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Buccaneers > French Buccaneers > Francois L'Ollonais

Francois L'Ollonais


Francois L'Ollonais - De Americaensche zee Roovers (1678)

Francois L'Ollonais - De Americaensche zee Roovers (1678)

Francois L'Ollonais was a notorious buccaneer who cultivated a fearsome reputation. During the short time he was active he became known as the most brutal, cruel and ruthless pirate of his time. Favoring torture among all else his early attack on Spanish Main settlements inspired other buccaneers like Henry Morgan to do the same.

Born with the name Jean David Nau, at Les Sables d’Olonne in western France. Francois came to the New World in 1650 as an indentured servant working on the island of Hispaniola. He was to work off his freedom however he was subjected to some of the most brutal conditions. After three years he escaped and joined early buccaneers who were rustling cattle on the island.

In 1660 he moved to Tortuga in order to start a life of buccaneering. Using the name Francois L'Ollonais he began to raid Spanish shipping lanes. The best part was he was free to do whatever he wanted because he was given a Letter of Marque from the French King to raid, plunder and pretty much do whatever to the Spanish.

Francois L'Ollonais - Pirates of the Spanish Main (1888)

Francois L'Ollonais - Pirates of the Spanish Main (1888)

He scored big on his first few captures. However soon his brutal tactics became well known. As his victories grew, the Governor of Tortuga actually gave him ships and men in order to continue his campaign. In fact he was given the nickname Fleau des Espagnols (Flail of the Spaniards) for his torturing and murdering of Spanish merchants. This actually worked against him as the Spanish crews were less likely to surrender due to his policy of no quarter. This meant as his reputation grew more fierce so did the effort necessary to capture a ship. As Alexander Exquemelin writes, the Spanish crews:

"Fought until they could fight no more, for he granted Spaniards little mercy.”

- Buccaneers of America (1678)

As a testament to his brutal nature and willingness to survive during one pirating expedition in 1663 L'Ollonais found himself shipwrecked on the Yucatan peninsula and encountered Spanish troops. The Spanish showed the Frenchman the same respect he gave their comrades and they opened fired on the buccaneers. With most of his crew dead and hit with a musket ball, Francois covered himself with the blood and gore of his buccaneers and hid under their corpses. Once the Spanish left he cleaned himself off, stole a Spanish guard and continue into the town of Campeche.

L'Ollonais Murdering Spanish - De Americaensche zee Roovers (1678)

L'Ollonais Murdering Spanish - De Americaensche zee Roovers (1678)

He spoke fluent Spanish due to his indentured servitude and faked his way past the guards on duty. Once inside he began plotting his escape and eventually freed some French slaves who killed a bunch of soldiers and stole some canoes and began to sail towards Tortuga. As soon as the Spanish found the bodies of the soldiers and the missing canoes the governor ordered a pirate hunter to track him down. L'Ollonais was to be taken alive to be tortured and killed.

Using the canoes in the dead of night, L'Ollonais snuck up on the pirate hunters sloop and beheaded everyone aboard the Spanish ship except for one person. That person was given a letter addressed to the governor of Havana saying he would never spare another Spaniard's life. The note read:

"I shall never henceforward give quarter to any Spaniard whatsoever, and I have great hopes I shall execute on your own person the very same punishment I have done upon them you sent against me. Thus I have retaliated the kindness you designed to me and my companions."

L'Ollonais stole the sloop and sailed back to Tortuga where he began launching raids on the northern shore of Jamaica.

In 1667 a war broke out between Spain and France which allowed L'Ollonais to practice his privateer trade in a more legitimate setting against the Spanish Main. Not content with just taking over Spanish ships, L'Ollonais was the first buccaneer to begin targeting Spanish settlements. Francois next plotted the largest take over of a Spanish settlement in Venezuela and targeted Maracaibo.

Francois set out with his crew in July of 1667 with eight ships and 660 men. As soon as the ships left port they encountered a treasure laden Spanish Galleon all by itself. The galleon yield over 40,000 pieces of eight, gems, cacao and other treasures.

Attacks on Spanish Settlements

After boosting morale due to the quick and easy capture, the buccaneers sailed to Venezuela and Lake Maracaibo where the Spanish settlement was located. The city was guarded by a fort with 16 cannons however the buccaneers were much more sophisticated than just ship battles. They were also rugged outdoorsmen used to the wilderness and having to fight for their survival.

Maracaibo & Gibraltar - De Americaensche Zee Roovers (1678)

After anchoring a miles down shore the buccaneers landed and attacked from the undefended land side of the settlement. With relative ease the buccaneers captured the city of Maracaibo in three hours, the Spanish settlers fleeing with whatever they could carry into the jungle. Francois and the buccaneers stayed in Maracaibo for a month and tortured the entire population that remained for their valuables. When that was not enough he ransomed the cities themselves back to the Spanish for 20,000 more reales.

Taking a City - Howard Pyle's Book of Pirates (1921)

Taking a City - Howard Pyle's Book of Pirates (1921)

The buccaneers captured a cache of 20,000 pieces of eight and L'Ollonais himself tortured the guards eventually hacking one to death with his cutlass in his interrogation. The buccaneers met with great success in their raid of Maracaibo and began looking at his next Spanish targets. Next L’Ollonais began looking at Gibraltar which was positioned across the lake. The town held a fortress of 500 soldiers and was a major port for the exportation of cacao. Francois's buccaneers were ruthless in their assault and won despite incurring heavy losses. Since Francois was low on soldiers he ordered every guard and citizen executed and the city burnt to the ground, completely destroying the settlement.

L'Ollonais at Gibraltar - The Sea, Its Stirring Story of Adventure (1877)

L'Ollonais at Gibraltar - The Sea, Its Stirring Story of Adventure (1877)

L’Ollonais stayed in Gibraltar for a month and collected all of the gold, gems, silverware, slaves and other treasure in the city. All told Francois and his crew pulled an entire haul of nearly 260,000 pieces of eight from the endeavor and completely wiped out a Spanish settlement. In fact the Spanish abandoned it two years after the assault. L’Ollonais and his crew next traveled back to Tortuga in order to spend their treasure and as Exquemelin put it:

"The tavern keepers got part of their money, and the whores the rest.”

- Buccaneers of America (1678)

After relaxing and partying in Tortuga for a while, Francois decided it was time to begin another expedition. He took six ships and 700 men and set sail for the coast of Nicaragua. However the fleet was blown off course and was sent into the Gulf of Honduras. They raided and looted villager towns with little success. They eventually came up the small town of Puerto Caballos. As the buccaneers approached the Spanish fled into the jungle taking their valuables with them. As the search turned up with little treasure, L’Ollonais became more and more brutal in his interrogation methods to find hidden loot. As Alexander Exquemelin put it:

"When L’Ollonais had a victim on the rack, if the wretch did not instantly answer his questions, he would hack the man to pieces with his cutlass, and lick the blood from the blade with his tongue, wishing it was the last Spaniard in the world that he had thus killed."

- Buccaneers of America (1678)

Francois L'Ollonais - Francois L'Ollonais in Puerto Caballos

L'Ollonais in Puerto Caballos - The Sea, Its Stirring Story of Adventure (1877)

L’Ollonais managed to get two of the prisoners to guide him to the town of San Pedro which was near a major Spanish gold mine. However as the buccaneers approached San Pedro they were met by the Spanish infantry who ambushed the group. The buccaneers retreated and regrouped. Then they came back and defeated the Spanish troops. The slaughtering of the troops was not enough for Francois however. As payment for leading them to the soldiers Francois:

"Ripped open of [them] with his cutlass, tore out the still beating heart, gnawed on it for a moment before shoving into the horrified face of the other prisoner.”

- Buccaneers of America (1678)

After this the second prisoner suggested a route that would be less guarded by Spanish soldiers and the buccaneers succeeded in taking and looting the city.

Isthmus of Darien Map - Herman Moll (1699)


Francois' last attack on the Spanish settlements was when he razed San Pedro when it offered no treasure. After the series of failures his crew deserted him and took off with the smaller boats of the fleet. L’Ollonais tried to make sail with his small, loyal crew and headed towards Nicaragua but ran aground. Some of the crew parted ways and tried to take a small longboat back to civilization.

Him and his crew were eventually captured by the Spanish and the crew wiped out. Francois was taken alive and managed to escape once again and ventured into the jungle on foot in hopes of reaching the Gulf of Darien located at the Isthmus of Darien. However along his journey he was met by a group of Amerindian cannibals who ambushed his band of buccaneers. In a fit of justice the islanders:

"Tore him in pieces alive, throwing his body limb by limb into the fire and his ashes into the air.”

- Buccaneers of America (1678)

In the end the brutal buccaneer known as Flail of the Spaniards saw his end as he got eaten by the tribe of cannibals. The Spanish would have hung him in chains and watched the birds peck out his eyes so who knows which fate was worse. The cannibals burned him alive, cut his still breathing body into pieces, cooked it and ate it. Thus the ruthless reign of Francois L'Ollonais was ended and the career of one of the most brutal and prolific buccaneers had ended.

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