Pirates of...Granada?

Map of Nicaragua showing Granada

Maybe it's Johnny Depp's fault but when I think of pirates I instinctively think of the Caribbean. 

I think of islands with white-sand beaches ruled by stuffy British colonists. I think of caves, hidden in cliff faces and filled with stolen treasure. I think of sailors singing shanties on the open seas, and I think of rum. Of course I think of rum.

What I don't think about is Granada, a city more than 300km from the Caribbean and nearly 100km from the Pacific, but Granada is all to familiar with pirates and piracy.

I guess that it shouldn't really be a surprise. After the 1610 eruption of the Momotombo volcano destroyed Leon, Granada became the main centre for commercial activities in the Spanish colonies and attracted a great deal of wealth. It was only a matter of time before the pirates took notice.

The first successful raid was led by the Welsh pirate Captain Henry Morgan  (yes, that Captain Morgan) in 1665. Morgan and his men used 12m long canoes to sneak up the Rio San Juan and across Lake Nicaragua. The Spanish were not ready for this attack at all and Morgans' men quickly overthrew them. They set fire to the buildings, sank all of the Spanish ships in the port, and escaped up the Coco River with 500,000 sterling silver pounds that they had liberated from the city treasury.

You would think that after such a heavy loss the Spanish would have upgraded their defence but it took another attack, this time by the pirate Captain Gallardito in 1670, before they made any changes. In 1673 work began on El Castillo de la Inmaculada Concepción, a stone fortress on the San Juan River designed to prevent access to Lake Nicaragua and the city of Granada.

El Castillo proved to be a great defence in keeping pirates off of the lake, but it didn't keep them out of the city. In 1685 William Dampier took a different approach. He landed his ships on the Pacific coast and marched his men overland to attack. Once again, Granada was put to flames.

Granada managed to avoid attack during the 1700's, but only thanks to El Castillo. The fortress was attacked repeatedly, most notably during the 7-year war between Britain and Spain when 2000 British troops descended on the garrison. At that time there were only around 100 Spanish soldiers stationed there and their commander had died just days earlier. However, his teenage daughter, Rafaela Herrera, took charge, killing the opposing commander herself and forcing the British to retreat.

In 1780 the British tried again and this time they succeeded. Captain Horatio Nelson, whose statue now stands atop Nelsons Column in Trafalgar Square in London, led his men through the dense jungle to attack the fortress from the rear. They never made it to Granada, though, and eventually abandoned El Castillo nine months later.

The final pirates to attack Granada came in the 1800's, although they called themselves Filibusters not pirates (the Spanish word 'filibustero' means pirate or buccaneer).

William Walker, a filibuster from the USA, had been asked to come to Nicaragua by the Liberal President to help in Nicaragua's civil war. Walker, however, had other ideas. He arrived in Nicaragua with a small army, including the pirate Charles Frederick Henningsen, and after a number of battles against both sides of the civil war he established himself as the ruler of Nicaragua.

His rule didn't last long though. Nicaragua's neighbours were concerned by Walkers actions, and were worried that he might try to expand his rule, so they formed an alliance to force him out. At around the same time, Walker seized property belonging to the American tycoon Cornelius Vanderbilt and, in doing so, lost the support of the USA. So when 4000 troops from El Salvador and Guatemala attacked Granada, in December of 1856, Walkers men had no choice but to retreat, burning the city one last time as they left.

Since Walkers departure Nicaragua has been pirate-free...

At least it was until this morning when i woke up and saw this ship sailing in the bay of San Juan del Sur.

It doesn't have a skull & crossbones flag, but you can never be too careful when it comes to pirates.

San Juan del Sur Bay