The Saga of Orange County’s “Pirates” - San Juan Capistrano Visitor Series Part 6
Author's Note: The following was written after consulting a large number of resources, including material from the Bancroft Library, the Santa Barbara Mission Archive Library and sources provided by fellow scholars. I hope to publish a thoroughly footnoted version of the following in the coming year, but wanted to post this in preparation for the 200th anniversary of Bouchard's visit to California and the associated events marking his attack in San Juan Capistrano in early November of 2018. I could not have written this article without the help of my friend Phil Brigandi, who assisted me with research every step of the way. A big thanks also goes out to Michael Melzer, the author of The Patriot Pirate, the definitive book on Bouchard's privateering journey around the world. Another big thanks goes out to Dr. Rose Marie Beebe for assisting me with some translations. And finally, another big thanks goes out to Phoebe Herring (see above) for allowing me to use one of her many fantastic works of art displayed throughout Michael Melzer's wonderful book. I've run in many circles in my life, but none have come close to being as welcoming, affable and supportive as these scholars. Thank you.
The Saga of Orange County’s “Pirates”
Pirates!! Any visitor to Disneyland knows all about them; buried treasure, old flint-lock guns, beards, men chasing women (or food) in circles, a dog with the keys to the jail in its mouth and ship cannons that somehow missed a target just 100 feet away. Some historians will tell you that Disneyland didn't simply import tales of buccaneers from foreign shores, but that just 25 miles away, pirates also attacked Mission San Juan Capistrano back in 1818 during the height of the mission era in California. Their attack and its aftermath has all the makings of the archetypal pirate tale; they burned down some of the mission buildings, spilled the stores of wine and olive oil, got drunk, caused general mayhem and then sailed away, leaving behind a legacy of buried treasure stories. Or so the story goes.
As it turns out, these were not exactly the “yo-ho, yo-ho” kind of pirates. In fact, the “pirates” of San Juan Capistrano didn't consider themselves pirates at all. They were instead privateers, hired as a naval force by the United Provinces of the Rio de la Plata, better known today as Argentina, during the Argentine War of Independence against Spain. The crew was made up of hundreds of sailors from all over the world working under their French-born captain, Hippolyte Bouchard, to disrupt Spanish trade networks and capture Spanish vessels. Their attack on San Juan Capistrano was part of an around-the-world privateering expedition that included attacks on Spanish-controlled California.
The origins of their attack go all the way back to the beginning of Spanish involvement in the Americas. Shortly after Christopher Columbus’ famous voyage in 1492, European leaders essentially “granted” most of what is now the Americas to Spain in the Treaty of Tordesillas, creating a political connection between what became Argentina and California. Spanish control over such a vast territory required significant sources of capital, a strong military and a stable and capable government. Fortunately for the Spanish aristocracy, rich sources of gold and silver in the Americas fueled a rich global trade network, built largely on the backs of the forced labor of Indians and slaves, for almost 300 years. The resulting wealth funded an extensive network of Spanish colonial establishments around the world which included California by the last half of the 18th century.
But Spain’s luck started to change in the early 19th century. Economic pressures exacerbated by decades of inconsistent leadership, inflation and a series of military defeats made the extensive Spanish empire vulnerable at home and in its colonies. This instability came to a head in 1808 during the Napoleonic Wars, when Spain’s king was forcibly replaced by Napoleon’s brother, leading to a breakdown in trade networks and the ability of Spain to maintain control over its colonies. In the wake of so much trouble at home, the seeds of independence movements throughout Spain’s American colonies were planted.
One of these seeds started to grow in the Spanish colony of the Viceroyalty of Rio de la Plata, which today encompasses Argentina and parts of its neighboring countries. The Argentines responded to the weakened state of the Spanish government by establishing a “temporary” independent government in 1810 under the name of the United Provinces of the Rio de la Plata. Spain opposed their quasi-independence and hostilities soon turned violent. Throughout the second decade of the 19th century, the Argentines increasingly relied on their “temporary” government as a permanent one. Before long, both sides were engaged in what became the Argentine War of Independence.
At the beginning of the conflict, the United Provinces cobbled together a formal navy which achieved early victories against the Spanish in the local Atlantic waters. As a result, the Spanish naval presence in the region waned and the leadership in Buenos Aires disbanded the navy, turning instead to privateers to take the fight to Spain in more distant Spanish ports.
Privateers were essentially a mercenary navy hired by a government to do all they could to weaken the ability of their enemy to wage war. Instead of receiving direct payment from their host governments, they were instead compensated with the spoils of their efforts. Governments legitimized the actions of privateers with a “letter of marque,” which formally documented the government’s support of the privateers, named their general targets and, since ships could be away for years at a time without having contact with their host governments, sanctioned their activities for only a limited time. Though privateers would publicly celebrate the nobility of their political goals, they were also directly, if not primarily, motivated by the desire for a large financial reward. The political and monetary pursuits went hand-in-hand. For some readers, this is a (dis)comforting reminder that, 200 years later, very little has changed.
Privateers working under the United Provinces of the Rio de la Plata intended to make money from the value of ships, treasure and supplies taken from the Spanish. One of these privateers was the French-born Hippolyte Bouchard, baptized with the name André Paul Bouchard. Connected to the sea from a young age, Bouchard worked on a merchant fleet before joining the French Navy and fighting in the Napoleonic Wars in the Mediterranean Sea. He later participated in the Saint-Domingue expedition, which was sent by Napolean to suppress the Haitian revolutionaries fighting under Toussaint Louverture. After leaving the French Navy, he floated down to South America in 1809 and settled in the Rio de la Plata where he joined the temporarily formed Argentine navy in the early years of their struggle against Spain. His involvement with the revolutionary leadership led to his marriage into a wealthy and prominent local family in the capital of Buenos Aires. When the United Provinces’ navy was disbanded, Bouchard proved his commitment to his adopted country by taking the fight on land, where he participated in battles against Spanish outposts under the famous South American revolutionary military leader, José de San Martín.
But Bouchard’s displays of loyalty and commitment to the cause were not enough to overcome his disagreeable personality. His ambitious and combative nature conflicted with the leaders of the newly formed government, leading them to conclude that he would be more effective, and less trouble, back at sea. Thus Bouchard became a privateer and led his first excursion to the coast of Peru, which was at the time still under Spanish control. His first big prize was the capture of the Spanish frigate, Consecuencia, later named La Argentina. He returned to the Rio de la Plata with a growing bank account, but also a growing number of political enemies.
The government officials of the United Provinces of the Rio de la Plata knew better than to let Bouchard hang around for too long and gave him numerous options for another round of privateering. He was given a letter of marque sanctioning further privateering activities for another 16 months in July of 1817, with options to either blockade the port of Lima, the ports of Spain or the Caribbean and Northeast South America. But Bouchard had bigger plans. He instead set sail on the ship he captured, La Argentina, on a course for the Spanish-controlled Philippines.
A portrait of Hippolyte Bouchard doing his best to embody the image of pomp and confidence. Far from being a pirate, Bouchard wanted to exude the image of a naval officer in the popular style of the time.
The Philippines was one of the financial centers of the Spanish Empire. The most prized possession of the Spanish armed merchant fleet in Manila, the Compania de Manila, was a Manila ship. For 250 years, Manila ships (often referred to as Manila Galleons, but frigates by the 19th century) sailed relatively undisturbed between Acapulco, Mexico, west to the Philippines where they traded gold and silver from the Americas for goods from Asia, and then sailed back to Acapulco via a northern route that took them along the coast of the Californias. One or two ships sailed this route each year from about 1565 until 1815. A Manila ship would have been a very high prize on Bouchard’s list of potential targets in the Pacific. The problem for Bouchard was that the last Manila ship sailed two years before he set sail to attempt to capture one, a fact that would later come to disappoint him.
Eastward To The Pacific
In July of 1817, Bouchard and his crew of 164 were ready to depart on La Argentina, a 464 ton frigate that was about 100 meters long (over 300 feet) with 34 cannons. They sailed from Buenos Aires eastward to Africa, Madagascar and finally, by January of 1818, to the Philippines, where they blockaded the port of Manila and waited for months for an opportunity to capture a Spanish trading ship.
But the going was rough. Bouchard was discouraged by a series of setbacks, including the death of his first mate, Englishman Nathanial Somers, in a skirmish with the Spanish. He was also exceedingly disappointed to discover that the ships of the Compania de Manila, including the Manila ships, were no longer sailing. By this time, he and his crew had already been at sea for over a full year and had nothing to show for it. As they were so far east, it made more sense to continue heading in the same direction towards the western coast of the Americas rather than turning around and heading back the way they came. Being in need of supplies with an increasing number of the crew experiencing symptoms of scurvy, Bouchard decided to head for the Hawaiian Islands to rest and regroup. Utilizing the same trade winds and currents used by the Manila ships for two and a half centuries, they arrived off the coast of Hawaii on the 18th of August, 1818.
As soon as Bouchard arrived, he encountered a suspicious vessel in port. He quickly learned that it originated as a fellow privateering vessel under the flag of the United Provinces of the Rio de la Plata. The crew had mutinied and fled for the Hawaiian Islands where they sold the ship, the Santa Rosa, to the king of the Hawaiian Islands, Kamehameha I. As a loyal agent of the United Provinces, Bouchard considered its crew as traitors and immediately went to work apprehending them and retrieving the ship.
Bouchard was successful in both buying the ship back from Kamehameha I and apprehending the mutineers. He held a trial for one of the mutiny leaders, who was sentenced to execution by firearms on the beach. Other mutineers were lashed a dozen times before they were absorbed into Bouchard’s crew. But more importantly to the fate of San Juan Capistrano, while in Hawaii Bouchard met an observant and capable English sailor named Peter Corney.
Corney arrived in the northern Pacific in 1813 as part of the English North West Company’s attempt to settle on the Columbia River in the Pacific Northwest. He spent over four years as a merchant seamen in the sea-otter fur trade between China, Hawaii and California. During his travels he spent almost a month in the Spanish capital of California in Monterey in late 1814 and stopped there again in early 1815. By 1818, he was in the Hawaiian Islands awaiting trading opportunities.
Bouchard took an immediate liking to Corney, in part because Corney reminded him of his former English second-in-command Nathanial Somers, who had been killed in combat with the Spanish in the Philippines. But Bouchard may have also liked Corney for the information he provided on what became their next target: California.
Corney knew California was vulnerable to an attack from the time he spent in Monterey. More specifically, he knew that California’s Spanish military presence was limited in both manpower and supplies. When Corney learned that Bouchard was attacking Spanish targets, he took a gamble and told him about Monterey and California, figuring the province might possess riches that could help the cause of the United Provinces while also giving Corney something more productive to do. Bouchard listened with considerable interest. He was eager for new targets, especially achievable ones, and decided to attack California. Bouchard asked Corney to assist him by taking command of the newly apprehended Santa Rosa. Corney later laconically recorded his acceptance of Bouchard’s offer, “He [Bouchard] took a particular fancy to me, and asked me to command the Santa Rosa; to which I agreed, and in October, 1818, entered on my office.” Perhaps Corney’s brevity was an attempt to obscure his avarice.
A portrait of Peter Corney, the man who gave Bouchard the idea to invade Spanish California. Most famous in Orange County for leading the invasion of Mission San Juan Capistrano.
Bouchard now had an even larger crew and a second ship. Together, they immediately went to work preparing the Santa Rosa for war. By the time they were done, the ship was about 300 tons burden with 18 cannons. It had a diverse crew of about 100 men, comprised of, as Corney put it, “Sandwich Islanders…Americans, Spaniards, Portuguese, Creoles, Negroes, Manila men, Malays, and a few Englishmen” but also apparently included some Chinese. Combined with the 260 men aboard La Argentina, whom Corney described as “a mixed crew, nearly similar to that of the Santa Rosa,” Bouchard had a considerable force under his command. As they made their way towards California, Corney reported that they were “employed exercising the great guns [of the ships], and putting the ship in good condition for fighting, frequently reading the articles of war which are very strict, and punish with death almost every act of insubordination.” In the midst of their preparations for battle while crossing the Pacific towards California, Bouchard’s Letter of Marque expired. They were now technically pirates.
Meanwhile, In Spanish California…
Unlike the United Provinces of the Rio de la Plata, there was very little revolutionary spirit in Spanish California. Being on the fringes of the Spanish frontier, and primarily consisting of military families with sworn loyalty to the crown, most of the Spanish Californians desperately wanted to preserve their Spanish identity. In 1818, Alta-California’s entire Spanish population of 3,000 or so was centered in four presidios and three small pueblos, with a couple Spanish missionaries and five-six soldiers and their families at each of the 19 missions and scattered along 500 miles of coastline. Even if they wanted to, any budding revolutionaries were too spread out to effectively form an independence movement.
California was also a particularly isolated Spanish outpost in 1818. By the end of the first decade of the 19th century, Spain was suffering from the high costs of fighting wars in Europe which prevented the annual supply ship from regularly stopping in California. This annual supply ship had been a tenuous but crucial bloodline between the Spanish Californians and Mexico since the beginning of Spanish colonization of California in the 1770s. Without it, the Spanish Californians’ connection to the outside world primarily consisted of illegal trade with foreign vessels which occasionally anchored along the coast to acquire otter skins and hides.
Mission San Juan Capistrano was one of these illicit trading centers. By 1818, it was over 40 years old with a relatively bustling community of over 1,100 inhabitants. The population was made up almost entirely of Indians from modern-day Orange County. The Indians were the laborers who grew the crops, constructed the buildings, made the clothes and candles, produced the wine and aguardiente, cooked the food and maintained the herds of animals. The goods they produced supported themselves and the San Diego Presidio and were also used in trade with foreign vessels which would anchor in San Juan Bay, today’s Dana Point. While the Indians were the primary residents of the mission, the Spanish population was small, consisting of 5 soldiers under the command of a corporal, all living in the mission barracks with their families, and two Franciscan padres, Geronimo Boscana and José Barona.
Barona and Boscana lived in the padres’ quarters on the east end of the southern wing of the mission quadrangle. At the age of 58, Barona was the senior missionary, having arrived at San Juan Capistrano in 1811. He may have even been the officiant during mass when the earthquake of 1812 caused the mission bell tower to fall on the nave of the Great Stone Church, killing 40 Indians. This tragic experience possibly traumatized him. In 1817, his superior wrote “I must state that it is something of a favor to qualify him as praiseworthy for regular service owing to the fact that constitutionally he is unable to bear the burden.” His partner, Geronimo Boscana at the age of 42, was the de facto head missionary. Indeed, most of the baptismal, death and marriage registers at the time of Bouchard’s landing were in his hand. In 1820, his superior wrote that “his merit [is] above medium and his aptitude to be the same both for the ministry of pagans and of the faithful. Moreover, he is fit for some kind of office or commission.” He was also scholarly, spending his free time at San Juan Capistrano writing the most significant ethnographic study of the Indians written by a Spanish missionary in the Californias, called Chinigchinich.
There are very few known images of California missionaries. This image of Father Geronimo Boscana was published in the first edition of Alfred Robinson’s book, Life in California, in 1846. Robinson personally met Boscana at least once in 1829 and this sketch was said to have been relatively accurate.
Like all missionaries in California, Barona and Boscana were the administrators of the mission. Besides their priestly responsibilities, they also managed the maintenance of the herds and crops, kept all the records and conducted commercial and government business. Their jobs were extraordinarily difficult given the inconsistent support from their government, the nature of their enterprise and the natural pressures of maintaining a self-sufficient community. On numerous occasions, both Barona and Boscana had written requests to their superiors to retire from the mission system and return back to Mexico. But the instability caused by Spain’s engagement in so many wars resulted in these requests being denied on account that there were no friars to replace them.
So it was in the midst of the rigors of their lives as missionaries when, on October 9th, 1818, a courier on horseback galloped up to the front entrance of the mission and passed along a confidential circular written and sent by Captain José De La Guerra, the commander of the Santa Barbara Presidio. Just two days before, Captain De La Guerra was informed by Henry Gyzelaar, the captain of the American trading ship Clarion, that he had just arrived from Hawaii where he received word that the two well-armed ships in port, La Argentina and the Santa Rosa, were insurgent ships under the command of Bouchard and in preparation for an attack on California. Captain De La Guerra immediately wrote the confidential circular with this information to all of the missions both north and south. Leaving Santa Barbara on October 7th, the circular had been relayed southward from mission to mission at full speed. On the morning of October 9th, the courier made his way through what is now Orange County, racing down El Camino Real in the fall’s morning light, in view were the wind-swept ridges of both hills and mountains colored by their distinctive red and purple hues silhouetted against the horizon. Fr. José Barona signed the circular in confirmation of reception in the sala of San Juan Capistrano. By the end of the day on the 9th, just two days after he left from the Santa Barbara Presidio, the courier reached San Diego.
Just the day before, the governor of California in Monterey, Pablo Vicente Solá, received a separate letter from Captain De La Guerra with the same information sent in the circular southward. Governor Solá understood just how dangerous Bouchard was to the weakly defended and sparsely populated province under his control. In the Presidio of Monterey, he immediately planned the best defense he could and sent it in a letter to the commanders of the three other presidios (San Francisco, Santa Barbara and San Diego). Since each presidio had jurisdiction over a handful of missions, these orders were to be forwarded to the missions from the presiding commander of each presidio.
In the letter he sent with his plan, Solá referred to Bouchard as a “pirate,” perhaps prompting his very first command for all the “objects of silver and gold, and every thing else of value” including “sacred vessels and church ornaments” to be “boxed up” and taken to specified destinations from each mission. In the case of San Juan Capistrano, the valuables were ordered to be taken to the recently established San Antonio de Pala, a submission of Mission San Luis Rey. Solá also ordered the women and children from San Juan Capistrano to “retire at the first tidings” of Bouchard’s arrival to Pala as well.
Captain José De La Guerra of the Santa Barbara Presidio sent this confidential circular to all of the missions south of Santa Barbara on October 7th, 1818. This was the first warning to the southern missions that Bouchard and the two ships under his command were coming to the coast of California. The letter was signed by a missionary at each mission it was received. It was signed in San Juan Capistrano by Fr. Josef Barona on October 8th, 1818. It reached the last mission, San Diego, on October 9th, 1818. The letter reads “Through an American vessel which came to anchor in this port [Santa Barbara] yesterday, I have been informed that in the Sandwich Islands [Hawaii] now for twenty-seven days, two insurgent vessels have been preparing to head for this coast; the one has thirty-four cannons and the other eighteen to twenty, both ships being under command of a Frenchman named Visart [Bouchard], with a crew of two hundred and fifty men. And, because of the possibility that said vessels might suddenly approach our establishments, I give Your Reverences this notice that you be on your guard, especially those of you who are nearest the coast. God keep Your Reverences for many years. Santa Barbara, October 7, 1818.”
Solá’s subsequent orders were focused on conducting a defense. He ordered “a sufficient number of mission men” to be left at the missions “to prepare food for those remaining behind [including soldiers]” and “another sufficient number sent to prepare food for the families in the places those shall have retired to.” He also commanded that the mission vaqueros drive “black cattle of all kinds and sheep” somewhere “as far as possible inland” to keep them from becoming a supply of meat for Bouchard and his crew.” He ordered that all “horses fit for use will be kept at hand where they may be brought into service.” In need of men to fight in the case Bouchard landed troops, he ordered the mission military guards to immediately report to their presiding presidio, and to staff the missions instead with retired military personnel. The missions were also ordered to provide a number of Indians who were armed with bows and arrows who could fight. He gave directions for double watches to keep watch along the coast with a final note appointing Captain De La Guerra as acting governor in the case of Solá’s death.
Solá also sent written orders to each mission with instructions to the missionaries to comply with the commander of their presiding presidio. Mission San Juan Capistrano was under the jurisdiction of the San Diego Presidio, commanded at the time by Lt. Francisco Maria Ruiz. It was Ruiz’ job to direct Barona and Boscana in preparation for a possible attack.
At some point, these orders reached San Juan Capistrano, prompting the corporal and the mission fathers to meet and discuss the plan. Apparently Barona scoffed and announced that he refused to leave the mission, “no matter what the insurgents did.” Like most of the missionaries in the California, he considered himself first and foremost a Spaniard with unwavering loyalty to the Spanish crown. To him, Bouchard was a lowly insurgent and he wanted everyone to know that he refused to concede to his threats.
The earliest known image of Mission San Juan Capistrano, hastily sketched by H.M.T. Powell in the rain in 1850. At the far left is the soldiers' barracks. To its right is the south wing of the quadrangle, including the padres' and soldiers' kitchen, complete with the chimney which is still standing today. Just to the left of the triangular wall marking the sala, or reception room, is the padres' quarters, where Barona and Boscana lived. In the center is the bell wall which was constructed following the destruction of the bell tower of the Great Stone Church in the earthquake of 1812 and where Bouchard's men were reported to have "rang the bells until they grew tired." The ruins of the Great Stone Church still show the main dome and lantern intact. This is the best image of what San Juan Capistrano looked like in 1818.
More practically, Barona, Boscana and the corporal of the guard had to address Solá’s command to transport the mission valuables and the population all the way to San Antonio de Pala in the case of Bouchard’s approach. The obvious problem was that San Antonio de Pala is about a 50 mile walk on El Camino Real from San Juan Capistrano. This distance made the order impractical, if not impossible, to carry out on the “first tidings” of Bouchard’s approach. It’s not clear whether or not Solá was aware of the distance, but it’s unlikely Barona and Boscana would have kept quiet about it.
Still, both the mission fathers and the soldiers knew that the mission population needed to be relocated somewhere safer inland. Their destination would require enough space, water and food for at least a couple days. The missionaries also needed a destination where they could send the mission valuables, especially given that they could not be sure if they would ever be able to replace property which was destroyed or stolen. Though the California missions on the whole kept very little cash on hand, they still possessed property of real value, such as the silver and gold church adornments. Items with relatively higher value included San Juan Capistrano’s silver crucifix, candelabra, chalice, holy water vessel, altar cards, and censer which had been at the mission since the late 18th century. Of lesser value, but still worth saving, was the furniture, utensils and the vestments used by the mission fathers for various church services. Though the mission was considered to be poor, the total value of its possessions was likely in excess of $30,000 (1818 dollars). Not a bad target for privateers, or even pirates.
The reality was that there were few options where the population and property could be taken inland. The most reliable sources of water were either further up Trabuco Canyon from the mission or at the Yorba settlements near the conjunction of Santiago Creek and the Santa Ana River, over 20 walking-miles away. Trabuco Canyon was a much shorter walk and a more convenient destination to transport the mission property. An adobe estancia for San Juan Capistrano was located about 8-9 walking-miles up Trabuco Creek from the mission site, which could serve as a base camp. This adobe may have been built as early as 1806 and was used by the vaqueros who maintained mission cattle herds in the hills above Trabuco Creek. Surrounding the adobe is a relatively long stretch of flat land along the creek, ideal for camping and possessing easy access to the creek for water.
The site of the Trabuco Adobe. It was very likely on or near this spot where Barona and Boscana planned to move the Indian population of the mission in the case Bouchard came to San Juan Capistrano.
But as October turned into November and Bouchard failed to arrive anywhere along the coast of California, all of the planning seemed for not. Solá wondered whether or not the information obtained by Captain De La Guerra was legitimate. Feeling frustrated, and maybe a little relieved, he sent a letter on November 12th to inform the commanders of the Santa Barbara and San Diego Presidios that he felt that the coming winter storms made it too late in the season for Bouchard to safely anchor and attack California. Solá ordered the retired soldiers who were mporarily staffing the guard of the missions to return to their ranchos in order to attend to their agricultural developments while the mission guards returned to being staffed by the soldiers from the presidio.
Turns Out, Captain De La Guerra Was Right....
So it was with some surprise that only a week later, on November 20th, the lookouts on Point Pinos of Monterey sighted Bouchard’s ships. Solá immediately ordered the women and children to safer locations inland and prepared his defenses for attack. When hostilities broke out the next day, the Spanish successfully bombarded the Santa Rosa with their cannons, killing 5 crew members. But their success was short lived. After a tense and rainy night, Bouchard led over 200 men on land to attack the Presidio of Monterey on the morning of November 22nd. By the time they reached the presidio, Solá and his soldiers put up little if any resistance before fleeing inland. Solá later wrote to the viceroy that “we offered some resistance, although it was fruitless because we were so heavily outnumbered…I retreated with the ammunition and troops to rancho Real Hacienda, five leagues from the presidio.” With little choice other than to run, he wrote “what could I do, Your Excellency, in such a situation?”
Bouchard and his crew sacked the presidio, burned many of its buildings and took a prisoner named Molina, who was known for often being drunk and was later suspected of essentially volunteering to join the privateers. The privateers did not, however, attack Mission San Carlos Borromeo, 3 miles distant, nor did they attempt to invade any further inland. Presiding over a crew with many Catholics, Bouchard had also ordered that the San Carlos Cathedral on south end of the presidio was “not be touched under penalty of death,” which is in part why it still stands today. He and his crew seemed content enough burning down the other portions of the presidio, taking whatever goods they desired while also repairing the Santa Rosa. They occupied Monterey for about 5 days before departing southward on November 27th.
While Bouchard and his crew were sacking the presidio, Solá and his soldiers continued to wait out the invasion in the relative safety of the Rancho de la Real Hacienda. While there, Solá wrote and sent a somewhat desperate express in the morning of the 27th of November to all of the missionaries from San Luis Obispo to San Diego, informing them of the sack of Monterey by “pirates, enemies of the human race.” He proceeded to warn the missionaries that it was “quite likely that their depraved intention is to sack the other points and missions that afford them a chance.” He promised to "keep a sufficient number of men in the look out to advise me of the course they may follow so as to send you news with the utmost speed" and requested that “Your Reverences [mission fathers] should also keep as many [look outs] as may be necessary for the same purpose.” He closed by writing that “I have just received report of the sailing [away] of both ships.”
Immediately after writing the missionaries, Solá wrote the commanders of both the Santa Barbara and San Diego Presidios, marking the time at the top of the letter as “12:30 PM.” He began by reporting that, just the day before, Bouchard and his men burned the Castillo and the presidio. Since he did not know where Bouchard’s ships were headed, he ordered the commanders to post sentinels along the coast to be on the lookout and that all of the families from the presidios were to move to the designated places inland. He reiterated that the missions were to provide supplementary military support from Indians who could fight with bows and arrows and ordered that if any of the Indians or soldiers had the “disgrace of leaving their post, they must not leave anything for the enemy, not munitions nor anything else for conducting warfare.” Commander Ruiz of the San Diego Presidio received and signed it on December 1st.
Solá’s letter to the missionaries reached Barona and Boscana by November 30th. Despite weeks of Barona’s posturing and Boscana’s hesitation to disrupt the routines of mission life, they must have understood that the situation was rather desperate. With the potential support of only a couple dozen or so soldiers from the garrison of the San Diego Presidio, along with a handful of retired soldiers and Indian vaqueros, they knew that the total Spanish defensive force was even smaller than that of the recently sacked Monterey. The probability that the mission could be defended was low.
An artist's impression of Argentine ships around the time Bouchard attacked San Juan Capistrano. At this point, ships no longer had a raised stern castle. In the coming decades, steam engines were increasingly relied on for power. Bouchard's attack occurred in the last decades of the Age of Sail.
Refuge in Refugio
Meanwhile, Bouchard worked his way southward and anchored at Refugio, a small anchorage west of Santa Barbara, on December 2nd. Refugio was named after the Ortega family’s Rancho del Refugio, the headquarters of which sat in a beautiful canyon nearby and was known to be among the most prosperous ranchos in all of California. It had also been a well-known illicit trading center for more than a decade. After anchoring, Bouchard ordered 60 men ashore to raid the rancho, and by the next day Captain José De La Guerra of the Santa Barbara Presidio was informed that they had “burnt and plundered the ranch.” One onlooker wrote that he “saw the house of the Refugio rancho on fire” and that “many people on the hill looking at the fire.”
But not all went to plan. Three of the privateers failed to return to the ships and Bouchard soon realized that they had been taken prisoner by the Spanish military, who had been watching their movements from the surrounding hills since they embarked on shore. The prisoners were taken inland to Mission Santa Inés where they were interrogated. The prisoners were Lieutenant William Taylor, a 21 year old Catholic native of Boston, Martin Romero who was an 18 year old Catholic soldier from Paraguay and Mateo José Pasqual, a baker-turned-soldier who was originally from Africa. When Lieutenant Taylor was asked “if said insurgents were protected by any nation, or had consorts, or assistance from other vessels, he answered he did not know; that they are robbers, pirates.” His response suggests that at least part of the crew had little to nothing to do with the political causes of the United Provinces, which is unsurprising given the haphazard assembly of the crew.
This image of Captain José De La Guerra was painted by Leonardo Barbieri in the early 1850s. Though portraits of early Spanish Californians are relatively rare, we are fortunate to have images of many of the most important figures in Bouchard's attack on San Juan Capistrano.
Bouchard did not intend to leave his men behind, and set sail on December 6th for Santa Barbara, writing that he “[assumed] that that was where they [his men] had been sent by orders from their closest leader.” He arrived the next day and sent a boat waving a white flag ashore. A single crew member waded through the surf and plunged a stick into the sand with a note offering an exchange of prisoners. Captain José De La Guerra ordered Alférez Maitorena and two soldiers down to the shore to receive the note. After reading it, Captain De La Guerra quickly agreed to the exchange prisoners on the condition that Bouchard promised not to attack any more points along the California coast. After a tense back-and-forth with Bouchard through written messages, Captain De La Guerra learned, as he had no way knowing before, that the privateers indeed possessed just one prisoner, the aforementioned Molina. Captain De La Guerra expressed his concern to Bouchard that his superior, governor Solá, would not approve of such an unequal exchange. It is possible Captain De La Guerra was leveraging the possibility of Solá’s disapproval to strengthen the importance of Bouchard’s promise not to attack any other points along the coast. Solá later wrote in his report that the privateers “agreed to an exchange of prisoners with the commander of the presidio, Captain Don José de la Guerra, even though they did not have any prisoners, other than a peasant from Monterey who got drunk the day they departed and who they took aboard…having first promised to Captain de la Guerra not to stop at any other point on the coast.” With his crew back intact, Bouchard and his ships set sail to the southward at dawn on December 12th. In the morning light, Captain De La Guerra scanned the open sea along the anchorage at Santa Barbara and considered the possibility that Bouchard would fail to honor his agreement. As a precaution, he ordered 24 soldiers under Sergeant Anastasio Carrillo to head south to assist the forces under Commander Ruiz of the San Diego Presidio.
A Privateer's Promise
A Privateer's Promise
Though Bouchard knew from his time in Monterey that the probability of obtaining valuable goods in California was essentially zero, he also knew that another raid on a mission or settlement could further damage Spain’s ability to maintain control over its colonies and also provide his crew with supplies. In part, his need for supplies was legitimate given his large crew of 360 men, even if they were relatively freshly stocked from their raid on Refugio. One of the Bouchard’s crew members, an American named John Melvin, attested to this need and wrote that “it was still necessary to procure some supplies for the prosecution of the voyage, and the only resort left to us, was to land at those places where we supposed they had the least suspicion of us.” Then again, Bouchard may have considered, why not give the crew something to do other than the monotonous duties of sailing and roll the dice on the possibility of obtaining something of value from one of the missions?
The question then became where to land. There were 3 established anchorages south of Santa Barbara during the Spanish period; San Pedro, San Juan Capistrano (Dana Point) and San Diego. Though Bouchard and his ships anchored in San Pedro on the night of December 13th, he quickly realized that Los Angeles, the closest town with provisions from the anchorage, was a long, rough and dry 20 miles away. Bouchard himself had once participated as a mounted soldier against the Spanish in the Battle of San Lorenzo in 1813, where he captured the Spanish flag and killed the flag bearer, but his crew was both ill-equipped and unprepared to mount such a long invasion on land through unknown country.
This portion of map from 1823 depicts the territories of the newly formed Mexican Republic. The numbered anchorages are places where there are records of Bouchard visiting. 1. Refugio. 2. Santa Barbara. 3. San Pedro. 4. San Juan Capistrano (notice the Dana Point Headlands and the location of Yorba's rancho just above it). 5. San Dieguito Bay, where as a child at the San Diego Presidio, Juana Machado remembered seeing one of Bouchard's ships "from the gate of the presidio plaza" sailing from this little bay.
Thus San Juan Capistrano or San Diego were Bouchard’s only other options. After 3 weeks on the coast, he must have known that San Diego was defended by both the Castillo de Guijarros on Ballast Point, at the mouth of the bay, and the presidio further inland. It was not a destination that had, as sailor John Melvin remarked, “the least suspicion of us.” Given the damage sustained to the Santa Rosa during battle against the fort at Monterey, including the deaths of 5 crew members, he decided to instead anchor in the bay of San Juan Capistrano, where there was neither fort nor presidio. Bouchard probably knew from Peter Corney and/or other members of the crew who had spent time trading in California in years past that San Juan Capistrano, like Refugio, was an undefended illegal trade center. He and his crew deduced that the goods that were traded were probably stored within a convenient distance from the anchorage.
Meanwhile, Barona and Boscana must have been aware of Bouchard anchoring in San Pedro and the very real threat he still posed to San Juan Capistrano. Yet, for some reason, they remained in the mission. Their lives were so routine that on December 13th, when Bouchard was just 30 miles away, Boscana recorded the burial of an Indian in the mission cemetery and the whole population remained in the mission.
At some point throughout the night of the 13th, Commander Ruiz of the San Diego Presidio was informed that Bouchard had anchored at San Pedro and was still looking for anchorages along the coast. Ruiz knew Bouchard could land at either or both San Juan and San Diego, so he split up his small guard of about 65 soldiers to defend both ports. Ruiz sent 30 Spanish leather jacket soldiers armed with old muskets and lances under the command of Alférez Don Santiago Argüello to San Juan Capistrano. Ruiz wrote to Solá on the 13th that he had dispatched Argüello to watch Bouchard’s movements. Ruiz also reported that Argüello and the troops were in an “enthusiastic spirit” and that he believed that Captain De La Guerra was already at San Juan Capistrano “with a good, reasonable aid, and as this officer has considerable ability and talent to operate.” He added that “if the enemy dares violate the agreement [not to land], he will be punished.”
But Captain De la Guerra had not yet arrived in San Juan Capistrano. Having dispatched Anastasio Carrillo and a couple dozen men from the Los Angeles area southward to help on the morning of the 12th, he stayed in Santa Barbara for a day or two before making his way southward with his troops. He may have trusted Bouchard’s promise not to land again on the coast and only headed southward after receiving word that the privateers anchored at San Pedro. Another possibility is that he was waiting for Father Luis Antonio Martinez of Mission San Luis Obispo, who, upon hearing of Bouchard's attack, arose from apparent illness to lead a contingent of Indians armed with bows and arrows to fight against the privateers. He and the Indians under his command marched with Captain De La Guerra southward.
Without Captain De La Guerra or Carrillo’s men, Alférez Argüello and the 30 troops under his command had to maintain watch over the entire coast between San Pedro and San Juan Capistrano. During the 14th, they continued their watch along the coast, while Bouchard’s location on this day is unknown, though he and his ships may have been becalmed or visited Santa Catalina Island in search of supplies.
Without Captain De La Guerra or Carrillo’s men, Alférez Argüello and the 30 troops under his command had to maintain watch over the entire coast between San Pedro and San Juan Capistrano. During the 14th, they continued their watch along the coast, while Bouchard’s location on this day is unknown, though he and his ships may have been becalmed or visited Santa Catalina Island in search of supplies.
Sails Around the Point
The sun dawned above the hills east of San Juan Capistrano on Tuesday, December 15th and the missionaries began attending to the routines of mission life. Sometime in the morning, Boscana recorded the death of an elderly Indian woman named Menanevam in the burial register, writing that she had been given her last rights and buried in the mission cemetery. But soon afterward everything changed when one of the sentries posted along the coast reported that Bouchard’s ships were approaching San Juan Capistrano. Barona and Boscana had no choice but to prepare themselves and the mission population to flee. The available soldiers and Indians hastily took all of the property that could be carried and headed up the road to the Trabuco Rancho. Boscana and Barona then locked the mission’s doors and left with most of the Indians to begin the 8+ mile walk along Trabuco Creek to the Trabuco Rancho. Argüello had previously arranged for retired Sergeant José Antonio Yorba I and some of his servants to keep watch over the mission population at the Trabuco Rancho. Yorba was at this date 72 years-old and living on his ranch with his sons near the Santa Ana River in Olive. He had originally come to California all the way back in 1771 and Father Serra himself had at one time spoken highly of him. Given his age and the fact that he had been retired from active service for over 20 years, his participation attests to the desperation of the situation.
After seeing Bouchard’s ships on the way to San Juan Capistrano, Argüello sent forward a group of soldiers to check on the mission. By the time they arrived, all they found were the buildings abandoned and the doors locked. Apparently, the soldiers transported valuables left in the warehouses to some place where they would be safe, perhaps nearby, to protect them in the case Bouchard ordered the mission to be plundered.
La Argentina and the Santa Rosa rounded the Dana Point Headlands and anchored in what is now Dana Point Harbor on the afternoon of December 15, 1818 under the white flag of truce. Argüello immediately scribbled a report to inform Governor Solá that they had arrived. But Argüello knew it was unlikely that he would receive any guidance from his superiors before having to confront Bouchard. For all he knew, he and the 30 soldiers from the San Diego Presidio under his command would be the only Spanish forces to challenge the privateers' force of over ten times their size.
An Orange County native and artist Rick Blake painted this beautiful scene of one of Bouchard's ships anchored in San Juan Bay, now Dana Point, from today's Doheney State Beach. Sadly, much of the coastline in view here was bulldozed and significantly altered in the 1960s to make way for the marina. Only through the skill and experience of of an artist who understands and appreciates the connection between history and the coastline of old Dana Point could create such an accurate impression of what it looked and felt like to be there way back in 1818. Californians know both this sky and the sea's response to it. So too did thousands of California Indians, Barona, Boscana, Argüello, Bouchard, Corney and their many crew members from all over the world.
Bouchard’s crew, on the other hand, was more at ease. Peter Corney, the captain of the Santa Rosa, was immediately taken with the beauty of the anchorage, writing that “the bay is well sheltered, with a most beautiful town and mission, about two leagues from the beach.” In the fading daylight, just days before the winter solstice, Bouchard hastily wrote a letter and ordered it to be taken ashore on the launch of La Argentina. He later reported that he sent a “request for some provisions, to be properly reimbursed.” His second in command, Peter Corney, put it a more bluntly, writing that the “Commodore [Bouchard] sent his boat on shore, to say if they would give us an immediate supply of provisions we would spare their town.” Perhaps the bar for “reimbursement” was a little lower for seasoned privateers like Bouchard.
In truth, Corney remembered it correctly. In the letter, Bouchard first made it known to the Californians that he and his crew were privateers waging war against Spain. He then requested “twenty sacks of potatoes, ten sacks of corn and four head of cattle” which, if provided, he and his crew would leave without “doing the slightest injury.” But, Bouchard warned, if the Spaniards “try to evade my reasonable and humane proposal you will experience the rigors of war and you will see to just what point your rule extends.” He ended the letter by giving the Spanish 30 minutes to respond. So much for Bouchard’s claim of proper reimbursement.
The launch was lowered and made its way through the rough surf, landing on what is now Doheney State Beach. Bouchard’s crew members on the launch were soon met by the mayordomo, or foreman, of the mission. The mayordomo took the letter and gave it to the nearby ensign Don Santiago Argüello, who had only recently arrived with the rest of the 30 soldiers from the San Diego Presidio. Argüello read the message and angrily ordered the mayordomo to inform the crew on board Bouchard’s launches that they could land where they pleased, but the only provisions he had available were “powder and shot.”
One can imagine the mayordomo’s response. Seeing Bouchard’s two large and well-armed ships manned by hundreds of battle-experienced crew anchored in San Juan Bay, and comparing this force to the 30 ill-equipped Spanish soldiers at Argüello’s command, he must have felt a little hesitant while delivering the response. To make matters worse, none of the soldiers in California, including Argüello and his men, had been paid nor properly supplied for almost a decade since the Spanish supply ships began to arrive less frequently. In part, Argüello may have been confident that Carrillo, Captain De La Guerra and the troops under their commands would soon arrive to support him and his troops from the San Diego Presidio. He may have also expected Indians from San Juan Capistrano to add support with their bows and arrows, as Solá had ordered. But had he known that Captain De La Guerra was still over a day away and that Barona and Boscana had failed to provide Indians with bows and arrows, he may have approached the situation differently. Then again, perhaps he simply acted in accordance with the proud tradition of the Spanish military.
The December sun was now setting and the familiar ocean breezes chilled the air. The mayordomo mounted his horse and road down El Camino Real to the beach to meet Bouchard’s launch crew awaiting word from Argüello. Through the increasing darkness and crashing of the waves on the shore, the mayordomo shouted Argüello’s message to the launches, offering Bouchard and his crew only powder and shot. The launch crew likely responded in humorous superiority. After all they had been through in California, they knew how their commander was going to react. With gestures of dismissive understanding, they picked up their oars and rowed through the chilly saltwater back towards the fading silhouettes of La Argentina and the Santa Rosa. After arriving back on board, they relayed Argüello’s threat.
Bouchard was characteristically furious. After his encounters at Monterey and Santa Barbara, he was well aware of the limited defensive capabilities of the Spanish military in the California and was offended by Argüello’s posturing. Corney reported that Bouchard immediately “assembled all the officers, to know what was best to be done, as the town was too far from the beach to derive any benefit from it.” After a short lantern-lit meeting, it was agreed that they would land a party, march up to the mission and “give it up to be pillaged and sacked.” Though Bouchard appealed to his council of officers, he had likely already decided to invade the mission. Of this night, he simply wrote, “That same night [after receiving Argüello’s response] I decided to send people ashore.” Despite the assembly of officers, Bouchard had no hesitation using the word “I” instead of “we” in his official report.
Don Santiago Argüello, famous for offering Bouchard “powder and shot” which led to Bouchard’s order to attack Mission San Juan Capistrano.
All on board the ships was in preparation for sending the landing party ashore. Bouchard decided to send about “100 men at the command of the First Lieutenant Don Pedro Corney to take possession of the town.” He pulled Corney aside and asked him to “bring a sample of the powder and shot.”
A tense night passed on shore. Where typically there would have been over 1,100 Indians, Barona, Boscana and a small group of soldiers and their families asleep at the mission, on this night there was only Argüello, his 30 soldiers and the relative quiet of crickets and the occasional horse. In the down time, Argüello wrote his second report of the day to Solá, sending it with a courier northward.
Under the brightly lit waning gibbous moon high in the sky, a few sentries posted near the coast kept a sharp lookout for launches heading for the shore. Sometime during the night, it is possible that Anastasio Carrillo and/or some men under his command from Los Angeles arrived because Don Ignacio Avila, who had been under Carrillo in Santa Barbara, remembered that he “reached the mission before the insurgents had disembarked.” If they did, Argüello had up to a couple dozen extra soldiers to now add to his force.
The Attack on San Juan Capistrano
At about four in the morning on the 16th of December, still hours before sunrise, up to 6 launches were spotted by the Spanish sentries on shore which were carrying around 20 crew each and moving slowly through the surf towards the beach. The news forced Argüello to act. He knew that he and his soldiers were outnumbered, even if Carrillo’s men had arrived to help, against a force with superior arms. He was almost certainly disappointed that Captain De La Guerra and his troops had yet to arrive to lend their support and that no Indians armed with bows and arrows were provided by Barona and Boscana to assist his troops. There was no real chance for a fair fight except for a very slim possibility that an attack could be mounted while Corney and his crew were in the midst of landing. Following Argüello’s prideful offer of “powder and shot” the day before, he knew he had to do something.
So he and his 30+ soldiers rode down El Camino Real towards the beach with their guns and lances. On their approach, Argüello ordered a small group of his mounted Spanish soldiers with firearms to advance and attack Corney and his crew upon their landing. This advance of cavalry came down from El Camino Real, near the modern day intersection of Camino Capistrano and Doheny Park Road, in the direction of the landing beach while Corney and his troops were first arriving. Seeing that they were vastly outnumbered, the Spanish soldiers quickly fired a few wild shots in the general direction of Corney and his men, and then promptly turned their horses and fled back in the direction of El Camino Real. With this gesture, Argüello technically kept his word in offering “powder and shot,” though his threat the day before probably inflicted greater damage; none of the shots had any effect.
This photo was taken from the top of the Mission Hills development northeast of Mission San Juan Capistrano, looking towards the mission and the anchorage. It may have been from the top of this very hill, or Cemetery Hill, where Argüello and his soldiers from the San Diego Presidio fled and looked down on Bouchard's men attacking the mission. Perhaps from here, too, Bouchard's ships could be seen anchored in the distant bay.
While Corney and his forces were still landing, the advance of Spanish cavalry arrived back to Argüello and the rest of the soldiers. With this, Argüello knew he had no choice but to order his men to fall back to safety atop a high hill east of the mission where they could keep watch. As they made their way towards the hill, Don Antonio Ignacio Avila, one of the soldiers who had arrived with Carrillo, protested that they should instead fight Bouchard’s men when they started to march towards the mission. But Argüello had now seen the large and well-armed insurgent force and knew that the time for posturing was over. He angrily threatened Avila with bearing all of the responsibility for deaths and damage if he stayed to fight. His protests serving to maintain his pride, Avila relented and fell in with Argüello and the rest of the soldiers and headed for the relative safety atop the hill.
Meanwhile, Corney and over 100 men landed and brought with them 2 small field-pieces, muskets, axes, pistols and cutlasses. After landing on the beach, Corney gave orders for the men to arrange themselves in formation. The landing crew was as diverse as those who remained aboard the ships. The corporal of the troops from La Argentina was 22-year-old former printer from Buenos Aires named Pedro Saldivar. One of the troops in the company was the 25-year-old native African, Mateo José Pasqual, the baker-turned-soldier who was one of the prisoners taken at Refugio. Another soldier was Nicholas Echevarría from Santa Fé, a region in Argentina that was well-connected to maritime trade. The military drummer for the company was a 27-year-old Scottish farmer-turned-privateer named John Rose, whom the crew referred to as Juan de la Rosa, and from the crew of La Argentina. All were united in the invasion of San Juan Capistrano.
With this, Corney ordered Rose to begin his drum cadence to guide the troops in their slow march up El Camino Real, 2 miles to the mission. One of the commanders on La Argentina, José María Piris, remembered that he “was a Commander of our division” and later wrote that they “advanced one league and a half, walking through impassable brambles, and inaccessible hills, and rugged and little-used paths: it appeared impossible to move the troops and artillery.” He also remembered “the enemy Cavalry within view” and that they were dispersed with “four or six bursts of cannon fire, and a few fusillades that we discharged.” It is unclear if Piris remembered this correctly, as no other account mentions fire from the field pieces and it seems likely that a well-established road existed between the mission and the beach, not one through “impassable brambles, and inaccessible hills, and rugged and little-used paths.” In any case, the field pieces probably slowed their pace because it apparently took hours for them to reach the mission. They finally arrived in the plaza by 10 AM.
Corney halted his men and ordered some of the company to search for food to eat for breakfast. They started by raiding the storehouses, which were located in the west and north wings of the mission. Here they found wheat, corn, beans, lard, pinole, flour and salt. They almost certainly also found dried beef. Corney and his troops probably sat in the quadrangle of the mission, feasting on the food stores of San Juan Capistrano, which were probably of a far superior quality and taste than the typical meals on board the ships.
Although food was the first order of business after such an early start to their day, Corney soon ordered the insurgents to begin raiding and plundering the mission buildings. The only building off-limits was the Serra Church, which Bouchard ordered to be left intact, probably under penalty of death as had been ordered in Monterey. Within minutes, any semblance of discipline among Corney’s men evaporated. They split up into small groups and scoured the mission from all angles. Finding the doors of many of the buildings locked, they loaded their short muskets, shot off the door hinges and beat them down, gaining entrance to the soldiers’ barracks, the padres’ quarters on the south wing of the quadrangle and any warehouses they had not already been accessed. The men who gained entrance into the padres’ quarters and the soldiers’ barracks broke up all the furniture they could find. Corney later wrote that they destroyed “all the public property, and the governor’s house [probably in the soldier’s barracks].”
One of their first discoveries was the wine and brandy kept in the cellar in the south end of the west wing of the quadrangle. News spread fast and soon there were a couple dozen thirsty sailors congregated in the cellar waiting to get a drink. Apparently some of them pressed their lips against the pipes, perhaps filling their throats so quickly with wine and brandy that they withdrew in fits of coughs as the alcohol poured out over the tiled floors. One of the sailors, the American John Melvin, remembered drinking “wine and aguadent [aguardiente], the latter a liquor somewhat resembling gin, and which they manufacture themselves.” Before long, many of the sailors were drunk and knocking about the mission corridors looking for something else to do. Some of them wandered to the bell wall between the Great Stone Church and the sala and began wildly ringing the bells in drunken revelry. Others explored the ruins of the Great Stone Church and visited the Serra Chapel, perhaps offering prayers and propitiation in contrast to their running amok throughout the mission. Corney attempted to reign the men in, and some of them assisted in gathering supplies for the ships from the storehouses. He later reported that they found the mission “well stocked with every thing [sic] but money.” This included the acquisition of firearms left by the Spanish soldiers.
This section of the west wing was originally roofed and where the wine and aguardiente was produced. It was here where Bouchard's men got drunk before causing general mayhem around the mission.
Meanwhile, Argüello and the rest of the Spanish soldiers observed the mayhem from above on top of their hill. Don Ignacio Avila would later tell the story that they “saw the insurgents staggering about in drunkenness after drinking and spilling about all the wine and brandy and olive oil.” Seeing a possible advantage for the Spanish troops, he apparently “begged Argüello to let him go and attack them with his men, but there was no manner of getting the permission as Argüello again menaced him and making him responsible [for what happened] if he went down.” So the Spanish soldiers simply continued to watch from the hill.
After a couple hours of plundering, the insurgents began a search for buildings to set on fire, just as they had in Monterey. Since most of Mission San Juan Capistrano was composed of adobes with red roof tiles which did not burn, they had to settle on the buildings built with tule roofs which could burn. These consisted mostly of Indian dwellings, probably south of the mission in the plaza, or somewhere in what is now the Rios District. Various reports from Spanish citizens afterwards also reported their setting the “main building” and/or a “block of adobe dwellings” afire. While Solá wrote that they “burned some wood and straw houses belonging to the neophytes,” Bouchard simply reported their “burning the entire town and sparing only the church and the houses of the American civilians [probably the Spanish guard house and padres’ quarters].”
This map shows the primary buildings of Mission San Juan Capistrano and gives an indication of where Bouchard's crew were during their attack. The map was taken from an informative article by Harry Kelsey titled "The Mission Buildings of San Juan Capistrano: A Tentative Chronology" published in the Southern California Quarterly in Spring of 1987, Pg. 25.
With some of the buildings ablaze, Corney did the best he could to gather the men in front of the mission where they had parked the two field pieces. But all was disorganized. American crew member John Melvin remembered that one of the challenges they faced, besides many of them being drunk, was that they had to walk everything down to the beach because “the Spaniards had driven back all the cattle and horses,” causing them to get “but little of it [the plunder] down to the ships.” Corney wrote that “we marched back, though not in the order we went, many of the men being intoxicated.” Some men were so drunk that they had to “lash them on the field-pieces and drag them down to the beach.” Others carried plunder, but over the course of the two mile walk down to their boats grew tired and disposed of it on the ground, scattering goods all the way from the mission down along the road to the beach.
In the midst of all the confusion, four of Bouchard’s men saw an opportunity to give up their privateering enterprises on the spot. They were the aforementioned Pedro Saldivar, Mateo José Pasqual, Nicholas Echevarría and John Rose. As the crew began making their way back to the beach, these four apparently entered into one of the buildings, with some indication that it was the soldiers’ barracks, to hide out while the rest of the privateers returned to the ships. With them they carried their rifles, bayonets, cartridge belts and Rose’s drum. No reason was given for their surrender, but Solá later reported that “they had come in those ships against their will and were submitting themselves to the mercy of the sovereign.” Perhaps Mateo José Pasqual had been disciplined for being captured at Refugio and decided anywhere was better than being back on board the ship. Then again, maybe he was simply done playing privateer.
The rest of Corney’s men wandered to the beach, which they apparently reached as late as 6 PM. After Corney and the men pulled their launches back aboard the two anchored vessels, the rest of the crew noticed that four of them were missing. Apparently no one wanted to tell Bouchard in person, and a note was written to inform him of their absence. Recounting this turn of events, Bouchard defensively wrote to his superior, “I can assure Your Excellency that nothing was stranger than that when returning to the ships, four men, three Americans [South Americans, though he was mistaken about native African Mateo José Pasqual] and one English, deserted.” But Bouchard had another problem to address; the dozens of crew who were drunk. After a long day, he decided to wait until the next morning to decide what to do, which also gave his crew time to sober up.
Meanwhile, when Argüello and his soldiers finally approached the mission, the four members of Bouchard’s crew hiding there “came forward to ask for forgiveness.” Their rifles, bayonets, cartridges and drum were immediately seized and they were taken as prisoners. Argüello must have considered that Bouchard had been unwilling to leave his prisoners behind in Santa Barbara and that, without a bargaining chip such as Molina, he might order another landing party to retrieve them. Adding to his anxiousness was the sight of Bouchard’s ships still comfortably anchored in the small bay.
To make matters even more complicated, Argüello soon spotted Barona, Boscana and the Indians making their way back down to the mission on the road along Trabuco Creek. He immediately stopped and told them that they could not stay at the mission, though it seems he failed to adequately explain why. Barona and Boscana later wrote that they “obeyed without replying, ignoring the causes and motives that he had for turning us away and we left to wander through the forest [the trees along Trabuco Creek] without any help except from the one destined for us, Señor Antonio Yorba, and some pages.” Though they reported their obedience to Argüello, their frustration was perceptible.
Yet another tense night passed on shore while many of Bouchard’s crew slept off their drunkenness. With the rising of the sun early on the morning of December 17th, Bouchard and Corney summoned about 20 of the hungover soldiers on deck and punished them in front of the crew, probably having them flogged. Afterward, Bouchard had to figure out what to do about his four crew members who failed to return the day before. Assuming that they were taken prisoner, as had been the case at Refugio, he wrote a note to Argüello threatening “that if he did not return those men I would land and burn the [Serra] church and the houses of the civilians.” He also apparently threatened to burn the fields of crops.
But throughout the day of December 17th, the Spanish military forces were strengthened by the arrival of reinforcements. According to Solá, 25 soldiers arrived during the day, along with 29 citizens from in and around Los Angeles, though he may have been referring to Carrillo and his troops who could have arrived the day before. More importantly, Captain De La Guerra finally arrived in the late afternoon or night with 30 soldiers. One of those soldiers was Rafael Gonzalez, who later remembered that the mission was still smoking when they arrived. He was also told that a house was still burning and that Bouchard and his troops had done much damage, though he himself never saw it. More foreboding was his memory of Bouchard’s ships still anchored in the bay, visible from near the mission.
Sometime throughout the day, Anastasio Carrillo visited Barona and Boscana on the Trabuco Rancho where he requested two loaves of bread. Barona and Boscana later expressed that they had little to give him, writing “it should be noted that with just 5 cakes of bread, we stayed [in the Trabuco Rancho] through Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday: so when Senior Sergeant D. Anastasio Carriollo visited us, he asked for two cakes of bread, of which we gave him one, but what else did we have to give?” Apparently Carrillo was unhappy with the offer, and decided to take with him the one horse in Barona and Boscana’s possession.
Meanwhile, back at the mission, it seems Argüello, or possibly Captain De La Guerra, responded to Bouchard’s new threat by writing him that the four prisoners “had come forward asking for protection of the flag under which they were born.” Bouchard now had to make a decision; did he trust that his men had deserted and sail on? Or stage another invasion?
As the hours went by, Bouchard must have known that reinforcements would arrive to bolster the Spanish military force. He may have even been able to see a growing number of troops on shore from La Argentina. The Spanish were also known to use tricks to create the perception that their troop strength was superior to what it really was. Captain De La Guerra’s daughter, Angustias, later remembered that during Bouchard’s time at Santa Barbara, her father had placed about 50 soldiers next to a willow grove near the beach where he had them march in and out of the grove so that it appeared from the ocean that his force was larger than it really was. Perhaps such tactics were used in San Juan Capistrano, though they may have been unnecessary given that by this time the Spanish troops and supporting Indians probably numbered over 100. Perhaps too, Bouchard began to see little reason to invade the mission again after being freshly stocked with supplies and knowing that nothing else of value was worth taking. For any combination of these reasons, he was hesitant to send another landing party.
By the late afternoon, Bouchard also had to contend with the more imposing figure of Captain De La Guerra, who challenged Bouchard to land again. He knew that the Spanish soldiers were likely ready to fight after breaking his former promise to Captain De La Guerra to cease any further attacks on California. He looked out over the beautiful coast of San Juan Bay and decided enough was enough. His four deserters were simply not worth the trouble and his destiny laid thousands of miles to the south. Sometime throughout the night of the 17th-18th, he finally ordered the anchors up, and La Argentina and the Santa Rosa set sail. Their time at San Juan Capistrano was over.
The Long Road Back to Normal
As the morning light dawned over the hills into the sea on the 18th of December, Captain De La Guerra and the rest of the Spanish soldiers looked out over an empty San Juan Bay, with no ship in sight. Padre Martinez wrote that he had come to San Juan Capistrano to “give a blow” to Bouchard and the rebels, “but they like cowards absented themselves.” Argüello later claimed that after the ships departed, he and his soldiers began the process of picking up the items that were scattered on the road to the beach. But they could not have had much time to do so. With it now clear that Bouchard had no intention of keeping his promise to refrain from attacking other points along the California coast, they needed to split up their forces. Captain De La Guerra and Padre Martinez were concerned that Bouchard might return to the north, so they and their troops and Indians headed back to Santa Barbara, stopping on the night of the 18th at the Yorba’s on Santa Ana River. Argüello, his troops from the San Diego Presidio, and Carrillo with the men from Los Angeles headed south to defend San Diego. Captain De La Guerra may have taken the four prisoners taken at San Juan Capistrano with him northward, possibly dropping them off at Mission San Fernando, the furthest mission inland.
Barona, Boscana and the Indians returned to the mission after the soldiers departed and found the mission abandoned. They later expressed their frustration to Governor Solá, writing that “on the 18th, when we returned to the mission, he [Argüello] left with the troops for San Diego, without leaving a single soldier nor invalid of the guard, even in these unique circumstances.” When they examined the mission for damages, they reported that they found all the mission doors left open and the warehouses raided. They also made a more ghastly discovery; the body of an Indian named Chacual, who died the day before, and another Indian who was very ill, possibly in a coma, and died soon afterward, both having suffered from alcohol poisoning. Yet another Indian had apparently “lost his/her judgement.” Little is known of these Indians’ lives, but some details can be gleaned from the mission records of the aforementioned Chacual.
Chacual’s Spanish name was Onofre and he was 29 years-old at the time of his death. He was married to his wife, Corroni, in the Great Stone Church in 1807. Together they had three children, all of whom died and were buried in the mission cemetery within their first year of life. Corroni, perhaps stricken with grief following Chacual’s death, died less than two months later, on February 14th, 1819. From this scant information, only a wispy form of Chacual and Corroni’s lives can be constructed. But what is certain is that the feelings they experienced following the evident tragedies they endured were as affecting to them as they would be to us.
While the mission Indians and padres settled back into the routines of mission life, the military had other concerns, the most pressing of which was to decide what to do with the four prisoners taken in San Juan Capistrano. All four were questioned on December 29th, 1818 in the guard house at San Juan Capistrano. Part of their testimony addressed Molina’s participation in Bouchard’s crew. Pedro Saldivar and another prisoner, possibly Mateo José Pasqual, were pardoned sometime around March of 1819 and assigned to work on the Ortega Rancho near Santa Barbara for several years. But the Spanish Californians still harbored resentment towards them. In one case, it was later reported that “some infuriated women got possession of one of the captives, Mateo [Pasqual], a mulatto and were going to burn him alive, but good sense at last prevailed and he was given up to the authorities.” It was also reported that Pasqual and another of the prisoners always “claimed to have been on board Bouchard’s vessels against their own will and were set at liberty,” perhaps referring to the prisoners who ended up working on the Ortega Rancho.
Another less fortunate prisoner ended up at Mission San Fernando, and in June of 1819, Captain De La Guerra described him as having “no occupation, and the unfortunate man is almost naked.” It seems that this prisoner and another were put on trial sometime after October 28th, 1819, when Viceroy Conde del Venadito ordered Governor Solá to start proceedings. Little else of their lives is currently known.
The Blame Game
As the months went by, Barona and Boscana began to express their dissatisfaction with Argüello and the Spanish military’s conduct during Bouchard’s attack. They were primarily preoccupied with the deaths of the two Indians, writing that they were “not affected by reason of temporal want but because of the ruin of souls.” Captain De La Guerra confirmed that the “deaths of the drunken Indians held the whole attention of the padres, and with good reason and justice, because this is truly a regrettable occurrence.” From Barona and Boscana's perspective, the discovery that Indians accessed the cellar was evidence that the mission was not adequately guarded. Furthermore, if they had been provided a sufficient number of troops to look after the mission population at the Trabuco Rancho, they would have been able to maintain a more thorough watch over the Indians to ensure none of them made their way back into the mission.
The mission fathers’ criticism of Argüello and the troops culminated in a letter they wrote to Governor Solá on February 19th, 1819. The letter opened with “[what] breaks our hearts is (we regret to publish it but it is necessary) how upon the departure of the insurgents all the doors remained open, and the cellar had the greatest number of visits from soldiers and Indians.” They expressed lament caused by the “loss of souls” to alcohol and their frustration at being forced to “wander in the forest without help” in the Trabuco Rancho. They proceeded to defend themselves against the apparent accusation that they failed to adequately provide the troops with supplies, arguing that the soldiers “had the whole Mission at their disposal, including the houses of the Padres and of the Indians…and the stores of food were left open where there was corn, beans, butter, pinole, flour and salt…[and] we don’t need to mention meat because they ate what they wanted.” The mission fathers also emphatically protested against their horse being taken by Anastasio Carrillo, when only half his request for bread was provided, asserting that it was illegal to do so and that the rest of the mission’s horses were either provided to the troops at the mission or sent inland to safety. But in the letter’s closing they directed the governor’s attention away from temporal matters, writing that they were not concerned with the goods taken by the insurgents, “but only with the perdition of souls, which we consider will not cease to afflict your [our honorable governor’s] pious heart, just as ours is pierced with pain.”
When Argüello was made aware of Barona and Boscana’s criticisms of him in their letter, he replied point-by-point to Solá. He first expressed his dismay at the “vile words” that Barona and Boscana used towards him before asserting that their accusation that the warehouse was plundered was “not founded on fact.” He instead argued that the “ware house was empty” because he had sent troops ahead of time who saved goods “they had left in the warehouse.” He questioned the mission fathers’ conduct, writing that after they “abandoned the mission and fled to the woods,” he sent a request to them “for a vaquero and for horses, and they refused them, though they had them.” Interestingly, he then seems to backtrack on his denial that the soldiers and Indians took goods from the warehouse, writing that “If their warehouse was visited by soldiers and Indians, as they alleged, it was their [Barona and Boscana’s] fault for having shut the doors, and abandoned the mission upon the approach of the insurgents.” In any case, he then criticized Barona for having initially asserted that “what the insurgents had done was not of much account” but that he then later “grossly exaggerated their losses” and blamed the “King’s soldiers.” He closed his reply by insisting that Barona and Boscana “cannot deny the loyalty of the troops, who returned to them all they found scattered on the way to the beach and in other places.”
Like Argüello, Captain De La Guerra also responded to Barona and Boscana’s letter, but was shrewder in his reply. He wrote “I have noticed the humble devoutness with which the Reverend Fathers expressed themselves as an apology for their complaints which I presented in regard to what took place at that mission” and furthermore, “I respect the characters of the Reverend Fathers as fit it is, and far be it from me to wish to occasion them the least annoyance.” He then switched to the offensive, adding “but their refusal to supply Indians to make tortillas [bread?] for the soldiers and a vaquero when he [Argüello] asked for one, and archers, and horses when asked to do so, convinces me that those Fathers actually did not act correspondingly to the urgent needs of the occasion, especially because I am well aware that the mission largely possesses the resources which were needed.” He went on to claim that Argüello placed “Sergeant [José Antonio] Yorba with soldiers and citizens, whose number I do not recall” to look after the mission population at the Trabuco Rancho. The reason for this, he argued, was because “the warning [which was] received beforehand, the ample time that had been given, the [good] weather, and the order which preceded to remove from the mission everything of value, it was natural to assume that nothing valuable remained in the [mission] houses and, these being locked and abandoned, I cannot see why a guard of soldiers should have been maintained there.” He challenged the claim that two Indians drank themselves to death, writing “when did this disgraceful thing, attributed to Don Santiago’s [Argüello] neglect, occur? I can affirm that when I left the mission, I knew nothing about the affair nor was anything said about it; strange indeed, because the deaths had already taken place and the news would have spread or at least come to the notice of the judge.” Although, he wrote, “I believe that all these faults [of Barona and Boscana] and others during that crisis may have proceeded more from lack of facility in the management of the affair, than of concern for the service of the king,” he concluded that “in my opinion the Fathers unjustly blame Don Santiago [Argüello] in order to cover up abusive language with which they shamed him, and the dilatory manner in which they conducted themselves about removing and preserving the mission articles.”
Though tension between the Spanish military and the missionaries was nothing new in Spanish California, this was a fairly ugly example. While on its face the controversy appears to originate in the conduct of Barona, Boscana and Argüello, its causes were in truth more deeply rooted in the unsettled and poor state of California as a Spanish province. Barona and Boscana were two of many mission fathers at the time who had petitioned for years to retire back to Mexico, but were denied. Though they could have done more to comply with Solá’s orders, they very well may have, as Captain De La Guerra believed, lacked in the facility to manage the mission in such unique circumstances. Argüello, on the other hand, probably could have done more to ensure his soldiers did not take advantage of the same circumstances to steal supplies from the mission.
But perhaps the most crucial component to this controversy becomes apparent when analyzing the mission’s annual data. The year 1819 was apparently disastrous for crop production, with San Juan Capistrano experiencing an 80% drop in yield from 1818 and never again recovering to the average production in its peak years throughout the preceding two decades. Also in 1819, the mission experienced a decrease in population of about 4.5% from the year before and the total population never again recovered to the level it was in 1818. It is not possible to determine the degree to which these declines were influenced by Bouchard’s attack, but they marked a precipitous drop in the midst of a general downward trend in both population and crop production at the mission, which continued all the way through secularization in the 1830s. The prospect of a bad harvest and the general sad state of affairs may very well have been the kindling behind the fiery complaints and accusations between Barona, Boscana, Argüello and Captain De La Guerra.
While the record of the controversy following Bouchard’s raid on San Juan Capistrano derives from the surviving correspondence of just a small number of Spanish political, military and clerical leaders, the overwhelming majority of Californians who suffered through the attack were the Indians. It was the wine, brandy, olive oil and food supplies that they produced which filled the stomachs of privateers and Spanish soldiers alike. On Bouchard’s approach, they were forced to abandon their homes to live on the banks of Trabuco Creek for 3 days. It was their homes which were set ablaze. It was their community which suffered the loss of lives. What was worse, the political and revolutionary causes behind Bouchard’s attack were almost entirely separate from their worldview and culture, barring what had been foisted upon them by the Spanish. For them, Bouchard and his crew, and perhaps the Spanish soldiers too, could appropriately be labeled pirates; regardless of whether or not Bouchard’s letter of marque expired or if Barona and Boscana adequately followed Solá’s orders.
Morteros used by Indians to grind acorns and seeds are scattered throughout Orange County. These are from Black Star Canyon. The very Indians who made these morteros may have been at Mission San Juan Capistrano during Bouchard’s raid. They lived in Orange County for thousands of years and were able to live off the resources provided by the natural environment alone. They remind us that "progress" is a relative term.A Word on the Aftermath
After their attack on San Juan Capistrano, Bouchard and the rest of his crew left California. They headed to South America where they found greater success in capturing ships and cargo than they had for the rest of their journey around the world, which finally came to an end in April of 1819. Bouchard went on to become a well-respected revolutionary of Argentina and Peru before retiring and being killed by one of his slaves in 1834. Corney left Bouchard and the privateers after becoming, as he wrote, “heartily sick of the service of the Independents.” He returned to his wife and family in England, where he lived until his death 1835. Barona and Boscana continued as missionaries in San Juan Capistrano and San Gabriel until their deaths in 1831. Captain De La Guerra and Argüello lived into the American era in California, both becoming successful land owners.
Spanish California itself, however, only lasted another 3 years after Bouchard's attack, when it officially became a part of the Mexican Republic in 1821. The California mission system fared even worse under Mexico than it had in the final years under the Spanish, and Mission San Juan Capistrano continued its slow but steady decline before finally secularizing in 1834. As it turned out, Bouchard’s raid on California could have only occurred when it did, at the specific historical moment when Spain was losing control over its territories stretching from Argentina to California.
Reburying the Treasure
As San Juan Capistrano passed into the hands of Mexico and later into the United States, stories sourced in Bouchard’s attack were preserved through local oral traditions within the mission community, the bulk of which revolved around tales of buried treasure. As early as 1877, just 59 years after Bouchard’s attack, the Anaheim Daily Gazette printed a version of the story. A correspondent for the paper wrote of “information in regard to the stirring scenes now being enacted on the Trabuco Rancho.” He continued, writing “The story goes that many hundred years ago, during one of the revolutions, the Fathers buried a number of boxes of coin in some spot on this Rancho. The gold was very effectually concealed; in fact, so cleverly was the cachet made that, when those who assisted in burying the treasure died, no clue to the buried wealth could be obtained. This is the story which tradition has handed down, and that there has been not a few who gave full credence to the tale is evidenced by the fact that many spasmodic hunts have been made to find the hidden gold. Up to the present time, however, these searchings have not been rewarded by any discovery of note.”
The origin of buried treasure tales sourced in Bouchard’s raid may very well have grown out of hearsay passed among Spanish Californians concerning San Juan Capistrano’s silver church ornaments. At about the same time the Anaheim Daily Gazette story was published, the historian Hubert Howe Bancroft was in the process of collecting oral histories from surviving Spanish and Mexican Californians. The topic of San Juan Capistrano, Bouchard and the silver church ornaments came up numerous times. The last governor of Mexican California, Pio Pico remembered that during Bouchard’s attack on San Juan Capistrano, they “took everything they found in storage, including the church’s silver ornaments.” Juana Machado, just a kid at the San Diego Presidio at the time of Bouchard’s attack, remembered that “it was said that they stole silver ornaments and other items from the church. I cannot speak with certainty about them because I was only six years old or perhaps a little older at the time.” General Mariano Vallejo of Sonoma recorded that Bouchard “is reported to have found many valuables [in the mission], but this is doubtful, because after the earthquake which destroyed the [Great Stone] Church in 1812, my father says the plates, etc., of the church were deposited in San Diego, and not much of value was in the temporary chapel.” These kinds of imprecise and vague statements may have been the perfect fodder for locals who wanted to spin a yarn about treasure in and around San Juan Capistrano.
But sometimes the truth has a way of making its way to the surface even as hearsay transforms into folklore. Father John O’Sullivan, who was in charge of Mission San Juan Capistrano from 1910 until his death in 1933, gathered and recorded some of the local folklore during his time restoring the mission. When asked if insurgents really raided San Juan Capistrano, he responded, “Yes, they rioted and caroused around for some days, but got little for the reason that when they sailed from the north country headed southward, a messenger was dispatched posthaste to warn the people. This gave time for the Fathers of San Juan to pack in an oxcart such valuables as would be tempting to the pirates, and secrete them at a distance before the raiders’ arrival. The spot chosen was up the cañon of the Trabuco, and the neophytes of the mission used to maintain that after the pirates had taken to their ships and sailed away and the buried things were dug up, some were overlooked. The hope of finding these things still fires the fancies and stiffens the muscles of treasure seekers, but invariably to their disappointment.” Since these words were published in 1930 much has come to light in the records of Bouchard and the raid on San Juan Capistrano, yet they generally ring true as a summary of what really occurred.
Alas, there is no gold and silver from the mission buried in the Trabuco Rancho from Bouchard's raid. If the story tellers had only looked in the mission they may have found the silver ornaments they so desired, today presented in the museum in the west wing of the quadrangle and probably sitting on the site of one of the former mission warehouses. If these silver ornaments were in this same exact spot during Bouchard’s raid, they would almost certainly be somewhere in Argentina today.
Of course, to stand in today’s O’Neil Park with wind through the oaks and grassy flats, with the scent of sage, the sound of the little creek threading through the undergrowth and the clouds passing over the hills on the horizon above sea, perhaps there is treasure buried on the Trabuco Rancho. Sometimes the truth and folklore both have a point.
After an exhaustive search, the author was able to find the buried treasure of San Juan Capistrano. It was discovered behind glass in the west wing of Mission San Juan Capistrano in the museum. Today, this exhibit stands on the site of one of the mission warehouses. If it had only been there when Bouchard’s men searched the mission for valuables…
Beyond the Pirates
The saga of Orange County’s “pirates” is a sad tale in the history of San Juan Capistrano. Though it has all of the elements of adventure, drunken havoc, controversy and buried treasure which can be expected in a pirate tale, the reality is a story of privateers, political degradation, selfishness in the absence of political stability, and of tragedy most acutely experienced by the poorest in society. Then again, perhaps the pirate tales just leave out the details.
But Bouchard’s attack on San Juan Capistrano also marked a beginning in the multicultural makeup of the communities within Southern California and Orange County today. Among the men who attacked the mission were the first documented Americans, native African, Hawaiians, Filipinos, Chinese, English and South Americans to set foot in the mission grounds. Now, 200 years later, we can interpret their attack as a warning to us all that greed in the name of politics transcends both cultures and peoples. Thanks for reading.