Pirates in Panama History
William Parker, of Tortuga was
able to take Porto Bello in 1602, less than one year after all of the
fortifications were built. With a combined force of two ships, two
pinnace, and two small shallops with 378 men. They entered Panama waters
near the Gulf of Aclé and tried sailing west along the coast, but
encountered strong winds, the kept driving him back. Leaving the bigger
ships at Aclé, he continued with the pinnaces and shallops and 150 men.
At the Island of Bastimientos, they captured some booty and took some
Spanish prisoners along six Negroes as guides.
They entered the mouth of Porto Bello River on the 7th of February at about 2:00 AM with a full moon. He proceeded into the harbor in one of the shallops hoping to sneak past the defenses without being seen. The boat was spotted by the sentry at Fort San Felipe, and they shouted a challenge to the ship. Parker was prepared for this, and ordered one of the Spanish prisoners, while many guns were aimed at him, to answer back in Spanish, that they were a merchant ship from Cartagena. The sleepy guards, not being able to see well in the darkness, believed him and gave them instructions on were to drop anchor in the harbor near the town. As he approached the town, he was again challenged by the smaller Fort San Jago and ordered to stop. They dropped anchor, and the pirates disembarked, going to the suburbs, in a area known as Triana. Here he set all of the buildings on fire and marched into Porto Bello, to the king's Treasure House and attacked it.
With the guards at San Felipe distracted by the happenings in Porto Bello, Captains Fugars and Lawriman were able to sail past the fort in the pinnaces with an additional 120 men. The governor of Porto Bello, Don Pedro Melendez, organized his forces and marched to do battle with the intruders. The governor was wounded in the first volley, along with the English Captain Giles and Lieutenant Barnet. The Spanish were forced to retreat to the Royal Treasure House, and kept the pirates at bay, until morning. The governor was wounded in 12 places, and the Spanish eventually were forced to surrender.
Due to the bravery exhibited by the governor, Parker directed that the he be attended by the English physician and released. The pirates were able to capture 10,000 ducats at the Royal Treasure House, missing 120,000 ducats that were shipped out, a couple days before.
On February 8th, the pirates posted barricades at the road coming from Panama. They were being harassed by contingents of soldiers from the forts, and those that had manage to escape during the battle. The pirates were always able to repulse the attacks, but were fearful of re-enforcements from Panamá. Other then sacking the town, the pirates did not burn it down, Parker being impressed with their valor in the face of battle, particularly the governor. That night, they boarded their ships, and sailed out of the port, with guns blazing. San Felipe was able to fire 28 cannon shots at the escaping in pirates, but none hit the mark. All of the fortress on both sides of the bay were firing but all missed. The only casualty during the run to sea, was Captain Parker, who was hit by a musket ball, fired from the western bank. The ball when in at the elbow, and exited at the wrist. This raid was considered by some to be the most profitable raid, considering that there were so few casualties and each member of the expedition, earned a hefty sum.
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Bruce C. Ruiz
August 22, 2002