in "L'aventure de la flibuste", Hoëbeke Éditions, Paris, 2002, pp. 211-259 (a very well-researched paper)

1) Nicolaes Van Hoorn, a native of Flushing (in Zeeland, Netherland), married in the 1670's a Frenchwoman named Lucrèce Le Roux, daughter of an ex-agent at Nantes (Britanny) for the French West India Company.
His father was apparently Cornelis Nicolaaszoon Van Hoorn (Anvers, v. 1571 - Flessingue, 16 septembre 1649) and his mother Levina Timmermans (Flessingue, v. 1629 - idem, 26 mars 1660). They have two sons : Jacob (Flessingue, v. 1629 - 7 mars 1691) et Nicolaas (Flessingue, v. 1632 - 1685???). The wife of the second one was Lucretia Leroux, christened at Flushing about 1634 and dead about 1695. Their marriage took place about 1671. They have a son named Nicolaas as his father and christened at Fleshuing June 26, 1672. They have another son named too Nicolaas and born about 1681, dead in 1703. I suppose this Nicolas van Hoorn was the same man because one of my correspondents in France wrote to me that his wife was a Lucrete Le Roux, and he has this information from some document coming from the French archives.

2) Probably using his wife's family connection, he became acquainted with Antoine Le Febvre sieur de La Barre, then governor of the French colony of Cayenne [in French Guiana], who in a letter dated 1681 styled Van Hoorn "colonel" (as in the document below). Van Hoorn was to provide Cayenne with slaves.

3) In this slave venture, La Barre invested 21 000 francs; "an unknown merchant of Paris" provided 15 000 more and promised to Van Hoorn to obtain for him a licence at Cadiz to trade in Spanish America the slaves that the Dutch captain could not sell at Cayenne. A third investor was the burgomaster of Flushing, Jan Van Hoorn (probably a relative of Nicolas), whose exact financial participation in this venture is unknown. According to a letter of the Spanish governor of Carthagena (in Colombia today) - preserved in Archives Nationales at Paris - one of the two merchants who then held the monopoly on the slave trade in the Spanish dominions in America (a Genoese merchant named Nicolas Porcio) also approached Van Hoorn to trade black slaves in America.

4) In 1681, Van Hoorn came to London from France. There he bought the Mary and Martha, an old vessel of the Royal Navy. From the correspondence of Sir Thomas Lynch (governor of Jamaica) and the affidavits below, it seems that Van Hoorn found in England two more investors in the persons of colonels John Bawden and John Strode, the first being a member of the Royal Company of Africa and the second having financial interests in the British West Indies. On board the Mary and Martha (which was rechristened the St. Nicholas by its new owner), Van Hoorn was joined by his minor son (whose name is unknown), his brother-in-law, Balthazar Le Roux, and the unknown merchant of Paris.

As you can see in the affidavit below, two of the merchants who came with Van Hoorn were disembarked at Cadiz. I don't know how rich Daniel Crommelin (reference in Scheffer) was, or if he had any connections in Spain. He may or may not have been the unknown Parisian investor. If not, he was certainly the other businessman who disembarked from the St. Nicholas at Cadiz. (This is a hypothesis I will attempt to validate with Mr. Gasser, the author of the article mentioned above, and one of my correspondants.)

Here follows the complete transcript of Van Hoorn's piracies on the African coasts...

Description : dépositions de James Nicolas et autres marins du Saint-Nicolas (commandé par Nicolas Van Hoorn), faites devant le capitaine Reginald Wilson (officier naval), Port Royal (Jamaïque), 13 mars 1683.

Source : Public Record Office, CO 1/51 no 43i.
Note : pièce jointe à une copie de la lettre de Sir Thomas Lynch (gouverneur général de la Jamaïque) à William Blathwayt (secrétaire du comité pour le Commerce et les Plantations), du 4 mars 1683.

Affidavits of Vanhorn's piracies.

The depositions of James Nicolas, gunner; John Otto, Peter Cornelius, sailmakers; George Martyn, sailor; late seamen and mariners belonging to the ship Mary and Martha alias St. Nicolas, 400 tons, 40 guns.

These deponents say this about 16 months after they sailed out of England in the said Mary and Martha (now St. Nicolas), one Colonel Nicolas Vanhorn commander, with 120 men (about 50 of whom were Englishmen), and bound for Cadiz in company of another vessel of about 160 tons, 12 guns, 23 men (all English sailors) belonging to Colonel Stroude, governor of Dover Castle, with one Captain John Mayne commander, but under the overall command of the said Vanhorn.

In the Bay of Biscay Vanhorn's ship lost her foremast and bowsprit and was forced into Burnisse in France where 25 of Vanhorn's men (having learned what a rogue he was), ran away.

From there they sailed to The Groine in Galicia, where they stood two days, and then went on to Cadiz around Christmas where Captain Vanhorn put ashore 36 of his men without wages. There he pretended to get a licence to trade in America but could not obtain it. He then turned two of his merchants ashore. [One of them being Daniel Crommelin - (reference in Scheffer).] The night before he sailed from Cadiz, he sent out his barge with about 20 men aboard and took by force 4 brass pedreras away from the King, to the great disgrace of the English nation.

From there he went to Lancerota, one of the Canary Islands. He went ashore and took off about 40 goats by force. But the deponents further declare that before they arrived from Cadiz the said Vanhorn cruelly whipped to death an Englishman named Nicolas Browne for no cause.

From the Canaries, he sailed for St. Jago, one of the Cape Verde Islands, and there took on water. They stayed there 4 days, and 5 men ran away.

From there they sailed for the Coast of Guinea, at Royal Derista, upon the Grain Coast where they wooded and watered, and then sailed along the coast and bought gold in exchange for powder and guns, since they had no other cargo. But coming to Castle de Maind, they spied two Dutch ships which they overtook, commanding the masters to come aboard and detaining them all night. One of them had nothing on board and was discharged. The other had a cargo on board of sundry merchandise belonging to the West India Company. This cargo stolen by Vanhorn was estimated by the Hollander to be valued around 30 thousand dollars. The said Vanhorn then took by force a Negro out of an English ship, Captain Willemson, master, and likewise seized a canoe that came from Cape Coast with goods for Negroes, killing three of the Negroes in the said canoe.

On that coast, Vanhorn traded with the goods that he had stolen from the Dutch ship and also the canoe with goods for the negroes. For this he received on board about 100 Negroes and a great quantity of goods. He then went upon the Coast of Weeda, having learned that a Portuguese ship was there with 700 Negroes on board, but having become aware of Vanhorn's presence, the ship was gone.

Finding nothing there, they went upon the Coast of Chapa, where Vanhorn went ashore with his own men and those of Captain Mayne - about 60 in all - with two great guns. Within 28 days Vanhorn and his men took about 600 Negroes and brought them on board, doing all this under English colours both ashore and aboard. They burned all the houses and destroyed all the stores of corn, palm oil and rice that the Negroes had stored up in the countryside.

About 14 days later, which may be toward the end of April, Vanhorn seized 4 canoes with about 20 Negroes. One he shot, and the rest he took aboard. After this they went to St. Thomas to water, where the Portuguese tried to stop him. There Vanhorn took a Portuguese cannon and two of their Negroes. And Captain Shephard, Vanhorn's chief mate, died in irons there without any crimes that the deponents know of.

Map Source

From there they went on to Cayenne toward the end of October. There he put on shore 6 Englishmen. It was said Vanhorn bought a habitation there and left 80 Negroes with his wife's brother-in-law.

From Cayenne they went to Trinidad, Cumana, and on to Santo Domingo about the end of November. They had about 300 Negroes (the best having died). They remained there 5 weeks. The President of Santo Domingo took the Spanish brass pedreroes and, as they heard, made Vanhorn pay [having heard Vanhorn's conquest upon the Dutch].

During their stay there, one Captain Johnson, in a good, well-manned ship sent out by the General of Jamaica to look for a ship called The Trompeuse, a notorious pirate ship, came in to port and would have spoken with Vanhorn (who laid at anchor by the castle), but the Governor would not allow Captain Johnson to speak with Vanhorn ashore or to visit his ship.

What goods or Negroes were sent ashore or given away, these deponents do not know, they having been on shore. But after Vanhorn was gone by order of the President [in December 1682], the deponents embarked on Captain Silvanus Weston's ship and arrived at Jamaica on 27 February 1683. Vanhorn had sailed from Santo Domingo with about 20 men and was assisted by some Negroes.

Sworn before me, this third March 1683.

Capt. Reginald Wilson,
Naval officer,
Port Royal, Jamaica

The subsequent adventures of Van Hoorn after he sailed from Santo Domingo in December 1682 can be condensed as follows:

1) The following month, Van Hoorn, seeking revenge, came into Petit-Goave, the main harbour of French Hispaniola, whose governor (Jacques Nepveu sieur de Poauncey) gave him a privateering commission against Spaniards. To that purpose, Pouancey authorized around 280 men from the colony (mainly privateers and buccaneers) to embark with Van Hoorn, to whom he gave as lieutenant one of the most famous privateer captains of this time, de Grammont.

Roatan Island

2) In April 1683, Van Hoorn seized two great Spanish ships in the Gulf of Honduras and brought them to Roatan Island in the said gulf. At Roatan (off the coast of Honduras), he joined forces with other privateer Captains commissioned by Governor Pouancey, amongst them Laurens De Graff (another famous privateer of this time). Van Hoorn and De Graff, at the head of 12 ships and 1200 men left Honduras and sailed to Yucatan. Entering the Gulf of Mexico, they seized on 18 May 1683 the rich port of Veracruz. The booty gathered on this occasion was one of the richest of the XVIIth century's piracy.

[The greatest pirate of them all

Many pirates operating in the Caribbean were not English, but there was only one black pirate, whom Sir Henry Morgan would later term “a great and mischievous pirate.” Laurens de Griffe, or simply de Graff, was Dutch born but enslaved by the Spanish during the 1660s. Forced to serve aboard a special naval squadron designed to combat piracy, de Graf escaped sometime in the early to mid 1670s with a burning hatred of the Spanish.

Starting with a modest barque—a small sailing ship with one main mast and foremast—de Graf gradually acquired larger and better-armed ships, culminating in the capture of the Spanish frigate Tigre in 1679, a ship of twenty-four to twenty-eight guns, ironically from the same squadron to which he was once enslaved. By 1982, his piracy activities had gotten the attention of the British, and Sir Henry Morgan dispatched the frigate HMS Norwich, although the ships never engaged. Instead, de Graf found the Princesa, a Spanish-captured French warship. There followed a rare ship-to-ship gun duel in which the Spanish sustained fifty casualties before surrendering. In her cargo holds, among other items, de Graf found 122,000 pesos in Peruvian silver. The Dutch pirate had captured a payroll ship! In reprisal, the Spanish confiscated the slave cargo of another Dutch freebooter at Santa Domingo, Nikolaas van Hoorn, which turned out to be a very dumb move.

Van Hoorn later escaped with two ships, and in due course, visited Jamaica with letters from his protégé, M. de Pouançay, the governor of a French settlement in Saint Dominque, now Haiti. Sir Thomas Lynch (Recall that he is now the new governor of Jamaica.) later wrote: “Everyone here concludes that Van Hoorn is also gone to Laurens [de Graf] (the man who, as I wrote to you, took 122,000 pieces of eight off Porto Rico. Van Hoorn has provisions for six months. Nobody thinks he would carry this to capture pirates…” Indeed, van Hoorn’s intention was to join forces with de Graf to teach the Spanish a lesson.

Vera Cruz, on Mexico’s coast, was the collection center of the wealth from Central America and Mexico that was sent back annually to Spain via the plate fleet—an armada of massive galleons. With historical accounts putting the total number of buccaneers at 200-800 in the two ships, constituting the vanguard of the pirate’s force, on May 17th 1683, de Graf approached the port, relieved to find the galleons had not yet arrived. Unfortunately, the port lookouts mistook the two vessels as part of the plate fleet and lit fires to guide them in.

During the night, the pirates reconnoitered the area before attacking the two forts on the landward side of the town and the city proper at dawn, firing and cutting down armed men and citizens as they went. By early morning, with only four casualties (three due to friendly fire) the town was theirs. During the next four days they systematically tortured prosperous citizens and threatened to burn down the cathedral containing several thousand prisoners if ransom was not handed over. Even the Governor was forced to hand over seventy thousand pieces of eight. With the plate fleet now fast approaching, the pirates hightailed it to a nearby island, with fifteen hundred slaves as hostages, while they waited for all the ransom to be made.

Hereby ensued an argument: van Hoorne was all for expediting the ransom matters by sending back a dozen hostages’ heads to the Spaniards while de Graf counseled patience and humanity. The matter was settled by a duel in which de Graf inflicted a flesh wound on van Hoorn that later turned gangrenous and resulted in his death, although not before the pirates sailed away with their loot.

De Graf continued with a life of piracy that lasted twelve more years before facing a French court-martial as a result of several piracy actions on the coast of Jamaica, and more importantly, the loss of Port-de-Paix in northern modern-day Haiti to a combined English-Spanish force. He was exonerated and settled in Biloxi, on the Gulf Coast, for his twilight years.]

3) In June 1683, Van Hoorn died of a slight (but infected) wound he received in a duel between himself and De Graff about some words said by the first against the second. He was buried near the northern coast of Yucatan, near Cayo de Mugeres, on a small island called Loggerhead Key.

4) De Grammont, Van Hoorn's lieutenant, received then the command of the St. Nicolas and renamed her Le Hardi. Van Hoorn's son, who was a minor, died at French Hispaniola early in 1684, sometime after the return of de Grammont. The Hardi was the vessel of de Grammont until October 1686 when she was lost in a storm off the Azores Islands.

Van Hoorn was not a sympathetic individual as you can read in the affidavits. It is not surprising that your ancestor left him at Cadiz. This year I intend to upload to my website a detailed account of this Vera Cruz expedition, which I am currently writing.

Just one thing more, Miff. Reading the petition addressed to King William by New York citizens in 1701, I found along with the name of your ancestor, those of:

* a "Barth Le Roux" (who could be Van Hoorn's brother-in-law, Balthazar Le Roux) [- incorrect. Barth Le Roux was a renowned silversmith at that time.]

* also a Captain Robert Allison, who in the early 1680's was a privateer at Jamaica and took part at the second taking of Puerto Belo (in the isthmus of Panama) in February 1680. He became in the 1690's one of the shipowners of New York.

Sincerely yours,
Raynald Laprise
Le Diable Volant Website