I love the eastern coast of Florida. It is full of natural and nautical treasures, both of the past and the present. Hubby has a real love for all things Atocha, including an avid collectors interest in the reales.
While digging for information on the past of our shorelines and coquina, I came across what I consider, fabulously interesting information on Florida’s pirates. Did you know we had a buccaneer who, raped, pillaged and plundered these shores?
Back in the early 1830s, the St. Lucie Inlet along Florida’s East Coast, in what we now call Hutchinson, Don Pedro Gilbert and his merry men wreaked havoc along the shorelines. This area, now called Gilbert’s Pass or Gilbert’s Shoal, today is home to one of last historical mariner safe houses refuges. It is located along the rocky coquina limestone reefs and sandbars. This portion of the Atlantic Ocean, where the Gulf Stream used to carry many heavy laden cargo sailing ships, was once the home base for this dreadful crew of the Panda. This is where you will find Gilbert’s Bar…short for sandbar. This shoreline reef or shoal is named after Don Pedro Gilbert.
About Don Pedro Gilbert:
Gilbert was born in the early 1800’s. You will also find his name spelled Gibert in some historical accounts. He was a infamous privateer for Columbia. I have researched that he was from Catalonia, Spain originally.
What is a privateer, well frankly, a pirate that is licensed by certain governments by obtaining a marquee. This marquee allowed them to take enemies ships during wartime. If you decided you wanted to pillage and plunder without the marquee and seek your own fortunes as you may in peace time, then they called you a pirate.
Imagine that in modern days…we are at war with say Mexico and we are given the right if we so choose to take whatever we want in the name of war in the name of of country. We both share the spoils. However, we are not at war and you do not have Uncle Sam’s permission, then it is illegal and you are a pirate.
Don Pedro Gilbert was not of noble birth, he just adopted the Don because he thought it sounded important and noble. He is known to have wavy jet black hair and was supposed to be a real ladies man, back in the day. Along with his first mate, Bernardo de Soto and crew, they sailed the high seas on a black schooner named Panda (also Pindar). This boat could easily navigate any shallow inlet, protected rivers or waterways, making it perfect for the Treasure Coast waterways. Legend has that Gilbert was fond of the inlet into the Indian River along Hutchinson Island, with its high sand dunes along the barrier island that offered some protection from being located by passing ships at sea. He had watch towers in the mangroves and also positioned himself on high ground along the Treasure Coast in places like Mount Pisgah, which is 57 feet and located at the northern end of Sewall’s Point, today just south of the former Frances Langford-Evinrude estate. Another favorite outlook was Bleech Yards, some 61 feet high, located in the Jensen Beach area. He was famous for his ambush tactics along the shorelines. The Gulf stream runs close (about 2 miles off shore). Many ships used this gulf-stream to navigate quicker through this stretch of the water. Gilbert and his crew would light bonfires and pretend to be sailors that needed rescuing. The ships would be lured in to help and they would crash on the treacherous reefs. Once the pirate and crew had a booty they headed down to Jamaica for women, wine and song. They would come back when they needed more loot.
Gilbert’s downfall would be the US ship Mexican that he pirated in 1832. He stole about $20,000 in silver while the boat was heading to Rio de Janiero. After slashing the sails and ruining the masts, Gilbert ordered all the men killed and set fire to the ship. The Mexican’s men ended up escaping the room they were locked in and put out the fires. After 6 weeks at sea, the Mexican crew made it back to report the theft. In 1835, after being caught in Africa slave trading, which was now illegal inn the US, Gilbert and his men were brought to trial and in 1835, Gilbert was hung in Boston where his corpse was left, rotting for all to see.
Gilbert is technically the last American pirate to be executed for his crimes, although Nathaniel Gordon would be tried as well in 1862 for smuggling slaves.