about him a body of adherents, but although he had a great
reputation as an individual pirate, it seems to have been
a good while before he achieved any success as a leader.
The fortunes of Peter and his men must have been at a pretty
low ebb when they found themselves cruising in a large,
canoe shaped boat not far from the island of Hispaniola.
There were twenty nine of them in all, and they were not
able to procure a vessel suitable for their purpose. They
had been a long time floating about in an aimless way, hoping
to see some Spanish merchant-vessel which they might attack
and possibly capture, but no such vessel appeared. Their
provisions began to give out, the men were hungry, discontented,
and grumbling. In fact, they were in almost as bad a condition
as were the sailors of Columbus just before they discovered
signs of land, after their long and weary voyage across
When Peter and his men were almost on the point of despair,
they perceived, far away upon the still waters, a large
ship. With a great jump, hope sprang up in the breast of
every man. They seized the oars and pulled in the direction
of the distant craft. But when they were near enough, they
saw that the vessel was not a merchantman, probably piled
with gold and treasure, but a man of war belonging to the
Spanish fleet. In fact, it was the vessel of the Vice Admiral.
This was an astonishing and disheartening state of things.
It was very much as if a lion, hearing the approach of probable
prey, had sprung from the thicket where he had been concealed,
and had beheld before him, not a fine, fat deer, but an
immense and scrawny elephant.
But the twenty nine buccaneers in the crew were very hungry.
They had not come out upon those waters to attack men of
war, but, more than that, they had not come out to perish
by hunger and thirst. There could be no doubt that there
was plenty to eat and to drink on that tall Spanish vessel,
and if they could not get food and water they could not
live more than a day or two longer.
Under the circumstances it was not long before Peter the
Great made up his mind that if his men would stand by him,
he would endeavour to capture that Spanish war vessel; when
he put the question to his crew they all swore that they
would follow him and obey his orders as long as life was
left in their bodies. To attack a vessel armed with cannon,
and manned by a crew very much larger than their little
party, seemed almost like throwing themselves upon certain
death. But still, there was a chance that in some way they
might get the better of the Spaniards; whereas, if they
rowed away again into the solitudes of the ocean, they would
give up all chance of saving themselves from death by starvation.
Steadily, therefore, they pulled toward the Spanish vessel,
and slowly, for there was but little wind she approached
The people in the man of war did not fail to perceive the
little boat far out on the ocean, and some of them sent
to the captain and reported the fact. The news, however,
did not interest him, for he was engaged in playing cards
in his cabin, and it was not until an hour afterward that
he consented to come on deck and look out toward the boat
which had been sighted, and which was now much nearer.
Taking a good look at the boat, and perceiving that it was
nothing more than a canoe, the captain laughed at the advice
of some of his officers, who thought it would be well to
fire a few cannon shot and sink the little craft. The captain
thought it would be a useless proceeding. He did not know
anything about the people in the boat, and he did not very
much care, but he remarked that if they should come near
enough, it might be a good thing to put out some tackle
and haul them and their boat on deck, after which they might
be examined and questioned whenever it should suit his convenience.
Then he went down to his cards.
If Peter the Great and his men could have been sure that
if they were to row alongside the Spanish vessel they would
have been quietly hauled on deck and examined, they would
have been delighted at the opportunity. With cutlasses,
pistols, and knives, they were more than ready to demonstrate
to the Spaniards what sort of fellows they were, and the
captain would have found hungry pirates uncomfortable persons
But it seemed to Peter and his crew a very difficult thing
indeed to get themselves on board the man of war, so they
curbed their ardour and enthusiasm, and waited until nightfall
before approaching nearer. As soon as it became dark enough
they slowly and quietly paddled toward the great ship, which
was now almost becalmed. There were no lights in the boat,
and the people on the deck of the vessel saw and heard nothing
on the dark waters around them.
When they were very near the man of war, the captain of
the buccaneers, according to the ancient accounts of this
adventure, ordered his chirurgeon, or surgeon, to bore a
large hole in the bottom of their canoe. It is probable
that this officer, with his saws and other surgical instruments,
was expected to do carpenter work when there were no duties
for him to perform in the regular line of his profession.
At any rate, he went to work, and noiselessly bored the
This remarkable proceeding showed the desperate character
of these pirates. A great, almost impossible task was before
them, and nothing but absolute recklessness could enable
them to succeed. If his men should meet with strong opposition
from the Spaniards in the proposed attack, and if any of
them should become frightened and try to retreat to the
boat, Peter knew that all would be lost, and consequently
he determined to make it impossible for any man to get away
in that boat. If they could not conquer the Spanish vessel
they must die on her decks.
When the half sunken canoe touched the sides of the vessel,
the pirates, seizing every rope or projection on which they
could lay their hands, climbed up the sides of the man of
war, as if they had been twenty nine cats, and springing
over the rail, dashed upon the sailors who were on deck.
These men were utterly stupefied and astounded. They had
seen nothing, they had heard nothing, and all of a sudden
they were confronted with savage fellows with cutlasses
Some of the crew looked over the sides to see where these
strange visitors had come from, but they saw nothing, for
the canoe had gone to the bottom. Then they were filled
with a superstitious horror, believing that the wild visitors
were devils who had dropped from the sky, for there seemed
no other place from which they could come. Making no attempt
to defend themselves, the sailors, wild with terror, tumbled
below and hid themselves, without even giving an alarm.
The Spanish captain was still playing cards, and whether
he was winning or losing, the old historians do not tell
us, but very suddenly a newcomer took a hand in the game.
This was Peter the Great, and he played the ace of trumps.
With a great pistol in his hand, he called upon the Spanish
captain to surrender. That noble commander glanced around.
There was a savage pirate holding a pistol at the head of
each of the officers at the table. He threw up his cards.
The trick was won by Peter and his men.
The rest of the game was easy enough. When the pirates spread
themselves over the vessel, the frightened crew got out
of sight as well as they could. Some, who attempted to seize
their arms in order to defend themselves, were ruthlessly
cut down or shot, and when the hatches had been securely
fastened upon the sailors who had fled below, Peter the
Great was captain and owner of that tall Spanish man of
It is quite certain that the first thing these pirates did
to celebrate their victory was to eat a rousing good supper,
and then they took charge of the vessel, and sailed her
triumphantly over the waters on which, not many hours before,
they had feared that a little boat would soon be floating,
filled with their emaciated bodies.
This most remarkable success of Peter the Great worked a
great change of course in the circumstances of himself and
his men. But it worked a greater change in the career, and
possibly in the character, of the captain. He was now a
very rich man, and all his followers had plenty of money.
The Spanish vessel was amply supplied with provisions, and
there was also on board a great quantity of gold bullion,
which was to be shipped to Spain. In fact, Peter and his
men had booty enough to satisfy any sensible pirate. Now
we all know that sensible pirates, and people in any sphere
of life who are satisfied when they have enough, are very
rare indeed, and therefore it is not a little surprising
that the bold buccaneer, whose story we are now telling,
should have proved that he merited, in a certain way, the
title his companions had given him.
Sailing his prize to the shores of Hispaniola, Peter put
on shore all the Spaniards whose services he did not desire.
The rest of his prisoners he compelled to help his men work
the ship, and then, without delay, he sailed away to France,
and there he retired entirely from the business of piracy,
and set himself up as a gentleman of wealth and leisure.