Dominique de Gourgues was born at Mont de Marsan in the Landes in 1530 to a distinguished Roman Catholic family. He was captured by the Spaniards in Italy and forced to serve them while chained to the bank of one of their galleys. And so, when he could, de Gourgues gathered a small fleet to punish the Spanish affront in the name of his French countrymen.

Gourgues' brother, Ogier, who had also served as prisoner in the Spanish galleys during the Florentine war, helped Dominique prepare for the journey from Bordeaux with three ships, 100 arquebusiers or gunmen and 80 sailors armed to the teeth.

Sailing under the publicized banner of attacking the African coast, Gourgues went first to Cape Blanco and the West Indies where, a year later, he finally declared his true purpose: revenge on the Spanish. Gourgues' now larger fleet left Cuba's western end and sailed into the Straits of Florida.

The Spaniards at St. Augustine spotted Gourgues coasting along and fired a gun to warn him and his piratical crews off. Gourgues waited until night had fallen before landing on Tacatacuru Island near the mouth of the St. Johns River. The year was 1566.

Gourgues joined forces with the Indians there and together they waded through marshes and creeks to the nearby Spanish fort. "Yonder are the thieves who have stolen this land from our King! Yonder are the murderers who have massacred our French. On! On! Let us avenge our King! Let us show that we are Frenchmen!" Gourgues declared.

The Spanish had just dined when a gunner spotted the French approaching and raised the alarm. "To arms! To arms! Here are the French!" But it was too late. All of the garrison's 60 men were killed or captured.

Gourgues then stormed the second Spanish fort nearby, slaughtering and capturing all the men he could. Meanwhile, the Spanish who had seen the slaughter of their men and had exhausted their ammunition firing at the French across the river then retreated to St. Augustine. Victory date: April 12.

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Did you know?

  • The Jolly Roger was a black flag flown to identify the vessel as a pirate ship. While the skull and crossbones is the most common of these flags, many great pirate captains designed custom symbols to identify exactly who is attacking.

  • "Shiver me timbers" is an expression of excitement or awe. Its origin has to do with sailing in heavy seas, when the ship is lifted up and pounded down so hard that the timbers are said to shiver.

  • Although pirates have been around since the Romans and Vikings, most pirating happened during the Golden Age of Piracy between 1680 and 1730.

  • Pirates believed that whistling on a ship would cause the weather to turn stormy. Consider the phrase 'to whistle up a storm.'


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