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l'Olonais François
(c. 1635—1668)

l'Olonais François(c. 1635—1668)

Jean-David Nau, better known as François l'Olonais, was a French pirate active in the Caribbean during the 1660s. In his 1684 account The History of the Buccaneers of America, Alexander Exquemelin notes l'Olonais' place of birth as being Les Sables-d'Olonne.

L'Olonais first arrived in the Caribbean as an indentured servant during the 1650s. By 1660, his indenture was complete and he began to wander the various islands, before finally arriving in Saint-Domingue and becoming a buccaneer, preying in its vicinity on shipping from the Spanish West Indies and the Main.

A year or two (dates regarding l'Ollonais are at best sketchy) into his piratical career, l'Olonais was shipwrecked near Campeche, in Mexico. A party of Spanish soldiers attacked l'Olonais and his crew, killing almost the entire party. L'Olonais himself survived by covering himself in the blood of others and hiding amongst the dead. After the Spaniards departed, l'Olonais, with the assistance of some slaves, escaped and made his way to Tortuga. Shortly after this, he and his crew held a town hostage, demanding a ransom from its Spanish rulers. The governor of Havana sent a ship to kill l'Ollonais' party, but l'Olonais captured and beheaded the entire crew save one, whom he spared so that a message could be delivered to Havana. In the message, l'Ollonais declared: I shall never henceforward give quarter to any Spaniard whatsoever.

In 1667, l'Olonais sailed from Tortuga with a fleet of eight ships and a crew of six hundred pirates to sack Maracaibo. En route, l'Olonais crossed paths with a Spanish treasure ship, which he captured, along with its rich cargo of cacao, gemstones and more than 40,000 pieces of eight.

At the time, the entrance to Lake Maracaibo (and thus the city itself) was defended by a fort of sixteen guns that was thought to be impregnable. L'Ollonais approached it from its undefended landward side and took it. His pirates then proceeded to pillage the city, but found that most of the residents had fled and that their gold had been hidden. L'Ollonais' men tracked down the residents and tortured them until they revealed the location of their possessions. They also seized the fort's cannon and demolished most of the town's defence walls to ensure that a hasty retreat was possible.

L'Ollonais himself was an expert torturer, and his techniques included slicing portions of flesh off the victim with a sword, burning them alive, or "woolding", which involved tying knotted rope around the victim's head until their eyes were forced out.

Over the following two months, l'Ollonais and his men raped, pillaged and eventually burned much of Maracaibo before moving south to Gibraltar, on the southern shore of Lake Maracaibo. Despite being outnumbered, the pirates slaughtered Gibraltar's garrison of 500 soldiers and held the city for ransom. Despite the payment of the ransom (20,000 pieces of eight and five hundred cows), l'Olonais continued to ransack the city, acquiring a total of 260,000 pieces of eight, gems, silverware, silks as well as a number of slaves. The damage l'Ollonais inflicted upon Gibraltar was so great that the city, formerly a major centre for the exportation of cacao, nearly ceased to exist by 1680.

Word of his attack on Maracaibo and Gibraltar reached Tortuga, and l'Ollonais earned a reputation for his ferocity and cruelty and he was given the nickname "Flail of the Spaniards". Seven hundred pirates enlisted with him when he mounted his next expedition, this time to the Central American mainland, later that year. After pillaging Puerto Cabello, l'Ollonais was ambushed by a large force of Spanish soldiers en route to San Pedro. Only narrowly escaping with his life, l'Olonais captured two Spaniards.

Horrified, the surviving Spaniard showed l'Olonais a clear route. However, l'Ollonais and the few men still surviving were repelled, and retreated back to their ship. They ran aground on a sandbar in the Gulf of Honduras, and, unable to dislodge their craft, headed inland to find food, but were captured by Kuna's Tribe in Darién, and he was eaten by the Native Americans. Exquemelin wrote that the natives: "tore him in pieces alive, throwing his body limb by limb into the fire and his ashes into the air."

St. Kitts-Nevis, 1970/1976, L'Ollonois

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