Laurens de Graff

    He was a formidable Dutch pirate, privateer, and naval officer in the service of the French colony of St Domingue during the late 17th century. Born Laurens Baldran in 1653, he was later known as Laurens de Graff or simply de Graff (French), and El Griffe (Spanish) He was also called Laurencillo or Lorencillo. Legendary pirate Henry Morgan characterized him at the time as "a great and mischievous pirate", and de Graff's appearance was described as tall, blonde, mustached and handsome. He was reportedly enslaved by Spanish slave traders when captured in what is now the Netherlands and transported to the Canary Islands to work on a plantation. His disdain for the Spaniards would later become apparent in his pirate career, as they were usually his main targets. It was said that some Spanish feared him so much they thought he was the devil in person. During the early 1670s, de Graff either escaped or was freed from the plantation. It was there that he also married his first wife Petronilla de Guzmn in 1674. De Graff began his pirate career not long after marrying, as it was recorded that he had been sailing "on the account" as the captain of a French privateer. In March 1678, he was part of a group of pirates that attacked and captured the town of Campeche. The next day, the pirates captured a merchant ship loaded with over 120,000 pesos in silver and cargo, when it sailed unknowingly into what they thought was a safe harbor.

    By the late 1670s, de Graff is reported to have captured a number of vessels, converting each in turn to piracy. Starting with a small vessel he would capture a larger one, then use that vessel to capture a larger one again. Finally, in the autumn of 1679, de Graff attacked the Spanish Armada de Barlovento and captured a frigate of 24-28 guns, which he renamed the Tigre (Tiger). By 1682, he had become so successful in the region that Henry Morgan, governor of Jamaica at the time, sent the frigate Norwich, under command of Peter Haywood, to hunt him down. At the same time, the Spanish wanted revenge for the loss of their frigate and part of the Armada de Barlovento was also sent to hunt de Graff down. While in Cuba for supplies, de Graff was informed of the Spanish plan to seek him out. Rather than waiting for the Armada, he sailed immediately in search of it. De Graff instead spotted the Princesa, a ship comparable with the Tigre. After a prolonged gun battle lasting hours, the Princesa finally surrendered, having lost too many of it's crew. Later on, de Graff put the seriously wounded captain of the Princesa ashore with it's surgeon and a servant. By luck the Princesa was transporting the payroll for Puerto Rico and Santo Domingo; about 120,000 pesos in silver. After sharing out the prize, the pirates than headed to Petit-Gove on St Domingue to celebrate their victory and refit. The French island of St Domingue was to become de Graff's safe haven. De Graff decided at this time to make his new conquest the Princesa his flagship.

    Several months later he and his officer Michiel Andrieszoon, joined forces with buccaneer captains Nicholas van Hoorn, Yankey Willems, and Michel de Grammont for an attack on Vera Cruz. Their raiding party consisted of 5 large vessels, 8 smaller vessels and around 1300 pirates. The pirates arrived off Vera Cruz on the 17th of May, 1683. Yankey Willems and de Graff went ashore during the early morning hours with a small force of men. Surprising the town, they proceeded to remove it's fortifications and incapacitate the Spanish defensive militia. Meanwhile marching overland, Van Hoorn with another band of men joined in on the attack. By about their third day of plundering the town, a Spanish fleet with several warships, appeared on the horizon. The pirates decided at this point to retreat to a nearby island with hostages and wait for ransoms. A quarrel erupted between Van Hoorn and de Graff over the treatment of the hostages and the division of spoils. The two fought a duel on a nearby beach to settle their dispute. Van Hoorn received a slashing cut across his wrist. The wound quickly became gangrenous and he died as a result of the infection two weeks later. The buccaneers eventually deciding it was time to make their escape, managed to sail away from the Spanish without incident.

    De Graff arrived off Cartagena in december 1683, along with his buccaneer allies and their fleet of seven ships. The local governor, Juan de Pando Estrada, commandeered three private slave trading vessels in an effort to try and defend the town. They were the 40-gun San Francisco, the 34-gun Paz, and a smaller 28-gun galliot. The Spanish struggled against De Graff's more experienced pirates. The San Francisco became grounded and the other two ships were quickly captured. Impressed with their new prizes, De Graff took the San Francisco as his new flagship and renamed it the Fortune. The buccaneers then used their advantage to blockade the town. In January 1684, an English convoy arrived carrying a note for de Graff from his wife offering a Spanish pardon and commission. De Graff not trusting the Spanish to keep their promises simply ignored the note. At this point in time many Spaniards probably would have wanted him to be executed for his piracy acts against their people. After leaving Cartagena, de Graff had little success in raiding the local shipping lanes, and was next seen on Isla de Pinos presiding over a gathering of buccaneers. There the pirates could not agreed on a combined effort, and de Graff departed. He was sought out shortly thereafter off the Mosquito Coast, to led yet another raid on Campeche. The pirates attacked the town on 6 July 1685. After a long battle, the Spaniards finally fled the town, but left the pirates with little in the way of loot. Later failing to secure a ransom after spending about two months there, the buccaneers frustrated and angry then began to burn the town and execute their prisoners. Again, de Graff was able to use his leadership skills to stop the violence against the hostages. In late September, the pirates departed Campeche and split up, carrying away many of their prisoners still held for ransom.

    In February 1686, the Spanish staged a raid on de Graff's plantation on French St Dominque. In retaliation for this act, de Graff raided the Spanish town of Tihosuco, where they looted and burned buildings. Upon returning to Petite Goave, de Graff carelessly wrecked his ship while pursuing a Spanish barque. Nonetheless, he managed to take the barque with only his ship's long boat. In 1687, de Graff 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 a prize. De Graaf then returned to St Domingue, where acting as a naval officer for the French, he defended the harbor at Petit-Goave from Cuban invaders. By December 1689, de Graff had successfully captured several ships off Jamaica. He went on to blockade the Jamaican coast for more than six months before departing. He then managed to capture an English sloop at the Cayman Islands. In January 1691, de Graaf attacked a Spanish force three times his size near Santo Domingo, but was soundly defeated. He barely managed to escape capture or death. In March 1693, de Graff killed the husband of Anne Dieu-le-Veut in a bar fight. She quickly challenged him to a duel to avenge her husbands death, while other sources claim she heard him insult her. He then succumbed saying he would not fight a woman. De Graff then proposed to her on the spot in admiration of her courage, and she accepted. It is unclear at this point if de Graff's first wife Petronilla had died, or if he had simply abandoned her. But from this point on he and Anne were seen as man and wife.

    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 St Domingue, where they sacked the town. Anne and her two daughters were taken prisoner by the English and kept as hostages. She was said to have been treated with great respect. Three years later in 1698, they were reunited with de Graff. After this, their fates become blurred. In the early 1700's, Laurens de Graff was last known to be near Louisiana, where he was to help in the establishment of a French colony near present-day Biloxi, Mississippi. Some sources claim he died there, but it is not known for sure exactly when and how he died. In his last ten years, De Graff appears to have given up much of his pirate ways. Working for the French as a naval officer, and later served as a Spanish translator for a French explorer. In his prime, Laurens de Graff was regarded as one of the best and most respected of the buccaneers.