Description: The arid embarcadero for the great quantity of silver mined and minted at Potosí, which will slowly make its way to Lima, then to Panama, Portobello, and Havana before arriving in Spain, Arica is a quiet town for most of the year. Beyond silver when ready for transport, its bodegas store the enormous amount of Guinea pepper—chili peppers—produced in the region, along with the guano used to fertilize the plants, quicksilver prior to shipment to Potosí, cake salt from the nearby mountains, and Jesuit bark, also known as cinchona, used to treat malaria due to its constituent quinine. The small town is relatively rich with silver coin.

Goods and materials, guano especially, are transported over land by llamas, the local beast of burden, and mules. Although there are European-style boats in the harbor, many of the craft drawn onto shore are Peruvian “bark-logs,” as the English call them, constructed from totora. Locally they are known as balsas. The churches, monasteries, and homes of the well off in Arica are made of adobe, but most of the town’s buildings, though, are constructed of totora (a species of giant bulrush) or of cane and mud. Roofs are flat, many made of totora matting, and only the largest of buildings are more than eleven feet high. To the south, the town is dominated by the Morro, a giant overlooking hill resembling a great rock. At its base is the town itself, protected by a small adobe fort.

Arica in the Early 18th Century, Unchanged from the 17th
Arica in the Early 18th Century, Unchanged from the 17th

Scenario: The buccaneers, having twice already been repulsed in the area, are seeking plunder, the guns of the Arica fort, and revenge. John Watling has been elected to command in order to fulfill the wishes of the majority of the buccaneers who want to continue roving in the South Sea for more plunder. Many have lost their shares gambling, while others will not be satisfied until they have the “thousand pounds” Bartholomew Sharp promised. But Arica has been forewarned of the buccaneers, yet Capt. Watling, after interrogating two local fishermen at Iquique, orders the one who has told the truth—that the town is well-prepared to defend itself against the buccaneers and has notice of their coming—to be shot. Ignoring the evidence that Arica is ready for them, John Watling orders an attack on the anniversary of the Martyrdom of King Charles I.

Forces: Historically, more than one hundred buccaneers under the command of John Watling board a small bark, a launch, and four canoes forty miles south of Arica, cruise along the coast for two nights, hiding ashore during the day between, then land four miles south of the town to capture it and its fort on January 30, 1681. The attacking force itself numbers nine-two or ninety- three; the rest remain aboard the transport vessels. Among those who will make the attack are Bartholomew Sharp and John Watling; the Trinity’s two quartermasters, one of whom is John Duill, who murdered the fisherman at Watling’s orders; all four surgeons, three of whom will be captured—the fourth is Lionel Wafer, whose post is with the boats; buccaneer-authors Bartholomew Sharp, John Cox, and Basil Ringrose (and Wafer, of course); and a free black buccaneer who, having lost a leg, will refuse to surrender and will instead fight until the end.

William Dampier is part of the crew manning the Trinity, which stands offshore along with the

boats and canoes waiting for the signal of twin towers of smoke to sail into the harbor.

On the Spanish side, Arica’s defenses are composed of six companies of militia and a fort with artillery, all commanded by the Maestro de Campo and Alferez Real de Arica, don Gaspar de Ovieda. The buccaneers estimate the total Spanish force at seven hundred, but this is an exaggeration unless there are additional militia companies or volunteers: Arica can only field an estimated two to three hundred infantry and cavalry, most or all of which are militia. The six Spanish companies, which include infantry and at least one company of cavalry or dragoons, along with artilleros (gunners), are commanded by:

  • Capitán don Francisco Nacarino
  • Capitán don Luis Dávila Cangas
  • Capitán don Blas de Lerrga (company of free mulattos)
  • Capitán don Nicolas Nuñez (company of free morenos)
  • Capitán don Juan de Cáceres
  • Capitán don Juan de Mazuelos (company of nearby Villa de Moquegua)
  • Capitán don Matías de Rivera (jefe of the artillery and gunners)

The defenders are primarily armed with mosquetes (heavy matchlocks of 1.5 or 2.0 ounce ball), arcabuses (light matchlocks of .75 or 1.0 ounce balls), pikes (or more likely half-pikes or lances, or both), and bucklers. Mounted troops are likely armed with carabinas (short light escopetas [flintlocks] for mounted use), pistols, cutting swords, and quite possible bucklers.

Some mounted troops are probably lanceros, given that the region is home to mounted cattle hunters who use the “hocksing iron” at the end of a lance. Many of the defenders doubtless will chew coca leaves during battle to increase their fortitude.

The fort is fairly small and built of adobe (sun-dried) brick. Its armament appears to be ten cuartos cañones (9 to 12 pounders) and one falcon (a 3- or 4-pounder) which actually was probably a falconete (a 1- 2-pounder) given records of 2-pound shot. John Cox, however, writes that there are thirteen “copper” guns in the fort. Most of the cannon are probably placed on the two sea-facing bastions, but at least one faces the town, almost certainly mounted on the small third bastion. (See images below.)

In preparation for the attack the town has barricades on every street so that if one end of the town is captured, the other is taken. There is also reportedly a breastwork or trench, or both, around the town, but this is probably the one known to have been built at the shore between the fort and the Morne at the landing for boats. It does not surround the town and will be of little help because the buccaneers will not land here.

The region’s governor or Correjidor, don Juan de Navarrete, will watch the attack from atop the Morro, using his handkerchief as a signal to help direct the forces below.

Fuerte de Arica Based on the Map Above Showing the Old Fort
Fuerte de Arica Based on the Map Above Showing the Old Fort
Possible Shape of the Fuerte de Arica Based on a Similar Period Spanish Fort
Possible Shape of the Fuerte de Arica Based on a Similar Period Spanish Fort

The fort is roughly sixty yards wide and its two principal bastions face the sea. Given that buccaneers were able to fire into the fort from a nearby rooftop, its walls cannot be very high. Even so, the attackers were unable to scale them. The drawing above is based on a map whose buildings have little detail. The real fort may have looked more like the one below, based on the plans of a very similar fort designed as an outwork at Portobello.

Arica as Depicted in The Buccaneers of America, 1684
Arica as Depicted in The Buccaneers of America, 1684

Historical Action: The buccaneers divide to attack fort and town fiercely, but the force sent to attack the town comes under heavy fire at the outskirts from both cavalry and infantry. The forty buccaneers assigned to the fort abandon their attack and come to the aid of the rest, forcing some of the Ariqueños to retreat behind barricades in the town itself even as others flee into the fort to reinforce it. As the two buccaneer companies join together, they are fired upon by some of the cannon in the fort. For now they abandon their plan to assault the fort, and attack the barricades instead, where the cannon cannot reach them. The attackers succeed in assaulting the greatest barricade by flanking it and firing “cartridge shot”—a round ball and seven or nine swan shot— into the defenders as other buccaneers scale the barricade from the front. Many defenders ask for good quarter.

But overall the Ariqueños put up a stout fight, retreating from barricade to barricade, and as the defense grows stouter, many buccaneers begin to refuse quarter. But the defense is not enough to stanch the fury of the buccaneers, who soon capture the town. Even so, the attackers are encumbered with too many prisoners to manage, for Watling has ordered his men to accept good quarter rather than give none. Buccaneer surgeons and wounded are sent to the San Marcos church, while half the remaining buccaneer force attack the fort. Many of the defenders retreat to the fort.

The buccaneers soon make a second attempt on the fort. From a nearby rooftop they fire into the fort, then, taking a page from Henry Morgan at Portobello, the attackers force prisoners to march toward the fort in front of them—but the Spanish fire on their own people, then open a sally port into which many of the prisoners in the vanguard safely flee. Those who do not make it are cut down by the buccaneers. “Undauntedly” the buccaneers make it to the fort walls, but the powder in their ten remaining grenades is bad, making them are worthless to clear the ramparts.

Unable to capture the fort, the buccaneers are forced to attack the town again as prisoners escape, reinforcements arrive from the countryside, and the twain man the barricades again.

Worse, many of the Ariqueños in the fort, realizing they far outnumber the buccaneers, sally forth and attack their enemy from the rear. Buccaneer casualties pile up, including Watling and both quartermasters shot dead. As the buccaneers begin to retreat, nine are taken prisoner, including the three surgeons (variously said to have been attending the wounded, looting apothecaries, and getting drunk). The surgeons are the only prisoners who will survive the battle; the Ariqueños kill the remaining captives. Lionel Wafer, the fourth remaining surgeon, is with the boats and therefore not captured.

As the battle degenerates into a near-Spanish rout of their mortal enemy, the buccaneers beg Bartholomew Sharp to take command again. And Sharp does, but only after petulantly ignoring their pleas for some time. Eventually he orders the survivors into a circle with their eighteen wounded at the center, and they retreat three or four miles, not only under heavy fire not only from infantry, but also from the cavalry that finally rejoins the fray. The buccaneers are also attacked with great stones rolled down upon them and lances cast at them. Exhausted, severely dehydrated—many drink their urine, so intense is their thirst—the defeated buccaneers arrive at their landing place just in time to stop their boats from heading away to the harbor, lured by the false signal of two pillars of smoke some distance from each other—the signal has been tortured from buccaneer prisoners. The Trinity, however, is suspicious, and does not enter the harbor. If she had, she would have found herself embayed under the guns of the fort—and the Trinity had no guns with which to return fire.

Arica is by far the worst defeat of the voyage. The buccaneers, or “tigres con un poquito de razon” (tigers with only a tiny bit of sanity or reason), claim they have killed seventy-five Spaniards and wounded one hundred seven (or seventy and two hundred), including the local

governor, but the Ariqueños admit only to roughly twenty-three killed and a few more wounded. Buccaneer accounts are augmented by prisoners interrogated later at Ilo, who say it was reported that the buccaneers killed seventy and wounded three times that number—and that of the forty- five sent from Hilo to support Arica, only two returned home alive.

Similarly, the Ariqueños claim to have killed twenty buccaneers and captured nineteen. These last numbers are not irreconcilable if we assume nineteen captured is an error for nine. In any case, it is a bad day for both victor and loser. The buccaneers will have no more great victories. Another mutiny soon follows, and Capt. Sharp’s force is significantly reduced again. Eventually, after repairing and provisioning the Trinity, and captured a few more vessels, he and his remaining crew will sail around Cape Horn and return to the Caribbean.