By Anna Marie Chapman Reilley
I enjoyed your VCReporter March 31 edition. I thought you might want some very interesting information that I believe your readers would find entertaining and informative about Joseph Chapman (1785-1849).
My family is seventh-generation Venturans. They are not as colorful as our great-great-grandfather — a man who was a sea pirate and land plunderer. They are part of the heritage of Ventura. They are descendants of Juan Jose Chapman, who came here over 200 years ago with his checkered past.
The 25-year-old Chapman, a native of Maine, had joined Capt. Hippolyte Bouchard in the Sandwich Islands. Weary of life aboard a New England whaler, Chapman jumped ship in the islands. He was impressed as a crew member of Bouchard, thus becoming a genuine, if reluctant, buccaneer. History tells of the days when the first Chapman sailed with pirate Hippolyte de Bouchard, who sacked Monterey and the Refugio Ranch. Chapman was second in command of Bouchard’s Santa Rosa during the invasion of 1818. Many things, however, were happening. Alarmed over the attack on Monterey, all Southern California was up in arms. When Bouchard dropped anchor off the Gaviota ranch, Antonio Lugo waited as boatloads of pirates rowed toward the beach. As the buccaneers neared the surf line, the lancers rushed to the water’s edge and let fly a volley from their blunderbusses.
The pirates quickly retreated. But one boat, commanded by Chapman, overturned in the surf and was unable to reach its fleeing companions. Chapman and a fellow pirate, Tom Fisher, a West Indian black man, swam to the beach.
The pirates, despite a brief resistance, were quickly lassoed. The two prisoners were marched to the Ortega ranchero where their fate was debated at a council of war. Meanwhile, the Santa Rosa sailed away never to be heard from again.
As the story goes, the Californians decided to drag the pirates to their deaths with ropes tied to a horse’s saddle. But kind fate saved their lives when Guadalupe, the pretty, dark-eyed, teenage daughter of Don Ortega protested. Don Ortega decided to let the prisoners live. Chapman was captured by California defense forces on Nov. 22, 1818, in Monterey. Lugo, as commander of the defense forces, had taken a liking to Chapman, the 6-foot-2-inch man with blond hair and piercing blue eyes. Lugo decided to take Chapman on parole to the Lugo home in Los Angeles. Chapman then became known as Jose el Ingles. He was put to work using his Maine woodsman skill at felling timbers in the mountains behind Pasadena for Our Lady of the Angels Church. Chapman’s stock soared when he routed a wild Indian raid with a club. From that date he was known to the Native American population as El Diablo.
Settling down as a blacksmith, carpenter and handyman, the reformed pirate decided he liked the peaceful life of Southern California. In 1820 he rode back to the vicinity of the Ortega ranch to construct the first successful grist mill at nearby Mission Santa Inez. There may have been another mission in mind — a romantic one. Lugo acted as Chapman’s patron for his formal courtship of the beautiful Guadalupe Ortega. They were married at Mission San Gabriel, where he had set up another grist mill. Chapman also built workshops for construction of a boat, which was completed in 1829 and then dismantled and carted to San Pedro. The launching of the boat, Guadalupe, was a gala event that included word that Chapman’s naturalization had been granted.
The Chapman family flourished as their fortunes rose. They became respected and admired. They later moved to the Santa Barbara area on a land grant part of the Ranchero San Pedro tract. In 1845 he moved to a new land tract near Mission San Buenaventura. Apparently, he made acceptable reparations and became a stalwart friend and companion of the Ventura Mission padres. Chapman was baptized on June 22, 1824, by Father Jose Sean at San Buenaventura Mission.
Now to complete the tale of Chapman’s fellow buccaneer Tom Fisher. He worked many years as a cowboy on the Lugo ranch. Tom Fisher left in 1848 for the gold diggings in the Sacramento area, where he vanished.
This information can be verified at the Museum at San Buenaventura; and just last year, the city of San Gabriel honored Joseph Chapman for his grist mills and irrigation methods. It was quite a celebration with bands, and many dignitaries were present honoring his contributions to their city and California. I hope I could help fill in some of the gaps. Many of these descendants later lived at Tortilla Flats in Ventura.
Anna Marie (Chapman) Reilley is a resident of Ventura.