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PERU – Paita / PIRATES: A Plan of the Town of Payta in the Kingdom of Santa Fee lying in the Latitude of 5d. 12m



A map of the key port of Paita, Peru, from George Anson’s account of his Circumnavigation of the globe, during which his men attacked Paita in a dramatic piratical raid in 1741.

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A map depicts the strategic port town of Paita, Peru, as it was recorded by British privateers (or pirates, depending on your point of view!) serving under Commodore George Anson, after they raided and burned the town during a dramatic night-time assault on November 12/13, 1741.  

Paita had been a prized target for British privateers / pirates from the 16th to the 18th Centuries.  Located on a fine natural harbour in the Piura region of northernmost Peru, it was a key waypoint for treasure ships laden with Andean silver and gold heading from Callao (Lima) to Acapulco.  The difficult currents in that part of the Pacific ensured that it was the only viable intermediate stopping point on the entire run, such that treasure ships were often docked in the port for several days while re-provisioning.  The town’s Customs House was also known to consistently hold treasure on an interim basis, in the same manner as bank does today.

During the War of Jenkins’s Ear (1739-48), which pitted Britain against Spain, the British aimed to cripple Spanish maritime trade and gain phenomenal riches by conducting a series of pirate-like raids on Spanish New World ports.  Inspired by the historical exploits of Sir Francis Drake (who had raided Paita in 1579!) and Sir Henry Morgan, and recently by Admiral Edward Vernon’s 1739 seizure of Portobello, Panama, Commodore George Anson (1697 – 1762) vowed to mount a piratical expedition that would top them all.  While Anson was, in many ways, a shambolic commander, he was both extraordinarily lucky and driven, and during his Circumnavigation of the globe (1740-4), he caused much havoc to the Spanish, taking extraordinary plunder.

Setting out from England with six ships and crew of 1,854 men, he sailed around Cape Horn and proceeded to prey on the Spanish shipping off of the coast of Chile and Peru.  Anson wisely split up his fleet to cover more territory.  He specifically targeted Paita and sent one of his vessels, the Gloucester, up to the waters off of Northern Peru with specific orders to remain far enough off shore so as not to be sighted –  the advantage of surprise was paramount in maritime raids of ports.  Helpfully, the Gloucester had recently captured a Spanish ship, and one of the resulting prisoners was an Irishman, long in Spanish service, who was familiar with Paita, and who agreed to give the British mariners useful intelligence.  Worryingly, however, the Irishman also informed them that a Spanish ship had recently sighted the Gloucester and that Paita was now on an alert footing.  The British had to attack quickly, lest the Paita garrison receive re-enforcements, so rendering the raid impossible.

On the night of November 12, 1741, the Gloucester sailed near Paita and dispatched a raiding party of 60 men (noted on the map erroneously as 49 men) in two pinnaces.  Turning to the map, the British raiding party landed at point ‘A’, on the far right, on what was the western edge of the town (the map is orientated with the south at the top).  Spanish sentries spotted the attackers and raised an alarm; however, the defenders proved to be surprisingly disorganized and ill-prepared.  The British moved to secure the area around ‘F’ the Custom’s House (where the treasure was stored) and moved to neutralize to the fort, at point ‘B’ in the centre of town.  This proved easy, as most the Spaniards had taken flight to the hills.  The British soon captured the fort and the Governor’s House, point ‘C’, and within a few hours Paita was theirs! 

The British spent the next three day ferrying the treasure from the Customs House to the Gloucester, with their total haul coming out to over £30,000, mostly in silver coin – a vast sum for the time.  The British then burned the town to the ground, with the exception of the Church and Convent, points ‘G’ and ‘D’ respectively.  The British then beat a retreat, fearing that a Spanish relief force could come down the road form Piura, marked as point ‘E’, so catching them if they hung around much longer.

However, the main event of Anson’s Circumnavigation was their capture of one of the legendary pirate prizes of all time, a Spanish treasure galleon on the Acapulco – Manila run.  On June 20, 1743, Anson’s party, off of Cape Espiritu Santo, Philippines, captured the Nuestra Señora de Covadonga, with its cargo of 1,313,843 Pieces of Eight – a shocking amount approaching $U.S. Billion in today’s funds, and probably the largest pirate haul from a single ship in world history!  This astounding stroke of luck covered up the fact that Anson was actually something of a ‘Mr. Bean-style’ commander who made innumerable navigational and tactical errors and had no concept of preserving the health of his men – only 188 of his original 1,854 crewmembers survived to return to England!

Upon his return, Anson worked with ghost-writers and editors to produce a great book chronicling his adventures around the globe, profusely illustrated with maps and views, Voyage Round the World in the Years MDCCXL, I, II, III, IV by George Anson, Esq; Commander in Chief of a Squadron of His Majesty’s Ships, sent upon an Expedition to the South-Seas (London: John and Paul Knapton for the author, 1748).  The book immediately became a global bestseller, one of the most popular travel-adventure books of the 18th Century.   It included the present map, A Plan of the Town of Payta in the Kingdom of Santa Fee lying in the Latitude of 5d. 12m. So.  Anson’s work was soon translated and republished in serval other languages, with the first French language edition being issued in Amsterdam in 1749, with others following in 1750, in Paris and Geneva.  

The present map is a fascinating and attractive artefact testifying the great contemporary interest in Anson’s circumnavigating piratical adventures.

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