As a Hollywood story: the day a French-born sailor invaded California and turned it into Argentine territory

Yes, even if it sounds like a science fiction story, and precisely in the city where the most famous movies are made, Argentina invaded the US and California was part of our country for about six days. A feat with a Hollywood tone that was carried out by the man who also accompanied San Martín on the expedition through Peru.

To understand the magnitude of such audacity, one must go back to the year 1809. It was then, when the Frenchman Hipólito Bouchard arrived in the Río de la Plata, who quickly, due to his political thinking, leaned towards the revolutionary ideology of Mayo.

His feet would have continued to tread solid ground, as much as when he was a grenadier of San Martín in the battle of San Lorenzo, but Bouchard called himself a bold man and his way was in the sea. He had already had his baptism of fire: on March 2, 1811, in San Nicolás de los Arroyos, he faced the royalist squadron commanded by Captain Jacinto de Romarate. Some time later, he would have an outstanding performance facing the Spanish ships that blocked the port of Buenos Aires under the command of the Argentine sumaca “Santo Domingo”.

Hipólito obtains citizenship of the Río de la Plata, marries Norberta Merlo, a woman who would suffer his constant absence due to her life as a sailor. In 1815, he undertook the privateering campaign with Admiral Brown along the Pacific coast, and between victories and defeats they set sail for the Chilean coast. He was transporting a group of Chilean patriots clandestinely transferred to carry out agitation tasks against the royalists on the other side of the mountain range, they captured Spanish frigates and then blocked and attacked the port of El Callao, the most powerful plaza that Spain had in America.

Hipólito Bouchard, the corsair who conquered California for six days

His exploits were evident: a relentless captain, he attacked the slave ships and led the boardings. With saber and arquebus in hand, brave and courageous, he disputed several duels and riots. He received the title of Corso, in those days corsairs were a kind of pirates with permission from the state. After the failure of Brown’s coup over Guayaquil, Bouchard separated from him to return to Buenos Aires.

Once he arrived in Buenos Aires, “La Argentina” was entrusted to him, the frigate for which he will be remembered and with which he undertook his adventures. In accordance with anti-slavery ideals, Hipólito Bouchard landed on the island of Madagascar, where he took the initiative and attacked and prevented the slave trade; His next step: he headed towards the Philippine Islands with the aim of attacking the trade of Spanish ships.

In January 1818, he established the blockade of the island of Luzon, the largest in the Philippine Archipelago, the base and center of power of the Spanish metropolis, thus keeping the royalists in a squadron in Manila, the capital of the archipelago.

He also signed agreements with the King of Hawaii, Kamehameha I, who recognized the independence of the United Provinces of the Río de la Plata, becoming the first country in the world to do so, who also gave him the corvette “Chacabuco”.

The plaque was installed after Argentine historians and diplomats insisted on an Argentine version of events
The plaque was installed after Argentine historians and diplomats insisted on an Argentine version of eventsFacebook Argentines in Miami and in the United States

His life could easily be an excuse for an adventure movie, after Hawaii, he went to Monterey Bay, in California, where he easily and skillfully took over the city without encountering strong resistance as the Spanish fled. He took the cattle and everything else he thought was valuable and set the blockhouse on fire. He had achieved it: now in California was our Argentine flag. And so, for 6 six days, he waved the blue and white pavilion.

In the Parque del Presidio in Monterrey there is a flag and a plaque that commemorate the fact
In the Parque del Presidio in Monterrey there is a flag and a plaque that commemorate the factFacebook Argentines in Miami and in the United States

The dream of an Argentine Hollywood did not last much longer than those six days, once they left that place they went to Nicaragua where they attacked The Realejoseizing two Spanish ships and destroying another two.

He then decided to join the campaign of San Martín and went to Valparaíso in Chile, where the Argentine general was already, but when he arrived at the Chilean port he was informed that an arrest warrant was hanging over him, Commodore Thomas Cochrane accused him of having captured non-Spanish ships and captured him, confiscating “La Argentina” and other ships that he brought with him as privateer booty. The Argentine representative in Chile, Tomás Guido, defended him tenaciously, and that was how Bouchard was able to recover his freedom, and his ship.

Bouchard took part in the Liberating Expedition of San Martín to Peru and when the Liberator created the Peruvian squadron he gave him command of the frigate “Puebla” which was the most important ship of the new squadron, the color fact is that in the expedition Young Tomas Espora was going (future well-known sailor and corsair who acted in the independence of the Río de la Plata and in the Brazilian War)

Retired from service, he settled in Peru, where he founded a sugar mill. His short temper was famous, he treated his employees rudely. One of them, fed up with being subjected to these abuses, murdered him on January 4, 1837. Exactly, and as strange as it may seem, in that hacienda that was called “Good Luck” he found the end of it.

The crypt where the remains of Hipólito Bouchard were found
The crypt where the remains of Hipólito Bouchard were found

The fate of his remains, lost for over 120 years, it was a mystery until in 1962 they were found in a forgotten crypt of a parish in Nazca, Peru. That year they were exhumed and repatriated to Buenos Aires, they arrived aboard the cruise ship “La Argentina” and today they rest in the Naval Pantheon of Buenos Aires.

The great Corso Hipólito Bouchard, the adventurer, the captain or the pirate, is remembered as one of the most intrepid of the Argentine navy of all time. As part of the oral tradition, they say that while he was traveling the oceans, he was once heard to assert that he wanted to try to free Napoleon, who was then a prisoner on the island of Saint Helena, a somewhat contradictory action since he did not share the monarchical ideal but, knowing his audacity, perhaps he has an iota of veracity.

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