In the early 19th century, Pedro Gilbert captained a crew of pirates that hunted ships around the Caribbean, Florida and the coast of Africa. On their ship, the Panda, Gilbert and his band of pirates were known to use trickery to lure merchant ships into danger. One of the Panda pirates’ favorite tactics was to guide their unaware prey to sandbars, immobilizing the targeted ship. One such sandbar off the coast of Florida was nicknamed ‘Gilbert’s Bar’ after it was used by the crew of the Panda in their hunts.
Fate finally caught up with Pedro Gilbert in 1832 as he was seeking victims in the Caribbean. The Panda came across a ship named the Mexican, which was hauling a large cargo of silver. Gilbert seized the ship and captured the crew with little to no fight. With the Mexican immobilized, the pirates filled their ship with as much silver as they could haul, totaling around $20,000 in worth. When the Pandawas filled with silver, the pirates tied up the captured sailors and locked them inside the plundered ship. Before the pirate crew set sail, they set fire to the Mexican, with the defeated crew still tied up inside.
Like a stereotypical, arrogant film villain, Pedro Gilbert did not stay to watch the death of his victims. Therefore, the pirates did not see the crew of the Mexican break free of their bonds, extinguish the fire and keep the ship afloat. The sailors were able to navigate their charred ship all the way back to their homeport of Salem, Massachusetts, in the United States of America.
When the Mexican reached the United States, news of Pedro Gilbert and the Panda spread quickly and the public was outraged. The U.S. government began a hunt for the pirates and they asked other countries to be on the lookout for the Panda.
It took three years (until 1835) for the manhunt to have a breakthrough. A British ship found and sank the Panda near the West African coastline. Pedro Gilbert and the other members of his crew that were captured were then transported across the Atlantic to Boston, where they would be tried for piracy. Gilbert and the crew of the Panda were found guilty of piracy in a widely publicized trial and nearly all of the pirates were executed by hanging.
- Outlaws of the Atlantic: Sailors, Pirates, and Motley Crews in the Age of Sail by Marcus Rediker. Boston: Beacon Press, 2014.