Miguel Molas, was a pirata, not a pirate!

Copyright 2011 by Ric Hajovsky

Miguel Molas was a Spaniard from Barcelona who immigrated to Mexico. In 1810, he moved into the old Spanish fort of El Cuyo, near Rio Lagartos, Yucatan. The fort had been abandoned since the late 1600s. He had been employed by the Yucatan Government as a military commander to preside over a newly formed watch-guard there assigned to keep an eye out for pirates and enforce the laws concerning unlawful trade with foreign vessels bringing contraband goods into Yucatan. In 1814, Molas quit his job at El Cuyo, after finding he could make more money dealing with the pirates and smugglers than he could on a government salary. Molas had made many contacts in the illegal trade and so began cruising the coast of Quintana Roo, dealing with and guiding the outlaws, eventually writing a book detailing the reefs, shoals, and ports of that coast in 1817 entitled Derrotero de la Península de Yucatán desde todas las costas e islas, bajos, puertos, y arrecifes, trabajado por la práctica, y cumplido conociemiento de Don Miguel Molas, en el año 1817. Soon, he was branded a “pirata” by the government, who used the same word, pirata, to describe both dealers in contraband as well as marauding buccaneers, similar to the way we used the word pirate to describe the act of counterfeiting videos and CDs. He was never actually what we today think of as a buccaneer.

When the Yucatan government wanted to open the new port of Nueva Malaga on the north coast, Molas managed to sweet talk his way back into their good graces and in 1821 he was re-hired by the government to collect taxes there. That job did not last long, and he was soon fired for his reluctance to turn over the funds he collected. Nueva Malaga was renamed Yalahau in 1823.

In 1821, the year Mexico gained its independence from Spain, Molas had a fight in Isla Mujeres with Pierre Lafitte, the brother of Jean Lafitte; both pirates (and buccaneers!) of world renown. Pierre died of his wounds shortly thereafter. That affair did not redeem Molas in the eyes of the law though, and a warrant was made out for the contabandista’s arrest, along with his side-kick, Buenaventura Leon, for trafficking in slaves in 1823. However, slick-talking Molas did his best to persuade the government that they would be better off by pardoning him and letting him help them ward off the coastal interlopers. In 1824, the government did just that. The partnership didn’t last very long, however, before Molas was up to his old tricks. Soon there was another order for his arrest issued and in 1828 he was captured and sent to Merida where he was sentenced to death by hanging.

Molas somehow managed to escape the gallows and fled to Cozumel with his wife and two children. Once on the island, the fugitive Molas built a rancho where the town now stands and named it San Miguel, using the name that Montejo had given the place 300 years earlier. Molas abandoned the island in 1830 and moved farther south to present-day Belize, and his rancho on Cozumel was re-occupied by another contrabandista who had moved to Mexico from Cataluña, Vicente Alvino Cammaño.

Still believing he was a wanted man, Molas stayed in hiding, unknowing that with the change in government, he was no longer considered a fugitive. He became ill and tried to get medicine in Chemax, but died on the road back to Belize. A Mayan who had accompanied him to Chemax buried the old rascal and went back to tell his family. Two young men were sent out to dig up the body and bring it home for a family burial, but after carting the putrid corpse for miles, then loading it unto a sailing canoe to get back to his family, they said the body slipped overboard in a storm. More likely they just couldn’t take the smell anymore!

In 1848, Miguel Molas’ nephew, Captain Miguel Molas, led a column of refugees from Valladolid to Dzilam, near Rio Lagartos, where they were picked up by an American sailing vessel named the True Blue and carried away to Cozumel. Later, these refugees became known as the Repobladores de 1848.

Punta Molas, the extreme northern end of Cozumel, is named after Miguel Molas (by Miguel Molas).