We all love a good pirate story. Even though most of the things we know about them are based on books and movies and not even remotely true, they still manage to capture our imagination. However, history has only been favorable to a select few pirates. We’ve all heard of Blackbeard and Henry Morgan, but there are so many other fascinating piratical stories out there to be told. Today we are going to be covering one of those stories, that of Olivier Levasseur.
He was nicknamed La Buse (French for “The Buzzard”) due to the ferocity and speed he employed whenever taking on an enemy ship. Like many other famed pirate captains, he initially began a career as a privateer for the French Crown. Basically, a privateer was a legal pirate, someone who used all of the standard piratical tactics but worked for one nation and only sank its enemies. In this case, La Buse worked for the French and primarily targeted Spanish galleons.
This might have sounded like a good strategy at the time, but, as it turned out, these men weren’t so keen to go back to the honest life once the wars were over and they weren’t allowed to plunder ships anymore. That is how many privateers eventually turned to a life of piracy, Levasseur included. He was active right towards the end of the Golden Age of Piracy during the early 18th century. This period was considered the end because nations were getting more and more fed up with pirates thanks to several high-profile scores and they were hunting them down ferociously. As it happens, Levasseur was one of the men who triggered this response.
Even though his name is generally lost to history, The Buzzard had a number of high-profile scores during his career. One of his earliest notable exploits came when he plundered the Laccadive Islands near India making off with loot worth roughly $15 million today.
That still pales in comparison to his biggest highlight as a pirate and, truly, one of the greatest plunders in piracy history – the capture of the Nossa Senhora do Cabo (Our Lady of the Cape), a Portuguese galleon filled with immeasurable treasures. What makes it even more astonishing is that Levasseur supposedly managed to capture the vessel without firing a single shot. Before their encounter, the galleon sustained heavy storm damage and had to dump all of its cannons overboard to avoid capsizing.
The total plunder was staggering, worth hundreds of millions of dollars in modern currency. Each member of the crew supposedly made off with over $10 million in cash (well…golden Guineas) and dozens of diamonds. Levasseur split the vast caches of gold and silver with his quartermaster, John Taylor.
The story of Levasseur’s exploits is completely fascinating, but what is a good pirate story without a buried treasure? Specifically, most of the treasure that Levasseur gained from the Cabo. Like most other pirates, Levasseur didn’t enjoy a happy ending – he was eventually captured and hanged near Madagascar. However, right before his execution, La Buse ripped a necklace he was wearing, threw it into the crowd and exclaimed: “Find my treasure, the one who may understand it!” The necklace contained a cryptogram which supposedly hides a message containing the location of La Buse’s hidden treasure. If you are feeling particularly adventurous, go ahead and try and solve it.
It should be noted that there is no historical evidence to back up the part about the treasure. In fact, it seems highly improbable since, unlike the movies, real pirates didn’t bury their treasure, instead preferring to actually spend it. However, it does make for a great story. It also hasn’t stopped people over the years from believing in this tale completely in the hopes of uncovering a lost pirate treasure. Various letters have popped up with people claiming they belong to The Buzzard. Even as recent as a few decades ago, people were still organizing expeditions in the Seychelles and islands around Madagascar where Levasseur spent his final years.