California’s Only Pirate – Hippolyte de Bouchard

Hippolyte de Bouchard, , aka Hipólito Bouchard and California’s Pirate

(August 13, 1783 – January 4, 1843)

Bouchard was born in Saint-Tropez, France on either January 15, 1780 or August 13, 1783. He took to the sea early in life by going to work for a French merchant fleet.

In the early 1800s, Argentina was in turmoil with the people revolting against Napoleonic Spain and trying to rebuff British attempts at invasion. Juan Bautista Azopardo was a French revolutionary in the region who commanded the first Argentinean Naval Squadron, fighting Spanish loyalists on the Parana and Uruguay rivers. Bouchard found himself in Argentina in 1809 and he joined Azopardo’s squadron. He later took part in the Battle of San Lornezo as part of the Mounted Grenadiers Regiment.

In recognition for his revolutionary loyalty, Bouchard was made a citizen of the United Provinces of the River Plate (the direct ancestor of the present-day Argentine Republic) in 1813. In 1815 he rejoined the Navy under the command of Admiral Guillermo Brown and in 1817 he set out to circumnavigate the globe in the name of the UPRP, naming his ship La Argentina. For his voyage he was granted a “corsair license” which allowed him to raid and harass any ships and territories of the Spanish Empire all over the world.

In 1818 Bouchard spent time attacking the Spanish in the Philippines. With his crew much depleted from scurvy, he sailed for the Sandwich Islands (modern day Hawaii) and arrived in October. There he found the Santa Rosa, an Argentine vessel whose crew had mutinied. He purchased the ship from King Kamehameha, hired Sir Peter Corney to captain her, threw together an unwilling crew, and set sail for the Spanish territory of California.

On November 20, 1818, Bouchard’s vessels arrived in Monterey, California. They arrived near dark and Bouchard kept La Argentina in the middle of the bay, while the Santa Rosa was sent to anchor in the harbor. Corney was in shouting distance of the land, but rather than identify himself he instead shouted that he’d identify himself the next morning. Governor Pablo Vincente de Sola sent the women, children and livestock into the protection of the missions San Antonio and Soledad.

Bouchard had arrived with two warships (his own having forty guns) and approximately 400 men. The Spanish defense was spread thin as half its soldiers were away protecting other missions, and its gun batteries were poorly placed. Nevertheless, they had forty soldiers for their immediate defense along with El Castillo. El Castillo was a gun emplacement located on a hill west of the harbor. It was armed with ten cannons and adequate shot, but its location made it “a miserable battery” and the cannons there could scarcely hit the top of the Santa Rosa’s masts. The Spanish had one more defensive asset: having had warning of the pirates’ arrival a temporary gun battery was built along the beach where it commanded the anchorage.

As the sun rose the next morning, Corney opened fire on the principal homes of Monterey, most likely to support a landing party. However, before he could wreak any real havoc the gun battery hidden on the beach started to return fire and effectively trapped the Santa Rosa in the harbor. If the vessel moved further from the harbor then El Castillo could target it, but if it stayed where it was it was under the guns of the hidden battery. The Santa Rosa had sustained considerable damage near the waterline. Knowing checkmate when faced with it, Corney surrendered. Monterey quit firing. The crew moved all of the artillery to the undamaged side to raise the frigate’s damaged side out of the water. Then they manned the lifeboats. However, instead of rowing to shore under their white flag, they rowed out to La Argentina which was still out of range.

The pirates sailed about two and a half miles west and landed their men and two cannons on Point Pinos. The force marched on the town, but as they went they passed behind El Castillo and captured it. With the main defense in the hands of the pirates the governor told all remaining people to retreat to San Clemente.

Bouchard and his men plundered the capital of California, then burned it. They destroyed the cannons at El Castillo by burying their barrels and firing them into the ground. The governor ordered up reinforcements from the San Francisco and Santa Barbara presidios, but before they arrived the pirates had repaired the Santa Rosaand set sail.

Secret PvN Fact:


A peculiar incident occurred after the sack of Monterey. Mission Santa Cruz heard of the pirate raid and they knew that the pirates were headed south, passed Santa Cruz. Full of panic, the priests started moving everyone to neighboring Mission Santa Clara and asked the residents there to go back and clear Mission Santa Cruz of its valuables. The residents arrived at that vacated mission and rather than saving the valuables by returning them to Santa Clara, they plundered the mission themselves. The burned some of the buildings, ruined the food and wine supply, and stole the valuables they were supposed to be saving. The pirates never landed at Mission Santa Cruz, yet the town was ransacked all the same.


In late October or early December of 1818, Bouchard and his pirates appeared off the coast of Mission Santa Barbara. From their boats the brigands could see that Ortega Ranch in Refugio Canyon was deserted. Relishing the power of their reputation, the pirates landed their men, plundered the ranch and set it on fire. As they carried the valuables back to their boats they were ambushed by Sergeant Carlos Antonio Carrillo and his men from Santa Barbara. The Spanish had tried to bottle the pirates in the canyon, but failed to hold the motley mob. Both sides took prisoners and retreated to their strongholds. The pirates set sail for their next target.

Only a day or so after their fight in Refugio Canyon, the pirate laid their eyes on Mission Santa Barbara. They sailed into the harbor in a bellicose mood. The Spanish gave a show of force by having horsemen gallop around the beach, intimidating the pirates. Seeing the strength of the garrison they’d have to fight, Bouchard raised the white flag and exchanged prisoners instead. They sailed out of Santa Barbara without attacking. The force

Secret PvN Fact:


According to legend, the force at Mission Santa Barbara was a bluff. Commandant Jose de la Guerra knew the pirates were coming, so he rounded up about 150 volunteers. The men rode their horses around a very large clump of willows and as they passed out of view of the pirates they changed clothes, giving the impression that they were a much larger force. Voluntario Street in modern day Santa Barbara is named after this volunteer force.


On December 14, 1818, Bouchard brought his pirate vessels into sight of Mission San Juan Capistrano. He sent an envoy ashore to demand provisions. However, word of the pirates had traveled down the coast and the envoy was rejected and returned to his ship carrying a threat from the town. Bouchard sent 140 men and three cannons ashore to take what they needed. The Mission guards fought the pirates but lost. The pirates took what they wanted and destroyed a number of buildings including the Governor’s house, the King’s stores, and the barracks.