Jean Fleury was one of the first known pirates in the Caribbean. He was a French privateer who became famous for successfully raiding two out of three Spanish treasure ships carrying Aztec gold in 1522. His actions was one of the first acts of piracy against the New Spanish Empire and encouraged other European powers to attempt raids against the wealthy Spanish. He began his privateering career as a French naval officer from the Dieppe in Normandy. He was a pilot under Jean Ango and fought during the Four Years War.
Jean Fleury Facts and Piracy: Capture of the Spanish Treasure Fleet
Fresh off his victory over the Aztecs, Hernan Cortes accumulated many of the riches and loaded them on boats to be sent back to Spain. He placed his trusted Captain Quiñones in command to lead the ships back to the Old World. Along the way Captain Quiñones stopped in Havana to resupply and then set sail for Spain. Informants and spies for Fleury relayed important information concerning the route Captain Quiñones were going to be taking.
Fleury commanded five ships and when he encountered the ships he used aggressive moves with his more agile and lighter vessels. The captain attempted to maneuver away from Fleury, but his ships were weighed down with too much treasure and were easy targets for Jean Fleury and his men. Fleury seized the treasure and captured an amazing amount of gold. This was the first Spanish ship to be captured and it sent shockwaves throughout Europe. Fleury delivered the loot to the French King Francis I.
The fleet that Fleury captured contained the following: Gold, exotic animals, beautiful ornaments, pearls, Aztec art, masks, and other New World treasures. This plunder made Jean Fleury a national hero and gave him permission to assemble another fleet.
The next year Fleury assembled an upgraded fleet of eight ships. He along with Jean Terrian captured and looted over 30 Spanish and Portuguese ships.
Jean Fleury Facts and Piracy: Capture and Death
Jean Fleury had made himself much more than a nuisance to the Spanish. He had more success against the Spanish than any other individual up until that time in history. This made him a high priority and the Spanish had the resources to deal with him. He was captured by the Spanish and sent to Toledo for trial. He was found guilty for piracy and hung. He had much success, but his life was quickly snuffed out by the world power.
While Fleury’s success was immense but short-lived he revealed how much wealth the Spanish had been accumulating in the New World. His exploits motivated other countries to hire privateers to scour the Caribbean for easy Spanish targets. His success showed that success was possible against the Spanish which was hard to believe for many European powers.
The Spanish responded to Fleury’s success by securing their colonies and building up their fortifications. Future exploits would be tougher, but soon the Spanish would be fighting the world instead of one pirate.