Olivier Lavasseur was a French pirate from the Golden Age of Piracy. He earned his nickname "La Buse" (The Buzzard) early in his career. The nickname came from extreme speed and efficiency with which he captured enemy ships. Stereotypical pirates in pop culture have taken much from the life of "La Buse". Eye-patch, encrypted treasure maps, and even Long John Silver from the book Treasure Island are based on him.
Life before piracy
Olivier Levasseur was born at Calais between 1688 and 1690. His family was wealthy French bourgeois that could afford to pay for expensive education for young Olivier. He was an excellent student and easily finished education for a naval officer. He finished his education during the War of Spanish Succession. As a young officer, he quickly gained a Letter of Marque from King Louis XIV and joined the war as a privateer. His exceptional abilities earned him respect from his allies during the war while his enemies prayed not to meet him on the sea.
In one of the battles during the War of the Spanish Succession, he got injured and he was left with a scar over his eye. Besides giving him the esthetics of a badass captain, the scar limited his vision. Despite his limited sight he continued to be exceptional captain and sailor and seemed to capture enemy ships with ease. His sight continued to deteriorate until he was completely blind on one eye. Once his eye became useless he got himself a black eye-patch, which is iconic and associated with pirates to this day.
Once the War of the Spanish Succession was over (1714) he was ordered to return home with his ship and crew. Many of the French privateers obeyed the order, but "La Buse" was not one of those. He excelled as a naval commander and decided to use his talents for his own gains. He set sail for The Bahamas and became a pirate captain.
Life as a Pirate Captain
We don't know much about Lavasseur's actions between 1714 and 1716. However, we can conclude that he was successful in his pirate career based on his later allies and respect he commanded among his crew. It is quite possible that he was one of the pirates who raided the legendary salvage camp of the sunken 1715 Treasure Fleet but we have no definite proof of that. What we know is that In 1716 he met Benjamin Hornigold, a founder of Pirate Republic of Nassau.
Two pirate captains joined forces and continued to terrorize the seas together. Benjamin Hornigold was a commodore of his own pirate fleet called The Flying Gang. The Flying Gang was already becoming infamous at the time. It consisted of skilled sailors of which some would later be listed among the most legendary pirate captains in history - "Black" Sam Bellamy and Edward Teach "Blackbeard". The alliance between the two men was an unusual one. Although Hornigold was a pirate he refused to pillage English ships and focused on the French and Spanish ships. "La Buse" on the other hand didn't have such restrictions and plundered any ship that looked like a worthy prey. That difference was what caused the two captains to split ways during the winter of 1716. Hornigold was outvoted by Bellamy. "La Buse" and even some members of his own crew on the question of attacking English ships. After several attacks on English ships Hornigold and "La Buse" went their separate ways, but Bellamy decided to stay with "La Buse".
"La Buse" was sailing together with Bellamy for some time but then decided to raid the coast of South America while Bellamy stayed in the Bahamas. Besides brief reports from some sailors who claimed that they have seen "La Buse," we don't know where he was until he barely escaped Captain Francis Hume of HMS Scarborough in the Eastern Caribbean. There he lost his ship and left for West Africa with a small sloop and only about sixty members of his crew.
In 1719 and 1720 he joined forces with Howell Davis and Thomas Cocklyn to plunder ships on the famous Pirate Round pioneered by Thomas Tew. The three captains were skilled enough to attack the slave port of Ouidah and successfully turn the local fortress into ruins. It is very likely that during the time he got acquainted with another infamous pirate; Bartholomew "Black Bart" Roberts who was the navigator on Howell Davis's ship at the time.
From 1720 onwards he used the Île Sainte-Marie as his base, hoping to repeat the success of Henry Avery. "La Buse" loved to partner up with other pirate captains and at the time he was working with John Taylor, Jasper Seagar and Edward England. This partnership was put together in hopes of capturing one of the Great Mughal's ships. Those ships promised hefty rewards but weren't easy prey. They were heavily armed warships that none of the captains could take by themselves. Eventually "La Buse" and Taylor couldn't cope with Edward England anymore and they decided to maroon him on Mauritius with three of his loyal crewmen.
Shortly after marooning England they met the Portuguese great galleon Nossa Senhora do Cabo. It was a huge ship full of treasures. The ship belonged to the Bishop of Goa and the Viceroy of Portugal who were both on the ship at the time. Luckily for the pirates, the ship was heavily damaged during a storm and the crew thew all of its 72 canons overboard. It was a drastic measure, but it prevented the ship from sinking during a storm. As the ship was completely vulnerable without its canons it surrendered as soon as "La Buse" hoisted his pirate colors.
The ship was laden with silver, gold, pearls, diamonds, religious objects, and art. In addition, there was an enormous sum of money on the ship. One of the priciest items abroad the ship was the Flaming Cross of Goa. The cross was made of pure gold and inlaid with emeralds, rubies, and diamonds, it was so large and heavy that it required three hardened sailors to carry it. It was later reported that there was so many treasure on ship that pirates didn't even bother with robbing the people on board.
After the loot was split among the pirates, each of the received 42 diamonds and 50,000 golden Guineas. After that heist "La Buse" retired from piracy. In 1724.
Death and The Treasure
After the plundering of the Nossa Senhora do Cabo "La Buse" retired from piracy to live rest of his life as a rich man. In 1724 amnesty had been offered to all pirates in the Indian Ocean. "La Buse" sent a negotiator to the governor of Réunion to discuss his amnesty. The French wanted most of the stolen loot back, so "La Buse" decided to skip the amnesty and went into hiding on Seychelles archipelago. He lived there for several years, but he was finally captured on Madagascar. After being taken to Saint-Denis, he was tried and hanged for piracy on 7 July 1730.
While he stood waiting to be hanged he took a necklace from his neck, yelled: "Find my treasure, the one who may understand it!" The necklace contained a cryptogram of 17 lines which hasn't been deciphered to this day. There is still a chance that his treasury will be found so here is The Cryptogram for anyone who would like to try his hand at deciphering it.
I hope one of my readers will manage to decipher the cryptogram and get extremely rich, good luck everyone ;)
- The Republic of Pirates: Being the True and Surprising Story of the Caribbean Pirates and the Man Who Brought Them Down - 2007, Colin Woodard
- Pirates of the eastern seas: a lurid page of history - 1933, Charles Grey, Sir George Fletcher MacMunn
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