Pirates Bay Water Park, the city’s popular recreational site on East Road, is well named. Pirates did indeed roam this area before and after Jean Laffite established his headquarters in Galveston in the early 1800s. Laffite arrived in Galveston after the War of 1812 in New Orleans, where his men helped the U.S. beat the Brits.
While the war had been a great public relations move for the pirates, U.S. officials worried about the post-war activity of the Laffite fleet. So, in 1820 Lafitte and his men were told to pack up and leave.
Already acquainted with the land and waterways in this bay area, several pirates didn’t move far from Galveston Island. Giving up their piracy profession, they decided to make a living hauling freight, farming and fishing and if needed, even help out in another war. After all, Texas wouldn’t be part of Mexico forever.
A future Texas Army volunteer, Tilton would build a home at Cove; Joseph Lawrence at Old River; and Charles Cronea, another future Texas soldier, on Bolivar Peninsula.
James Campbell, a top officer in Laffite’s “navy,” lived for a time at Double Bayou, and former pirates Andrew Roach and James Haney resided near the Trinity River in Chambers County.
Though the former pirates enjoyed getting together and talking over old times, they usually clammed up when around other people. Only one – Charles Cronea -- was an outgoing, outspoken jabber-jaws. Quite a character, he was sought after by curiosity seekers wanting to know what it was like working for the world-famous Jean Laffite.
Cronea didn’t hesitate to poke fun at his former boss, saying Laffite was in denial about being a pirate, claiming instead to be a buccaneer or a privateer. “Don’t let him fool you. Laffite was a pirate, all right!”
True: Laffite did not encourage violence, and as an officer and a gentleman, he always showed concern for the safety of women and children on board the ships his men captured. He was furious when rogue pirates kidnapped a 14-year-old boy from a whaling ship in the Atlantic Ocean. That boy was Charles Tilton.
A book, titled “Kidnapped by Pirates,” has been written by a great-great-granddaughter, Evelyn Gill Hilton, a retired teacher who was born in Baytown and grew up hearing stories about her adventurous ancestor. The book is available on Amazon.
Tilton was serving as an apprentice on a New England whaler in 1814 when pirates attacked the ship, sinking it in the Atlantic Ocean. Tilton was forced to go with the pirates to Laffite’s headquarters in Galveston.
Laffite was furious with them for attacking an American vessel and kidnapping the youth. Feeling sorry for Tilton, he provided him a temporary job as a cabin boy until he could return home.
The temporary job turned into a six-year stint and his promotion from cabin boy to an officer’s position.
Back home in New Hampshire, his family didn’t know until 1820 what happened to him. They feared the worst – that he had been lost at sea.
Tilton eventually settled in Cove, using a land grant he had acquired years earlier from the Mexican government. He married Sam Barber’s daughter Anna, and they had nine children, Elizabeth, David, Jane, Benjamin, Arthur, Martha, Laura, Charlene, and John Milton.
Tilton’s assignment from Sam Houston during the battle at San Jacinto in 1836 was to guard the baggage of the Texas soldiers at Harrisburg.
After the Texas Revolution, he became involved in the business of hauling freight.
He died on Christmas Eve in 1860 during a business trip to Galveston and was buried at the Tilton Cemetery on present-day Farm Road 565. The first person buried there was Michael Chaveno, a friend of the family and a veteran of the battle at San Jacinto.
Soon after Tilton’s death, Cronea and his daughter traveled to Cove from High Island to pay their respects to the widow.
Wanda Orton is a retired managing editor of The Sun. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, Attention: Wanda Orton.