Capt. Miguel Henriquez


Capt. Miguel Henriquez also spelled Enriquez (c. 1680 – 1743), was a Puerto Rican Privateer in the latter part of the 17th century. Henriquez intercepted English merchant ships in the Caribbean Sea and was considered a pirate by his enemies. He fought the British Navy in Vieques and was granted a letter of marque and reprisal with the privileges of privateer by the Spanish Crown. Henriquez, who became the wealthiest man on the island in the first half of the 18th century, is considered by many to have been the first Puerto Rican entrepreneur.

Early years

Henriquez, a mulatto, was a shoemaker by occupation who was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico. In the latter years of the 17th century, Henriquez decided to try his luck as a sailor and intercepted English merchant ships and other ships dedicated to contraband that were infesting the seas of Puerto Rico and the Atlantic Ocean in general, especially in the areas surrounding Saint Thomas, Curaçao and Jamaica. Henriquez was considered a pirate by the enemies of Spain, since it was a common practice then for the Spanish government to look the other way when ships of other countries were attacked as long as it wasn’t one of theirs. The Spanish Crown gave him a special permit to do his pirate activities in the name of Spain. The letter of marque and reprisal granted him the privileges of privateer. Privateers from Puerto Rico were often called “guarda costas”, or “coast guards.” They operated in the same fashion as any other pirate, the only difference was that they did it in the name of Spain protecting Spanish trade restrictions.

Privateer

In 1716, Henriquez made a suggestion to Jose Carreno, the Spanish appointed Governor of Puerto Rico, that they organize an expedition and take the island of Saint Thomas. Carreno, however desisted of the idea believing that the consequences of such a military operation was not worth the effort.

In 1717, the British occupied the island of Vieques which was under the control of the Spanish Government of Puerto Rico. According to the British Government, they did not recognize the Spanish claim to the island which they referred to as “Crab Island”. Henriquez, with the consent of the government, organized an expeditionary force which consisted of two ships with 7 members of the regular Spanish Army and 286 members of the Puerto Rican militia. The ships were escorted by a Spanish war ship under the command of Naval Commander Jose Roocher. Henriquez and his men fought and defeated the British in Vieques, taking most of their enemy to the mainland Puerto Rico as their prisoners. Henriquez was received as a national hero when he returned the island of Vieques back to the Spanish Empire and to the governorship of Puerto Rico. The British authorities became alarmed and sent a War Ship to San Juan. Further confrontation between both nations was avoided when the Spanish authorities returned the prisoners to the British.

In recognition for his services, the Spanish Crown, under the order of King Philip V (1683-1746), awarded Miguel Henriquez with “La Medalla de Oro de la Real Efigie” (The Gold Medal of the Royal Effigy) in 1713 and named him Capitán de Mar y Guerra y Armador de Corsos, loosely translated as Captain of the Seas and War and chief provider to the crown corsairs. He was so successful that his fleet was said to amount to 300 ships of various sizes with close to 1,500 sailors, he owned 300 slaves and his fortune, at the time, was among the largest in the Americas. Henriquez participated in other military expeditions in 1728 and 1729.

Later years

For some reasons, never clearly established, he was persecuted by the Spanish elite in the island and jailed on various occasions. He was charged with smuggling and stripped of all his power and wealth by the Spanish government in the island. Henriquez fled and took refuge in the Catholic Church which he normally attended. He had allies in the church which he earned because throughout the years he had been generous with his donations. The charges of smuggling made by the Spanish government were eventually dropped, however Henriquez choose to remain in the convent where he died a pauper.

Legacy

Puerto Rican writer Enrique A. Laguerre wrote a novel dedicated to Miguel Henriquez, titled “Miguel Enríquez, la novela Proa libre sobre mar gruesa’ (Miguel Henriquez, free life in a heavy sea). Dr. Angel Lopez Cantos is a Spanish historian, who has studied the life and whereabouts of Henriquez.

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