Corsair to his allies, pirate to his enemies, Amaro Rodríguez Felipe, commonly known as “Amaro Pargo”, born and raised in Tenerife, is remembered as hero and villain equally, it just depends on who is telling the tale. The truth is he was a unique character, and the legends around his persona have been passed on over generations.
Born in San Cristóbal de La Laguna in 1678, his childhood and teenage years were deeply influenced by the presence and boom of piracy in Tenerife. Ever since the days of the guanches (the native settlers), pirate ships would drop anchor on the coast of the island, in the pursuit of fresh water or a town to plunder, as well as to hide within its many coves and cliffs.
In 1701 he embarked the Ave María ship, known as “La Chata”, as a midshipman. During the trip, the ship was boarded by the pirates, and a young Amaro advises the captain to pretend rendition and subsequently take them by surprise and fight a battle that they ended up winning. As a reward, the captain offered Amaro Pargo his first ship, on which he started his fruitful commercial activities. That year, he helped save the royal galley from a British attack, which won him the Letter of Marque from King Philip V. This document credited authorization of the government, under whose flag he sailed, to follow pirate ships or the ships of enemy nations.
He gathered a well-stocked fleet and he used to carry Malvasía wine from his vineyards in Geneto, Tegueste and Valle Colino, as well as liquor from his breweries to the American continent. During the journey, he would attack every British and Dutch ship that came his way, and gain their booty. These trips saw him face some of the best known pirates of the time, such as the famous “Blackbeard”.
His deeply rooted religious beliefs led him to undertake significant charitable actions towards churches, religious institutions and even the Cathedral of La Laguna. He would also help the poor and the imprisoned, and he always showed concern about the situation of those in need.
Amaro Pargo died on the 14th of October 1747 at La Laguna, at the age of 69, leaving behind over 60 properties, 15 vineyards and an immense fortune in jewels. We was buried beside his parents’ tomb at the convent of Santo Domingo de Guzmán, in La Laguna. Engraved on the marble gravestone there is the classic pirate symbol, the skull winking its right eye and two crossed bones overlapped.
In 2013 his skeleton was exhumed with the funding of the video-games company Ubisoft for the making of the fourth edition of the popular Assassin’s Creed saga. Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, set within the world of piracy of the 18th century, known as the “golden age” for piracy. According to Ubisoft, and after a documentation and research it was claimed Amaro Pargo, was as “reputed and popular” as famous characters such as “Blackbeard” or Francis Drake.
It is estimated that the fortune he amassed would nowadays be worth several millions of Euro. His former house in Machado (municipality of El Rosario) has been the target of constant searches for treasure, of which only a small part has been verified and validated. The most important treasure left by the most famed “pirate” of Tenerife may well remain hidden in a cave in the coast of the island, awaiting for the lucky person that will find it.