Buccaneering Era > Sack of Cartagena (1697)
Sack of Cartagena (1697)
The Sack of Cartagena was a successful buccaneer raid on the city of Cartagena de Indias authorized by the French Empire on 6 May 1697 as part of the War of the Grand Alliance. Two years earlier in 1695 the French Navy realized they could not longer challenge the British or Dutch for maritime hegemony in the West Indies. Therefore they resorted to the tried and true practice of privateering. Bernard Desjean and Baron de Pointis were able to convince king Louis XIV to let them attack the city which was the richest in the entire Spanish Main.
For their raid the buccaneers were provided with seven warships, three frigates along with some smaller craft. The fleet left from the port of Brest in France on 7 January 1697. They would arrive at Saint-Domingue in the West Indies on 3 March of 1697. Pontis then requested assistance from the governor at the time named Jean du Casse who disagreed with the buccaneers and wanted to attack Portobello instead. However, a month later he acquiesced and a fleet of 1,200 soldiers and 650 buccaneers began the raid on Cartagena.
By the late 17th century the Spanish fortifications at Cartagena were deteriorated and dilapidated compared to what they had been at the height of the Spanish Empire. The buccaneers under the command of Pontis were able to easily overwhelm both of the fortresses while only losing sixty of their own. Between 6 May and 24 May the French soldiers and buccaneers looted the city with impunity, gathering between ten to twenty million in livres.
However, following this Pontis would sail directly back to France, depriving the buccaneers of their share of the loot. Outraged by this, the buccaneers returned to the city without the French soldiers and looted and raped with a vengeance. On his return trip home Pontis would barely avoid being captured by the English admiral named John Nevell who was ordered to divert from his present course headed to Cadiz to capture the buccaneers. Nevel unfortunately only managed to capture the hospital ship which was filled with sailors infected with yellow fever. The disease spread quickly throughout the English and Dutch fleets and killed 1,300 English sailors, six captains and even Admiral Nevell himself. Only a single Dutch captain in the fleet would survive. The yellow fever also spread the French fleet as well, killing hundreds of their sailors.
Pontis himself would successfully make it back to France where he rewarded king Louis XIV with his share of two million livres. His share of the loot made Pontis a very rich man following this and he would publish his account of the expedition called Relation de l'expédition de Carthagène faite par les François en 1697 in Amsterdam the following year in 1698. Overall this would be one of the most successful buccaneer raids of all time and one of the last as the Buccaneering Era drew to a close.
Lynn, John A. The Wars of Louis XIV: 1667–1714. Longman, (1999). ISBN 0-582-05629-2
Roger N.A.M. The Command of the Ocean: A Naval History of Britain 1649–1815, Penguin Group, (2006). ISBN 0-14-102690-1