Aury, Louis-Michel (c. 1788–1821)

views updated

Aury, Louis-Michel (c. 1788–1821)

Louis-Michel Aury (b. ca. 1788; d. 30 August 1821), French privateer during the Latin American Wars for Independence (1810–1821). Born in Mon-trouge, a Paris suburb, Aury grew up during the French Revolution and entered Napoleon's navy at an early age. In 1803 he left his warship at Guadeloupe to join French privateers. Seven years later, with the equivalent of several thousand dollars in prize money, Lieutenant Aury had achieved notoriety as a privateer. He suffered serious setbacks when U.S. officials in New Orleans confiscated his ship in 1810 and a Federalist mob in Savannah burned his ship to the water in 1811, episodes that embittered Aury toward the United States. In 1812 José Pedro Gual, representative of the Cartagena creole government, arranged for Aury to command a refitted privateer. The U.S. declaration of war against Britain had improved conditions for French privateers in America, and Latin American rebel governments had begun to issue patents to those who would carry their struggle against Spain to the high seas. Operating from Cartagena, Commodore Aury's fleet supported Simón Bolívar by devastating Spanish shipping, but a bitter rivalry developed between Aury and the commander of Bolívar's Venezuela squadron, Luis Brión.

After Cartagena fell to the Spanish late in 1815, Aury joined Bolívar in Haiti but refused to serve under Brión's command. Instead, he accepted a patent from Mexican rebels and in 1816 reorganized his fleet in New Orleans, in close association with merchants headed by Edward Livingston. With Aury, they supported General Xavier Mina, a young Spanish rebel who had organized his expedition in Liverpool and brought it to Baltimore with the cooperation of Gual. The New Orleans associates hoped to wrest Florida from Spain and to gain access to Mexico's silver mines. Aury established a government at Galveston only nominally connected with the revolution in Mexico. From Galveston he directed profitable privateering operations in the Gulf of Mexico, channeling the booty back to New Orleans. Mina arrived at the end of 1816, but Aury refused to support his plan for an overland invasion of Mexico, preferring to continue privateering or to make a seaborne assault on Tampico. Mina took most of the forces and invaded Mexico in April 1817, only to be captured by the Spaniards and executed in October 1817.

Aury, meanwhile, sailed to Florida, arriving on 15 September 1817 at Fernandina, Amelia Island, where Gregor MacGregor had established a Republic of Florida, which he turned over to Aury as the representative of the Mexican rebels. Aury began a lucrative commerce with Georgia in slaves and merchandise. These activities embarrassed the Spanish and French governments and were a nuisance to the United States. Thus, on 2 December 1817 President James Monroe ordered U.S. troops to suppress Aury's bases at Fernandina and Galveston. Aury, in collaboration with Gual, abandoned further pretense of operating under the authority of a nonexistent Mexican government and formed an independent Florida Republic on 9 December. Two weeks later U.S. forces took over Amelia Island and remained there until after Spain sold Florida to the United States in 1821.

Aury resumed privateering operations in the Caribbean. Again refusing to serve under Brión, he acquired patents from the governments of Chile and Buenos Aires and established a base at Old Providence Island in the western Caribbean. After a successful raid on Izabal, Guatemala, in May 1819, he plotted with José Cortés Madariaga, envoy of Chile and Buenos Aires to Jamaica, to liberate Central America. His privateering brought prosperity to Old Providence, but his efforts at a rapprochement with Bolívar failed, sabotaged by Brión, even after Aury petitioned Bolívar for incorporation of Old Providence into Gran Colombia. Aury undoubtedly felt his settlement would be more secure attached to Colombia than to distant Buenos Aires. His campaign in April 1820 to take the Spanish forts at Trujillo and Omoa, Honduras, failed, but Aury continued his privateering from Old Providence until a fall from his horse abruptly ended his life.

Aury's attacks on Spanish shipping contributed to the establishment of Latin American independence. Despite his strong commitment to republicanism inherited from the French Revolution, however, he was often suspected of placing his own interests ahead of those of the creole republics whose flags he flew.

See alsoPiracy .


George Coggeshall, A History of American Privateers and Letters of Marque During Our War with England … (1856).

Lewis Bealer, Los corsarios de Buenos Aires: Sus actividades en las guerras hispanoamericanas de la independencia, 1815–1821 (1937).

L. E. Dabney, "Louis Aury: The First Governor of Texas under the Mexican Republic," in Southwestern Historical Quarterly 42, no. 1 (1938): 108-116.

Harris G. Warren, "Documents Relating to the Establishment of Privateers at Galveston, 1816–1817," in Louisiana Historical Quarterly 21, no. 4 (1938): 1086-1109.

Stanley Faye, "Privateersmen of the Gulf and Their Prizes," Louisiana Historical Quarterly 22, no. 4 (1939): 1012-1094, and "Commodore Aury," in Louisiana Historical Quarterly 24, no. 3 (1941): 611-697.

Harris G. Warren, The Sword Was Their Passport: A History of American Filibustering in the Mexican Revolution (1943).

Harold A. Bierck, La vida pública de don Pedro Gual (1947).

Martin Luis Guzmán, Javier Mina, héroe de España y México, 2d ed. (1955).

Clifton B. Kroeber, The Growth of the Shipping Industry in the Río de la Plata Region, 1794–1860 (1957).

Jaime Duarte French, Los tres Luises del Caribe: ¿Corsarios o libertadores? (1988).

Additional Bibliography

Cacua Prada, Antonio. El corsario Luis Aury: intimidades de la independencia. Bogota: Academia Colombiana de Historia, 2001.

Reyes Canal, Julio C. Historia de estas islas: y un cuento marinero. Bogota: Códice, 1996.

                             Ralph Lee Woodward Jr.

About this article

Aury, Louis-Michel (c. 1788–1821)

Updated About content Print Article