Nikolaas van Hoor

Nikolaas van Hoor

Dutch pirate and slave trader
Country: Netherlands

  1. Biography of Nicholas van Horn
  2. Early Career
  3. Life in the West Indies
  4. Capture of Veracruz

Biography of Nicholas van Horn

Early Career

Nicholas van Horn, also known as Nicholas Corneliszoon van Horn, was a Dutch pirate and slave trader known for his brave and volatile nature. He gained fame for his extreme cruelty and fondness for alcohol. In the French edition of Exquemelin's book, he is described as a dark-skinned man of small stature, wearing a necklace of large pearls with a ruby in the center.

Van Horn began his career thanks to the connections of his French wife, Lucretia Leru. Her father was a former agent of the Dutch West India Company, and it was likely through these connections that Van Horn was appointed as the chief prize commissioner in the Spanish port of La Coruña. After seeing the prizes he acquired, Van Horn obtained a privateering commission in France. He initially targeted Dutch ships but later turned his plundering against the French, so successfully that Vice Admiral d'Estrées was dispatched to capture him. However, Van Horn managed to intimidate d'Estrées with an attack by his crew, and he was released unharmed.

After the war, Van Horn decided to engage in the slave trade. With the help of his family connections, he found wealthy investors for this venture. He used the invested money to acquire a military ship, assemble a crew, and set sail for the coast of Africa. However, during the first stop in the Bay of Biscay, around 25 members of his crew disembarked due to dissatisfaction with the captain's behavior. This situation repeated during the second stop, with an additional 36 sailors leaving the ship. During the stop, Van Horn killed one of the sailors. As a result, almost a third of his crew deserted him.

In Cadiz, his business partner failed to obtain permission to trade slaves from the Spanish authorities, so Van Horn expelled him from the ship and stole several cannons from the port. He then fled and arrived in Guinea, where he managed to exchange some of the weapons on board for gold. Since the supply of weapons was limited, Van Horn resorted to his privateering skills and plundered a Dutch ship. From then on, Van Horn regularly attacked trading vessels and exchanged the goods for slaves or gold.

Life in the West Indies

In October 1682, Van Horn returned to Cayenne, where he managed to sell some of the slaves. With the proceeds, he purchased a plantation and entrusted its management to a relative. Afterward, Van Horn sailed to the Spanish port of Santo Domingo. However, he was met with hostility by the Spaniards, who had been warned about corsair attacks. The President of the Audencia prohibited traders from dealing with Van Horn and confiscated half of the remaining slaves. After being ordered to leave Santo Domingo, Van Horn moved to the French part of Hispaniola, where he was received favorably. They bought a large number of slaves, and the colony's governor offered Van Horn a privateering commission in exchange for protecting the colony. Van Horn was allowed to pursue unruly pirates and attack Spanish ships and colonies. The governor sent Sir de Grammont, well-known among the buccaneers, to assist Van Horn. From Petit-Goâve, St. Nicholas set sail with a large food supply and headed for Jamaica with a letter for the governor, requesting medicine and supplies in exchange for his promise to capture the pirate ship La Trompeuse.

While sailing from Jamaica, Van Horn approached several pirate captains, urging them to join forces and attack Veracruz. Since his own forces were insufficient, he persistently called on various pirates he encountered along the way to share the hardships and spoils of the Veracruz raid. On the way, he learned of de Graff's intentions to plunder a Spanish fleet but instead of joining the pirate fleet waiting at a distance until the fleet was loaded with silver, Van Horn entered the bay and attacked the ship right in front of the Spaniards. The ship only contained goods, as the silver had not yet been loaded, resulting in a meager loot. Van Horn wanted to attract de Graff's fleet to his enterprise rather than capture the Spanish ship. De Graff was initially furious with Van Horn's actions but later changed his anger to mercy and agreed to go to Veracruz. As a result, Nicholas took command of about 10 ships and over 1,000 pirates.

Capture of Veracruz

Many of the pirates believed that, despite the large fleet, they still lacked sufficient strength to capture the well-fortified Veracruz. However, Van Horn proposed a daring plan. According to his information, two ships carrying cocoa were due to arrive in Veracruz soon, and he suggested disguising two pirate ships as these vessels and landing a raiding party from them.

The pirates followed his plan, transferring almost eight hundred men to the two ships and sailing towards the island blocking the harbor entrance. Despite some suspicions, the Spaniards took no serious security measures. During the night, the pirate raiding party was able to land on the shore without any obstacles. Early in the morning, the buccaneers launched the assault, with two small groups attacking and capturing two forts simultaneously. The attack was so sudden that many residents of Veracruz did not realize it was a pirate invasion and assumed it was a local celebration, leading them to gather at the sounds of gunshots, for which they paid dearly later.

After capturing the city, the pirates employed their usual tactics. They gathered the townspeople in one place and demanded a ransom for the city. Torture of the wealthiest residents and mistreatment of the prisoners led to an incident where two Spanish captains requested a meeting with Van Horn and complained about the poor treatment of the captives. The arrival of a Spanish squadron of fifteen ships added tension. The pirates quickly gathered, took hostages, and sailed to Sacrificio Island to wait for the ransom. Tensions increased, and an impatient Van Horn wanted to expedite the payment by sending the vice-king of New Spain the heads of some prominent hostages, but de Graff and other captains opposed this.

The incident may have led to a duel between the pirate captains. Other chroniclers offer different versions of what happened. Some write that de Graff refused to release a large number of black and mulatto slaves, whom he planned to sell into slavery, or that de Graff refused to attack the Spanish squadron, and Van Horn accused him of cowardice. According to the terms of the duel, they fought until first blood, and de Graff easily wounded Van Horn in the arm.

The ransom received for the Spanish hostages was estimated at one and a half million pieces of eight. According to historians, this was one of the richest spoils in the history of piracy. Each common participant in the expedition received about 800 pieces of eight. However, Van Horn did not have a chance to spend his share as he died from gangrene shortly after. Therefore, de Graff was considered the actual killer. After Van Horn's death, de Grammont took command of the fleet and successfully led it to Petit-Goâve.