Michael White’s Oral History

My girl, Jane, got her researcher's Christmas gift right on time when she found Michael White's oral history Online. Relatives of Miguel Blanco – it's just better than anything you might have guessed – a real hoot and a half! In 1877, Michael White, who usually went by Miguel Blanco, was 76 and just as sharp as a tack. His side of the story is simply hilarious – talking about his adventures as a pirate and all the mischief he got up to. He worked hard and he played hard. When you're doing research, you make some educated guesses and then you've gotta find out if you're right or not. Turns out our boy was a pirate. Turns out he missed England more than we would'a thought. Here's the rest in his own words: 

I, MICHAEL CLARINGBUD WHITE (generally known in California under the name of Miguel Blanco) was born in [Margrave], Kent (England) and brought up there till I was 13 years old. My father and his father were named James White, and were farmers. My mother's maiden name was Elizabeth MacTed.

 

At 13, I was apprenticed to the master of the ship Perseverance of London, whose name was William Mott. I was with him 2 years and 9 months in the whaling business, was left ashore at San José del Cabo in Lower California, that was in 1817 in my 16th year, for I was born on the 10th (Shrove Tuesday) of February 1802.

 

I went ashore with liberty for a walk, hired a horse and went to take a ride in the country. The horse fell down, caught my foot under it and put it out of joint. The horse ran away to the house it belonged. The women of the house on seeing the horse without a rider, and the saddle somewhat out of gear, came to where I was, picked me up and carried me home. They pulled my foot till they got it in place again, and took care of me til I was well. They were very good people. The old man's name was Ignacio Ma´rquez and his wife's Lucia. They treated me with the utmost kindness, and  I, of course, did all I could to help them. I was in the place and vicinity about 15 months. The authorities never interfered with me.

 

I finally went to La Paz and shipped on a small Mexican schooner called the Flor de Mayo, commanded by a Spaniard named Pepe Sailas. That was in 1819. La Paz was then under the Mexican flag. There were no houses there then, and the vessel came to exchange flour and other things for cheeses, preserves, and other country produce. We repaired to Mazatlan, where there was no other building but the Custom House. From there went to Guaymas—not a sign of a building there but the Custom House. After arriving in Guaymas the master Sailas, who was also owner of the schooner, went off to his home in the country, and placed the vessel in my charge. I knew how to sail her having been taught navigation on board the Perseverance. Besides, not much knowledge of navigation was necessary to sail on the coast.

 

[I] Went back to La Paz, and then returned to Guaymas. When I reached Guaymas, the owner came on board and we went together to Mazatlan calling at La Paz. I left him in Mazatlan, as I got a fit of home sickness—I wanted to go back to Old England, and I had saved up a little money. Embarked for Acapulco as passenger on a Mexican Brig, touched at San Blas, and there with a boat of said Brig, re-captured by hard fighting an American Brig named the Lancaster (a Baltimore clipper), which had been taken by some French and Spanish people to make a privateer of.

 

Those pirates that had captured the American Brig were carried to Guadalajara, tried and shot—that was in 1820. I was a witness before the English and American Consuls on the hill in San Blas. The English Consul was named Forbes. I don't remember the name of the American Consul, and never wanted to, as he was a mean man, who offered me $5 for the service I had rendered in recapturing the Brig. I told him to stick it up his fundament, to his face. I was mad as well as ashamed of the insult. The English Consul told him that he had grievously insulted me, that I was entitled to claim 1/3 the value of the vessel, and asked me if I wanted to make the claim. I answered no. After that, we went on to Acapulco, where I was taken sick— and found no vessel going home.

 

In the fight for the recapture of the Lancaster, I had only four men, and took her without anything but a boathook from the 24 men that held her. I was wounded on the shin by a big Frenchman with a cutlass. He struck at my head, but I jumped back, and fell on my back. The cutlass peeled my skin. In San Blas, the British Consul told me to stop that night in his house but I had the two pistols I had taken from the Frenchman, and started off to go down the hill to the port where I had a girl.

 

In going down, I saw three men scuffling on the road and thought they were waiting for me, but it was not so. They had robbed and killed a poor man, and I stepped over him. He was not quite dead yet and breathed hard. I got down to the port and told the Alcalde Lorenzo (his surname I did not know) [Alcalde ordinario; the traditional Spanish municipal magistrate, who had both judicial and administrative functions], who was an Italian by birth. He advised me to hush up. The murdered man had been sent from there with $2000. The reason he told me to say nothing was that I would be detained and lose my passage.

 

As I said before, on my arrival at Acapulco I was taken sick with fever. I had to spend all the money I had, and to sell all my clothes, and had nothing left but a Scotch cap, a duck frock and pair of pantaloons, no shirt, shoes or anything else. I was then entirely destitute, and no vessel there to get away in.

 

Then there came in a small Mexican hermaphrodite Brig belonging to two brothers, Felipe and Nicolas Lastra. She was called the Eagle, but the owners being natives of Paita (Peru) people called her the Paitena; indeed, she was built in Paita.

 

I was on the beach one day when one of the owners came on shore, spoke to me in broken English, asked me if I had been sick. I answered in the affirmative, and he told me that I was sick because I had had nothing to eat—asked me to go on board. I asked him if he thought I could be of any use to him on the vessel, and he said “Never mind—go on board.” I did so, and got something to eat. In the evening he asked me if I could repair sails. I told him I had done it. He got me to repair the foresail, and finally asked me to go as mate with him, which I did, very glad of the chance. He paid me $1 each day for the time we laid in port, then I shipped as mate with $30 per month, and the privilege of taking two mules’ loads of tobacco or any other goods that might be smuggled.

 

Came with him to La Paz, thence to Guaymas; he then delivered the Brig over to me saying I was as smart as he, and even a little better. I sailed her as master from that time till the year 1826. Then there came in at Guaymas a Philadelphia Brig, the Gen. Sucre and as I had made some money I concluded to go to Sandwich Islands to see if I could find a British vessel there to carry me home. All the time I was in Guaymas, I was engaged in smuggling money out of the country for the priests. It was the time when the Government were expelling the Spanish priests from Mexico and did not allow them to take out their money without paying a heavy duty, nearly one half of the amount. I went over to the California side in the Brig to take in pearl-oyster shells—met Tova, the Governor, living on his ranch Dolores betwixt La Paz and Loreto–he knew me and gave me some goats which I took over to Guaymas, and they served me as a cover to bring money away from the shore.

 

When the money was on the point, a small light was shown. In the morning I would go ashore in the boat for grass. Took in the pigs of silver, and covered them with grass, and then came on board. The Custom House officer on board was invited into the cabin to take his mañana [morning] or las once [eleven o'clock] and whilst he was down there, the silver was pitched in and stowed away under the pearl shells—he never saw the silver, but he was paid for closing his eyes. Custom House boat never searched me, as they did other boats. I was called the “old man.” The fact is, all knew I was serving the priests, whose influence was very great.

 

From there we went to Mazatlan and the priest asked me if I could go and fetch on board two bars of silver ($1000 each) in the day time. I answered yes. I went, got the two bars, lashed them under my shirt with my belt, and passed in sight of the Custom House officers and took them on board. I pretended to be as drunk as a loon, and kept singing and hallooing. When I got on the boat I was worn out, untied the belt and dropped the bars in the bottom of the boat, at same time dropped my boat cloak over them.

 

I had a Frenchman with me, who would not pull. I had sculled the boat a little ways. He got fighting me, got me under, and was striking me. I was trying to keep him off with my arms. He stood over me, and in that predicament I got hold of his privy parts and hove him over board, where I left him–he asked me if I intended to leave him there to drown, and I answered yes, “drown and be damned, you Jonny Crapeau.” He begged hard to be rescued, and when I saw he was well worn out, pulled him on board—he could do me no harm then. Capt. Pittores of the Philadelphia Brig saw the whole transaction. He came on board and told the Frenchman to get his chest up, paid him off, and we carried him off in the boat to one of the islands of Mazatlan where we left him, and that's the last I ever saw of the Frenchman.

 

That evening we got underway and proceeded to off San Blas, being afraid that the Frenchman might report our doings. Two canoes came off to us and brought on board 36 bars of silver ($1000 each).

 

Map of Miguel Blanco’s Mexican Ports

 

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~ by ravenjake on December 28, 2009.

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