English translation of "Expediente relativo a la causa seguida contra el pirata inglés Andrés Ranson, San Agustín, 22 de noviembre de 1694"




English translation of "Expediente relativo a la causa seguida contra el pirata inglés Andrés Ranson, San Agustín, 22 de noviembre de 1694"


This is a dossier of correspondence from 1689-1697 between King Carlos II of Spain and two successive governors of Spanish Florida related to the presence of Englishman Andrés Ranson in St. Augustine. After a prior conviction and unsuccessful attempt at execution, Ranson had been protected by the Church, which viewed his escape from death as a miracle and which was able to grant him immunity from prosecution while he remained within its sacred space. The correspondence below deals with the question of determining whether that religious immunity indeed applied in the case of Ranson, given that he was a pirate and not guilty of more common offenses. The civil authorities were eager to have a determination made on this point, so that if immunity did not apply, they could seek to bring Ranson to justice again. Instead of pressing that question, Diego de Quiroga y Losada, governor of Spanish Florida (1687-1693) appears to instead have forcibly removed Ranson from the asylum he had found in the church and put him to work on the Castillo de San Marcos, which was constructed between 1672 and 1695, and is referred to as the royal fortification in these documents. Quiroga y Losada appears to have been motivated, in part, by the fact that Ranson was, by the governor’s own account, skilled in various trades. The chain of correspondence below was triggered when Quiroga y Losada’s successor, Laureano de Torres y Ayala, attempted to make sense of this situation upon taking possession of his office in 1693, and in particular when Quiroga y Losada requested documentation that he had followed appropriate protocol in handing Ranson over to Torres y Ayala, fearful perhaps of being found guilty of misconduct in an official review of his performance in office. Through the government scribe, Torres y Ayala is made aware of an official document sent from the king to Quiroga y Losada in 1689 reprimanding him for the course of action he took with respect to Ranson and commanding him to follow up on the matter of determining whether the Englishman indeed enjoyed religious immunity. Torres de Ayala writes to the king, informing him of the situation and indicating that he is seeking to restart the process that Quiroga y Losada neglected to carry out, in order to possibly bring Ranson to justice if the religious immunity was found to not apply. 

This is an English translation, prepared by Clayton McCarl, of a group of documents located in the Archivo General de Indias (General Archive of the Indies, AGI) in Seville. An edition of the original document in Spanish is available on the website of coloniaLab. This translation seeks to present the text in a fashion that is clear and understandable while retaining the sense of the original. Subheadings have been introduced to indicate the separate documents that make up the dossier, and a brief explanation of each is provided in italics. The order of the documents has been altered slightly from the original to make the chronology clearer and the narrative easier to follow. The title "File related to the case against the English pirate Andrés Ranson" is a translation of the name given to that dossier in the AGI.





Clayton McCarl (traducción)




Letter to King Carlos II from Laureano de Torres y Ayala, governor of Spanish Florida, St. Augustine, November 22, 1694 

The following is a letter that Laureano de Torres y Ayala, governor of Spanish Florida, wrote to Carlos II, king of Spain, from St. Augustine, on November 22, 1694. The first line is a summary written in the left margin.  

A maestre de campo is a high-ranking military official. A cédula in this context is an official document issued by the king. 

The Governor of Florida informs Your Majesty of the status of Andrés Ranson, of English nationality 


On the twenty-first day of September of last year, 1693, I took possession of this governorship, and being in Your Majesty’s royal fortress, in the concurrence of those who attended said act of possession, the maestre de campo Don Diego de Quiroga y Losada, my predecessor, pulled me aside and pointed out to me an Englishman named Andrés Ranson, telling me that he was handing that individual over to me under a sworn oath—an oath that he had made because he had extracted that person from the church—without sharing any other information with me, not even the reason he had for proceeding thus against the prisoner, a circumstance that continued until August 12 of this year, when the government scribe Alonso Solana notified me that the aforementioned maestre de campo Don Diego de Quiroga asked him, Solana, to take my testimony that he, Quiroga, had delivered the prisoner to me on the day that I have mentioned. In response to my questions about this, Solana explained to me the case of the said Andrés Ranson, an English national, and that the aforementioned maestre de campo Don Diego de Quiroga possessed a cédula from Your Royal Majesty, issued on May 3, 1689, in which Your Majesty orders what was to be done with the aforementioned Englishman, an explanation which—along with the fact that the said maestre de campo told me nothing—motivated me to proceed by ordering Quiroga to produce the mentioned cédula and recount the actions that he had taken. With the news that I thus had in person from that scribe, I decided without delay to put the said Andrés Ranson in prison in the royal fortress, where Your Majesty has a church where the holy days are celebrated, although no crucifix has been placed there. The response that the aforementioned maestre de campo Don Diego de Quiroga made to my order was to exhibit Your Majesty’s royal decree, together with his statement, in which he says he did not carry out any proceedings because the needed documents were in the city of San Cristóbal de la Havana, in the power of the ecclesiastical judge of this bishopric, to whose court I have written a request. I am sending that now to Mr. Cristóbal Bonifaz de Rivera, ecclesiastical judge of the said city of San Cristóbal de la Havana, so that he may decide the point of whether religious immunity applies in this case, as Your Majesty commands in the aforementioned cédula, so that, after it is determined, I may execute what Your Majesty commands. When I receive that determination, I will give an account to Your Majesty. May our Lord preserve his catholic and royal person, as he can, and as all his vassals desire. Saint Augustine of Florida, November 22, 1694. 

Don Laureano de Torres y Ayala 

Summary by Council of War of the Indies, Madrid, January 10, 1696 

The following is a summary, written on January 10, 1696, of the preceding letter of Torres y Ayala to the king, three days after its receipt in Madrid on January 7, 1696. This document was presumably prepared by the Junta de Guerra de Indias (Board of War of the Indies). The first lines are notes written into the left margin. A prelate is a high-ranking church official. 

Florida, to His Majesty on November 22, 1694. Received on January 7, 1696, from the hand of Don Juan de Larrea 


With the previous document, let this go to the prosecutor. It is accompanied by the cédula that is mentioned, dated May 3, 1689, which is the antecedent. 

Governor Don Laureano de Torres y Ayala 

January 10, 1696 

He says that on September 21, 1693, he took possession of that governorship, and being in the royal fortress with others, the outgoing governor, Don Diego de Quiroga took him aside, and pointed out to him an Englishman named Andrés Ranson, saying he was handing Ranson over under a sworn oath—which Quiroga had made for having taken him out of the church—without telling Torres y Ayala the reason he had done so, until on August 12, 1694, when the government scribe notified him that Don Diego de Quiroga had asked for testimony that he had handed Ranson over. The scribe informed him of the case of the Englishman and that Quiroga had a cédula of May 3, 1689, with instructions about how he was to proceed in that case. Torres y Ayala issued an auto requiring Quiroga to show the cédula and reveal what he had done with respect to its instructions. Torres y Ayala also imprisoned the Englishman in the royal fortress. Quiroga submitted the cédula with his statement, which indicated that he had taken no action regarding the case, as the documents were in Havana in the power of the prelate of the bishopric, to whose court Torres y Ayala has prepared a written request, which on the date of his letter he was sending to the prelate in Havana. In that document, he asks the prelate to rule on whether religious immunity applies in Ranson’s case, as was instructed in the mentioned cédula from 1689, so that once the determination is made, he can carry out the instructions given in that document. He will send notice of the outcome. 

Royal cédula, Madrid, May 3, 1689 

The following is the cédula from May 3, 1689, that is mentioned above, issued by Carlos II to Diego de Quiroga y Losada, governor of Florida. Torres y Ayala required Quiroga y Losada to hand this document over to him, as indicated above, and included a copy in his letter to the king. A residencia was the formal audit of the performance of a government official upon leaving office, which involved taking testimony from witnesses and possible legal proceedings if wrongdoing was discovered. 

The King 

Don Diego de Quiroga y Losada, my governor and captain general of the province of Florida, in a letter dated April 1 of last year, 1688, you acknowledge receipt of the cédula in which you were told the manner in which you must handle the punishment of the pirates, and you also give an account that since the year 1684 an Englishman was sheltered in the convent of San Francisco in that city, during whose execution the cords broke and the priests and religious men took him to the church, and you propose it would be well pardon him for being skilled in all trades, and that you had arranged for him to leave the church, under supervision, to work in the royal fortress of that city, where he was staying until you had an order for what you have to execute. And having been seen in my Council of War of the Indies, it has seemed necessary to reprimand you for the partiality with which you have behaved with this Englishman, he having been guilty of such a serious crime as being a declared pirate, and to order and command you, as I hereby do, that if there is church in that fortress in which you say he was found, detain him there, and if not, in the church from which you took him, placing him in such guarded  custody that he cannot leave without being apprehended, until it is definitively determined whether or not religious immunity applies to him. If it is declared that it does, you will take such care to apprehend him outside of the church so that he in no way escapes, and I warn you that if he flees, you will have to answer for this in your residencia, and if is declared that he should not enjoy immunity, as we assume to be the case, you will then carry out justice in his person, notifying me on the first occasion of what you will execute in this matter, since we remain very attentive to what you do in this case. Dated in the Palace of Buen Retiro, May 3, 1689.  

I, the King 

By command of the King, our lord. Don Antonio Ortiz de Otalora. Designated by the Board of War. 

The enclosing folio of the cédula, Madrid, May 3, 1689 

The following is the writing on the outside of the folio that contains the cédula. 

Dated in Buen Retiro on May 3, 1689 

To the governor of Florida, reprimanding him for removing from the church an Englishman who had sought shelter there, and telling him what he needs to be done 


[...] ex officio from February 16, 1688 to October 12, 1689. Section 222. 

This Englishman is called Andrés Ranson. 

Opinion given by the royal prosecutor, Madrid, June 28, 1697 

The following, written June 28, 1697, is the opinion given by the royal prosecutor in Madrid, after examining the preceding letter by Laureano de Torres y Ayala. 

The royal prosecutor, in view of the content of this letter, and of what was ordered in the attached cédula of May 3, 1689, says that, as regards what this governor explains about having secured that English pirate in the royal fortress, formal restitution to the church should be approved, although not applied, because the case for religious immunity is pending in Havana, and they should be ordered to keep him secured there until said immunity is declared valid, so that if it is declared, the church may enjoy it, and the prisoner should be restored to the church of San Francisco, or to another of his choosing, in that city of Florida. And if it is not determined to be valid, let the case rightly proceed, understanding that while the determination of the possible immunity is pending, the governor nor any other person may not wrong the accused nor take any other steps against him. If it seems necessary in this interim, to satisfy the church, the governor may make a sworn guarantee regarding the matter of having the prisoner secured and that he will hand him over if the immunity is declared, and that he must do so in favor of the prisoner and the church from which he was extracted. However, in the meantime, he should retain him imprisoned in that royal fortress, which is the usual practice in these realms in similar cases of religious immunity. And as regards the fact that this immunity is pending in the city of Havana, the prelate there should be encouraged to make a determination as soon as possible, considering the seriousness of this crime, since if he is found to be justly considered a pirate, that is one of the crimes for which immunity through the church is not possible, and in such cases both the civil and ecclesiastical courts pursue the corresponding justice, so that such crimes do not go unpunished. The governor will order what is necessary. Madrid, June 28, 1697. 

Recommendation of Consejo de Indias, Madrid, July 10, 1697 

The following is a recommendation, written July 10, 1697, issued presumably by the Consejo de Indias (Council of the Indies), the advisory body that handled affairs related to Spain’s overseas possessions, following the recommendation of the prosecutor from June 28, 1697, above. 

Consejo, July 10, 1697 

Let a dispatch be issued, conveying what the prosecutor says, adding that if the ecclesiastical judge of first instance declares that immunity applies to the defendant, appeal for permission to ignore it and proceed, and if the appeal is not admitted, go to the Audiencia, using the right of force to preside over the case and proceed, and give an account of what results. 





“English translation of "Expediente relativo a la causa seguida contra el pirata inglés Andrés Ranson, San Agustín, 22 de noviembre de 1694",” coloniaLab, consulta 30 de mayo de 2024,