Piracy in the Caribbean declined after 1750, but did not disappear. One pirate in particular, Roberto Cofresí (June 17, 1791 – March 29, 1825), better known as “El Pirata Cofresí“, operated out of Mona Island –a small inhospitable and uninhabited island located in the narrow passage between the western tip of Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic.
Although today, Cofresí is often portrayed as a Robin Hood type folk hero in popular Puerto Rican tourist brochures, historical records depict a much more complicated character who sometimes failed to distinguish between true adversaries and innocent passengers on the ships he pillaged. Consequently, he developed a reputation as a particularly brutal and savage pirate who showed no mercy for his victims.
It was a common practice then for the Spanish Crown to look the other way when pirates such as Cofresí attacked ships that did not carry the Spanish flag. Cofresí ignored the ships that came from other nations including those from France, the Netherlands and England with his attacks focused mainly on ships from the United States. His dislike of American sailors originated when he was once caught eating sugar from an American cargo ship without paying and was injured by the ship’s captain.After this event Cofresí declared war on all of those that operated under the flag of the United States. He often displayed cruel behavior against hostages that were on these vessels, including reports that he ordered that his captives were to be nailed alive to El Mosquito’s deck.[i]
To read more about Cofresi and his legacy, the following two websites offer very different versions of his life as a pirate.
- The Pirate King.com
- Roberto Cofresi (El Pirata Cofresi) Puerto Rico
Reference: Roberto Fernández Valledor (1978). “Odio a los norteamericanos”. El mito de Cofresí en la narrativa antillana. Publisher: Editorial Universitaria, Universidad de Puerto Rico. p. 103.