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Not Just Faces in the Crowd : Buccaneers Return to Capistrano

October 12, 1995

Pirates raided Mission San Juan Capistrano . . . again. The Pirate Festival on Saturday and Sunday brought out pretenders decked out in cross-belts, tricorn hats and Jolly Rogers (white skull and crossbones).

But in 1818, real pirates invaded Capistrano Bay and pillaged the mission grounds.

On Dec. 14, 1818, two ships sailing under the Argentine flag anchored off what is now Doheny State Beach, and 140 men came ashore. They were a mixed band of Americans, Californios, Englishmen, Filipinos, Frenchmen, Spaniards, Malays, Portuguese, Creoles and Hawaiians led by privateer Hippolyte de Bouchard, who was licensed by Argentina to harass the Spanish up and down the coast.

From accounts taken from the captain's diary, only a few Spanish soldiers were there to defend San Juan Capistrano. They fired, then ran to the hills.

The sea raiders controlled the town for four days, setting fire to buildings and searching for treasures. Since locals had been tipped off about the raid and hid their valuables in Trabuco Canyon, only the mission's wine and brandy were found.

The pirates broke into the vats and drank themselves crazy until Spanish reinforcements arrived. The freebooters fled, but not before strapping some of the most seriously drunk of the bunch onto cannons and hauling them back to the ships to be punished.

During the confusion, a few pirates jumped ship. John Rose, a Scottish drummer, became Orange County's first Anglo resident, and Mateo Jose Pascual was the first black resident.

About 5,000 people attended the weekend event, which was marked by the Nautical Heritage Society of Dana Point's re-enactments of the pirates landing at Doheny and the raising of the Argentine flag over the mission as well as performances by folkloric and flamenco dancers, a Pirate Prance by the Coast Ballet and storytelling.

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