Francois L'ollonais was born Jean David Nau in France around 1635. After a period of indentured servitude in Martinique ended in the early 1650's, he spent a time on Hispaniola (now Haiti / Dominican Republic) hunting game with the Buccaneers before moving to nearby Tortuga Island (Isla Tortuga) to pursue the more profitable route of piracy.
Tortuaga's governor La Place, a pirate himself, gave Nau his own ship around 1655, which he used in cruel pursuit of any Spanish ships and sailors that he found. His merciless treatment earned him the nickname, "The Flail of the Spaniards", but it also produced more resistance when his victims believed death was inevitable - fighting would hurt no less.
An early setback came when he suffered shipwreck during a storm off the Yucatan peninsula. Though most of the crew made it to shore, they were then slaughtered by Spanish soldiers. In a clever display of survival, Francois L'Olonnais escaped by hiding among the dead until he could enter Campeche dressed like a Spaniard and find assistance. With the help of some slaves, he was able to steal away in a canoe under cover of darkness and return to Tortuga, thereafter pouring out his increasing hatred of the Spanish by increasing the scale and severity of his land raids.
With Michel de Basco as a partner, L'Olonnais sailed for the Gulf of Venezuela in 1667 with a flotilla of eight ships and around 600 men. A land-based attack on the small fortifications at the outskirts of Lake Maracaibo proved effective, and the cities of Maracaibo and Gibraltar were taken and plundered over the next few weeks. Many who fled were captured and tortured to reveal their hidden valuables. There was no one to stop the brutal rape and murder of countless souls throughout the countryside.
Upon returning to Tortuga to divide over a quarter-million pieces of eight, gems, silks, and silver, L'Olonnais began planning an even greater assault at Lake Nicaragua while the plunder was being redistributed to the local taverns and prostitutes. This journey would have vastly different results. Pirates in Tortuga
After beginning with six ships and 700 men, uncooperative winds led them to the impoverished town of Puerto Caballos, where tortured citizens offered neighboring San Pedro as a better target. An ambush of Spanish soldiers on the way killed many of the pirates. Francois L'Olonnais' solution was allegedly to cut out and gnaw on the heart of one of the prisoners in hopes one of the others would offer a safer route. For all his bloody effort, San Pedro proved to be just as poor, and the commanders of the other ships began to desert. The 'Flail' held his own crew together enough to attempt the raid in Nicaragua, but they wound up merely running aground south of their destination.
Buy Flag (more info) Everyone but L'Olonnais and a few others sailed a small boat home to Tortuga; he actually took the time to build a smaller ship from scrap, holding to his plans of another great venture. It was decided to march to the Gulf of Darien, but the Darien Indians caught them near the Nicaragua River. L'Olonnais was literally torn apart, and some report that these cannibals ate him... in a fitting twist of irony.