Joseph Chapman & Michael White – Pirates?

If y'all are new to Raven Jake, welcome. All my recent posts have been about saving the Michael White Adobe, aka Casa de Miguel Blanco, which is in danger of being torn down by the San Marino Board of Education.  Keep scrolling down, there's a lot of information to impart. This post its to showcase an improbable (but true) historical sidenote that happened right here in the San Gabriel Valley. The Pasadena Pirates, Michael White and Joseph Chapman aka Miguel Blanco and Don Jose Chapman.


So how much of a pirate was Michael White? The evidence turns on a fellow named Joseph Chapman [1794-1848], who had a remarkably similar story to Michael White. The two were friends and co-workers, and were probably associated as far back as their days as sailors in the “Sandwich Islands” also known as Hawaii.


It seems impossible now that not one, but two pirates, one American, one British, would be in the San Gabriel area, married to lovely señioritas and building boats and mills and such. But that is exactly what happened.


Our first narrative was taken from:

“The Searcher,” SCGS, February 1983

Pages 34 & 35

Donated by: San Luis Obispo County Genealogical Society


The Spanish word "Don" denotes a nobleman or gentleman and is used as a title prefix to a Christian name. So this is the story of how the first Anglo of research record in Southern California became a "Yankee Don."


Romantic legend has it that the Buenos Aires raiders, Bouchard's Insurgents, lost one of its swashbuckling crew in an attack upon the Ortega Rancho near Santa Barbara in 1818.


Don Ortega, aided by Don Lugo and their vaqueros, caught the pirate as he leaped from a boat, cutlass in hand, bent upon obtaining loot. But the real story is very different. The prisoner proved to be Joseph Chapman, a Yankee shipbuilder who had been shanghaied in the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii) and was not a pirate at all.


He was taken down the coast to Los Angeles and placed on probation. Because men of skill were badly needed he was put to work in charge of a squad of men taking lumber out of Church Canyon in back of Mount Wilson. This period of impressment and probation were attested to by Joseph Chapman and early records.


In 1820 we find him employed in Santa Ynez where he built the first grist mill in California. That year he also obtained from Governor Sola the King's amnesty to Anglo-American prisoners.


In 1822 he was baptized at San Buenaventura Mission as Jose Juan. He was married that same year on November fifth to Maria De Guadalupe Ortega, daughter of Vicente and Marie Aubonea Sanchez Ortega at the lovely old mission of Santa Ynez that later attracted the Danish settlement of Solvang.


After his marriage to Guadalupe Ortega he became known as Don Jose Chapman. An 1834 census indicates these figures: Don Jose, age 40 born in Boston; wife Guadalupe age 35 born in Santa Barbara; children, Jose Dolores Chapman 10, Jose Juan 9, Maria Rita 7, Maria Ignacius 6, Maria Guadalupe 3. All the children were born in Santa Barbara.


In 1824 he moved his family to Los Angeles where he bought a house and some land near San Gabriel and planted a vineyard of 4,000 vines. He still continued to work as a jack-of-all-trades at the mission and was a great favorite of the friars. In fact, Father Sanchez marveled that one so long in Baptist heresy could be such a good example of Catholic piety to older Christians.


In 1829 he obtained certificates from leading men of all classes and asked for and received Mexican naturalization in 1831. In the meanwhile he built a schooner for the mission fathers for use in otter hunting off Santa Catalina Island, and served on occasion as surgeon.


Don Jose Chapman's most notable and last achievement, however, was the building of the old Plaza Church in Los Angeles. It is still standing today and is called Church of Our Lady the Queen of the Angels.


In 1836 he moved to Santa Barbara and in 1838 was the grantee of the Rancho San Pedro. In either 1848 or 1849 our "Yankee Don" died and his widow became claimant for the Rancho. Some of his descendants still live in Ventura County. Among early pioneers none was more popular or colorful.



Great! Let’s take a break and revisit what Kielbassa has to say about Michael White’s “Pirate Period:”


He was sailor by trade and may have visited Baja California as early as 1817. Afterward, he made several voyages between the Sandwich Islands (Hawaiian Islands) and Mexico's Pacific coast. The British ship, Dolly, brought White to Alta California in 1829. He soon became a Mexican citizen, as did most Anglo immigrants at the time in order to marry and hold property. He was given a Mexican name, Miguel Blanco, which is the Spanish form of Michael White.


White may have first settled in the San Pedro area, although there was no permanent settlement there at that time of his arrival. San Pedro was part of the Rancho Los Palos Verdes, owned by the Sepulveda family, and was a desolate place. His living in San Pedro is supported by his name appearing on early records as being one of the ship builders of the Guadalupe, which was constructed there at Goleta Point in 1830.


White, along with former pirate, Joseph Chapman, constructed the schooner, Guadalupe from the remains of the brig, Danube, which ran aground in a storm on Christmas Eve, 1828. The vessel was built for the padres of the San Gabriel Mission to be sold to sea otter traders. White sailed the Guadalupe to Mazatlan and returned in 1832.


Upon his return from Mexico, White married Maria del Rosaria Gullien, who was a daughter of Dona Eulalia Perez de Gullien, the old matron and bookkeeper at the San Gabriel Mission. Following his marriage, White set up a small store at Rancho Los Nietos, a short distance south of the mission.


 Smuggling was a common practice along the California coast in the 1830s. Mexican authorities imposed high tariffs upon imported goods, which were desperately needed by the citizens of the province. The settlers in California were neglected by Mexico and there was no industry, so there was a heavy reliance upon trade with foreign vessels and smuggling was generally accepted by the citizenry. White may have been involved in a smuggling scheme in San Francisco in 1833. Although a man named White was accused of this illegal deed, it has never been determined that the implicated individual named White was the same as Michael White.





This third narrative is from the California Missions Resource Center


The story of Joseph Chapman, the pirate who stayed and helped build Alta California's mills.


Early in the 18th century, many of the countries in the Spanish empire in the Americas began a struggle for independence. Mexico in 1810, Argentina later the same year, Paraguay in 1811. Catholic priests like Miguel Hidalgo y Castilla (known as the Padre de la Independencia) supported the movement.


Hidalgo was captured in March, 1811 and shot, but the struggle continued on. It took until 1821 before Mexico, the headquarters of New Spain, won its independence.


During these years of struggle, Spanish resources were diverted, and the missions in Alta California had to become more self-sufficient to survive. More ominous, there was a real threat that California would be attacked. The ports of Callao, Peru and Guayaquil, Equador were attacked in 1816.


The most likely source of trouble was a privateer flying the flag of a country that was fighting Spain. Privateers were privately owned vessels armed and equipped at the owner’s expense and authorized by a belligerent party to appropriate or destroy enemy property.


Just such a threat materialized along the California coast in 1818. In October of that year an American ship, the Clarion, arrived in Santa Barbara from the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii). The ship’s captain was a friend of the presidio commandant, Jose de la Guerra y Noriega. He warned Don Jose that an Argentinean backed privateer, Hipolite Bouchard, was planning an attack.


The Spanish presidios, missions and pueblos were put on high alert. The Governor ordered that lookouts be posted at twenty-five strategic locations along the coast. (As always, the actual work fell to the Indians).


Hopolite Bouchard, with two heavily armed ships and 350 men did attack in November, 1818. The pirates landed in Monterey and torched many of the buildings (though the Royal Presidio chapel was spared). Several of the attacking force were captured during forays in the surrounding countryside.


The Spanish network along the coast mobilized for further attacks, although it wasn't clear where the pirates would strike next. Indians were recruited and trained as a militia at several missions. Coastal missions like Santa Cruz were evacuated.


On December 14, Bouchard stuck again, this time at San Juan Capistrano, burning the king's storehouse, the soldiers barracks and the governor's house.


This proved to be the last attack. The pirate raid was over, but its aftermath was just beginning. Several more men from the attacking force were captured or deserted in Monterey and San Juan Capistrano during the melee.


One of these men would go on to make an unusual contribution to Alta California over the next thirty years.


Joseph Chapman (c. 1784 -1848). was an American carpenter and blacksmith who hailed from Maine. He was impressed into service by Captain Bouchard in the Sandwich Islands. Chapman participated in the attack on California and was taken prisoner at Monterey.


This 'reluctant pirate' was imprisoned for a while and then freed to build a fulling mill (a process used to soften woolen fibre) at Mission Santa Ines, the ruins of which still stand.


Chapman was a clever fellow, gifted at anything mechanical. He oversaw the building of a grist mill for Mission San Gabriel (located in San Marino), and he prepared timbers for the construction of the first church in Los Angeles. The mill he built near San Gabriel is now a museum. (This isn’t actually true – RJD)


Chapman was baptized at San Buenaventura in 1822, and that same year married Guadalupe Ortega of Santa Barbara with whom he had five children.


In 1824 Chapman bought land in Los Angeles and developed a vineyard, but still continued to do odd jobs at the missions, being a jack-of-all-trades, who apparently could make or repair anything that was needed.


Joseph Chapman was a great favorite of the friars. He became a naturalized citizen and a grantee of the San Pedro Rancho. The historian Hugh Bancroft says of him "among all the earliest pioneers of California there was no more attractive character, no more popular and useful man, than Joseph Chapman the Yankee."


This 'good pirate' died in 1848.


Hipolite Bouchard had been dead for over a decade and his end was not as favorable. After his raid on the California coast Bouchard made his home in Peru, where he retired with the rank of captain. In reward for his services the Peruvian government gave Bouchard two ranches. On January 6, 1837 the local papers reported "Navy Captain Hipolite Bouchard, of more than 60 years of age, was suddenly killed by his own slaves two nights ago at seven, for which reason he did not express his last will nor did he receive any sacraments."



And so pirate Hipolite Bouchard came to a bad end, showing that you can’t get away with that kind of thing forever.


Here’s some other stuff we’ve discovered from all this reading: Remember that one about the Old Mother Grapevine in San Gabriel? The there is an affidavit that the vine was planted by someone named David Franklin Hall of the Michael White Ranch in 1861?


Now that’s kind of a strange coincidence. I can’t say where Michael White’s vineyards were, but his adobe was a ways off. I still think that vine came with the mission!


And how about when John Windell Woods wrote that: Four daughters survived Dona de Guillen, one marrying one Ora Lopez, son of Claudeo Lopez, builder of the Old Mill; another Michael White, an American, and another a Mr. De la Ossa.


Well, the name “Claudio Lopez” has a familiar ring to it, because of what we read about the Old Mill: 


It was Fray Zalvidea who built the Old Mill by Wilson's Lake [in Lacy Park] and which for many years was an object of romantic interest. This mill was built in 1810-11 under the supervision of one Claudio Lopez, who stood grimly over the reluctant aboriginal while he toiled at his unaccustomed labor.


But the original mill was superseded by another built in 1821-22 by one Joseph Chapman for the mission; an adventurous buccaneer or pirate, who by good luck was captured by Spanish Californians and somehow acquired their friendship. He eventually married the daughter of a large land owner, became a substantial citizen and landed proprietor himself – a romance of itself.


So Lopez built the Old Mill, and Chapman built the New Mill, which, sadly, is no longer with us, and we don’t know anything about how the Chapman’s and the Lopez’s got along. Interesting 6-degrees-of-separation, though.


You’ve got the Old Mill, The Old Mother Grapevine, The Michael White Adobe, Olvera Street (well, really La Iglesia de Nuestra Señora la Reina de Los Angeles) and pirates all in one post.


Folks, we got a lot of history at stake here. Write some letters, go to the school board meeting on October 27 and let’s save the Michael White Adobe.


~ by ravenjake on October 18, 2009.

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