The Bad Pirate Turned Good by Merle Blasjo


At the edge of Solvang is Mission Santa Ines, founded in 1804. It is a place of worship, education, and a vault of more than twelve decades of history in our remarkable area. There is a wealth of tragedy, triumph, ignominy, heroism, and life under conditions we have trouble picturing for the researcher. One of my favorites of these is the story of Joseph Chapman, the bad pirate turned good.


The pirate was Joseph Chapman, who was born in Massachusetts and, as a young man, became skilled in carpentry and stonework. As with many restless young men of the era, he went to sea. Much of his story remains to be discovered here, but historians agree that he became a crew member of the notorious Argentine pirate Hippolyte de Bouchard. History is unclear regarding whether he joined voluntarily or was pressed into service. Bouchard was a privateer having authorization from his government (Argentina) to attack ships and land installations of hostile nations and take property as prizes. Records show that Bouchard’s activities differed little from those of plundering and pillaging pirates.


Bouchard planned an attack on Spanish North America as he sailed around Africa’s tip and across the Pacific with the first attack on the **capital at Monterey. There, his crew overcame the Presidio guards and pillaged and burned down. Next, he sailed down the coast to Refugio Cove (near where Highway 101 turns inland), where he plundered the ranch of Jose Ortega. He burned the buildings, stamped the livestock, and all the valuables the family hadn’t removed. Bouchard next planned a raid on Santa Barbara, which he later abandoned.


During these raids, little is known of Joseph Chapman’s whereabouts. Later, he was at Mission Santa Inez in the custody of the mission priest, Fr. Uria. Stories abound regarding how he got there. Some accounts say he was captured at Monterey, others that he was arrested at Refugio and still others that he jumped ship and turned himself in to the Presidio soldiers. One can imagine this was not a gift to Fr. Uria as he struggled to build the mission, repaired damages by the earthquake seven years earlier, and found resources to supplement the dwindling support from Spain. Soon, however, he found Chapman’s Building skills valuable for many tasks. This skilled craftsman built a fulling mill, a water-driven facility that processed the wool blankets the Indians wove to make them smooth and comfortable for sale.


His skilled work brought him a privileged status at the mission. He learned Spanish and accepted the Catholic religion. Later, he married Guadalupe Ortega, daughter of the ranch owner who Bouchard raided. Joseph and Guadalupe lived at Mission Santa Ines and Mission Santa Barbara and raised a large family.


An indication of the lasting high regard for Chapman appears today in front of Santa Ynez high school. The sign, which reads “Santa Ynez Pirates,” honors Joseph Chapman.

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