Pirate bootie sacked

32.081384° -81.089784°

Hey, everyone!

Another fine day for a podcast.

And it is a fine day… because today we’re going to talk about pirates.

And I’m not talkin’ the AAAARRRGGG, me hearty kind of pirates.

Okay, you ask, where did it happen?

So, you wanna know where they hung out? Listen up!

Well, it happened in Savannah, Georgia, when Savannahians had had enough of the things that pirates do… and they ended up in a donnybrook.

Ah… and your next question is….. Did the Americans lose the fight, or did French pirates get their booties swashed and buckled by some ticked-off Southern boys?

Stick around, and I’ll give you my take on it.

I’m JD Byous. Welcome to History by GPS, where you travel through history and culture, GPS location by GPS location.

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You can find transcripts of the show and the coordinates of where these events happened at our website HistoryByGPS.com. That way, you can follow the story as it goes along.

If you have ever visited Savannah, Georgia, and walked along the tee-shirt and trinket-laden thoroughfare called River Street… the way many, if not most, folks who visit the city do… then you have stepped across some very historic ground that few people know about.

In this episode, we travel to an incident where during a week in mid-November 1811, the entire city of Savannah, Georgia, was… enraged and in chaos.

That was when American sailors and the citizens of the town grabbed any weapon they could find and marched down to the waterfront to kick some French pirate bootie… and I don’t mean the gold doubloon kind of bootie.

The location is where Savannah’s Drayton Street ramp runs under the old Cotton Exchange Building and intersects with the city’s famous River Street.

Grab your pencil and paper… or… if you’re driving in your car… never mind. Just listen.

Okay… the decimal coordinates are…

32.081384° by -81.089784°

Remember, if you can’t write this down, don’t worry. You can find the information on the website,

As I mentioned, the events we are looking at today happened in November 1811. It’s when French pirates decided to hide and wait for the group of locals who were coming to haul them off to jail.

But, to explain, these were not the first pirates that sailed in and around southeast Georgia; this incident was almost two centuries after the Golden Age of Piracy,… back in the 1600s… back when Black Beard and Captain Kid haunted the waters of the Atlantic, a dozen miles down river.

The generation who did navigate these waters on the Eastern Seaboard and of the Caribbean had always threatened the young colony after it was established in 1733. Piracy was always always a problem.

So much so that in the colony’s early days, the Lord Governor of Georgia pleaded with the king for protection from pirates and privateers who stalked the cargo ships coming to and going from Savannah…

What he asked was for a 40-foot square fort to be built on Cockspur Island. And the money was supplied. The stronghold was named for King George the second. It stood near the little lighthouse that divides the north and south channels of the river at Fort Pulaski National Monument at the mouth of the Savannah.

Now, back to 1811 and the Drayton Street Ramp… at that time wooden two-story buildings stood on each side of the roadway. Those old buildings burned in the mid-1800s and were replaced with those that are standing now. If you happen to visit Wet Willies Bar you’ll be on the spot where pirates once hid in wait.

Today the site is almost cavernous because the street has been covered by the old Cotton Exchange building and the walkway that connects it to the top of the bluff. But back then, it was a simple narrow thoroughfare.

After arming themselves they slithered into the rooms that overlooked the street and waited. As the armed mob entered the passageway, they sprang from their hiding spots and started firing, catching the Americans off guard.

The fighting spread from between the buildings down onto the flat, wood-planked area that made up Anciaux’s Wharf at the water’s edge.

That’s when things really got rough. The battle took place on the ground that today is River Street and across the flat of the plaza over to the waterline.

But before I go on, I have to explain… as I said, these were pirates. But they were, technically, French privateers… but pirates nonetheless.

See, they were in cahoots with the French government with an agreement to go to sea and attack France’s enemies. They would bring the king whatever they captured and….. split their booty.

(I might add that splitting your booty… sounds a bit painful to me.)

…..Oh……  remember to follow the podcast. That way, you’ll be notified when a new episode comes out. And if you’re watching on YouTube, subscribe… you know how to do it.

Also… go to HistoryByGPS.com where you’ll find the other GPS locations mentioned in this episode. You’ll also find our merchandise and books. We have cups, tee shirts, and other items that feature this episode as well as products that highlight Historic Savannah.


Okay, back to the booty boys… What was a privateer?

As I said, a privateer was a pirate ship that was contracted with A government to harass enemy merchant vessels… and warships if they were brave enough.

We, the Americans, and the British had them too… in fact, just about all the powerful nations.

Now, what complicated the situation in Savannah was diplomacy. See, the French had helped us… we the United States, in our Revolution against Great Britain a few years before.

Then, to further complicate the issue, the French and the new United States had recently fought the “Quasi-War,” in which

the very powerful French Navy, who felt that we owed them… had a habit of boarding American vessels and forcing the crew member to serve on French ships.

US President John Adams felt that we did owe them… but we didn’t owe them our sailors.

As a result, fighting between the US and the French navies escalated into an undeclared war… a quasi war.

You have to understand that the Brits were still our enemies at that time. In fact, the following year, the British attacked the United States and started the conflict that we appropriately called the War of 1812.

You remember.. the British Army marched into Washington, DC, and burned the White House just after Dolly Madison grabbed a painting of George Washington, threw it in a carriage, and got out of Dodge…

or so we have been told.

Oh, by the way, If you have any information or want to give your opinion on this topic, please put it in the comments on the website. I’d love to hear from you.

And, YES, I know that Dolly probably didn’t personally grab the painting and throw it in her buggy… but it’s a good story, and that’s why it’s still around.

So, back in Savannah… at that same time as the aforementioned fight, the French were at war and fighting with the British…

as they were for most of history…

Therefore, French ships were allowed into American Ports for repairs and supplies.

There at Anceaux’s Wharf… which was later called Wood’s Wharf… two French boats, the La Franchise, and the La Vengeance…

Now… I missed school the day we studied French, so I don’t know if I pronounced those correctly.

But, close enough, I guess.

…Anyway, the French ships were in port to load supplies, get repairs, and let the French crewmen blow off a little steam… But these guys blew off a little too much steam.

They did not have the most honest of officers leading them either. The ship captain of the La Franchise was rumored to have connections to the famous pirate brothers, Jean and Pierre Lafitte, who, by the way, helped Andrew Jackson win the Battle of New Orleans a few years later.

Now, again some explanation is needed. I called them “the French crewmen.” See, some of the officers were French, but the crew members were a blend of Italian, Venetian, Sicilian, and Portuguese sailors. There may have been a couple of French citizens in the mix.

Whatever they were, they went way too far.

The beginning blows of the fight started near the western edge of town.

Several armed pirates attacked three or four unarmed American

sailors who were… shall we say… visiting ladies who lived in a rougher part of town along Indian Street.

…People from Savannah generally know what that area of town was.

Later, the same night, the pirate crewmen returned to… visit the ladies and another scuffle ensued, whereupon they killed a young American sailor… Jacob Taylor.

They viciously beat him with clubs and slashed him to death with their sabers.

Other American sailors were attacked in similar manners… According to one report, the pirates took Taylor’s body and dumped it in a nearby square… that was probably Franklin Square which is on the edge of City Market.

Today, you can visit Jacob Taylor’s headstone on the back wall of the Colonial Park Cemetery a few blocks away.

Now, his father laid out the details of his death when he had the following chiseled into the monument… I quote…

“In Memory of JACOB R. TAYLOR, Son of John P. Taylor of Philadelphia. A youth of exemplary department conciliating manners and promise,”

Yeah, right…

The kid was killed in a brawl in a wh…….… in a house of ill repute…    

Anyway…continuing on…

conciliating manners and promise, who in the 19th year of his age, when unarmed and peaceably walking the streets of Savannah,…

Okay… oookay… I’m a father and understand.

Where was I?

…was on the evening of the 11th of November, 1811, attacked and inhumanly decimated by an armed band belonging to the crews of the French Privateers La Vengeance and La Franchise.

Rest infinite youth far from thy friends… injured by strangers… honored and by strangers mourned.

Though thy lone turf no kindred drops can, Yet virtue hallows with her tears thy grave.”


 As a result of the assault and murder, city police officers walked down to the wharf, boarded the two French ships, arrested the crew members, and hauled them off to jail to sort out the details.

The next day most of the crew members were allowed to return to their ships. However, seven privateers were held for further questioning.

Later there was even more bloodshed. On the morning of November 15th, one observer wrote that the incident threw the entire city into “ferment.”

Which is not good unless you’re making wine, beer, or sauerkraut.

But I digress…

The entire city was enraged. A large group of American sailors and city residents picked up any weapons they could find–clubs, hatchets, axes, meat cleavers, muskets, and pistols, along with a few swords. Then they unfurled their American flag and marched en masse to the wharf carrying two hogsheads of whoop-ass. When they arrived… that’s when the pirates were waiting in ambush.

As the group advanced down the steep, sandy slope, the pirates fired their muskets from the windows and lofts, catching the Americans off guard.

During the fighting, several men on both sides died. An American ship’s captain named Miller was blinded after being shot from the side when a musket ball took out his eyes and the bridge of his nose.

Interestingly, he survived, though… a bit the worse for wear. After the initial ruckus, the Savannah group, in unison, screamed what we in the South now call a “rebel yell” and stormed the Franchise and Vengeance, then tore down the French banner and replaced it with the American flag.

While that was happening, the stabbing and slashing blades of the Americans forced many of the privateers overboard into the Savannah River. Then the Americans cut the anchor lines holding the boats and began destroying the rigging of the ships as the two boats drifted with the tide.


By this time, the alarm in the city was ringing. Other men from town scurried, as drums pounded the alert. City Mayor, William Bullock, arrived shortly after that with Savannah’s militia units in tow, the Volunteer Guard and the Republican Blues.

Complicating it more, other pirates who happened to be in other parts of town ran back to the wharf to see what was going on… and found themselves in another wasp-nest of angry citizens.

Eventually, the mayor and his troopers gained enough control to protected the French crewmen on board… as well as the other wet, cold, and shaking pirates who had crawled stumbled out of the Savannah River.

He marched the entire group to the city jail.

The Savannah Volunteer Guard boarded the ships to protect them from the Americans… often with the points of their bayonets.

But, about eight hours later a group of Americans went upstream, set fire to a flat boat, and released it to drift down the tide and into the French two ships.

By this time the soldiers were worn out from repelling previous attempts at boarding. So they decided enough was enough and abandoned the ship.

But I suspect that they didn’t really give a rip if the boats were destroyed or not. After all, the crew had killed Americans. 

With that… the Vengeance and the Franchise were torched and burned down to the water line.

In doing so, the fire and subsequent sinking ruined and scattered the French vessels’ rich cargos that included gold coins, expensive dye, dry goods, and a few other things.

Makes me want to buy some scuba gear…

As for the pirates, a couple of days later, it was summed up by one American

newspaper editor when he published an editorial, and I quote… “We have never witnessed more un-animity of feeling than on this occasion…

They talked funny back then, didn’t they?

But I digress.

To continue… “We sincerely hope that the peace of the city will not again be disturbed and that such wretches as composed the crews of the pirates will not be allowed an opportunity of again shedding the blood of our citizens and drawing down American vengeance on their heads.”

So the Americans brought vengeance on the La Vengeance,

and the La Franchise was no longer a franchise.

And both boats went to the bottom of the river.

In other words … that editor was saying, “We are delighted that we kicked French pirate bootie.” And he wasn’t talking “buried treasure.”

Sooo… if you didn’t know already know this story, now you know.

Don’t forget to check out our books and merch at HistoryByGPS.com.

And we will see you next time.



Anciaux/Wood’s 32.081384° -81.089784°, Wharf, 81 East River Street, 1811 Battle with Fench pirates. http://hsgng.org/legacy/pages/anciaux.htm

Indian Street Red Light District, 32.084744° -81.099733°

Jacob Taylor headstone, 32.074984° -81.089204°

Franklin Square, 32.081177° -81.095837°, where Jacob Taylor’s body was dumped.

Fort King George Site, 32.022934° -80.883060°, the area has washed away over the years.



The Savannah Riots: A Burning Issue in Franco-American Hostility, 1811-1812, Peter P. Hill, The Georgia Historical Quarterly, Vol. 88, No. 4 (WINTER 2004), pp. 499-510.

Destruction of Two French Privateers in America,The Naval Chronicle, for 1812: containing General and Biographical History of the Royal Navy of the United Kingdom, Vol. XXVII (January to June) Pp 10-11.

Image credits

River Street at Drayton Street Ramp (2) Frances Benjamin Johnston

Ships at battle, Encyclopedia Britannica

Savannah Harbor, New York Public Library