Published On: Tue, Jul 4th, 2017

Gerrit Gerritzoon, alias Roche Braziliano

dekker_0The enormous amount of treasure that Piet Heyn captured in Matanza in 1628 changed the map of the Dutch Republic forever. The WIC share of the loot paid for military expeditions of the ambitious new Stadtholder, Prince Frederick Henry (1584-1647), a half-brother of Prince Maurits, who had died in 1626.

With captain John Maurice of Nassau (1604-1679), later known as João Maurício de Nassau-Siegen, Count and Prince of Nassau-Siegen on his side, Frederick Henry, captured Bois de Duc (‘s Hertogenbosch). Note: Frederick Henry and Johan Maurits were related, as the latter was the grandnephew of William the Silent,  Frederick Henry’s father.

Frederick Henry rewarded his nephew by recommending him as Governor of Dutch Brazil for the West Indies Company in 1636. Johan Maurice landed at Recife, the port of Pernambuco and the chief stronghold of the Dutch, in January 1637.

The Dutch in Brazil consisted of,  “dienaaren,” those employed by the WIC (soldiers, bureaucrats, Calvinist ministers) and “vrijburghers”  or “vrijluiden,” settlers, merchants, artisans, and tavern keepers. The vrijburghers became the economic pillar of the colony, most of the trade was under their control, but it was not all according to Calvinist’s ethics.

John Maurice became very wealthy, mostly from his share in the slave trade with the African West coast, the WIC-slave castle El Mina.  Two ornate palaces in Dutch Brazil and one in The Netherlands in The Hague, still known today as Maurice' home (Mauritshuis), displayed his super wealth.

With John Maurice, a wealthy trading family of Groningen, Gerrit, his wife and their 7-year old son, Gerrit Gerritzoon, arrived in the Dutch-Brazilian colony.  Gerrit junior, nicknamed  Roche Braziliano or The Brazillian (1671) quickly rose to prominence.  First Roche became a privateer in Bahia (Brazil). On board a WIC-privateers's ship, Roche led a mutiny, and after that adopted the life of a buccaneer, operating out of Port Royal, Jamaica since 1654.

Luck was on his side. On his first real raiding trip as a Buccaneer, he captured a ship of immense value and brought it back safely to Jamaica.

Gerrit, alias Roche’s reputation was one of a ruthless man; debauchery and drunkenness ruled his life. According to one account, "drunken and debauched, Braziliano would threaten to shoot anyone who refused to drink with him."

A legend recounts that Roche once roasted two Spanish peasants alive on wooden spits after the farmers refused to hand over their pigs.

Eventually, Roche was caught and sent to Spain, but he escaped.  Full of revenge and bitterness, Roche resumed his criminal career and bought a new ship from fellow pirate François l'Olonnais. He set up company with the well-known Sir Henry Morgan.

After 1671, Rock was never seen or heard from again.  Alexandre Olivier Exquemelin (c. 1645–1707) a French, Dutch or Flemish writer and Buccaneer, best known as the author of one of the most important sourcebooks of 17th-century on piracy,  published in Dutch as “De Americaensche Zee-Roovers,” in Amsterdam, in 1678.  Alexandre Olivier made Roche Braziliano famous, or rather infamous.

By Jacob Gelt Dekker
Columnist for Curaçao Chronicle

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