Gasparilla, the Spanish corsair, played a significant part for some
forty years in the fortunes of ships whose paths lay through the Spanish
Main. He is said to have preyed on vessels in the Atlantic but, with a
permanent base on an island located just off the southwest coast of The
Florida mainland. The Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico were the
principal scenes of his activities. The pirate leader also signed himself
Richard Coeur de Leon on occasion.
Jose Gaspar, who was to become Gasparilla and scourge the coast
of Florida, was born in 1756, at Barcelona, Spain. His parents were
prominent people, loyal to their King. After his early schooling, at 18
years of age, he entered the naval academy. There he became known as a
bold leader of his classmates, a young man fond of dress, charming and
polished in manner. Gaspar graduated at 22. Upon receiving his papers,
he began service as a lieutenant in the Royal Navy of Spain.
At this time, Charles III, called the greatest of the Bourbons, had
been on the throne for 19 years. During those years Spain had added
greatly to her prestige through many naval victories. She had acquired
Minorca, and was warring with England over control of Gibraltar. The
country also had made an alliance with the American colonies who at the
time were trying to free themselves of British rule.