A Lively Experiment

Notes on collections and events at the RIHS

Object Thursday: Pirates Off Cuba! 1829

Many Rhode Islanders’ letters and records document foreign lands and more particularly their waters. The Collections of the Rhode Island Historical Society reflect and preserve that history — but not always in the places that we expect. While cataloging the primarily genealogical collection of Mauran Family Papers, MSS 560, I came across a letter with a fascinating description of a pirate attack in 1829 off the coast of Cuba.

Letter to O. Mauran, Detail

Detail of Letter to O. Mauran, MSS 560

Most of the materials in this collection are letters written in French to Mauran family members who had moved to Rhode Island from a town near Nice, France.  But the materials of Oroondates Mauran (1791-1846), the eighth child of Joseph Carlo and Olive (Bicknell) Mauran, document his birth in Barrington, R.I., his move to New York City when he was 19 and his rise in the shipping trade.

from: Memorials of the Mauran Family. (Providence, 1894)

from: Memorials of the Mauran Family. (Providence, 1894)

Oroondates Mauran owned ships that carried cargo from New York to the West Indies that included “molasses, codfish, saffron, sugar, flour, apples and cigars.” He formed a partnership with Samuel Coates of New York to establish the firm Coates & Mauran. He was married in 1814 in Providence to Martha Eddy. In 1822, Mauran entered into a progressive venture to run “Packets”, regularly scheduled ships, between New York City and Charleston, S.C.

The letter transcribed here in full is addressed to “O. Mauran” and gives the horrific account of the loss of his Brig Attentive and her crew to pirates in 1829:

Mantanzas [Cuba]  Feby 25in 1829

O Mauran Esq. 

Dear Sir…

Under date of 17inst I advised you with instructions for insurance, of the expected departure of the Brig “Attentive”, Grozin late master for your port.

It is my painful duty now to communicate the melancholy intelligence of the horrid & barbarous murder of Capt Grozin and most of the crew by pirates, together with the total loss of vessel and cargo all in less than ten hours after sailing. We trace the hand of Providence in the escape of one individual of the crew, who is spared to relate this sad tale.

The Brig sailed on the morning of the 22d inst with nine souls on board – between 12 & 1 o’clock she was taken by the piratical vessel, a topsail schooner with two long guns & about fifty men. All on board except the Captain were ordered into the fore-peak, when the hatch was fastened down – the 2d mate immediately with great difficulty crept aft amongst the casks, where he effectually concealed himself, he states that in a short time the men were called up one by one and butchered – without any known resistance – the pirates remained on board as near as he could judge until about 4 o’clock – before leaving her stove in her bow port. At near dusk the second mate ventured out, the pirate schooner then in sight at some distance – his first step was to endeavor to stop the port hole, finding it impossible, he, after it was dark, succeeded in getting the Brig before the wind, towards land in the vain hope of beaching her – she gradually filled and at about 10 o’clock P.M. went down, then about three miles from land – he took a plank – the small boat having been taken, and was drifted to the shore about sunrise the following (Monday) morning, and reached town yesterday morning.

This man, in his hasty and bewildered examination after he came on deck, could not discover that a single article of the cargo had been plundered – there were fragments of nautical instruments, clothing etc strewed about the quarterdeck and traces of blood to be discerned, the dead bodies, he supposed to have been thrown overboard – he states that he distinctly heard cries for mercy particularly from Captn. Grozin and the groans of dying men.

This is a brief recital of an event almost without parallel in the annals of crime – the particulars will be given more at length in the official declaration and protest of Alfred Hill (the 2nd mate) to be forwarded, together with the needful documents by the first conveyance. There are two or three vessels who are here waiting convoy or company.

There has been most culpable neglect on the part of our government or of the commanding naval officer on the station, who is said to be quietly reposing himself snug at Pensacola – not a single armed American vessel has appeared here, or in the neighborhood for the past three or four months – I have not time for comment nor indeed are any required to arouse public indignation.

I shall transmit duplicate insurance by the very first opportunity – and remain in the meantime your faithful & most obedient servants

Moses Tryon

Tho- Tryon

P.S. There were two seamen conveyed on board the Schooner before they abandoned the Brig – their fate is unknown – Capt. Grozin belonged to Boston – the chief mate Jordan of Medford – the others I have not by me.”

Letter to O. Mauran, page 1

Letter to O. Mauran, page 1

Rhode Island is known for its own pirates such as the Charles Gibbs [ see part 1 & part 2] and Thomas Tew. Their stories, along with those of many other pirates can be found in Edward Rowe Snow’s Pirates and Buccaneers of the Atlantic Coast. It is interesting to remember that many Rhode Island ship owners and families were affected by nameless pirates in faraway places.

Catalog records for this letter and the entire Mauran Family Papers, MSS 560, will soon be available via our online catalog NETOP. The original document is available at the Library of the Rhode Island Historical Society.

~Phoebe Bean, Librarian

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