George Schumph and the death of Pierre Laffite

1822 map of the Yucatán peninsula in Mexico. Isla Mujeres (not shown) is near “Cankum I.” in the upper right-hand corner. Dzilam de Bravo appears as V. de Silan, east of Santa Clara (S. Clara).

1822 map of the Yucatán peninsula in Mexico. Isla Mujeres (not shown) is near “Cankum I.” in the upper right-hand corner. Dzilam de Bravo appears as V. de Silan, east of Santa Clara (S. Clara).

George Schumph, who meets with Napoleon in Charleston in Napoleon in America, is one of those shadowy figures about whom little is known. A native of Quebec, he is remembered in the historical record because of his association with the New Orleans-based pirates, Pierre and Jean Laffite. Thanks in part to Schumph’s testimony, we have the details of Pierre Laffite’s death.

In New Orleans

George Bankhead Schumph was a Canadian sailor. He may have been involved in the Champ d’Asile, the 1818 Bonapartist attempt to form an armed colony in Texas, which I wrote about here and here. Based on a list provided by Charles Lallemand, the Louisiana Courier of May 19, 1820 names “Schumphs” as one of the men at the Champ d’Asile.

By that time, Schumph was working with the Laffites. On March 7, 1820, after sailing from the brothers’ base at Galveston, Schumph landed with Pierre Laffite at New Orleans on the Pegasus, a schooner that had once been a United States gunboat. (1) When Jean Laffite abandoned Galveston in May 1820, George Schumph was one of the men who went with him.

Attack in Mexico

The following year Schumph was Pierre Laffite’s master-at-arms, privateering near Mexico’s Yucatán peninsula. On June 17, 1821, off Campeche, they captured the schooner Constitution, which was sailing from Cadiz to Veracruz. On the ship they found 1,200 barrels of liquor, 900 bottles of oil, lace and leather goods, and silver worth $50,000 to $60,000. Wanting to dispose of the merchandise, Pierre made a deal with a man named Clemente Cámera on Isla Mujeres near Cancún. Cámara could keep half the goods for his own use in return for $6,500 and his commitment to sell the rest in Campeche.

In October, Pierre delivered most of the cargo to Cámera’s small farm. Pierre, his mistress Lucia Allen, and his men stayed at the farm while Cámera took some of the goods to Campeche. Around 10 p.m. on October 30, they heard a small group of men approaching. When the leader identified himself as Miguel Molas, commanding a dozen soldiers and civilian volunteers, Laffite’s men fired on them. Though Molas was wounded, his men soon forced the attackers back. A few privateers were killed and others wounded. Those who could get away, including George Schumph, ran into the interior or escaped in a canoe. Molas loaded five prisoners, including Pierre Laffite and Lucia Allen, onto his boats.

When Molas embarked for the mainland at dawn, he found Laffite’s fully armed vessel in his path. Molas ran his boats ashore. Most of his men panicked and fled once the privateers opened fire. Outnumbered by his prisoners, Molas was compelled to abandon them on the beach.

Laffite collected his scattered party, including Schumph, and boarded a small fishing boat. They sailed northwest around the peninsula to a protected lagoon known as Las Bocas, about 10 miles from the village of Dzilam de Bravo. Pierre was extremely ill with a fever, and perhaps wounded. Though his companions tended him as best they could, he died on November 9. The next day, Schumph and the others took Pierre’s body into Dzilam de Bravo. Schumph asked permission from the mayor to bury Laffite in the churchyard of Santa Clara of Dzidzantún, an old Franciscan convent. Pierre Laffite was laid in the ground “with honor” and with appropriate words from the curate. (2)

George Schumph was arrested shortly thereafter on suspicion of complicity with pirates. In particular, he was thought to have been involved in the gun battle on Isla Mujeres. Trying to explain his connection with Pierre Laffite without incriminating himself as a pirate, Schumph testified that he was a Canadian merchant who had come to the island to discuss some business with Laffite when Molas attacked. To explain his lack of travelling papers, Schumph said he had jumped into the water to escape the attack and thus left his trunk behind, with his passport in it. He was held for several weeks until he agreed to provide information on the location of hidden Laffite prize goods. On December 4, Schumph was released. (3)

After that Schumph disappears from history. He may have gone to Columbia with Jean Laffite to serve as a corsair. (4) As for his origins, in his testimony of November 1821, George Schumph is listed as age 26, a native of Quebec and a bachelor. This means he would have been born around 1795.

On a message board of the Ancestry genealogical website, there is reference to a George Christian Schump or Christian-Adolf Schumpfe (born in 1753), who came to Quebec from Enkirch, Germany. He married Marie-Monique Samson. One of their eight children was named George Burkard, baptized on February 17, 1796. Marie-Monique died young, and George was raised in an orphanage in Les Îles-de-la-Madeleine, Quebec. (5) Though it’s impossible to be certain, the similarity of the names (George Bankhead Schumph vs George Burkard Schump), approximate birth year (1795 vs 1796) and location (Quebec) suggest they could be the same person.

  1. William C. Davis, The Pirates Laffite: The Treacherous World of the Corsairs of the Gulf (Orlando, 2005), p. 428.
  2. Ibid., p. 454.
  3. The circumstances surrounding Pierre Laffite’s death and Schumph’s involvement are recounted in Davis, The Pirates Laffite, pp. 452-455.
  4. Isidro A. Beluche Roma, “Privateers of Cartagena,” The Louisiana Historical Quarterly, Vol. 39, No. 1 (January 1956), p. 87.
  5. http://boards.ancestry.ca/thread.aspx?mv=flat&m=23&p=surnames.schumpp Accessed March 20, 2015. There is more information about the Schumph (or Jomphe) family on the Genealogy.com website: http://www.genealogy.com/forum/surnames/topics/chiasson/410/.

10 commments on “George Schumph and the death of Pierre Laffite”

  • BLACKFOOTBLACK@AOL.COM says:

    I AM RELATED TO SCHUMPH AND CHAISSON FAMILY THAT OF CAPE BRETON AND AUCOIN,

  • Mario Michel Jomphe says:

    Very interesting. I have the généalogy of the family Schumpf, now it’s Jomphe, from my son to 1495 in Germany!!! and never heard about that story!!!!

    • Shannon Selin says:

      How wonderful that your son has been able to trace the family back so far, Mario. I’m glad you came across my post and can now add George’s story to the Schumph history.

  • Mario michel Jomphe says:

    Real jomphe from Magadalena island made all research, he made a good book about it

  • Real Jomphe says:

    I’ve done genealogical research on the Schumpf family; the name Schumph later became Jomphe. My ancestor Laurent Schumpf had a brother named George Burkard Schumpf, whom I lost track of in 1817. It was quite a surprise to see the name of George Schumph associated to that of the pirate Pierre Laffite.
    Could this be George Bankhead Schumph?

    Here are a few notes on him:

    George Burkard was born in Québec on February 17, 1796. His parents were Monique Samson and Christian Schumpf who worked as a tailor. In 1806, his mother Monique died.

    In 1808, at the age of 12 and a half, George is hired by Sir William Masson who will teach him the trade of making fur muffs. From 1812 to 1815, he will work for Jacob Pozen and Michel Falardeau in Québec City as a manchonnier (1) and furrier.

    He will later reappear in Montreal on April 26, 1817 when he signs a lease for a house rental. These will be the last documents referring to him.

    A research through death registers before 1825 have not able me to find his name: this probably means that his death could have occurred after this date.
    His disappearance is an enigma for me.

    While trying to find answers, I don’t seem to be able to find any links between the two. Quite the contrary, everything seems to distance them.

    In all the documents that I have consulted with regards to George Burkard Schumph, it is never mentioned that George was in any way interested by the sea, sailing or even weapons. In addition, his father Christian Schumpf came to America with German troups associated to the British to fight the rebellion during the American Revolution.

    According to some notes, it appears that George Bankhead Schumph was a navigator and master of arms under Pierre Laffite who helped the Americans fight England.

    I have several documents on which can be found George Burkard Schumph’s signature.

    Is there a signature of George Bankhead Schumph during his interrogation at Mérida in 1821? I believe that comparing their signatures would be a good way of finding out if these two George Schumph are the same person.

    (1) A manchonnier (furrier) is someone who works with and assembles animal pelts. He makes fur garments and clothing.

    • Shannon Selin says:

      It’s great to hear from you, Real. Thank you so much for sharing what you have found in your research about George Burkard Schumph. It’s interesting that he disappears from the records after April 1817. That leaves open the possibility that the same George Schumph went to New Orleans, participated in the Champ d’Asile in 1818, and wound up with Pierre Laffite in 1820-21.

      There is apparently a transcript in the Archives of the Notary Public in Mérida containing a file labelled: “Year of 1821 Investigative Proceedings against the Englishman D. George Schumph” (see: https://journals.tdl.org/laffitesc/index.php/laffitesc/article/view/309/281). It might be worth contacting the Mérida civic authorities to see if there is a document in the file that has George Schumph’s signature on it. You might also try contacting Jeff Modzelewski via the Laffite Society, to see if he came across any reference to Schumph’s signature when he was translating Rubio Mañe’s The Pirates Laffite (referenced in the link). Good luck with your search! I’d be very interesting in learning what you find out.

  • Wayne MacDonald says:

    George Shumph was born in 1796 to Christian Shumph & Monique Samson. Just recently found out there is a family connection

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López and Gregorio laid the dead pirate in the ground ‘with honor’…and with appropriate words from the curate…. When they were done they placed over his grave a rude stone marked with his name, the date, and the hour of his death.

William C. Davis