Roatan’s Beauty, Truth & Wisdom
One of the most illustrious and capable of all the privateers to visit Roatan was Captain William Dampier. He sailed to the island in 1679 when he was 28. He had just met John Coxon on a logwood cutting mission in Belize.

Coxon had settled on Roatan taking over Henry Morgan’s position as head of the Bretheren of the Coast – a highly organized group of British, Dutch and French pirates. Coxon was planning an ambitious expedition across the Darien gap in present day Panama to raid Spanish seaports along the Pacific coast of South America. He had done that before and enjoyed great success.

The expedition was to last two years and Coxon and Dampier sailed to Port Morant, Jamaica to pick up supplies and rendezvous with several other top line captains who would accompany them. These captain included Bartholomew Sharp, Cornelius Essex, Peter Sawkins, John Watling, Peter Harris and Robert Allison.

They left Jamaica on January 17, 1680 and they almost immediately ran into gale force winds that scattered the fleet. Most of the ships managed to find their meeting point at Boca de Toros and proceeded to move on Portobello, and successfully sacked the town. Shortly thereafter, Coxon and Sharp intercepted a small Spanish eight-gun ship proceeding from Cartagena. Amongst the loot was a wine jar with 500 gold doubloons hidden inside, which Coxen decided to keep for himself. This caused great unrest amongst his crew.

Coxon lost further respect after taking the village of Santa Maria and killing 70 Spaniards. He decided that the risk of further provoking the Spanish combined with the rigors of crossing Panama by foot, were not worth his trouble and decided to abort the entire mission. The other captains fired Coxon from commandeering and placed Sawkins in charge of the expedition. Coxon returned to Jamaica and then to Roatan, using it as a base to attack Florida the following year.

The other pirates completed the forced march to Colombia and immediately stole three boats, including the 400 ton Santisima Trinidad, which was renamed the Trinity and proceeded to raid up and down the coast for a year. The Spanish sent out most of their Pacific based South American fleet to look for them.

Coxon had settled on Roatan taking over Henry Morgan’s position.

Sharp and Watling, with Dampier as navigator, decided to hole up in the Juan Fernando islands, 400 miles off the coast of Chile. On board the boats were several Misquito Indians, hired as crew, cooks, fighters and fishermen. The Misquitos had a great reputation as fishermen andit was said that two Indians could provide enough seafood for one hundred men.

While the Misquitos were foraging for food and water on the main island, three large Spanish ships appeared on the horizon. With trouble approaching, Watling decided to depart immediately. All the men made it back to the ships except one called Will. Will was reluctantly left behind, even though Watling moored his ship on the far side of the island to wait for Will until the Spanish presence demanded they leave.The expedition continued, with Watling being killed three months later on an attack on the town of Atica, Peru.

Although Coxon’s big raid had been a financial success, he was branded a coward and had lost three of his best captains to the Spanish: Sawkins, Harris and Watling were killed. Dampier also left the group, returned to the Caribbean, and three years later returned to Juan Fernando Island on a mission to complete the first circumnavigation of the globe. He also wanted to find Will, whom they eventually found cooking goats on the beach. Dampier commented that he had never seen anyone so pleased to see him.

By an incredible coincidence, 20 years later, another castaway, Alexander Selkirk, was part of another of Dampier’s adventures, acting as ship’s fitter on the Cinq Ports ship. Feeling that the ship was unseaworthy, he asked permission to be put off on Juan Fernando. Indeed Cinq Ports soon-after sank.

Selkirk, like Will, lived off feral goats and spiny lobsters for four years and four months before being rescued, again by the 58 year old William Dampier, this time acting as pilot for a Woodes Rogers expedition. The writer Daniel Defoe combined the stories of Will and Selkirk, to act as his models for Robinson Crusoe and Man Friday. This great story would never have been written had it not been for William Dampier.

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