Infamous Pirates > Olivier Levassear

Olivier Levasseur

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Background

Oliver Levasseur (1688 or 1690 – 7 July 1730), also known as La Buse (The Buzzard) was an infamous French pirate captain based out of the Nassau pirate republic in the Bahamas and later operated on the Pirate Round. Called the Buzzard, he was famous for the speed and efficiency with which he attack enemies and captured ships. He is one of the most successful pirates of the Golden Age of Piracy and is known for his famous capture of the Nostra Senora della Cabo along with John Taylor.

Born in Calais during the Nine Years War to a wealthy bourgeois family, Levasseur became a naval officer after attending the best schools. During the War of the Spanish Succession he got a letter of marque from king Louis XIV of France and became a French privateer. During the war he gained a scar across one eye that limited his sight, however this did not change his leadership or command abilities. Over the years he would come to wear the iconic eye patch that has come to define one of the popular images of a pirate.

Olivier Levasseur - Nassau Map (18th Century)

Nassau Map (18th Century)

However, like his English counterparts when the war ended he had no interest in returning home with his ship and crew. Instead during the Post Spanish Succession Period he ended up joining with Benjamin Hornigold and crew in 1716. Operating out of Nassau with the rest of the Flying Gang, he was most likely friends with Edward 'Blackbeard' Teach and the rest of the crew.

The Flying Gang

La Buse first appears in recorded history in early 1716 as the captain of a pirate sloop named Postillion. He appears to have been partners with Samuel Bellamy and Benjamin Hornigold. Given the date of 1716 it is possible that La Buse was one of the infamous team including Henry Jennings and Charles Vane that raided the salvage camp of the sunken 1715 Treasure Fleet that proved one of the greatest heists of all time.. Most of the crew of La Buse were French but this did not stop him for collaborating with English pirates.

After a few weeks of successful piracy around Cuba, La Buse and Bellamy had a falling out with Hornigold and they abandoned him to cruise the West Indies in the fall or early winter of 1716. La Buse and Samuel Bellamy appear to have remained close pirate partners. However in January of 1717 it appears La Buse broke away from Bellamy in order to raid the coast of South America. He appeared next seven months later off the coast of New England with a 26 gun ship and a crew of 200 men. He next captured some small ships crossing the Gulf of Mexico.

Africa & New Partnerships

No one really knows what La Buse did after this, some say he made a fortified base in Machias, Maine and raided ships coming from Newfoundland but no one is really sure. What we do know is in June of 1718 La Buse lost his ship after just avoiding Captain Francis Hume and the HMS Scarborough off the coast of La Blanquilla in the Eastern Caribbean.

Escaping with only sixty of his crew aboard a small sloop, La Buse and the smaller crew found themselves off the coast of West Africa where they began to capture more ships. In early 1719 he was voted captain of yet another pirate ship. Throughout 1719 and 1720 he operated along with Howell Davis and Thomas Cocklyn and began pirating off the coast of Africa on the second Pirate Round.

Davis, Cocklyn and La Buse all raided the port city of Ouidah and destroyed the local Portuguese fortress known as Fort of Sao Joao Baptista de Ajuda. Later that year he was shipwrecked in the Mozambique Channel off the coast of Mozambique and stranded on the island of Anjouan in the Comores. It is reported that by this time La Buse's eye had become so bad he started wearing an eye patch as was typical pirate standard.

From 1720 and on he pirated ships from his base on the island of Ile Sainte-Marie off the coast of Madagascar. Along with pirates John Taylor and Edward England, they planned to remake Henry Every's infamous capture of a Mughal treasure convoy making the pilgrimage to Mecca.

Initially the pirates looted the Laccadives and sold the plundered goods to Dutch merchants for nearly £75,000. Eventually Taylor and La Buse grew tired of England and after an incident involving him giving a British commander back his ship, they abandoned him on the island of Ile de France or Mauritius.

Capture of the Nostra Senora della Cabo

In April of 1721, La Buse along with John Taylor captured the Portuguese treasure ship the Nostra Senora della Cabo that was damaged in a storm and left sitting on a sandbar. This seizure represented one of the greatest pirate hauls in all history. In fact, the pirates gained so much wealth from this single ship that they did not even rob the people aboard the ship.

Capture & Death

In 1724 La Buse sent a negotiator to the island of Ile de France in order to discuss a potential amnesty being given to all pirates in the Indian Ocean if they would give up their trade. However the French government wanted a significant portion of La Buse's stolen loot back so La Buse decided to ignore the amnesty and settled down in the Seychelles.

La Buse was captured in 1730 by authorities near the abandoned Fort Dauphin a pirate haven on Madagascar. He was brought to Saint-Denis, where he had plundered the infamous Portuguese treasure ship so many years ago. He was hung for piracy on July 17th, 1730 and 5 pm. His grave is actually a popular tourist attraction on the island.

The Flying Gang

April 1716: Joins with Hornigold and Bellamy off Cuba in the sloop Postillion. Woodard, 135. April/May, 1716: La Buse and Hornigold capture an English ship, followed by two Spanish brigantines near the Yucatan channel. Woodard, p. 135. May 1716: La Buse, Hornigold and Bellamy careen on Isla de los Pinos. Woodard, 135. End of May, 1716: La Buse stays on Hispaniola while Hornigold and possibly Bellamy proceed to Nasau. June 1716: La Buse and possibly Bellamy capture English ships on the south coast of Cuba. Woodard, 144. Late June/early July, 1716: Belllamy and Hornigold rejoin La Buse on Hispaniola. Woodard, 144. August, 1716: Bellamy and La Buse expel Hornigold from Hispaniola. Woodard, 145. September, 1716: La Buse and Bellamy battle a French frigate between Puerto Rico and St. Thomas. Woodard, 146. October-November, 1716: La Buse and Bellamy prowl the Virgin Islands. Woodard, 146. November 9, 1716: La Buse and Bellamy capture the Bonetta sloop between St. Thomas and St. Croix. La Buse flies a flag "with a death's head and bones across" on the Postillion's mast. Woodard, 147. November, 1716: La Buse and Bellmay careen on St. Croix. Woodard, 148. November/December, 1716: La Buse and Bellamy capture the Sultana and another ship belonging to Captain Tosor, southwest of Saba. Woodard, 149. December 19, 1716: La Buse and Bellamy capture the British ship St. Michael, 27 miles from La Blanquilla. Woodard, 151. January, 1717: La Buse parts company with Bellamy and Paulsgrave Williams at La Blanquilla. Woodard, 151. May/June, 1717: La Buse appears in Nassau with a new 250-ton, 20-gun vessel and recruits new pirates. Woodard, 194. November, 1717: La Buse evades the Seaford off St. Thomas, reported in a ship of 26 guns and 250 men flying a white ensign with a figure of a dead man. Woodard, 221. Sept. 1717-May 1718: La Buse reported at Nassau, but was afterward "cast away." Johnson, 35. June 12, 1718: The Scarborough attacks La Buse at anchor near La Blanquilla. La Buse abandons his ship and escapes in a prize sloop. Woodard, 321. Before April 1, 1719: La Buse, aboard a brigantine, is elected captain to replace the marooned Captain Moody. Stephens, p. 101. He then joins forces with Howell Davis, and together they go to Sierra Leone, where they join with Cocklyn. Johnson, 184-85. After April 1, 1719: La Buse's brigantine and Cocklyn's ship attack and capture several ships in the mouth of the Sierra Leone river. Stephens, 119-20. La Buse and his crew abandon their brigantine in the Sierra Leone river and take over a prize ship (the Defence?)taken with Thomas Cocklyn and Howell Davis. Stephens, p. 118. Paulsgrave Williams has become La Buse's quartermaster. Stephens, 123-24. After departing Sierra Leone, La Buse separates from Cocklyn and Davis. Johnson, 186. After June 27, 1719: La Buse encounters England near Whydah harbor. Johnson, 117. August 17, 1720: La Buse and England fight Jame MacRae's Cassandra off Anjouan. Johnson, 119, Rediker, 183. 1720: La Buse replaces Jasper Seagar as a captain. Foxe. April, 1721?: Taylor and La Buse capture the Nossa Senhora do Cabo. Botting? August 18, 1722: La Buse attempts to abandon Taylor, but is caught and flogged. Bucquoy, per Foxe. After August 18, 1722: La Buse and Taylor part company, with La Buse remaining in the Indian Ocean. Bucquoy, per Foxe. 1730: La Buse hanged on Reunion island. Woodard, 321.

Treasure Mystery

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