Cindy Vallar, Editor & Reviewer
P.O. Box 425, Keller, TX 76244-0425
In the Aftermath of Kidd
By Cindy Vallar
About a month before Kidd’s execution in May 1701, a pamphlet appeared at London booksellers. The author was listed as “a Person of Quality to a Kinsman of the Earl of Bellomont in Ireland” and was titled A Full Account of the Proceedings in Relation to Capt. Kidd. (Full, 215) It included details of the maneuverings of the East India Company after Kidd’s taking of the Quedagh Merchant.
The Company took occasion to present a Petition, in which they said they had Witnesses enough, but desired that all Gold, Silver or Jewels, which had been or should be Seized with Pirates, should not be disposed of, but put it into the Company’s Possession, to be preserved for the use of the Proprietors in India. The 2d of March 1696 . . . the same Company in a Petition to the Lords of the Admiralty took Notice, that of late great Numbers of ill Men had set out Ships from Europe and the West-Indies, and had commited Piraces under English Colours, whereby their Effects in India were in Danger to be Seized, and pray’d that their Ships might be Impower’d to take Pirates, and that the Company might erect a Court of Admiralty in India to Condemn, them.Another consequence that arose from Kidd’s capture of the Quedagh Merchant and Emperor Aurangzeb’s cessation of trade was William III’s Proclamation of Clemency. Quite a few EIC shareholders were also members of parliament, and the trade embargo affected their pocketbooks. As a means of suppressing piracy, they formally requested that the monarch offer the scoundrels a pardon, which the king did on 8 December 1698. This Act of Grace offered clemency to all pirates with two notable exceptions – Henry Every and William Kidd.
The Lords referred this Petition to Sir Charles Hedges, the Judg of the Admiralty, who on the 8th day of the same month made a Report, that the regular way would be for the Lords of the Admiralty to obtain Commission under the Great Seal, giving Authority to them to Grant Commissions to the Company’s Ships to take Pirates, but to be sent home in Custody. . . . This Report did not approve the Company’s project, of being trusted with a Court of Admiralty in the Indies, and therefore was as little approv’d by the Company: Thereupon Sir Charles Hedges was Ordered to attend the Admiralty Board, and did acquaint them, that if their Lordships had a Power to that purpose – Granted under the Great Seal, they might appoint a Vice Admiral at Bombay, who might Lawfully proceed against the Ships of Pirates, (if they thought, any Body fit to be so far intrusted) but still to send home the Persons in Custody. (Full, 223-224)
William Kidd (left) by Sir James Thornhill (Source: Wikimedia Commons)
Henry Every (right) from 1725 woodcut in A General History of the Pyrates (Source: Beej's Pirate Images)
As the above shows, the EIC suggested ways in which it might curb piracy. They also sought to have the government address the collusion between pirates and colonists. Another target was the destruction of the pirate haven on St. Mary’s Island off Madagascar. An example of the collusion mentioned in correspondence concerned Governor Benjamin Fletcher of New York. Peter Delanoy, an assemblyman, wrote a letter that William Penn delivered to the Board of Trade during a visit to London.
We have a parcel of pirates in these parts which [the people] call Red-Sea men, who often get great bootys of Arabian Gold. His Excellency gives all due encouragement to these men, because they make all due acknowledgements to him . . . . And now Sir that I have told you our distemper you will easily guesse at the cure we desire. It is the removal of this man, and we are not solicitous whether he is gently recalled or falls into disgrace, so we are rid of him. (Selinger, 64-65)
Thomas Tew meets with Governor Benjamin Fletcher by Howard Pyle
published in Harper's Magazine, November 1894
(Source: Wikimedia Commons)
Even a Company representative in New York mentioned the problem in 1690.
It is certain that these villains frequently say that they carry their unjust gains to New-York, where they are permitted egress and regress without control, spending such coin there in the usual lavish manner of such persons. (Zacks, 8)Over time and with a shift in public perspective, the eradication of collusion was eventually achieved. Destroying the pirates at Madagascar proved a far more difficult task to accomplish, although one man proposed a radical plan to EIC directors in August 1713. Mr. Travers’s idea was to send an expedition to trade with Mozambique and Madagascar. Since such a journey would require an “extraordinary strong [ship] to proceed on this voyage,” he put forth the suggestion to build a frigate of 200 tons with an armament of sixteen cannon. (Bowen, 135) If the Company granted him this privilege, he would pay them three percent of the gross sale of what merchandise he brought back. The directors declined because there was a fairly good chance such a ship might end up in the hands of the pirates, which would merely give them a better weapon to use against the EIC.
In the end, nothing of great significance was achieved as regarded the piracy problem in the Indian Ocean, and the sea rovers continued to strike EIC ships, as one devoted Company man learned in 1720.
During his career, James Macrae served as one of their captains, a pirate hunter, and the Governor of Madras. One particular incident in his life made him famous after Captain Charles Johnson recounted his defiance and heroism when facing Edward England, a pirate who had taken the King’s Pardon in 1718, and his quartermaster, Richard Taylor.1
Two years later, Macrae commanded Cassandra, an East Indiaman of 380 tons. The ship had been leased to the EIC and sailed round the Cape of Good Hope with two other vessels. Greenwich was a Company ship captained by Richard Kirby. The other vessel belonged to the Ostend Company of the Austrian Netherlands (Belgium). Normally, these two companies were rivals, but on this occasion the competitors had set aside their differences to sail through pirate-infested waters around Africa and India.
The trio of ships approached a natural harbor where pirates were known to careen their vessels. A 250-ton former VOC vessel with twenty-eight guns was there, but she had been wrecked on a reef. The stranded men ashore were members of Olivier Levasseur’s pirates. (He and the majority of his crew were on Île de Mayotte thirty-five miles distant.)
Capt. Kirby and I concluding it might be of great Service to the East-India Company to destroy such a Nest of Rogues, were ready to sail for that purpose the 17th of August, about Eight o’Clock in the Morning, when we discover’d two Pyrate-Ships standing into the Bay . . . one of thirty four and the other of thirty Guns. (Fox, 272)Unbeknownst to Macrae at the time, these vessels were pirate ships and their captain was Edward England. They were returning to Mayotte after visiting Saint Mary’s Island at Madagascar to dispense with the booty they had seized from a rich Moorish prize.
I immediately went on board the Greenwich, where they seemed very diligent in Preparations for an Engagement, and I left Capt. Kirby with mutual Promises of standing by each other. I then unmoor’d, got under Sail, and brought two Boats a-head to row me close to the Greenwich; but he being open to a Valley, had a Breeze, and made the best of his way from me; which an Ostender in our Company, of twenty two Guns, seeing, did the same, tho’ the Captain had promised heartily to engage with us, and I believe would have been as good, as his Word, [if] Capt. Kirby has kept his. (Fox, 272)Edward England aboard Victory and his consort Fancy, under the command of Jasper Seagar, quickly maneuvered their vessels to prevent Cassandra’s escape. Macrae fired a shot around 12:30 P. M. to let Kirby know he needed help; for whatever reason, Kirby and his Dutch counterpart hove-to instead and watched the ensuing fight. Macrae later wrote to his bosses at the EIC:
[They] basely deserted us, and left us engaged with barbarous and inhuman Enemies, with their Black and Bloody Flags hanging over us, without the least Appearance of escaping being cut to pieces. (Fox, 272)Having no other option, Macrae fired broadside after broadside at Fancy. His men understood that to do otherwise meant certain death. They succeeded in keeping the pirates at bay for more than three hours. Seagar had endured enough. His men manned the sweeps and brought Fancy in so those pirates not wounded or dead could board Cassandra, but Macrae had his gunners fire at Fancy’s water line – a tactic that obliterated the giant oars.
England, who had been making repairs to Victory, reentered the fight around four o’clock. Having no other options, Macrae had his helmsmen maneuver closer to shore to run Cassandra aground. Fancy had a shallower draft, so Seagar saw this as the perfect opportunity to come alongside his prey. Half a pistol shot from Cassandra, though, Fancy struck a sand bar and came to a shuddering stop.
Here we had a more violent Engagement than before. All my Officers and most of my Men behaved with unexpected Courage; and as we had a considerable Advantage by having a Broadside to his Bow, we did him great Damage, so that had Capt. Kirby come in then, I believe we should have taken both, for we had one of them sure; but the other Pyrate (who was still firing at us) seeing the Greenwich did not offer to assist us, he supply’d his Consort with three Boats full of fresh Men. (Fox, 273)
At this point, Kirby had witnessed enough to know the outcome of the battle, or so he thought. Macrae later wrote that Kirby left “us struggling hard for Life in the very Jaws of Death.” (Fox, 273)
Two hours later, with grappling irons wrapping themselves around Cassandra’s stern, Macrae ordered his men to abandon ship. Using the acrid smoke of the guns to camouflage their escape, most of the crew obeyed. Some rowed over in long boats; some swam. Thirteen, however, remained aboard Cassandra. Ten were already dead, but three badly injured crewmen were slashed to pieces once the boarders found them.
Between them, England and Seagar had 500 men at the start of the battle. When it was over, nearly 100 had died from incoming shot. The attempt to take this Company ship had been the longest and bloodiest fight they had endured throughout their reign of terror on the African coast; it was also the most damage sustained from a merchantman in pirate history.
As the last vestiges of light faded, some pirates took potshots at Macrae’s men as they disappeared into the jungle. England was so irate that he offered £2,000 to the man who brought him James Macrae, alive or dead.
With the sun rising above the horizon the next day, Macrae guided his men on a forced march, even though they were exhausted and he had sustained a musket ball wound to his head. His intended destination was a village twenty-five miles inland. Once they reached it, the tribesmen fed and sheltered them. They also stood guard in case any of the pirates pursued them. But the simple fact was this was an island. There was no way off it without a boat and sooner or later the pirates were bound to find them.
I caused a Report to be spread that I was dead of my Wounds, which much abated their Fury. About ten days after, being pretty well recover’d, and hoping the Malice of our Enemies was nigh over, I began to consider the dismal Condition we were reduced to, being in a Place where we had no hopes of getting a Passage home, all of us in a manner naked, not having had time to get another Shirt, or a Pair of Shoes. (Fox, 274)Macrae could come up with no solution other than a bold plan the pirates would never expect. He walked right into their camp.
From Macrae’s perspective, the plunder the pirates had found on Cassandra – £75,000 – should have further lessened their bloodlust. Edward England, as well as a fair portion of his men, were duly impressed by Macrae’s moxie, especially since he entered their camp alone and unarmed. Richard Taylor, on the other hand, was still angry over the losses Fancy had suffered. As spokesman for those who agreed with him, he voted for immediately killing Macrae. What saved him from that fate were a few pirates who had once sailed with Macrae and held him in good esteem. Negotiations ensued.
[I]n the end I managed my Tack so well, that they made me a Present of the said Shatter’d Ship, which was Dutch-built, call’d the Fancy, about three hundred Tuns, and also a hundred
and twenty-nine Bales of the Company’s Cloth, tho’ they would not give me a Rag of my own Cloaths. (Fox, 275)
Macrae waited until the pirates, especially Taylor, got drunk again, before he reentered the jungle and kept watch while the pirates converted his former vessel, Cassandra, into a worthy pirate ship.
During this time, he discovered that his second mate – sometimes identified as John or Richard Lazenby – had been taken and forced to join the pirates because they needed a pilot familiar with India’s Malabar coast.2 After England went on board Cassandra, the pirate ships began raising their anchors. Macrae returned to the shore and pleaded for Lazenby’s release. The pirates refused and sailed away on 3 September. Only then did Macrae collect his crew and together they made repairs to Fancy. Five days later, he and forty-three survivors embarked on their voyage with only “five Tuns of Water aboard.” (Fox, 275)
[A]fter a Passage of forty-eight days, I arrived here [Bombay] October 26, almost naked and starv’d, having been reduced to a Pint of Water a day, and almost in despair of ever seeing Land, by reason of the Calms we met with between the Coasts of Arabia and Malabar. We had in all thirteen men kill’d, and twenty four wounded . . . . (Fox, 275)
On 16 November 1720, he penned a letter detailing what had occurred. His account appeared in The Post Boy on 25 and 27 April of the following year. In it, he wrote:
I am persuaded, had our Consort, the Greenwich done his Duty, we had destroy’d both of them, and got two hundred thousand Pounds for our Owners and selves; whereas to his deserting us, the Loss of the Cassandra may justly be imputed. I have deliver’d all the Bales that were given me into the Company’s Warehouse, for which the Governor and Council have order’d me a Reward. (Fox, 275)
What he had to say differed from Kirby’s version of events. Kirby claimed to have tried to come to Macrae’s aid, according to his log book.
Monday August 8th 1720 At 1 pm the Cassandra, being the leewardmost ship, was engaged by the small ship [Fancy]. They fought under the black flag at the maintopmast (with death’s head in itt), the red flag at the foretopmast head, and St. George’s colours at the Ensigne staff. We tacked and stood in for to assist him, when perceiving the Cassandra aground, tacked and stood off, making the best of our way for Bombay. About 8 following spy’d one of the Pirates in chase after us, she having the land breeze first got almost within gunshot of us before we had the breeze, then we cut away our longboat and lost our yawl, the main giving way, with two sailors in her, by name James Tate and William Prescott. Night approaching, soon lost sight of the Pirate and proceeded without any further attempt. We were not fully satisfied whether the Cassandra was taken or not. The last time we saw her perceived them hotly engaged, but could not come to her assistance. (Hill, March, 40)
In spite of how events transpired, the EIC failed to hold any inquiries into the matter. Kirby’s reputation was ruined, but Macrae’s persistence and military maneuvers would be remembered and soon rewarded.
In the meanwhile, Lazenby remained a prisoner of the pirates. He would later recount what transpired in a narrative. A day’s sail from India, the pirates sighted two English vessels.
Whereupon the Captain called me to him and told me he would cut me in pieces if I did not immediately tell him the private signals agreed upon between us and our consorts from England. I made him answer that I knew of none whereupon he abused me, calling me scurrilous names shook his broadsword at me, and said he would plague me like the dog I was, unless I told him. (Fox, 277)
In reality, the two ships came from Muscat, which the pirates seized and plundered.
Later, they encountered a Company fleet that was comprised of the London, a ghurab called Victory, Defiance, and Revenge, which was towing a floating battery called Prahm. The EIC fleet was under the command of a civilian administrator, a man named Brown, who was an incompetent seaman. Rather than confront the pirates, he ordered his vessels to keep away from them, even though he had five ships to their two and also more guns. This lack of action merely emboldened England. In ship-of-the-line fashion, Cassandra and Victory passed each galley, delivering broadside after broadside. One captain refused to return fire without Brown’s okay, and Brown panicked and ordered his fleet to scatter. Most of his officers and men were so enraged that morale collapsed throughout the fleet.
One by one they returned to Bombay, but Brown’s failure to act demonstrated to rival companies and Indian allies how weak and incompetent the EIC’s fleet was. Governor Boone, however, was highly capable. He ordered Brown to sail out to sea immediately, but this time, James Macrae was in overall command and his orders were to seek out and destroy the pirates no matter the cost. When he sighted his quarry, he ordered his ships to clear for action.
Ships in Bombay Harbour, circa 1731 by Samuel Scott
(Source: Wikimedia Commons)
During this interlude, the pirates continued their marauding, sailing as far south as Cochin (Kochi), India. They encountered a drunk master off Tellicherry (Thalassery), who let slip the information about Macrae and his pursuit of them.
Lazenby reported their response in his narrative.
‘The Villain . . . that we treated so civilly as to give him a ship and other presents, and now to come armed against us? He ought to be hanged, and since we cannot shew our resentment on him let us hang the dogs who wish him well if clear,’ says the Quartermaster,‘Damn England!’
Then the Quartermaster told me to prepare, for the next day he would hang me like a dog, not doubting that I would take the first opportunity to fight against them as Captain Macrae was doing though they had so civilly used him as to give him a ship to go from Johanna. (Fox, 281)
The pirates next attacked a ship on their way to Calicut (Kozhikode). At the time, Lazenby wasn’t on the main deck.
[T]he Captain and the Quartermaster were so malicious as to order me to the boom in the hope I should be shot. The Quartermaster told me that if ever he knew me off the deck in time of action he would shoot me through the head.
I told him he had better do it at once than keep me in misery there, at which he begged the Captain to correct me, he being lame of his hands. According to his desire Captain Taylor fetched his cane and began to belabour me so unmercifully that in the end some of the people hindered him and said he should be ashamed to so abuse me, telling him they would have me put ashore at Cochin. (Fox, 281)
The following day, the pirates stopped a Dutch vessel and offloaded the drunken master. Several suggested that Lazenby also be released, but Richard Taylor refused. They eventually made their way to Mauritius, where they planned to repair Victory, which was in dire straits. Before leaving the island, the pirates voted England out as captain. He and three others were deposited on a wild section of Mauritius. They eventually made their way to Madagascar, where England passed away in late 1720 or early 1721.
By this time, the number of pirates still on the island was dwindling. La Compagnie perpétuelle des Indes, France’s East India company, had reformed in 1719. It was tired of the repeated attacks on its trade and tried a different tack than outright confrontation. It offered a pardon to the pirates; almost all accepted. Thereafter, Madagascar ceased to be a haven for pirates.
Taylor opted to transfer to Cassandra, which he rechristened Victory. Levasseur was voted captain of the old Victory. They continued marauding and finally reached Île de Bourbon (Réunion Island) on the morning of 8 April 1720.
They found lying there a large Portuguese ship of 70 guns, which they took with small resistance, by reason she had lost all her masts and all save 21 guns in a great storm in latitude 13.
She had on board, when they tooke her, the Viceroy of Goa, and several other gentlemen that were passengers, and had gone ashore, came aboard the Pirate ship in the morning, believing she and her consort were English Company ships. (Fox, 284-285)
This extremely rich prize and the 2,000-dollar ransom for the Viceroy netted each pirate 5,000 guineas in gold and forty-two diamonds. As for Lazenby, he
begged earnestly to be put ashore, which in the end was granted, and on the 10th instant, I went ashore with the Viceroy and all the other prisoners. The Governor of this place interceded with the Pirates to leave a ship to carry away all those landed from the Viceroy’s ship, they being more than the Island could properly support. With smooth promises, the Pirates said they would call a council to see what should be done. But instead, they sailed away during the night, carrying with them the best of the sailors taken in the two ships, besides 200 Mozambique slaves taken from the Viceroy’s ship. (Fox, 285)
After these latest insults, the EIC renewed its pleas for a government response. Four warships, under the command of Commodore Thomas Matthews, were sent out to destroy the pirate nests in the East Indies in February 1721. Two ships were damaged in a storm and had to put in at Lisbon, Portugal for repairs. Rather than wait, Matthews continued on to Madagascar, but none of his quarry were there. He opted not to await the arrival of the rest of his squadron and sailed for Bombay, but he did leave behind a letter intended for one of his captains still to come. In doing so, he provided pirates with news of his presence – information that Taylor and Levasseur soon acquired when they visited the anchorage and read the letter.Notes:
Deeming it unlikely that George I would grant him or his men pardons, Taylor sailed Cassandra to Porto Bello, Panama. They surrendered in 1723 to the Spaniards, who absolved them of any wrongdoing in the king’s name. Taylor later joined the Guarda Costa. Levasseur’s whereabouts became obscure until he was captured in 1730, taken to Île de Bourbon, and hanged.
1. Some records identify Edward England as Jasper Seagar, but Charles Grey indicates there is some confusion in the records about this pirate. In some sources, Seagar and England are one and the same, but Grey writes: “I cannot find any authority for either assertion other than that in the accounts of the taking of the Cassandra (by Lazenby and Kirby) the name of the commander of the Fancy is given as Jasper Seagar, and that England assisted or rather sympathized with Captain Macrae, of the Cassandra, by reason that he was a countryman. Regarding the latter, the fact that Macrae was an Ayrshire Scot, rather puts England out of court as an Irishman, and as to the former, had Seagar been his real name it would certainly have appeared in some of the numerous contemporary accounts concerning him.” (304) In point of fact, Jasper Seagar doesn’t appear in any known records before this incident. Baylus Brooks, in Sailing East, suggests that Seagar may have been an older pirate who had sailed with Henry Every and remained on Madagascar after Every and the others returned to the Caribbean. Grey also points out that Seagar’s appearance “as commanding the Fancy, seems to be explained by Macrae’s mention of England as Chief Captain, which we take to mean that he was a sort of Commodore . . . over the two ships at the time . . . . This seems further confirmed by his own statement to Macrae that his influence over the Pirates was very small at that time, and by their turning him ashore soon after. Therefore Seagar, another person altogether, may be assumed to have been the Captain of the Fancy, and England merely a sort of supernumerary of whom few took much notice.” (304-305)
Chief Mate Barnes of the Greenwich recorded in his journal that on Sunday, 4 August 1720, “discovered the two ships be pyrates the one a French built ship of 46 guns by name the victory Capt. England, The other a dutch built of 36 guns by name the Fancy Capt. Seager, gott all things in readiness for our defense.” (Greenwich, 73) While many resources identify Taylor as the captain of the Fancy, Brooks puts forth the suggestion that because of Seagar’s experience or because the two men didn’t get along well, Seagar stepped into the role of captain and Taylor might have been demoted to quartermaster. (Special thanks to Baylus Brooks for his assistance in clarifying this issue.)
Richard Moor, a surgeon’s mate who was taken prisoner by the pirates in 1718, states in an examination dated 31 October 1724, “the Cassandra under the Comand of Jaspar Seater who was made Captain of her in the room of ye sd Edward England (who was turned out of Command)” and that after the pirates returned to Madagascar in May 1721, “Seater dyed and ye aforesd le Boos was made Captain of the Cassandra . . . .” (Fox, 209 & 210)
Just as the captaincy of Fancy is mistakenly attributed to Seagar, Taylor’s given name is often recorded as John. Documentary evidence, however, proves this to be a misnomer. His first name was actually Richard. Where John came from is unknown, but it might have been an alias he assumed. Prior to the attack on Cassandra, Richard was in command of Victory. (Again, special thanks to Baylus Brooks for clearing up this issue.)
2.Some sources identify Lazenby as a carpenter's mate. In his narrative, Lazenby says he was a master's mate, but its title lists him as second mate.
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Pirates in Their Own Words: Eye-witness Accounts of the ‘Golden Age’ of Piracy, 1690-1728 edited by E. T. Fox. Fox Historical, 2014.
Pringle, Patrick. Jolly Roger: the Story of the Great Age of Piracy. Dover, 2001.
Proclamation for Apprehending Henry Every, Alias Bridgemen, and Sundry Other Pirates. Scotland. Privy Council. Sovereign William II.
Reddy, Srinivas. “Disrupting Mughal Imperialism: Piracy and Plunder,” Asian Review of World Histories 8:1 (February 2020), 128-142.
Rediker, Marcus. Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea: Merchant Seamen, Pirates, and the Anglo-American Maritime World, 1700-1750. Cambridge University, 1999.
Ritchie, Robert C. Captain Kidd and the War Against the Pirates. Harvard University, 1986.
Rogozinski, Jan. Honor Among Thieves: Captain Kidd, Henry Every, and the Pirate Democracy in the Indian Ocean. Stackpole, 2000.
Selinger, Gail. Pirates of New England: Ruthless Raiders and Rotten Renegades. Globe Pequot, 2017.
Sutton, Jean. Lords of the East: The East India Company and Its Ships (1600-1874). Conway, 2000.
“To James Madison from Edward Carrington, 19 April 1807,” Founders Online, National Archives.
Trial of Captain Kidd edited by Graham Brooks. Butterworth, 1930.
"The Tryals of Joseph Dawson," British Piracy in the Golden Age: History and Interpretation, 1660-1730 edited by Joel H. Baer. Pickering & Chatto, 2007, 2:109-142.
Volo, Dorothy Denneen, and James M. Volo. Daily Life in the Age of Sail. Greenwood, 2002.
What Life Was Like in the Jewel in the Crown: British India AD 1600-1905. Time-Life, 1999
Wheeler, J. Talboys. A History of the English Settlements in India. W. Newman & Co., 1878.
Wilson, David. “Protecting Trade by Suppressing Pirates: British Colonial and Metropolitan Responses to Atlantic Piracy 1716-1726,” The Golden Age of Piracy: the Rise, Fall, and Enduring Popularity of Pirates edited by David Head. University of Georgia, 2018, 89-110.
Wright, Arnold. Annesley of Surat and His Times: The True Story of the Mythical Wesley Fortune. Andrew Melrose, 1918.
Zacks, Richard. The Pirate Hunter: The True Story of Captain Kidd. Hyperion, 2002.
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