Roberto Cofresí
Puerto Rican pirate
Roberto Cofresí
Roberto Cofresí, better known as "El Pirata Cofresí", was the most renowned pirate in Puerto Rico. He became interested in sailing at a young age. By the time he reached adulthood there were some political and economic difficulties in Puerto Rico, which at the time was a colony of Spain. Influenced by this situation he decided to become a pirate in 1818.
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    THIRTIES
  • 1825
    Age 33
    On March 29, 1825, Cofresí and most of his crew were executed by firing squad.
    More Details Hide Details The pirate inspired stories and myths after his death, most emphasizing a Robin Hood-like "steal from the rich, give to the poor" philosophy which became associated with him. In poetry and oral tradition this portrayal has evolved into legend, commonly accepted as fact in Puerto Rico and throughout the West Indies. A subset of these claims that Cofresí became part of the Puerto Rican independence movement and other secessionist initiatives, including Simón Bolívar's campaign against Spain. Historic and mythical accounts of his life have inspired songs, poems, plays, books and films. In Puerto Rico caves, beaches and other alleged hideouts or locations of buried treasure have been named after Cofresí, and a resort town near Puerto Plata in the Dominican Republic is named for him. In 1945, historian Enrique Ramírez Brau speculated that Cofresí may have had Jewish ancestry. A theory, held by David Cuesta and historian Úrsula Acosta (a member of the Puerto Rican Genealogy Society), held that the name Kupferstein ("copper stone") may have been chosen by his family when the 18th-century European Jewish population adopted surnames. The theory was later discarded when their research uncovered a complete family tree prepared by Cofresí's cousin, Luigi de Jenner, indicating that their name was spelled Kupferschein (not Kupferstein). Originally from Prague, Cofresí paternal patriarch Cristoforo Kupferschein received a recognition and coat of arms from Ferdinand I of Austria in December 1549 and eventually moved to Trieste.
    Cofresí's last capture was on March 5, 1825, when he commanded the hijacking of a boat owned by Vicente Antoneti in Salinas.
    More Details Hide Details By the spring of 1825, the flotilla led by the Anne was the last substantial pirate threat in the Caribbean. The incursion which finally ended Cofresí's operation began serendipitously. When Low arrived at his home base in Saint Thomas with news of the Anne's hijacking, a Puerto Rican ship reported a recent sighting. Sloat requested three international sloops (with Spanish and Danish papers) from the Danish governor, collaborating with Pastoriza and Pierety. All four of Cofresí's victims left port shortly after the authorization; the task force was made up of the Grampus, the San José y Las Animas, an unidentified vessel belonging to Pierety and a third sloop staffed by volunteers from a Colombian frigate. After sighting the Anne while they negotiated the involvement of the Spanish government in Puerto Rico, the task force decided to split up. The San José y Las Animas found Cofresí, and mounted a surprise attack. The sailors aboard hid while Cofresí, recognizing the ship as a local merchant vessel, gave the order to attack it. When the Anne was within range, the crew of the San José y las Animas opened fire. Startled, the pirates countered with cannon and musket fire while attempting to outrun the sloop. Unable to shake off the San José y las Animas and having lost two members of his crew, Cofresí grounded the Anne and fled inland. Although a third pirate fell during the landing, most scattered throughout rural Guayama and adjacent areas.
    Evading the Beagle, Cofresí returned to Jobos Bay; on February 15, 1825, the pirates arrived in Fajardo.
    More Details Hide Details Three days later John Low picked up a six-gun sloop, the Anne (commonly known by its Spanish name Ana or La Ana), which he had ordered from boat-builder Toribio Centeno and registered in St. Thomas. Centeno sailed the sloop to Fajardo, where he received permission to dock at Quebrada de Palmas in Naguabo. As its new owner Low accompanied him, remaining aboard while cargo was loaded. That night Cofresí led a group of eight pirates, stealthily boarded the ship and forced the crew to jump overboard; during the capture, Cofresí reportedly picked $20 from Low's pocket. Despite having to "walk the plank", Low's crew survived and reported the assault to the governor of Saint Thomas. Low probably attracted the pirates' attention by docking near one of their hideouts; his work on the Beagle rankled, and they were hungry for revenge after the capture of Hernández Morales. Low met Centeno at his hacienda, where he told the Spaniard about the incident and later filed a formal complaint in Fajardo. Afterwards, he and his crew sailed to Saint Thomas. Although another account suggests that Cofresí bought the Anne from Centeno for twice Low's price, legal documents verify that the builder was paid by Low. Days later, Cofresí led his pirates to the Humacao shipyard and they stole a cannon from a gunboat (ordered by Miguel de la Torre to pursue the pirates) which was under construction.
    On February 10, 1825, Cofresí plundered the sloop Neptune.
    More Details Hide Details The merchant ship, with a cargo of fabric and provisions, was attacked while its dry goods were unloaded at dockside in Jobos Bay. The Neptune was owned by Salvador Pastorisa, who was supervising the unloading. Cofresí began the charge in a sloop, opening musket fire on the crew, and Pastoriza fled in a rowboat. Despite a bullet wound, Pastoriza identified four of the eight to ten pirates (including Cofresí). An Italian living in Puerto Rico, Pedro Salovi, was reportedly second-in-command during the attack. The pirates pursued and shot those who fled. Cofresí sailed the Neptune out of Jobos Port, a harbor in Jobos Bay (near Fajardo), and adopted the sloop as a pirate ship. Guayama mayor Francisco Brenes doubled his patrol. Salovi was soon arrested, and informed on his shipmates. Hernández Morales led another sloop, intercepting the Beagle off Vieques. After a battle, the pirate sloop was captured and Hernández Morales was transported to St. Thomas for trial. After being sentenced to death, he escaped from prison and disappeared for years. According to a St. Thomas resident, on February 12, 1825 the pirates retaliated by setting fire to a town on the island. That week, the Neptune captured a Danish schooner belonging to W. Furniss (a company based in Saint Thomas) off the Ponce coast with a load of imported merchandise. After the assault, Cofresí and his crew abandoned the ship at sea.
    On the evening of January 25, 1825 Cofresí sailed a sloop towards the Grampus, which was patrolling the west coast.
    More Details Hide Details In position, the pirate commanded his crew (armed with sabers and muskets) to open fire and ordered the schooner to stop. When Sloat gave the order to counterattack, Cofresí sailed into the night. Although a skiff and cutters from the Grampus were sent after the pirates, they failed to find them after a two-hour search. The pirates sailed east and docked at Quebrada de las Palmas, a river in Naguabo. From there, Cofresí, Hernández Morales, Juan Francisco "Ceniza" Pizarro and De los Reyes crossed the mangroves and vegetation to the Quebrada barrio in Fajardo. Joined by a fugitive, Juan Pedro Espinoza, the group robbed the house of Juan Becerril and hid in a house in the nearby Río Abajo barrio. Two days later Cofresí again led his flotilla out to sea and targeted the San Vicente, a Spanish sloop making its way back from Saint Thomas. Cofresí attacked with two sloops, ordering his crew to fire muskets and blunderbusses. Sustaining heavy damage, the San Vicente finally escaped because she was near port.
  • 1824
    Age 32
    With more ships, Cofresí's activity near Culebra and Vieques peaked by November 1824.
    More Details Hide Details The international force reacted by sending more warships to patrol the zone; France provided the Gazelle, a brigantine, and the frigate Constancia. After the Fajardo incident the United States increased its flotilla in the region, with the USS Beagle joined by the schooners and in addition to the previously-commissioned Santa Cruz and Scout. Despite unprecedented monitoring, Cofresí grew bolder. John D. Sloat, captain of the Grampus, received intelligence placing the pirates in a schooner out of Cabo Rojo.
    By October 1824 piracy in the region was dramatically reduced, with Cofresí the remaining target of concern.
    More Details Hide Details However, that month Peraza, Pérez, Hernádez, Gallardo, José Rodríguez and Ramos escaped from jail. Three former members of Lamparo's crew—a man of African descent named Bibián Hernández Morales, Antonio del Castillo and Juan Manuel de Fuentes Rodríguez—also broke out. They were joined by Juan Manuel "Venado" de Fuentes Rodríguez, Ignacio Cabrera, Miguel de la Cruz, Damasio Arroyo, Miguel "El Rasgado" de la Rosa and Juan Reyes. Those traveling east met with Cofresí, who welcomed them on his crew; the pirate was in Naguabo looking for recruits after his return from the Dominican Republic. Hernández Morales, an experienced knife fighter, was second-in-command of the new crew. At the height of their success, they had a flotilla of three sloops and a schooner. The group avoided capture by hiding in Ceiba, Fajardo, Naguabo, Jobos Bay and Vieques, and when Cofresí sailed the east coast he reportedly flew the flag of Gran Colombia.
    On July 6, 1824 Cartagena resisted arrest and was killed in a shootout, with the developments again featured in La Gaceta del Gobierno de Puerto Rico.
    More Details Hide Details During the next few weeks, a joint initiative by Rivas and the west coast mayors led to the arrest of Cofresí associates Gregorio del Rosario, Miguel Hernández, Felipe Carnero, José Rodríguez, Gómez, Roberto Francisco Reifles, Sebastián Gallardo, Francisco Ramos, José Vicente and a slave of Juan Nicolás Bey (Juan Geraldo's father) known as Pablo. However, the pirate again evaded the net. In his confession, Pablo testified that Juan Geraldo Bey was an accomplice of Cofresí. Sebastián Gallardo was captured on July 13, 1824, and tried as a collaborator. The defendants were transported to San Juan, where they were prosecuted by Madrazo in a military tribunal overseen by the governor. The trial was plagued by irregularities, including Gómez' allegation that the public attorney had accepted a bribe of 300 pesos from Juan Francisco. During the searches, the pirates stole a "sturdy, copper-plated boat" from Cabo Rojo and escaped. The ship was originally stolen in San Juan by Gregorio Pereza and Francisco Pérez (both arrested during the search for the Caballo Blanco) and given to Cofresí. When the news became public, mayor José María Hurtado asked local residents for help. On August 5, 1824, Antonio de Irizarry found the boat at Punta Arenas, a cape in the Joyuda barrio. The mayor quickly organized his troops, reaching the location on horseback. Aboard the ship they found three rifles, three guns, a carbine, a cannon, ammunition and supplies.
    However, the pirates fled the municipality and traveled west. On June 9, 1824, Cofresí led an assault on the schooner San José y Las Animas off the coast of Tallaboa in Peñuelas.
    More Details Hide Details The ship was en route between Saint Thomas and Guayanilla with over 6,000 pesos' worth of dry goods for Félix and Miguel Mattei, who were aboard. The Mattei brothers are now thought to have been anti-establishment smugglers related to Henri La Fayette Villaume Ducoudray Holstein and the Ducoudray Holstein Expedition. The schooner, owned by Santos Lucca, sailed with captain Francisco Ocasio and a crew of four. Frequently used to transport cargo throughout the southern region and Saint Thomas, it made several trips to Cabo Rojo. When Cofresí began the chase, Ocasio headed landward; the brothers abandoned ship and swam ashore, from where they watched the ship's plundering. Portugués was second-in-command during the boarding of the San José y las Animas, and Joaquín "El Campechano" Hernández was a crew member. The pirates took most of the merchandise, leaving goods valued at 418 pesos, three reales and 26 maravedi. Governor Miguel de la Torre was visiting nearby municipalities at the time, which occupied the authorities. Cargo from the San José y Las Animas (clothing belonging to the brothers and a painting) was later found at Cabo Rojo. Days later, a sloop and a small boat commanded by Luis Sánchez and Francisco Guilfuchi left Guayama in search of Cofresí. Unable to find him, they returned on June 19, 1824. Patillas and Guayama enacted measures, monitored by the governor, which were intended to prevent further visits.
    Poorly supplied after his hasty retreat, Cofresí docked at Jobos Bay on June 2, 1824; about a dozen pirates invaded the hacienda of Francisco Antonio Ortiz, stealing his cattle.
    More Details Hide Details The group then broke into a second estate, owned by Jacinto Texidor, stole plantains and resupplied their ship. It is now believed that Juan José Mateu gave the pirates refuge in one of his haciendas, near Jobos Bay. The next day the news reached Guayama mayor Francisco Brenes, who quickly contacted the military and requested operations by land and sea. He was told that there were not enough weapons in the municipality for a mission of that scale. Brenes then requested supplies from Patillas, which rushed him twenty guns.
    A number of unsuccessful searches were carried out in Cabo Rojo by an urban militia led by Captain Carlos de Espada, and additional searches were made in San Germán. On May 23, 1824, the Mayagüez military commander prepared two vessels and sent them to Pedernales in response to reported sightings of Cofresí.
    More Details Hide Details Rivas and the military captain of Mayagüez, Cayetano Castillo y Picado, boarded a ship commanded by Sergeant Sebastián Bausá. Sailor Pedro Alacán, best known as the grandfather of Ramón Emeterio Betances and a neighbor of Cofresí, was captain of the second schooner. The expedition failed, only finding a military deserter named Manuel Fernández de Córdova. Also known as Manuel Navarro, Fernández was connected to Cofresí through Lucas Branstan (a merchant from Trieste who was involved in the Bonne Sophie incident). In the meantime, the pirates fled toward southern Puerto Rico.
    In April 1824, Rincón mayor Pedro García authorized the sale of a vessel owned by Juan Bautista de Salas to Pedro Ramírez.
    More Details Hide Details Ramírez, who may have been a member of the Ramírez de Arellano family, lived in Pedernales and was a neighbor of Cofresí's brothers and Cristobal Pabón Davila. On April 30, shortly after acquiring the ship, Ramírez sold it to Cofresí (who used it as a pirate flagship). The irregularity of the transactions was quickly noticed, prompting an investigation of García. The scandal weakened his already-frail authority, and Matías Conchuela intervened as the governor's representative. De la Torre asked the mayor of Añasco, Thomás de la Concha, to retrieve the records and verify their accuracy. The investigation, led by public prosecutor José Madrazo of the Regimiento de Granada's Military Anti-Piracy Commission, concluded with Bautista's imprisonment and sanctions for García. Several members of the Ramírez de Arellano family were prosecuted, including the former mayors of Añasco and Mayagüez (Manuel and José María), Tómas and Antonio. Others with the same last name but unclear parentage, such as Juan Lorenzo Ramirez, were also linked to Cofresí.
    A similar search was undertaken in San Germán, whose mayor reported to de la Torre on March 12, 1824.
    More Details Hide Details Martinique governor François-Xavier Donzelot wrote to de la Torre on March 22, concerned about the capture of the Bonne Sophie and the impact of piracy on maritime commerce. This brought France into the search for Cofresí; on March 23 de la Torre authorized France to patrol the Puerto Rican coast and commissioned a frigate, the Flora. The mission was led by a military commander named Mallet, who was ordered to the west coast and pursue the pirates "until he was able to trap and destroy them". Although the Flora arrived three days after the operation's approval, the attempt was unsuccessful. Rivas then assigned Joaquín Arroyo, a retired Pedernales militiaman, to monitor activity near Cofresí's house.
    On February 16, 1824, de la Torre mandated a more-aggressive pursuit and prosecution of pirates.
    More Details Hide Details In March the governor ordered a search for the schooner Caballo Blanco, reportedly used in the boarding of the Boniton and the Bonne Sophie and similar attacks. In private communication with Mayagüez military commander José Rivas, he asked Rivas to find someone trustworthy who could launch a mission to capture "the so-called Cofresin" and to notify him personally of the pirate's arrest. Authorizing the use of force, the governor described Cofresí as "one of the evil ones that I am pursuing" and acknowledged that the pirate was protected by Cabo Rojo authorities. The mayor was unable (or unwilling) to cooperate, despite orders from de la Torre. Rivas tracked Cofresí to his house twice, but found it empty. When the captain lost contact with the pirate and his wife, he was also unable to communicate with the mayor.
    Attacks on two brigantines were reported by Renato Beluche on February 12, 1824, and published in El Colombiano several days later.
    More Details Hide Details The first was the Boniton, captained by Alexander Murdock, which sailed with a load of cocoa from Trinidad and was intercepted en route to Gibraltar. The second, the Bonne Sophie, sailed from Havre de Grace under the command of a man named Chevanche with dry goods bound for Martinique. In both cases, the sailors were beaten and imprisoned and the ships plundered. The ships were part of a convoy escorted by the Bolívar off Puerto Real, Cabo Rojo, and Cofresí captained a ship identified by Beluche as a pailebot (a small schooner). Although the Bolívar could not capture it, her crew described the vessel as painted black, armed with a rotating cannon and having a crew of twenty unidentified Puerto Rican men. Cofresí was presumably leading the vessels to dock at Pedernales, where Mendoza and his brother could facilitate the distribution of loot with the aid of official inertia. From there, other associates usually used Boquerón Bay for transportation and ensured that the loot reached stores in Cabo Rojo and nearby towns.
  • 1823
    Age 31
    By December 1823 other nations joined the effort to combat Cofresí, sending warships to the Mona Passage.
    More Details Hide Details Gran Colombia sent two corvettes, the Bocayá and the Bolívar, under the command of former privateer and Jean Lafitte associate Renato Beluche. The British assigned a corvette,, to the region after the William Henry incident. On January 23, 1824 de la Torre implemented anti-piracy measures in response to Spanish losses and political pressure from the United States, ordering that piracy be tried in a military tribunal with its defendants considered enemy combatants. De la Torre ordered the pursuit of pirates, bandits and those aiding them, issuing medals, certificates and bounties in gold and silver as rewards. Manuel Lamparo was captured on Puerto Rico's east coast, and some of his crew joined Cofresí and other fugitives. United States Secretary of the Navy Samuel L. Southard ordered David Porter to assign ships to the Mona Passage, and the commodore sent the schooner and the brigantine. The ships were to investigate the zone, gathering information at Saint Barthélemy and St. Thomas with the goal of destroying the base at Mona. Although Porter warned that the pirates were reportedly well-armed and -supplied, he said the crews would probably not find plunder at the base because of the proximity of eastern Puerto Rican ports. On February 8, 1824 the Spark arrived at Mona, conducted reconnaissance and landed. A suspicious schooner was seen, but captain John T. Newton decided not to chase it. The crew found a small settlement with an empty hut and other buildings, a chest of medicine, sails, books, an anchor and documents from the William Henry.
    In an article in the May 9, 1936 issue of Puerto Rico Ilustrado, Eugenio Astol described an 1823 incident between Cofresí and Puerto Rican physician and politician Pedro Gerónimo Goyco.
    More Details Hide Details The 15-year-old Goyco traveled alone on a schooner to a Santo Domingo school for his secondary education. In mid-voyage, Cofresí intercepted the ship and the pirates boarded it. Cofresí assembled the passengers, asking their names and those of their parents. When he learned that Goyco was among them, the pirate ordered a change of course; they landed on a beach near Mayagüez, where Goyco was freed. Cofresí explained that he knew Goyco's father, an immigrant from Herceg Novi named Gerónimo Goicovich who had settled in Mayagüez. Goyco returned home safely, later attempting the voyage again. The elder Goicovich had favored members of Cofresí's family, despite their association with a pirate. Goyco grew up to become a militant abolitionist, similar to Ramón Emeterio Betances and Segundo Ruiz Belvis. Cofresí's actions quickly gained the attention of the Anglo-American nations, who called him "Cofrecinas" (a mistranslated, onomatopoeic variant of his last name). Commercial agent and ambassador to the United States Judah Lord wrote to John Quincy Adams (then United States Secretary of State) describing the El Scipión situation and the capture of the John. Adams relayed the information to Commodore David Porter, leader of the anti-piracy West Indies Squadron, who sent several ships to Puerto Rico. On November 27 Cofresí sailed from his base on Mona with two sloops (armed with pivot gun cannons) and assaulted another American ship, the brigantine William Henry.
    By late 1823, the pursuit on land probably forced Cofresí to move his main base of operations to Mona; the following year, he was often there.
    More Details Hide Details This base, initially a temporary haven with Barrio Pedernales his stable outpost, became more heavily used. Easily accessible from Cabo Rojo, Mona had been associated with pirates for more than a century; it was visited by William Kidd, who landed in 1699 after fleeing with a load of gold, silver and iron. A second pirate base was found at Saona, an island south of Hispaniola. In November a number of sailors aboard El Scipión took advantage of her officers' shore leave and mutinied, seizing control of the ship. The vessel, repurposed as a pirate ship, began operating in the Mona Passage and was later seen at Mayagüez before disappearing from the record. Cofresí was linked to El Scipión by pirate Jaime Márquez, who admitted under police questioning on Saint Thomas that boatswain Manuel Reyes Paz was a Cofresí associate. The confession hints that the ship was captured by Hispaniola authorities. Cofresí is recorded in the Dominican Republic, where his crew reportedly rested off Puerto Plata province. On one excursion, the pirates were intercepted by Spanish patrol boats off the coast of Samaná Province. With no apparent escape route, Cofresí is said to have ordered the vessel's sinking and it sailed into Bahía de Samaná before coming to rest near the town of Punta Gorda. This created a diversion, allowing him and his crew to escape in skiffs they rowed to shore and adjacent wetlands (where the larger Spanish ships could not follow).
    On October 28, 1823, months after the El Scipión case was settled, Cofresí attacked a ship registered to the harbor of Patillas and robbed the small fishing boat of 800 pesos in cash.
    More Details Hide Details Cofresí attacked with other members of his gang and that of another pirate, Manuel Lamparo, who was connected to British pirate Samuel McMorren (also known as Juan Bron). That week he also led the capture of the John, an American schooner. Out of Newburyport and captained by Daniel Knight, on its way to Mayagüez the ship was intercepted by a ten-ton schooner armed with a swivel gun near Desecheo Island. Cofresí's group, consisting of seven pirates armed with sabers and muskets, stole $1,000 in cash, tobacco, tar and other provisions and the vessel's square rig and mainsail. Cofresí ordered the crew to head for Santo Domingo, threatening to kill everyone aboard if they were seen at any Puerto Rican port. Despite the threat, Knight went to Mayagüez and reported the incident. It was soon established that some of the pirates were from Cabo Rojo, since they disembarked there. Undercover agents were sent to the town to track them, and new mayor Juan Font y Soler requested resources to deal with a larger group which was out of control. Links between the pirates and local sympathizers made arresting them difficult. The central government, frustrated with Cabo Rojo's inefficiency, demanded the pirates' capture and western Puerto Rico military commander José Rivas was ordered to exert pressure on local authorities. Although Cofresí was tracked to the beach in Peñones, near his brothers' homes in Guaniquilla, the operation only recovered the Johns sails, meat, flour, cheese, lard, butter and candles; the pirates escaped aboard a schooner.
    The earliest document linked to Cofresí's modus operandi is a letter dated July 5, 1823, from Aguadilla, Puerto Rico which was published in the St. Thomas Gazette.
    More Details Hide Details The letter reported that a brigantine, loaded with coffee and West Indian indigo from La Guaira, was boarded by pirates on June 12. The hijackers ordered the ship brought to Mona Island (incorrectly anglicized as "Monkey Island"), a small island in the eponymous passage between Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, where its captain and crew were ordered to unload the cargo. After this was done, the pirates reportedly killed the sailors and sank the brigantine. Both of Cofresí's brothers were soon involved in his operation, helping him move plunder and deal with captured ships. Juan Francisco was able to gather information about maritime traffic in his work at the port, presumably forwarding it to his brother. The pirates communicated with their cohorts through coastal signs, and their associates on land warned them of danger; the system was probably used to identify loaded vessels as well. According to Puerto Rican historian Aurelio Tió, Cofresí shared his loot with the needy (especially family members and close friends) and was considered the Puerto Rican equivalent of Robin Hood. Acosta disagrees, saying that any acts of generosity were probably opportunistic. Cardona Bonet's research suggests that Cofresí organized improvised markets in Cabo Rojo, where plunder would be informally sold; according to this theory, merchant families would buy goods for resale to the public. The process was facilitated by local collaborators, such as French smuggler Juan Bautista Buyé.
    By 1823 Cofresí was probably on the crew of the corsair barquentine El Scipión, captained by José Ramón Torres and managed by his cousin (the first mayor of Mayagüez, José María Ramírez de Arellano).
    More Details Hide Details Historians agree, since several of his friends and family members benefited from the sale of stolen goods. Cofresí may have joined to evade the authorities, honing skills he would use later in life. El Scipión employed questionable tactics later associated with the pirate, such as flying the flag of Gran Colombia so other ships would lower their guard (as she did in capturing the British frigate Aurora and the American brigantine Otter). The capture of the Otter led to a court order requiring restitution, affecting the crew. At this time, Cofresí turned to piracy. Although the reasons behind his decision are unclear, several theories have been proposed by researchers. In Orígenes portorriqueños Ramírez Brau speculates that Cofresí's time aboard El Scipión, or seeing a family member become a privateer, may have influenced his decision to become a pirate after the crew's pay was threatened by the lawsuit. According to Ursula Acosta, a lack of work for privateers ultimately pushed Cofresí into piracy.
  • 1822
    Age 30
    There is little documentation of Cofresí’s whereabouts in 1822.
    More Details Hide Details Historians have suggested that he exploited his upper-class connections to remain concealed; the Ramírez de Arrellano family held most regional public offices, and their influence extended beyond the region. Other wealthy families, including the Beys, had similarly protected their relatives and Cofresí may have hidden in plain sight due to the inertia of Cabo Rojo authorities. When he became a wanted man, he moved Juana and Anna to her brothers' houses and would visit in secret; Juana also visited him at his headquarters at Pedernales. It is unknown how far Cofresí traveled during this time, but he had associates on the east coast and may have taken advantage of eastern migration from Cabo Rojo. Although he may have been captured and imprisoned in San Juan, he does not appear in contemporary records. However, Cofresí's associates Juan "El Indio" de los Reyes, Francisco Ramos and José "Pepe" Cartagena were released only months before his recorded reappearance.
  • TWENTIES
  • 1821
    Age 29
    On December 4, 1821, a wanted poster was circulated by San Germán mayor Pascacio Cardona.
    More Details Hide Details
    On August 17, 1821 (while Cofresí was in prison) Juana gave birth to their only daughter, Bernardina.
    More Details Hide Details Due to his noble status, Cofresí probably received a pass for the birth and took the opportunity to escape; in alternative theories, he broke out or was released on parole. While Cofresí was a fugitive, Bernardo Pabón Davila was Bernardina's godfather and Felícita Ascencio her godmother.
    The central government issued wanted posters for Cofresí, and in July 1821 he and the rest of his gang were captured; Bey escaped, becoming a fugitive.
    More Details Hide Details Cofresí and his men were tried in San Germán's courthouse, where their connection to several crimes was proven.
  • 1820
    Age 28
    Among Cofresí's associates were Juan de los Reyes, José Cartagena and Francisco Ramos, and the criminals continued to thrive in 1820.
    More Details Hide Details The situation worsened with the arrival of unauthorized street vendors from nearby municipalities, who were soon robbed. A series of storms and droughts drove residents away from Cabo Rojo, worsening the already-poor economy; authorities retrained the unemployed and underemployed as night watchmen. The regional harvest was destroyed by a September 28, 1820 hurricane, triggering its largest crime wave to date. Newly appointed Puerto Rican governor Gonzalo Aróstegui Herrera immediately ordered Lieutenant Antonio Ordóñez to round up as many criminals as possible. On November 22, 1820, a group of fifteen men from Cabo Rojo participated in the highway robbery of Francisco de Rivera, Nicolás Valdés and Francisco Lamboy on the outskirts of Yauco. Cofresí is believed to have been involved in this incident because of its timing and the criminals' link to an area headed by his friend, Cristóbal Pabón Dávila. The incident sparked an uproar in towns throughout the region, and convinced the governor that the authorities were conspiring with the criminals. Among measures taken by Aróstegui were a mayoral election in Cabo Rojo (Juan Evangelista Ramírez de Arellano, one of Cofresí's relatives, was elected) and an investigation of the former mayor. The incoming mayor was ordered to control crime in the region, an unrealistic demand with the resources at his disposal. Bernardo Pabón Davila, a friend of Cofresí and relative of Cristóbal, was assigned to prosecute the Yauco incident. Bernardo reportedly protected the accused and argued against pursuing the case, saying that according to "private confidences" they were fleeing to the United States.
  • 1818
    Age 26
    Although he belonged to a prestigious family, Cofresí was not wealthy. In 1818 he paid 17 maravedís in taxes, spending most of his time at sea and earning a low wage.
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  • 1816
    Age 24
    By 1816, governor Salvador Meléndez Bruna shifted responsibility for law enforcement from the Captaincy General of Puerto Rico to the mayors.
    More Details Hide Details Driven by hunger and poverty, highway robbers continued to roam southern and central Puerto Rico. In 1817 wealthy San Germán residents requested help with the criminals, who were invading houses and shops. The following year, Meléndez established a high-security prison at El Arsenal in San Juan. During the next few years, the governor transferred repeat offenders to San Juan. Cabo Rojo, with its high crime rate, also dealt with civil strife, inefficient law enforcement and corrupt officials. While he was still a don, Cofresí led a criminal gang in San Germán which stole cattle, food and crops. He was linked to an organization operating near the Hormigueros barrio since at least 1818 and to another nobleman, Juan Geraldo Bey.
  • 1815
    Age 23
    On January 14, 1815, three months after his father's death, Cofresí married Juana Creitoff in San Miguel Arcángel parish, Cabo Rojo.
    More Details Hide Details Contemporary documents are unclear about her birthplace; although it is also listed as Curaçao, she was probably born in Cabo Rojo to Dutch parents. After their marriage, the couple moved to a residence bought for 50 pesos by Creitoff's father, Geraldo. Months later Cofresí's father in-law lost his humble home in a fire, plunging the family into debt. Three years after his marriage Cofresí owned no property and lived with his mother-in-law, Anna Cordelia. He established ties with residents of San Germán, including his brothers-in-law: the wealthy merchant Don Jacobo Ufret and Don Manuel Ufret. The couple struggled to begin a family of their own, conceiving two sons (Juan and Francisco Matías) who died soon after birth.
  • CHILDHOOD
  • 1791
    Born
    Born on June 17, 1791.
    More Details Hide Details
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