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The Bold Story of Benito de Soto, One of the Last Spanish Pirates

The Bold Story of Benito de Soto, One of the Last Spanish Pirates

The history of the Spanish coast is full of legends about famous pirates. Some of them were real, and others imaginary. There were some pirates who became famous figures for the regions they came from. Although it is hard to see a pirate as a local hero, stories about these individuals made many long winter talks much more interesting.

One of the infamous pirates known from history is Benito de Soto, a man who lived a short and fast life, breaking the rules and his limits every day. He was known as a dangerous pirate, a skillful sailor, and a true rebel. Benito was born in Galicia on April 22, 1805. Most sources suggest that he came from the city of Pontevedra or one of the villages near that city, but some also suggest a village in the region of A Coruna may have been his hometown.

The city of Pontevedra.

The city of Pontevedra. ( CC BY-SA 3.0 )

Benito Soto Aboal grew up near the Atlantic Ocean. Wherever he lived as a child, his life was certainly full of ships and sailors, stories of the sea, and dreams of exploring new places. When he was a child, Europe was dominated by Napoleon Bonaparte whose wars changed the landscape of the continent forever.

Honest Sailor Turned Pirate

Benito was well-known on the waters. He was famous as one of the most organized plunderers of his time. However, his career as a pirate didn't last long.

Benito joined the darker side of work on the seas due to a pitiful fate on the ships he served. He turned to piracy after years of being a good sailor. It is unknown exactly how old he was when he started to work on ships, but knowing Galicia in the 19th century, it is likely that he started as a teenager or even younger.

Portrait thought to be Benito.

Portrait thought to be Benito. ( pophaydn.wordpress.com)

Historical records show that he served on an Argentinian slave ship named ''Defensor de Pedro''. It was 1827 when Benito led a mutiny on that ship with the ship’s-mate. When some of the crew didn't want to join him, he sent them off in an open boat. Benito then decided to change the name of the ship to the ''Burla Negra'' and cross the ocean to the Caribbean.

There he found his first victims – a slave cargo ship. After that, Benito sailed south and robbed every ship he saw as valuable. On his way, he met American, English, Portuguese, and Spanish ships. After his activity near the coast of South America, he came upon an even better idea – Benito decided to find the best place to wait for the ships that were coming back from Asia, especially from the rich trading region of India.

Benito’s Morning Star

Benito de Soto was a cruel man who didn't show mercy. He was probably blinded by a desire to get rich. The most infamous story about this pirate is his attack on a ship called the Morning Star. According to the Authentic Account of Piratical Proceedings on Board the Bark Morning Star , the attack took place on the 19th of February, 1828 off the Island of Ascension. The records say:

“As soon as they boarded, with their cutlasses they began beating and cutting the invalid soldiers, women, and children, who had all collected about the gangway to see them come on board, uttering dreadful oaths in Spanish, and driving them below, wounding severely four soldiers. They then placed sentries on the hatches, and turned the rest of the sailors on deck, to brace the yards up on the larboard tack, and make sail to run the ship under the south-east end of the island, so that they should not be seen from the north-east end where the garrison is; all the time beating the sailors fore and aft of the ship with their cutlasses, pointing their long knives to their bosoms, and threatening to stab them.

The ship going about six knots, the jolly-boat, which was towing under water along-side of the ship, was cut away by the order of one of these savages, that seemed to have command over the rest. He was a Spaniard, [marginal note: Pepe] and stood about six feet. About this time, the carpenter got a severe cut with a saber on the left shoulder; and although the man's blood was running in profusion, its [sic] did not stop those savages from beating him with the flat of their swords: when they had run the ship close enough under the land, they hove her to, cutting away all the halyards. They then allowed some of the invalids to come on deck, to assist in hoisting the skiff over the side, for the purpose of transshipping goods from the ship.” [via Lee Drew ]

An illustration of the Burla Negra chasing the Morning Star.

An illustration of the Burla Negra chasing the Morning Star. ( Public Domain )

De Soto sunk many ships and killed many people on his own. When he captured the Morning Star, most of the crew were killed and all the women were raped. He wanted to make sure all the evidence of his actions vanished, so he decided to sink the ship with the people locked inside it. However, the ship didn't sink, and the people were saved by a merchant's vessel. It was the beginning of the end for the cruel pirate De Soto.

He took a tract to the Galician city of A Coruna, where he burned another ship then changed course to Cadiz. There, the Burla Negra sunk. He was caught on land in Gibraltar and was taken to Cadiz for his trial. Finally, Benito and his crew were sentenced to death by hanging.

The Pirate Says Goodbye

His execution took place in Cadiz on January 30, 1830. The pirate’s pride didn't allow him to ask for mercy. He was probably aware that nothing could help him and nobody would save him. The records of his execution say that his last words were ''So long, everyone''. And with that, the pirate died with a smug smile on his face.

Top image: Battle of Preveza ( public domain )

By Natalia Klimczak

References:

The Life of Benito de Soto, the pirate of the Morning Star, available at:
www.thepirateking.com/books/books_piratesownbook_de_soto.htm

Captain Benito de Soto, available at:
http://pirates.hegewisch.net/whossoto.html

Benito de Soto, available at:
https://web.archive.org/web/20071216132540/http://www.history.unimelb.edu.au/tajir/pirateresources/documents/defensor/defensor.htm

El fin de la travesía sangrienta, available at:
www.guiarte.com/pirata/cuentaviajes/el-fin-de-la-travesia-sangrienta.html

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