Buccaneers > Laurens de Graaf

Laurens de Graaf

Golden Age of Piracy - Chapter Decoration


Laurens Cornelis Boudewijn de Graaf (1653 - 24 May 1704), also known as Laurens de Graaf or simply de Graaf was a famous Dutch buccaneer and responsible for two of the major assaults on Spanish settlements during the Buccaneering Era. Other names for de Graaf include Laurencillo, Lorencillo or Sieur de Baldran. He was responsible for spawning the career of Michiel Andrieszoon and was known to have collaborated with many of the famous buccaneers of the later half of the era. He was primarily based out of the French colony of Saint-Domingue and was one of the most successful of all the buccaneers.

De Graaf is described as tall, blonde with a mustache and handsome. Not many pirates or buccaneers are given descriptions so this is rare many artist illustrations are just interpretations. Like many other buccaneers and pirates not much is known about the early years of this buccaneer. Some historians believe he was a mulatto based on his nickname El Griffe in Spanish but this is highly speculative.

Laurens de Graaf - de Graaf (Pirates of the Spanish Main Trading Cards - 1888)

de Graaf - Pirates of the Spanish Main (1888)

The most accurate account is that he was enslaved by Spanish slave traders and brought to the Canary Islands to work on a plantation at some point prior to 1674. At some point during the early 1670's de Graaf managed to get free and married his first wife Francois Petronilla de Guzmán in 1674 on the islands before moving to the West Indies. He ended up at the Spanish settlement of Saint Augustine in La Florida so his freedom was probably legitimately earned.

De Graaf's marriage was corroborated by a letter to the king of Spain in 1682 from the governor of Saint Augustine which described a "stranger who was married in the Canaries" that moved to the settlement. It is believed that de Graaf began his buccaneering career right around the time he married Guzman however, nothing is recorded about him until 1682. Then the governor of Saint-Domingue named Sieur de Pouancay wrote that de Graaf had been working as a buccaneer captain for the French under official commission since about 1675 or 1676.

Outlaw Buccaneer

During the later half of the 1670's de Graaf captured and looted many Spanish ships. He quickly built up a fleet by seizing the prizes and eventually became feared in his own right. By 1679 his fleet was large enough that he engaged the Spanish Armada de Barlovento and managed to capture a frigate with 24-28 guns which de Graaf renamed the Tigre.

Following the year 1682 de Graaf really burst onto the buccaneering scene. His exploits had become so well known in the region that ex-buccaneer Henry Morgan sent out the pirate hunter frigate named the Norwich under the captaincy of Peter Haywood to track down and capture de Graaf. However, the Spanish wanted to capture de Graaf for their own reasons and wanted revenge for the loss of the Barlovento frigate. In response the Spanish also sent the rest of the Armada de Barlovento to capture de Graaf as well.

De Graaf became aware of the Spanish intentions to capture him while making port in Cuba. Realizing that one of the best prizes in the West Indies was searching for him he decided to searching for it first. De Graaf eventually found the Armada and engaged it in a several hour long naval battle. After the prolonged conflict the Princesa struck her colors indicated a surrender after losing about fifty men. De Graaf had lost about eight or nine of his own buccaneers in the engagement.

During the naval engagement the Spanish captain was severely wounded. As a token of good will for him surrendering de Graaf let the captain go ashore with his surgeon and servant. The payoff for the capture of the Princesa was enormous. The treasure ship had been carrying the entire pay for the garrisons at Puerto Rico and Santo Domingo which amounted to about 120,000 pesos of silver. De Graaf took the Princesa as his new flagship, renaming it the Francesa and the rest of the buccaneers took their spoils back to Petit-Goave to enjoy their newfound wealth.

Sack of Veracruz

See Sack of Veracruz

After a while de Graaf returned to buccaneering and partnered up with fellow buccaneer Michiel Andrieszoon to raid the city of <Cartagena de Indias. Finding few potential targets, they departed for the Gulf of Honduras. There they found two empty galleons and de Graaf decided to wait for them to be loaded with cargo. The buccaneers retired to Bonaco Island to careen.[3] But de Graaf and Andrieszoon had their plans ruined when Nicholas van Hoorn attacked the ships and captured them empty. Having captured the vessels, van Hoorn reached Bonaco Island and proposed to join forces with de Graaf but was turned away. Later de Graaf relented and joined forces with both van Hoorn and Michel de Grammont for an attack on Veracruz. Their raiding party consisted of 5 large vessels, 8 smaller vessels and around 1300 pirates.[5] The pirates arrived off Veracruz on 17 May 1683, leading with van Hoorn's two captured Spanish ships to mislead the town. Meanwhile, de Graaf and Yankey Willems slipped ashore with a small force of men. They proceeded to remove town's fortifications and incapacitate the town's defensive militia.[note 5] Van Hoorn, marching overland, joined with de Graaf and attacked the town.[6] On the second day of plundering, the Spanish plate fleet, composed of numerous warships, appeared on the horizon. The pirates retreated with hostages to the nearby Isla de Sacrificios and waited for ransoms. A quarrel erupted between van Hoorn and de Graaf over the treatment of the hostages and the division of spoils. According to some sources the two fought a duel on a nearby beach to settle the dispute.[2] Though neither was seriously injured during the duel, van Hoorn did receive a slash across the wrist. The wound later became gangrenous and van Hoorn died as a result of the infection two weeks later.[6] Finally, giving up on further plunder, the pirates departed, slipping past the Spanish without hindrance. The Fortune[edit]

Blockade of Cartagena

The next exploit of de Graaf was at the end of November in 1683 when he and a fleet of seven buccaneer captains blockaded the Spanish city of Cartagena for over a month. In late November 1683, de Graaf, his compatriots and their fleet of seven ships arrived off Cartagena and held for almost a month. Local governor, Juan de Pando Estrada, commandeered three private slave trading vessels - the 40-gun San Francisco, the 34-gun Paz and a smaller 28-gun galliot.[7] 800 Spanish, led by a 26 year old commander, set out to meet the pirates on Christmas Eve but immediately struggled against De Graaf's more experienced pirates. 90 Spaniards were killed compared to only 20 pirates. The San Francisco was grounded and the other two ships were captured. De Graaf re-floated the San Francisco as his new flagship and renamed it the Fortune, later the Neptune. Andrieszoon took the Paz and renamed it the Mutine ("Rascal") and Willems was given command of the Francesca.[3] The group released a large number of Spanish prisoners on Christmas Day and sent them ashore with a note for Governor Estrada thanking him for the Christmas presents.[3] The pirates then proceeded to blockade the town.[7] In January 1684 an English convoy, led by the 48-gun HMS Ruby, arrived carrying a note for de Graaf from his wife offering a Spanish pardon and commission. De Graaf ignored the note, not trusting the Spanish to keep their promises, and invited English officers to board his vessels and trade with his men. The English were allowed to pass without incident and soon after, de Graaf and his compatriots left for Petit-Goâve. In the summer and fall of 1684, de Graaf remained in Petit-Goâve. He sailed in November 1684, but had little or no success in raiding the shipping lanes. Campeche[edit] Pirates ship Lorencillo in Campeche, Mexico De Graff was next seen on Isla de Pinos presiding over a gathering of buccaneers. After his departure, he led yet another raid on Campeche. The pirates attacked on 6 July 1685.[4] After a protracted battle, the Spaniards fled the town, leaving the pirates with a city devoid of plunder. The length of the battle and delay in attacking had allowed residents to move goods away. After two months in the town the pirates, failing to secure a ransom, began to burn the town and execute prisoners. Again, de Graaf stepped in to stop the violence against the hostages. The pirates departed Campeche in September 1685, carrying away many prisoners for ransom.[8] The pirates split up and de Graaf fled from a superior fleet off the Yucatán. After a day-long battle with two larger Spanish ships, he escaped by dumping all cargo and cannons overboard to lighten his ship.[3] In February 1686, the Spanish staged a raid on de Graaf's plantation on Saint Dominque. In retaliation, de Graaf raided Tihosuco, where the buccaneers looted and burned buildings. Returning to Petit-Goâve, de Graaf wrecked his ship while pursuing a Spanish barque. Nonetheless, he managed to take the barque with only his ship's long boat.[6] In 1687, de Graaf engaged in a battle off southern Cuba with a Biscayan frigate and the Cuban Guarda del Costa (Coast Guard). He sank several piraguas and took a small ship as prize. De Graaf returned to Saint Domingue, where he defended the harbor at Petit-Goâve against Cuban invaders. In December 1689, he took ships off Jamaica. He went on to blockade the Jamaican coast for more than six months before leaving. Proceeding to the Cayman Islands, de Graaf there captured an English sloop. In January 1691 de Graaf attacked near Santo Domingo but was soundly defeated by a Spanish force three times the size of his French forces. He narrowly escaped with his life. In March 1693, de Graff met and married his second wife, Anne Dieu-le-Veut. He agreed to marry her after she threatened to shoot him for insulting her.[6][note 6] De Graaf spent the summer of 1693 leading buccaneers against Jamaica in several raids. The English retaliated in May 1695 with an attack on Port-de-Paix at Saint Domingue, where they sacked the town and captured de Graaf's family.[7]


Laurens de Graff was last known to be near Louisiana, where he was to help set up a French colony near present-day Biloxi, Mississippi. Some sources claim he died there; others claim locations in Alabama.[2]



Primary Sources

Secondary Sources