Mansfield and Morgan arrived to Portete Port Limon, Costa Rica in 1666
An excerpt from the book: Crónicas Coloniales by Ricardo Fernández Guardia*. Web adaptation by Javier Martín Fernández.**
According to Ricardo Fernández Guardia, in April 14 1666 the governor of Cartago, Juan Lopez de la Flor, was woken up at 3 o'clock in middle of the night by a person who brought a letter from the priest of Teoitique saying that the Buccaneers had arrived to Matina, these were definitely bad news.
Don Juan Lopez de la Flor, was a Spaniard with an old background, who was also an experimented soldier and had already taken precautions about the possible Buccaneers' invasion , some days earlier a letter from Don Juan Perez de Guzman -president of the Panama Audience- had arrived letting him know that an expedition of Buccaneers had departure from Jamaica heading towards the Central American isthmus, planning to get to the pacific ocean by crossing it either through Panama, Costa Rica or Nicaragua. Their goal was to arrive and loot the rich Peru, but it was more likely that they will try this by crossing through San Juan River, then arriving to Granada in Nicaragua, and finally reaching –after looting Granada- to San Juan del Sur in the Pacific Ocean.
This expedition was lead by the notorious Edward Mansvelt or Mansfield (fl. 1659-1666) a Dutch corsair and buccaneer, known at one time to be chieftain of the ¨Bethren of the Coast¨ and legendary predator of Spanish possessions in the Caribbean Sea, and his vice admiral Sir Henry Morgan from Wales, who became lot more famous and was knighted latter.
The expedition departed from Jamaica with 14 ships and 1000 men, they arrived to the Cocle River in Panama expecting to cross from here to the pacific village of Nata.
They already knew Don Juan Perez de Guzman was waiting for them in Panama and that he was going to present a strong opposition to the invasion, and by advice given by an old Spaniard they captured –who told them it was a better way through Cartago (Capital of the province of Costa Rica at that time) which was unprotected and rich, also said that the path was good and easy to travel through- decided to follow this recommendation thinking that it will take them just; two days to arrive to Cartago and two more days to reach the pacific coast. Something else they knew by the captured Spaniard, was that a ship was being build in the pacific coast and were planning to use it to keep on with their trip to Peru.
They had left the five bigger ships at Bocas del Toro in Panama and had arrived to Portete -a little bay between Port Limon (which was known at that time as Tariaca) and Moin- with the other nine ships. They soon captured the guard of the bay, kept on and capture the village of Matina that may have had at that time around 35 persons. Among these persons that were captured a man named Roque Jacinto de la Fuente, known as the Handsome, and who was native to Moguer in Spain, offered to be their guide to take them to Cartago.
Mansfield and Morgan departure to Cartago with other 636 men, people from around the world, some were British, French, Spaniards, Portuguese, Levantines, Genovese, even Hindus and blacks. Very quickly the buccaneers understood the Spaniard had lied about the conditions of the road, which was known by that time as a true hell´s experience.
Among the captains, there were some well known, like David the Dutch, Broadly the British and Jean Le Maire from France.
As they travel to Cartago they were capturing and killing all the people around so no one would advice the authorities of Cartago about their arrival, they arrived to Reventazon River which they had to cross swimming because there was no boat or canoe to take them across the river.
In the other side of the river, workers from the farm of Alonso de Bonilla tried to escape, all were apparently captured, some were wounded and at least one was killed, but one of them was able to escape, this was an Indian from Teotique whose name was Esteban Yaperi, he jumped and swam down the river while heavy arm fire was shot and no bullet did touch him, he was able to cross through mountains and jungles during several days, until he arrived to his town completely exhausted and close to starving, here he told the priest Fray Juan de la Luna what was happening in Matina, who later wrote the letter sent to Juan Lopez de la Flor.
Juan Lopez de la Flor prepared a plan, mails were sent to villages around asking for help, Major Alonso de Bonilla -the best soldier in the area- was sent to explore the area with some other people, he was an honorable descendent from Spanish conquistadors and went to explore without hesitation, was followed by the captain Pedro Venegas and other 36 men and went to Quebrada Honda, an strategic cliff on the road to Cartago where they planned to build a trench to fight against the pirates of the Caribbean Sea. But the truth was that they had few guns and powder, and not many well trained soldiers but a bunch of brave pheasants, hard working stubborn Spanish descendents, who were ready to defend their families and properties from the buccaneers loot, and that because of the tough life they were used to live, and due to constant attacks they had to repel from indigenous, literally hadn´t lost the aggressiveness and fury inherited from the Spaniards conquistadors ancestors.
In April 15th forces from around arrived to Cartago lead by captains: José de Alvarado, José de Guevara and Don José de Bolivar with other 500 soldiers from Aserri, Barva and Curridabat Valleys, and immediately went to Quebrada Honda.
The pirates arrived to Turrialba in April 15, noticed there was a mule tied to a post, asked an Indian woman about the mule and she told them it belonged to Major Alonso de Bonilla, also spoke about the trench waiting for them at Quebrada Honda, so they opened fire and killed all people around, they entrenched in the Council, the church and the Indian huts, killed every cow and pig to eat, and destroyed the images of catholic saints. They understood to that point that the enterprise of taking Cartago wasn't going to be as easy as they thought, they started a war council in order to decide what to do, in the meanwhile, Major Alonso de Bonilla was in the bushes observing the enemy's movements and not satisfied with this, started fire with such fierce that the pirates thought they were being attacked by a much bigger number of soldiers, in such place surrounded by mountains and cliffs, where there were little defense chances, decided to abandon the enterprise and return to Matina and Tariaca (Portete) as soon as possible, so they left the April 16th, at the same time that Juan Lopez de la Flor was inspecting the trench at Quebrada Honda. A few hours later the governor Don Juan Lopez de la Flor also arrived with the rest of soldiers joining all together about six hundred men, but they were late, couldn´t get there on time to witness how Alonso de Bonilla beat the pirates, took 120 men and went chasing the pirates down the road to Matina but couldn't make it, they caught only two, 12 dead bodies of pirates were found sank in rivers banks on the way to Matina.
As Mansfield and Morgan arrived to Tariaca (Portete)in April 23th they spoke and flattered the Indians, told them that they will return in a few months, asked them to have lots of corn for the invasion and looting of Cartago, also recommended the people of Tariaca to negotiate a deal with the Talamancas to fight all together in a group against Cartago, they also gave the Indians the things they had stole in Matina plus axes and knives, they were really interested in returning so they took with them Roque Jacinto and other seven Indians of Tariaca so they could serve as guides latter, but the buccaneers never returned, about the invitation sent to the Talamancas to participate in war against Cartago, it was not only not accepted, but on May, 200 Indians armed with bows and arrows from Urinamá showed up in Cartago to offer their war service against the buccaneers, who had their ships still docked at Bocas de Toro in Bahia Almirante, Panama.
The people of Cartago couldn't believe that only the strong and brave behavior of Major Alonso de Bonilla and his soldiers was the main reason for winning the battle against the Mansfield and Morgan's crew, and their piety made them think that it was because of the divine favor given by the virgin Nuestra Señora de la Purísima Concepción, an image that was brought to Cartago from Ujarraz where people showed her great devotion. According to tradition this image was a gift given to the Franciscans order of the province by the king Carlos V, but there's a mistake in this because Carlos V died in 1558, five years before the arrival of the Franciscans to Costa Rica, if there was a nice present given by a King of Spain this should have being Felipe II who gave in 1565, 500 ducats to buy bells and church ornaments.
The statue of this virgin was taken from Ujarraz to Cartago during the days that these buccaneers were around in order to get its protection, and was an interpretation of the people that this miracle did happened. The Virgin's devotion was very much abandoned latter, after the devotion to the black Virgin of Los Angeles started in early 1700's, things have changed so much, that now days the name of this virgin changed, it is known now as the Nuestra Señora de la Candelaria, apparently the Virgin de los Angeles represent the new, while the Virgin of la Purísima Concepción the old, but such concept is not enough to forget the devotion to the virgin of Nuestra Señora de la Purísima Concepción.
Ricardo Fernández Guardia
San José Costa Rica, 1921
* Ricardo Fernández Guardia was born in Alajuela in 1867, son of the well-known historian León Fernández, not only kept on with his father´s research and opened new historical investigations but also –due to its natural virtues as a writer, took our history to high levels where science of history blends with literature. He is considered the beginner of realism and theatre in Costa Rica.
** Editor of PortLimon.com.