John Oxenham

Even the Englishman, John Oxenham, executed much too fast by the Spaniards, had done better than Drake on the Isthmus of Panama, you canít get around Henry Morgan. He had been the greatest there. Morgan in the sack of Panama City alone had captured loot worth at least $1.5 million.

John Oxenham made an attempt at pillaging the area of Panama. Like Drake, he took a large ship to Port Pheasant and maneuvered around the area of Panama using a smaller ship. He and his men marched about fifty miles to the Rio Santa Maria and constructed a pinnace. They made their entrance into the Pacific Ocean wholly unknown to the Spaniards, and the expeditionís future looked very bright. Still unseen, they ran out from the shore to the Islas De Perlas, an island group west of Panama and right on the Peru-Panama ship route commonly used by the Spanish. Oxenham concealed the pinnace among the islands and waited for a prize.

He waited ten days. Then a small coastwise barque was sighted by the lookouts. The pinnace put out and after a fight that involved no casualties seized her. She had a cargo from Quito; in it was sixty thousand pesos in gold. He and his men were gay, relaxed while they waited for another prize. She was again a coastwise barque out of Callao. They boarded her from the pinnace without much trouble and found in her another one hundred thousand pesos in silver bars.

Then he sailed the pinnace around the islands looking for pearls. It was only after the pearl hunt that he thought of escape. He headed the pinnace across the Golfo De Panama and sought out the river that was to take the expedition to safety. But the Cimaroons in the islands had several times before suffered the wrath of enraged officials at Panama. The night Oxenham left, some of them went in their canoes to Panama City and reported to the governor.

Captain Juan De Ortega was selected to find the pirates. He came upon no evidence of the pirates at the Islas De Perlas, but out to sea he met the two ships that had been captured. The released crews saw where Oxenham had gone, to a river in the Golfo De San Miguel.

Ortega made best possible speed on his ships and closed on the mainland coast. He scanned the narrow, dusky river mouths, lined with mangroves, reeds, bamboos, ferns, wild banana plants and stub palmettos. There were three mouths; the pirates might have gone up any of them.

Ortega hesitated. He was reluctant to make a choice, and he feared ambush. But he remembered his orders, and knowing he must go on, started the boats up the main stream. Then in another boat, a man called; he indicated one lesser river mouths. On the dark current of the river carried fanwise out to sea was a wide spread of varicolored pheasant feathers. Up that stream somewhere, Oxenhamís men had committed the final carelessness and when they had cleaned the fowls after the dayís hunt had dropped the pluckings into the river instead of upon the bank.

Ortega did not delay any further. He entered that stream and ascended it, his men poling their boats and hauling them, scouts ahead in the bush. The fourth day, where the banksloped down to the water, they found the English pinnace. She was beached and guarded by six men and briefly, until one of them was killed, the six fought. The other five were quick to escape into the jungle. Ortega caught Oxenham and some of his men and all of the loot. Oxenham and two others were executed in Lima.


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