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Richard and Jeremiah
Two Pirates Who Would Be Pardoned
By Laura Nelson
In the Caribbean in 1715 Richard Caverley and Jeremiah Higgins were taken captive by Samuel Bellamy in the course of his piratical activities. Both were forced to join Bellamy’s crew. Eventually, in spite of their reluctance to join, they were elected to serve as officers. They would end their careers as pirates together.
Around October 1715, a foremast man (common sailor) named Jeremiah Higgins was aboard a sloop called the Blackett, which was “bound for the wrecks on the coast of Florida.” (Examination of Jeremiah)
Before they could get there, the Blackett was captured by Benjamin Hornigold, in command of a sloop-of-war called the Benjamin. After coming aboard the Blackett, Hornigold asked Higgins and another man, John Fletcher, to row him back to the Benjamin.1 Once on board, Hornigold refused to let them return to the Blackett. Abraham Lamb, master of the Blackett, came on the Benjamin at this point and “prayed the said Hornigold to Release his said men Yet he utterly refused to do so but detained them and Carryed them away by force against their Wills.”2 (Examination of Jeremiah)
Now having about 80 to 100 men on board, Hornigold sailed to Havana, where they captured the sloop Marianne. The pirates divided their company between the Benjamin and Marianne and sailed in consort for a time. That is, until an argument arose “amongst them about taking Prisoners; Some being for one Nation and some for another.” (Trials, 2:318) The result of the argument was the pirates elected Samuel Bellamy to be the new commodore of their fleet, sending Hornigold and a few men still loyal to him away in the Benjamin.3 Higgins was forced to remain with the pirates on board the Marianne.
Around July 1716, Richard Caverley, master of the sloop Elizabeth, was taken captive by Bellamy and Bellamy’s consort, Olivier Levasseur, who was in command of the Postillion.4 Caverley and three of his crew were forced to join the pirates, who also took some water casks, provisions, and liquors.
In September 1716, off Puerto Rico, Bellamy and Levasseur tried to take a French ship of “fourty four Guns, whom they were forced to quit.”(Examination of Richard) During the course of the engagement, which lasted about an hour, one man was killed and Higgins and three other men (unnamed) were wounded.
In his testimony before his trial for piracy, Higgins gave a glimpse into how they kept themselves fed. Prior to the encounter with the French ship, they had captured several “canoos, pettyaugors & Lighters from whom they took Bread pork Beeff and a few fowls and sent them away.”5 (Examination of Jeremiah)
Their next conquest came in sight of Sabia. The Sultana was bound for the Bay of Campeche. Luck was with the pirates that day, because the Sultana’s master was sick from wounds he had received in a previous unspecified encounter. After the attack, Bellamy took possession of the Sultana, leaving his close friend, Paulsgrave Williams, in command of the Marianne. From here they sailed to the Isle of Blanco. During their stay there, Levasseur and his crew parted ways with them in the Postillion.
Bellamy and Williams spent some months sailing around the islands of Virgin Gorda and St. Croix, during which time they added more men to their crew. A few months later they encountered the Whydah, which Bellamy captured without incident after chasing it for three days.
The Whydah was commanded by Captain Lawrence Prince and was bound from Jamaica to London. She mounted eighteen guns “which they took and shared the money they found therein amongst them.” (Examination of Richard) Some of her cargo included sugar, indigo, and money, which Higgins believed was “shared amongst the said company.” (Examination of Jeremiah) Bellamy allowed Captain Prince to sail away in the Sultana.
After Bellamy took over the Whydah, a man named Jeremiah Burke, who had been the boatswain of the Marianne, was sent over to be Whydah’s boatswain. Higgins “was then made by the said Company Boatswain of the Sloop Marianne much against his will.” (Examination of Jeremiah)
On 6 May 1717, the Boston News-Letter carried this seemingly ordinary article.6
On Monday last arrived here one Capt. Beer from Block Island, who belongs to this Place and sail’d ffrom hence about the beginning of April last for South Carolina; who in that latitude, about 40 Leagues From Land, was taken by a Pyrate Sloop and 40 men, commanded by one Paul Williams Captain and Richard Cavily, Master, both of this island. This Capt. Williams has a Consort, a very fine London Galley of 30 guns, 200 brisk Men of Several Nations; she is call’d the Whido, Samuel Bellame Commander, said to be born in the West of England; Captain Beer was carry’d aboard the said Gally where he was Kept two hours. Capt. Williams was for giving Beer his Sloop again after they had took out her landing but the Ship’s Crew ordered her to be Sunk; so Williams put him ashore at Block Island; and we are told, that the said Ship is cast away at Cape Cod, and 130 of her Crew drown’d. (Rhode)Not long after the departure of Levasseur, Bellamy and Williams sailed in consort aboard the Whydah and the Marianne. They captured Captain Beer’s small sloop, which was carrying cider and provisions.7
After releasing their captives and leaving Block Island, Bellamy and Williams continued sailing “from Crooked Island Intending for Richmond Islands to ye Eastward of Boston to careen but in a few days after in foggy weather they parted from the Ship Widda and have not seen her since.” (Examination of Richard)
While sailing apart from Bellamy and apparently before they received news of the wreck of the Whydah, Williams and his men wreaked quite a bit of havoc around Virginia.
A Pyrate sloop of 10 guns has for some weeks past been plying about the Capes of Virginia who has boarded and plundered a great many European Vessels, there appear in sight but about 40 or 50 hands, some of them are Negroes and Molatos. They have a prisoner on board, Supposed to be a Master of some vessel but none are suffered to ask him any questions. It is thought they want a good ship of force. (Philadelphia)When the pirates reached Crooked Island, Caverley was made master of the Marianne “by the Capt and Company against his will.” (Examination of Richard)
From here they sailed to Block Island, Gardiner's Island, and then Long Island. Some accounts of this period say Williams took this opportunity to visit his family on Block Island and possibly do some trading with the locals.
During this time, they took a sloop sailing from Salturtuda and one from Carolina.8 From the former vessel they took three bushels of salt and forced two men. Off the latter sloop they took a barrel of pitch and one of tar.
Sailing near Cape Ann, they took a small fishing sloop called the Elizabeth and forced it to sail with them to Damariscove, Maine, where they utilized it to careen the Marianne before letting it go. Paul Mansfield, master of the sloop, testified in his deposition that Williams came upon his vessel on 17 May 1717, at about twelve o’clock. Mansfield was “about twenty five leagues to ye Eastward of Cape Ann.”(Deposition of Paul) He related that Williams “fired two Shott at us and commanded and forced me and one of my hands aboard his sloop and put some of his Men aboard my Sloope and sailed for Richmond’s Island.”(Deposition of Paul) Mansfield said that Williams had about seventy men, eight guns, and “six pattererose well ffixt with Small Arms.”9
They stayed in the area several days and then Williams forced Mansfield and one of his crewmen to come aboard the Marianne. Williams sent several of his pirates aboard the Elizabeth and then sailed to Richmond’s Island. Here they spent another couple of days. While there Williams captured a fishing boat and forced its master to pilot all of them back to Damariscove.
Mansfield told how Williams had taken unspecified provisions, plus beer and rum, “as Satisfaceon for our hindrance, loss of our ffaire.” (Deposition of Paul) Williams sailed towards St. Georges Banks on 23 May, and sent Mansfield and his crew on their way. They were forced to return home to Salem to reprovision.
After this, Williams and his men made their way back to Cape Cod, where they finally learned of the demise of the Whydah. They sailed to Egg Harbor, where they took another sloop called the Elizabeth, Samuel Vincent master, out of New York. Vincent went on board the Marianne while the pirates helped themselves to three parcels of tallow and put a prize crew of three hands aboard. Vincent’s boat followed them to Sandy Hook, where they weighed anchor.
While at Sandy Hook they encountered the St. Stephen, which had only four hands and the master, Captain Jacobs, with whom Williams was acquainted. Williams went on board the St. Stephen. According to Caverley’s testimony, “While there he bought a pipe of wine from Jacobs and the two were merry. . . and stayed with them the whole day and part of the night and the wind springing up faire and the Examinant being in Drink he was brought up in the ship St Stephen to this port.” (Examination of Richard)
After the party was over, Caverley was taken to the port of New York by the St. Stephen and then brought on shore and carried by the boatswain to the house of a resident called Dobbs.
About an hour later, the boatswain and another person took Caverley in a boat back towards Sandy Hook in an attempt to put him back aboard the Marianne. When they were unable to locate her, they met him ashore on Long Island.
From here Catherine Dobbs took him in a boat to her brother John Pursell’s residence on yet another, unnamed island.10 Pursell made some sort of promise to Caverley to take him down river to Sandy Hook; instead, they put ashore at Coney Island, where Caverley was seized by the mayor of New York.
Higgins said in his testimony that after Williams returned from the St. Stephen, he and four other men – Edward Serjeant, Thomas English, William Tosh, and George (last name unknown) – went on board the Elizabeth (the one the pirates had captured off of Egg Harbor) with her Master Samuel Vincent. Vincent left them on shore on Long Island where he went to New York on a ferry the same day “but what became of the rest of the said men he knows not.”(Examination of Jeremiah)
Higgins spent the night sleeping at the house of a man named John Elsworth and, in the morning, went to another house belonging to a Mr. Byfield. There he stayed until “he was taken by a man named Rip Van Dam with fourteen Pistoles in gold, seven Ounces or half of Dust gold, and Eighty-one or Eighty-two pieces of Eight on Silver and one pound of Silver Bullion about seventeen ounces all which was Given him by the Company on board the Sloop Marianne by reason of his being wounded among them.”11 (Examination of Jeremiah)
All of this pirate activity did not go unnoticed. This item appeared in the Boston News-Letter on 10 May 1717:
On Wednesday last our [Newport] Government fitted out two good Sloops, well Arm’d and Man’d, under the command of Col. John Cranston, and Captain Job Almy, in order to speak with a Pirate Sloop lurking on our Coast, commanded by Paul Williams.The authorities tried to find Williams, but he was able to reach Nassau around August 1717. Only thirty members of his crew survived the journey. He would sign King George’s pardon on Providence in 1718. (Brooks, 643) The last recorded sighting of him occurred in April 1720, where he was noted as being a member of the crew of Olivier Levasseur. (Snelgrave, 258)
Back in New York, while Caverley and Higgins were imprisoned and awaiting trial, news of King George’s pardon arrived and they were released. This event was noted in one sentence in the New York Colonial Commissions on 6 November 1718: “Pardon of Rich. Caverly and Jer. Huggins [sic], pirates.” Further research has so far not been able to uncover any further activities or death certificates for either of these men. (Calendar, 17)
I found these two men interesting because of how they were forced to join the pirates and then rose amongst them to become officers. This occurred without either of them putting themselves forward for the job. They both lucked out and were put ashore and eventually pardoned! It was nice to see a pirate story with a “happy ending.” Someday I hope to find more information about their lives after the pardon.
1. John Fletcher was named by Abijah Savage, commander of the sloop Bonetta, as being quartermaster of the Marianne in his deposition on 30 November 1716, regarding the capture of his ship by Samuel Bellamy and his band. He did sign King George’s pardon on Nassau in 1718. (Dethlefsen, 128)For more information, Laura recommends the following resources:
2. Higgins’ deposition doesn’t specify what Lamb did from this point, but it must be presumed that Lamb returned to his ship.
3. According to Barry Clifford and Kenneth J. Kinkor, Edward Teach sailed away with Hornigold.
4. An interesting difference in opinion as to when Levasseur joined Hornigold’s fleet occurs here. According to Peter Hoof’s testimony at his trial, Levasseur was already sailing in consort with Hornigold’s fleet. Higgins’ examination, however, says they met up with Levasseur after Hornigold’s ousting as commodore.
5. Pettyaugers and lighters were types of boats.
6. In these days, because of long travel times, news was commonly reported quite a while after it happened.
7. The capture of Beer would become one of the most famous encounters credited to Bellamy. In the first edition (1724) of his book, A General History of the Pyrates, Captain Johnson merely reported this encounter as part of his narrative on Bellamy. When Johnson released the second edition of this book in 1728, Bellamy is suddenly verbose and opinionated, giving a speech in fancy language for someone said to be from poor beginnings in England and a simple sailor.
D__n my Bl___d, says he, I am sorry they won’t let you have your Sloop again, for I scorn to do any one a Mischief, when it is not for my Advantage; damn the Sloop, we must sink her, and she might be of Use to you. Tho’, damn ye, you are a sneaking Puppy, and so are all those who will submit to be governed by Laws which rich Men have made for their own Security, for the cowardly Whelps have not the Courage otherwise to defend what they get by their Knavery; but damn ye altogether: Damn them for a Pack of crafty Rascals, and you, who serve them, for a Parcel of hen-hearted Numskuls. They vilify us, the Scoundrels do, when there is only this Difference, they rob the Poor under the Cover of Law, forsooth, and we plunder the Rich under the Protection of our own Courage; had you not better make One of us, than sneak after the A___s of those Villains for Employment? Captain Beer told him, that his Conscience would not allow him to break thro’ the Laws of God and Man. You are a devilish Conscience [conscientious] Rascal, d___n ye,” reply’d Bellamy, I am a free Prince, and I have as much Authority to make War on the whole World, as he who has a hundred Sail of Ships at Sea, and an Army of 100,000 Men in the Field; and this my Conscience tells me; but there is no arguing with such sniveling Puppies who allow Superiors to kick them about Deck at Pleasure; and pin their Faith upon a Pimp of a Parson; a Squab, who neither practices nor believes what he puts upon the chuckle-headed Fools he preaches to.” (Defoe, 587)A lot of historians have accepted this speech as having been given by Bellamy. They haven’t questioned how it suddenly appeared in the second edition of A General History when it wasn’t in the first one.
Colin Woodard, in The Republic of Pirates, feels that Captain Beer wrote out this speech while being held captive by Bellamy aboard Marianne before they finally deposited him on Block Island. Beer made his way to Rhode Island and shared his story with a reporter for the Boston News-Letter. The author of A General History likely saw the speech after it arrived in London. (Woodard, 174)
According to Kenneth Kinkor in The Whydah Source Book, it’s also possible that Captain Johnson found inspiration from the writing of the Jacobite poet Thomas Otway. (337-341) For example, check out this excerpt from his play “Alcibiades.”
Conscience! A trick of State, found out by thoseOr this excerpt from “Venice Preserv’d, or A Plot Discover’d” may have inspired him:
That wanted power to support their Laws;
A bug-bear Name to startle Fools: But we
That know the Weakness of the Fallacy,
Know better how to use what Nature gave.
That Soul’s no Soul, which to it self’s a slave.
Who anything for Conscience sake deny,
Do nothing else but give themselves the Lye. (Thornton, 18-19)
Yes, a most notorious villain:Another possible inspiration for part of this speech may come from a comment in a letter allegedly written by Lieutenant Robert Maynard to a Lieutenant Symonds. Maynard relates what Blackbeard allegedly said to him during the fight in which Blackbeard ultimately perished. The letter first appeared in the Boston News-Letter and was subsequently reprinted in the Weekly Journal or British Gazetteer in 1719.
To see the sufferings of my fellow-creatures,
And own myself a Man: to see our senators
Cheat the deluded people with a shew
Of Liberty, which yet they ne’er must taste of;
They say, by them our hands are free from fetters,
Yet whom they please they lay in basest bonds;
Bring whom they please to infamy and sorrow; . . .
That make us slaves, and tell us ‘tis our Charter.
We’ve neither safety, unity, nor Peace,
For the foundation’s lost of common good;
Justice is lame as well as blind amongst us;
The Laws (corrupted to their ends that make ‘em)
Serve but for instruments of some new tyranny,
That ev’ry day starts up t’enslave us deeper.” (Works, 46)
“At our first salutation, he drank damnation to me and my Men, who he stil’d Cowardly Puppies, saying he would neither give nor take Quarter. (Brooks, 545-546)
Whichever way Bellamy’s quote came to be in the second edition of A General History, it would seem this speech was put there to increase the entertainment value and pad the size of the book. (For an in-depth discussion on the debate over who the true author of A General History was, see pages 171-180 in Quest for Blackbeard and Cindy Vallar’s article “Johnson vs. Defoe” at Pirates and Privateers.)
8. An e-mail from Pat Schaefer, who works in Collections, Access, and Research at Mystic Seaport, says Salturtuda “is Tortuga Island off the coast of Venezuela, which in the 18th century was called the Salt Tortuga.” According to my friends Sandy Dorland of North Carolina and Robin Snyder Horner of South Carolina, it is common for people to refer to these states collectively as Carolina.
9. The correct spelling of “Pattererose” is “patereroes,” and they were a type of swivel gun that had a chamber to hold powder and shot. According to Benerson Little in The Sea Rover’s Practice (Potomac, 2005), “[o]ften two chambers were included for each gun, permitting them to fire twice in quick succession . . . . [It] could be of iron or brass and were usually loaded with musket balls, but sometimes they fired a nasty mixture of nails and other metal scraps.” (141)
10. Catherine Dobbs’ relationship, if any, to the previously mentioned Dobbs is unknown.
11. The Spanish pistole, also called a “doubloon,” was a gold coin common in Virginia until the 1760s. It was worth about one pound sterling or just over 18 shillings. For additional information please visit Currency: What is a pistole? at The The Geography of Slavery website.
Brooks, Baylus C. Quest for Blackbeard: The True Story of Edward Thache and His World. Lulu Press, 2016.
Calendar of New York Colonial Commissions 1680-1770 edited by Edmund B. O’Callaghan. New York Historical Society, 1929.
Clifford, Barry, and Kenneth J. Kinkor. Real Pirates: The Untold Story of the Whydah from Slave Ship to Pirate Ship. National Geographic, 2007.
Defoe, Daniel. A General History of the Pyrates edited by Manuel Schonhorn. Dover, 1999.
“Deposition of Paul Mansfield,” Salem, Massachussetts, 25 May 1717. Suffolk Court Files 11945, Massachusetts Archives.
“Deposition of Ralph Merry and Samuel Roberts,” Boston May 11, May 16, 1717, in Jameson, John Franklin. Privateering and Piracy in the Colonial Period: Illustrative Documents. Macmillan, 1923.
Dethlefsen, Edwin. Whidah: Cape Cod’s Mystery Treasure Ship. Seafarer’s Heritage Library, 1984.
“Examination of Jeremiah Higgins,” New York, 22 June 1717. Records of the Vice-Admiralty Court of the Province of New York 1685-1838 (36-3).
“Examination of Richard Caverley,” New York, 15 June 1717. Records of the Vice-Admiralty Court of the Province of New York 1685-1838 (36-3).
Kinkor, Kenneth J. Whydah Sourcebook (compiled and unpublished collection of 17th and 18th archival documents related to the ship).
“Rhode Island Dispatch of May 3, 1717,” Boston News-Letter 6 May1717.
Snelgrave, William. A New Account of Some Parts of Guinea. Printed for James, John, and Paul Knapton, 1734.
Thornton, Thomas. The Works of Thomas Otway. T. Turner, 1813, 3: 18 & 19 (online 33 & 34).
“The Trials of Eight Persons Indited [sic] for Piracy,” British Piracy in the Golden Age edited by Joel H. Baer. Pickering & Chatto, 2007, 2:289-319.
Woodard, Colin. The Republic of Pirates: Being the True and Surprising Story of the Caribbean Pirates and the Man Who Brought Them Down. Harcourt, 2007.
The Works of Mr. Thomas Otway. London, 1957, 1: 46 (online 70).
About the Author
Laura Nelson lives in the Denver Metropolitan area and is an Unemployment Fraud Investigator for the state of Colorado. When she's not researching or reading about pirates, she enjoys Tai Chi, walking, cats, and reading adventure and true crime, and watching way too much TV. Her short story, "Rosa and the Pirate," was recently published by Dark Oak Press in the pirate anthology A Tall Ship, a Star, and Plunder. She also has her own blog, The Whydah Pirates Speak. Pirates and Privateers has published several of her non-fiction articles: Peter Cornelius Hoof and Me, John Julian – The Teenage Pirate, and The Unknown Survivor.
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