A Pirate Profile: The Savage François l'Olonnais

By | May 15, 2019

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From the Buccaneers of America by Alexander Exquemelin. Source: (agefotostock.com)

As I had written in my prior pirate profile piece on Ned Low, the pirates of the Caribbean were not Johnny Depp, but fall somewhere south of Al Capone with Jack the Ripper predilections. Such is the case of Jean David-Nau, A.K.A. François l'Olonnais. The story of what follows is not for the faint of heart.

So being duly warned, read on.

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"Buccaneer of the Caribbean" from Howard Pyle's Book of Pirates. Source: (en.wikipedia.org)

The Man from Olonne

Jean David-Nau was born in the small town of Les Sables d’Olonne in Bas-Poitou on the west coast of France sometime around the years 1630 to 1635. There is very little known about his early life except that as a child he was sent to the Caribbean as an indentured servant. By the mid-1650s he was free, living among the buccaneers of Hispaniola, and called François l'Olonnais, which meant the “man from Olonne.” This was sometimes just spelled as Lolonois.

Buccaneers were originally hunters who roamed the wilds of Hispaniola and on the island of Tortuga to the north of Hispaniola who caught wild cattle and boar. The name derived from the little huts, called boucanes that they used to make their meat. Eventually, this term was applied to the privateers themselves. The Buccaneers also referred to themselves as “brethren of the coast.”

Tortuga itself was a pirate and privateer haven. Alexandre Exquemelin notes in his 17th-century history of the Buccaneers (he was one himself) that Tortuga was a “common refuge of all sorts of wickedness, and the seminary, as it were, of pirates and thieves.”