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Stede Bonnet (continued)

Rules Shouldn’t Be Broken
Stede Bonnet,
                                engraving from Captain Charles Johnson's
                                A General History of the Pyrates, circa
                                1725 (Source:
                                https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bonnet.gif)The norm among pirates was to band together and “earn” their wages by seizing other vessels to garner shares of the plunder taken. This wasn’t what Stede Bonnet chose to do. Instead, he paid his men wages.1 After he and his hired crew set sail from Barbados, they went hunting. One might think they had little chance of success, but some of his 126 men knew enough to guide their captain toward potential prey. As they sailed northward along the eastern seaboard of Britain’s North American colonies, they captured at least four vessels, including Anne, Turbet, Endeavour, and Young. From these prizes, the pirates seized “Provisions, Clothes, Money, Ammunition, etc.” (Moss, Life, 16)

From the pirates’ perspective, this was good. Stede’s reaction wasn’t quite the same. Why? It just so happened that Turbet hailed from his hometown (Bridgetown, Barbados). That meant the possibility of recognition. Whether his intentions were to return home one day with no one the wiser about his misdeeds, or he didn’t wish his nefarious activities to reflect poorly on his family, he did not wish others to know his true identity. (Which was why he insisted that his crew call him “Captain Edwards.”) In snaring Turbet, there was a good chance that one of the captives might recognize him, or if he permitted them to sail away with their vessel, someone on Barbados might put two and two together and figure out the truth. No, he couldn’t allow that to happen. Whereas Anne, Endeavour, and Young were permitted to be on their merry way, Turbet was set aflame. Thereafter, the pirates went hunting anew, going as far north as New York before sailing south again.

Stede succeeded in keeping his identity a secret as much as he knew how to navigate. (In other words, he failed miserably.) By the time they reached Charles Town (present-day Charleston, South Carolina) in August, the authorities already knew the truth. In fact, Captain Bartholomew Candler of HMS Winchelsea made sure they knew.
. . . lately on the Coast a Pirate Sloop from Barbados Command by one Major Bonnett [Bonnet], who has an Estate in that Island and the Sloop is his Own, this Advice I had by Letter from thence, that in April last [1717] He ran away out of Carlisle Bay in the night he had aboard 126 men 6 Guns & Arms & Ammunition Enough[.] (Moss, 22)
Whether Stede knew of this or not, he was determined to prey on ships entering and leaving the city. He didn’t have long to wait either. A brigantine, captained by Thomas Porter, was the first to fall into his trap. As soon as he saw their black flag, Porter hauled down his own and grudgingly allowed the pirates to ransack his ship. What they found didn’t amount to much in monetary terms, but Stede refused to allow the brigantine to continue on her way. If he released them, Porter was certain to report to the authorities the minute he docked in Charles Town, which would ruin any chance the pirates had of garnering more booty to place in Revenge’s hold.

Crisp Map, 1711 (Source:
1711 inset of Charles Town from A Compleat description of the province of Carolina in 3 parts,
published by Edward Crisp, London. (Source: Library of Congress)

The strategy worked, for soon after, Captain Joseph Palmer’s sloop was taken. This time, the pirates found sugar, slaves, and rum – all worthy commodities as far as they were concerned. Stede was happy that his men were satisfied with their haul, but he faced a dilemma. Palmer, too, was from Barbados, and he and his men recognized Stede. The only thing to do, from his perspective, was to take all the captives and their ships and seek a temporary haven.

Cape Fear River provided just the spot, and the pirates took advantage of it to careen Revenge. Once their work was finished and all their plunder was stowed, they herded the captives onto Porter’s brigantine, torched Palmer’s sloop, and freed them, albeit with only a small portion of the rigging and sails needed for the brigantine to go anywhere. Her speed was so limited, it took the captains and their men four weeks to reach Charles Town; they arrived there on 17 September 1717. Naturally, the captains headed straight to the governor to warn him.

As for the pirates, they had a decision to make. Only they couldn’t agree on where their next hunting grounds should be. So they sailed for the Straits of Florida. That’s where lookouts spotted a much bigger vessel flying Spanish colors. Now, pirates had an unwritten rule of thumb: if the potential prey is bigger than you, avoid her like the plague. Thinking her to be a merchant ship and allowing his previous successes to go to his head, Stede ignored this wisdom. After all, it was common knowledge that many merchant ships carried Quaker guns. (These “weapons” were actually made of wood and painted black to look like the real thing.) Except the guns this ship carried weren’t fake. Nor was she a merchant ship. She was a warship with greater firepower and her captain knew exactly what to do.

2 ships
                                fighting by unknown artist (Source:
                                Pirates Electronic Clip Art)When Revenge sailed parallel to the Spanish ship, her captain ordered his men to unleash a broadside at the pirates. Then he positioned his vessel so it sailed across Revenge’s stern. Many pirates fell from the sweeping broadside, including Stede. Others were killed or injured when the stern was hit. Those who survived these attacks had one priority – get away from the Spaniards as soon as possible.

Once clear, a tally was taken. Thirty to forty of their comrades had fallen. Stede was unconscious and taken below to what remained of his cabin. The shots had smashed through glass and wood, decimating furniture and anything else in their path. His precious books were scattered all about the deck. Once he regained consciousness, Stede did not stray from his cabin until after the much-damaged Revenge reached New Providence in the Bahamas.

A decade earlier, John Graves published a treatise about New Providence, where he had once had the unenviable job of collecting customs. He believed the island would make an ideal “Shelter for Pyrates, if left without good Government and some Strength.” He added that it would only take “one small Pyrat with Fifty Men that are acquainted with the Inhabitants” to “Ruin the Place[.]” (Fictum) By 1714, his prognostication had come true. Three years later, the pirates were firmly entrenched in Nassau, and one of them was a man named Edward Thache (Blackbeard).

Enlargement of portion of map
                                  showing Nassau on New Providence, 17--
Enlarged segment of "An exact draught of the island of New Providence
one of the islands in the Bahamas West Indies," 17--.
(Source: Library of Congress)

Whether he and Stede were previously acquainted – Thache did have ties to Barbados – or perhaps he was just curious about this strange captain who enjoyed reading and had the gumption to attack Spanish men-of-war, or he desired a second ship (he already had “a sloop 6 guns and about 70 men”), he persuaded Stede to turn over command of Revenge to him. (Marley, 789) In exchange, Thache would teach him what he needed to know to be a pirate captain. To Stede’s way of thinking, what could be better? He would add to his repertoire of knowledge as regards sailing and pirating without the burden of command, and he could do so at his leisure. In the meantime, his cabin would remain his domicile, where he could read to his heart’s content and take as long as he deemed necessary to recuperate.

Colorized version of Blackbeard
                                etching from The General History of
                                PyratesWhile Thache oversaw repairs, he also improved Revenge’s armament by adding two more guns and signing on more men. When they departed New Providence, his crew numbered 150. Their ultimate destination was Delaware Bay, but there were plenty of prey to capture along the way. In short shrift, they plundered fifteen vessels. James Logan, chief steward of William Penn’s colony and a Philadelphia merchant, made mention of these seizures on 24 October 1717.
We have been very much disturbed this last week by the Pirates They have taken and plundered Six or Seven Vessels bound out or into this river Some they have destroyed Some they have taken to Their own use & Some they have dismissed after Plunder.
. . .
The Sloop that came on our Coast had about 130 Men all Stout Fellows all English without any mixture Double armed they waited they Said for their Consort a Ship of 26 Guns to whom when joyned they designed to Visit Philadia, Some of our Mastr Say They know almost every man aboard most of them having been lately in this River, their Comandr is one Teach who was here a Mate from Jamia about 2 yr ago. (Logan)
One master who docked in Philadelphia reported the seizure of his ship on 24 October 1717, and the incident was reprinted on page two of the Boston News-Letter.
He was taken about 12 days since off our Capes by a Pirate Sloop called the Revenge, of 12 Guns 150 Men, Commanded by one Teach . . . They have Arms to fire five rounds before they load again. (Philadelphia)
The pirates tossed most of the cargo found in the hold overboard. Two additional snows, whose cargo also went by the board, were captured and one joined the fleet of pirate vessels. From a sloop, captained by Peter Peters,
they took 27 Pipes of Wine, cut his Masts by the Board, after which She drove ashore and Stranded. (Philadelphia, 2)
Another provided them with “two Pipes of Wine” before the pirates sank her. (Philadelphia, 2) Loose-lipped pirates, whether accidentally or on purpose, “told the Prisoners that they expected a Consort Ship of 30 Guns, and then they would go up into Philadelphia, others of them said they were bound to the Capes of Virginia . . . .” (Philadelphia, 2)

These captives also made mention of Stede.
On board the Pirate Sloop is Major Bennet, but has no Command, he walks about in his Morning Gown, and then to his Books, of which he has a good Library on Board, he was not well of his wounds that he received by attacking of a Spanish Man of War, who kill’d and wounded him 30 or 40 Men. (Philadelphia, 2)
(Think about it. Had Stede not broken the rule about going after larger ships, he wouldn’t have suffered such a disabling wound. He might have been in a better frame of mind to fully understand that in giving Thache command of Revenge, Stede lost his ship and crew. He would not, as he would later claim, have felt himself “a prisoner” for nearly a year.)

Vengeance Is Mine
Edward Thache’s depredations continued. Additional confirmation of Stede being in league with him, although no details of their arrangement were provided, came in a letter to the Admiralty, dated 4 December 1717. Captain Ellis Brand of HMS Lyme wrote:
Since my Arrival in Virginia I have heard but of one pyrot sloop, that was run away with, from Barbadoes commanded by Maj[o]r Bonnett, but now is commanded by one Teach, Bonnet being suspended from his command, but is still on board, they have most infested the Capes of delaware and sometimes of Bermudas, never continuing forty eight hours in one place, he is now gone to the So[uth]ward. (Moss, 49)
What Brand might not have known was that Thache had snared quite a ship a few weeks earlier. On 17 November, La Concorde had the misfortune of crossing his path and he did not hesitate. Aside from the ship, which would be renamed Queen Anne’s Revenge (QAR), the pirates acquired bags of gold dust, and two carpenters, a caulker, a cook, three doctors, a gunsmith, and a navigator were forced to join Thache’s crew. Since Stede had recovered from his wounds, he resumed command of Revenge because Thache quit the sloop in favor of the ship.2

Model of
                                  Queen Anne's Revenge
Model of Balckbeard's Queen Anne's Revenge
in the North Carolina Museum of History by Qualiesin, 2020 (Source: Wikipedia Commons)

The marauding continued, with Stede and Thache sailing in consort. On 6 January 1718, Walter Hamilton, governor of the Leeward Islands, wrote:
. . . we did see another pirate ship and a large sloop which we were informed when we came off of the Island St. Eustatius by a sloop sent express from St. Christopher’s were two other pirates that had two days before taken some of the trading sloops off of that Island and sunk a ship loaden with white sugar etc. . . .  The ship is commanded by one Captain Teatch, the sloop by one Major Bonnett an inhabitant of Barbadoes, some say Bonnett commands both ship and sloop. . . . The ship some say has 22 others say she has 26 guns mounted but all agree that she can carry 40 and is full of men the sloop hath ten guns and doth not want men. (America, Jan. 6. 298.)
HMS Seaford and HMS Scarborough went seeking the pirates, but their search proved fruitless. Probably because they were looking in the wrong places. The pirates were off the island of Rattan (Roatán) near Honduras, more than a thousand miles distant.

                                  Island from air by Pi3.124 (Source:
Roatán Island by Pi3.124, 2016 (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Since Thache wanted to careen his new flagship, Stede opted to go hunting on his own. Which is when he happened upon a potential prize. Perhaps he had forgotten the painful lesson of attacking a larger ship. Perhaps he wanted to outshine Thache, because if he successfully captured the Protestant Caesar, Stede would command a vessel larger than Thache’s. Or perhaps he just wanted to prove that the lessons he learned while sailing with Thache had stuck. Whatever his motivation, Stede chose to attack the 400-ton merchantman even though she was about four times larger than Revenge and she carried sixteen more guns than Revenge’s ten.

Captain Wyer, master of the Protestant Caesar (PC) had no intention of surrendering his ship and fifty men.
[O]n the 28th of March last about 120 Leagues to the Westward of Jamaica, near the Latitidue 16. off the Island Rattan, espyed a large Sloop which he supposed to be a Pirate, and put his Ship in order to Fight her, which said Sloop had 10 Guns and upwards of 50 Men, and about nine a Clock at Night came under Capt. Wyers Stern, and fired several Cannon in upon the said Ship and a Volley of small Shot, unto which he returned two of his Stern Chase Guns, and a like Volley of small Shot, upon which the Sloop’s Company hail’d him in English, telling him that if he fired another Gun they would give him no Quarter, but Capt. Wyer continued Fighting them till twelve a Clock at Night, when she left the Ship . . . . (Boston, 16 June 1718, 2)
Having fled under the cover of darkness, Revenge headed to Turneffe (off the coast of Belize) to make repairs. They reached the lagoon on 2 April 1718, only to find another ship anchored there. While Stede’s men might have rejoiced at seeing the QAR, his reaction was probably far different. The Revenges had tired of being shot up unnecessarily and not gaining the wealth they desired. They petitioned Thache to address this situation. His solution was to replace Revenge’s captain. Stede was out and a man named Richards was in. According to Captain Johnson, Thache
took the Major on aboard his own Ship, telling him, that as he had not been used to the Fatigues and Care of such a Post, it would be better for him to decline it, and live easy and at his Pleasure, in such a Ship as his, where he should not be obliged to perform Duty, but follow his own Inclinations. (Johnson, 71)
To say that Thache was less than pleased with how Stede handled the incident with the PC would probably be an understatement. Thache had nurtured a well-honed reputation, and “surrender” was not in his vocabulary. This matter needed to be rectified, but before he was ready to sail, Adventure sailed right into his hands. A gunner aboard the QAR fired a warning shot across the eighty-ton sloop’s bow. Facing two pirate ships, Adventure’s master, David Herriot, had little choice. Five pirates came aboard and helped him maneuver the boat close to QAR, where the anchor was dropped.

Nor was this the only sloop that found herself a victim of piracy. The Land of Promise fell to the pirates a short time later and Thache told her master, Thomas Newton, “that he was, bound to the Bay of Hunduras to Burn the Ship Protestant Caesar . . . that Wyer might not brag when he went to New England that he had beat a Pirate.” (Boston, 16 June 1718, 2)

It was payback time, and this time vengeance would be Thache’s, not the Lord’s.

After Captain Wyer and his men had fended off Revenge, they got busy loading PC with “about 50 Tuns of Logwood.” (Boston, 16 June 1718, 2) European manufacturers of ink, furniture, and dye prized this wood, making it a lucrative trade; Spain, on the other hand, considered all the logwood their property and were keen on stopping outsiders from “stealing” it. Which was why, when lookouts aboard PC noticed five vessels sailing toward them, they initially assumed these strangers carried Spaniards. Then the ship and the largest of the four sloops hoisted “Black Flags and Deaths Heads in them” while the three smaller sloops flew “Bloody Flags.” (Boston, 16 June 1718, 2)
Capt. Wyer judging them to be Pirates, call’d his Officers and Men up on Deck asking them if they would stand by him and defend the Ship, they answered, if they were Spaniards they would stand by him as long as they had Life, but if they were Pirates they would not Fight, and thereupon Capt. Wyer sent out his second Mate with his Pinnace to discover who they were and finding the Ship had 40 Guns 300 Men called the Queen Ann’s Revenge, Commanded by Edward Teach a Pirate, and they found the Sloop was the same that they Fought the 28th of March last, Capt. Wyers Men all declared they would not Fight and quitted the Ship believing they would be Murthered by the Sloops Company, and so all went on Shore. (Boston, 16 June 1718, 2)
Bucccaneers dviding the treasure by
                                George Varian (Source: Dover Pirates!)This made easy pickings for the pirates. Three days after the capture,
Capt. Teach the Pirate sent word on shore to Capt. Wyer, that if he came on Board he would do him no hurt, accordingly he went on Board Teach’s Ship, who told him he was glad that he left his Ship, else his Men on Board his Sloop would have done him Damage for Fighting with them; and said he would burn his Ship because she belonged to Boston, adding he would burn all Vessels belonging to New England for Executing the six Pirates at Boston.3 And on the 12th of the said April Capt. Wyer saw the Pirates go on Board of his Ship, who set her on Fire and Burnt her with the Wood. (Boston, 16 June 1718, 2)
On 31 May 1718, Bermuda’s lieutenant governor wrote a letter to the Council of Trade and Plantations. Thache’s flotilla was quite impressive, not to mention dangerous. The QAR possessed “36 guns and 300 men,” while Revenge’s numbers were “12 guns and 115 men.” On top of these, there were “two other ships, in all which, it is computed there are 700 men or thereabt.” (America, May 31. Bermuda. 551.)

With such a formidable force, it was only a matter of time before Bonnet, Thache, and their men made a statement profound enough to force authorities to take action. This occurred in June 1718. The target this time was the port of Charles Town, South Carolina. While lying in wait for about a week, according to David Herriot, a captive turned pirate,
Thatch and Richards took a Ship commanded by one Robert Clark, bound from Charles-Town aforesaid to London. Says, He has heard by the Pirates there were both Goods and Money taken out of the said Clark’s Ship, but knows not the Particulars, this Deponent being then on board his own Sloop.

. . . whilst they lay off the Bar of Charles-Town, took another Vessel . . . two Pinks . . . a Brigantine with Negroes . . . and after detaining them for some few Days, they let them go again. (Information of David, 45)
From Herriot’s perspective, this was just another day. To the citizens of Charles Town and the victims who found themselves captives, this was another thing entirely. Governor Johnson wrote to the Council of Trade and Plantations:
The unspeakable calamity this poor Province suffers from pyrats obliges me to inform your Lordships of it . . . about 14 days ago 4 sail of them appeared in sight of the Town tooke our pilot boat and after wards 8 or 9 sail wth. severall of the best inhabitants of this place on board and then sent me word if I did not imediately send them a chest of medicins they would put every prisoner to death which for there sakes being complied with after plundering them of all they had were sent ashore almost naked. (America, June 18. 556.)
Eventually, vengeance would become that of the pirate hunters. This type of daring could not go unpunished. But Thache still had a trick up his sleeve, and Stede would not be happy when he discovered it.

After their successful blockade of Charles Town, the pirates escaped all the hue and cry. Thache had a plan, although few were privy to his intentions. David Herriot, the former master of Adventure who was captured and turned pirate, was not one of those few.  After his arrest, he told authorities of the flotilla’s arrival at Topsail Inlet in the Outer Banks of North Carolina six days later.
Colorized engraving of
                                    Blackbeard portrait that appearded
                                    in 18th century edition of Johnson's
                                    A General History of Pyrates, circa
                                    1726. . . having then under their Command the said Ship Queen Anne’s Revenge, the Sloop commanded by Richards, this Deponent’s Sloop, commanded by one Capt. Hands, one of the said Pirate Crew, and a small empty Sloop . . . they had all got safe into Topsail-Inlet, except Thatch, the said Thatch’s Ship Queen Anne’s Revenge run a-ground off of the Bar of Topsail-Inlet, and the said Thatch sent his Quarter-Master to command this Deponent’s Sloop to come to his Assistance; but she run a-ground likewise about Gun-shot from the said Thatch, before his said Sloop could come to their Assistance, and both the said Thatch’s Ship and this Deponent’s Sloop were wreck’d; and the said Thatch and all the other Sloop’s Companies went on board the Revenge . . . and on board the other Sloop . . . .

Says, ’Twas generally believed the said Thatch run his Vessel a-ground on purpose to break up the Companies, and to secure what Moneys and Effects he had got for himself and such other of them as he had most Value for. (Information of David, 45-46)
Another man Thache did not include within his secret cadre was Stede. Instead, he was tasked with securing pardons for the pirates from Charles Eden, the governor of North Carolina.

previous September the front page of The London Gazette printed a notice from Whitehall, dated 15 September.
Front page of London Gazette
                                  9-17-1717Complaint having been made to His Majesty, by great Numbers of Merchants, Masters of Ships, and others, as well as by the several Governours of His Majesty’s Islands and Plantations in the West-Indies, that the Pirates are grown so numerous that they infest not only the Seas near Jamaica, but even those of the Northern Continent of America; and that unless some effectual Means be used, the whole Trade from Great Britain to those Parts will not only be obstructed, but in imminent Danger [of] being lost: His Majesty has, upon mature Deliberation in Council, been graciously pleased . . . to order a proper Force to be employed for suppressing the said Piracies . . . .

And that nothing may be wanting for the more effectually putting an End to the said Piracies, His Majesty has also been graciously pleased to issue the following Proclamation. (London, 1)
That decree spelled out the terms for securing a pardon, one with a deadline.
. . . we do hereby promise and declare, that in case any of the said Pirates shall, on or before the fifth Day of September, in the Year of our Lord One thousand seven hundred and eighteen, surrender him or themselves to . . . any Governour . . . of any of our Plantations or Dominions . . . shall have our gracious Pardon . . . . . (London, 1)
(Now, it’s important to note that the only piratical acts being forgiven were those committed “before the fifth Day of January next ensuing.” (London, 1) This meant that piratical acts committed prior to 5 January 1718 were forgivable, but any plundering taking place after that date was not.)

Stede successfully secured his pardon. Now that he was no longer a criminal, what should a former pirate do? The obvious answer was to go home, make amends, and resume his old life. Or if that didn’t appeal, perhaps he could start life anew elsewhere and become an upstanding citizen again. But . . . temptation reared its ugly head. Since England and the Dutch Republic were now at war with Spain, he could continue his marauding legally.4 He just needed a letter of marque and a crew.

He expected Thache and the others to join him in this venture, but when he returned to Topsail Inlet, he found Adventure and the QAR stripped clean and abandoned. Thache was nowhere to be found and seventeen men were marooned. One of these was David Herriot, who explained in his deposition what had occurred during Stede’s absence. He
requested the said Thatch to let him have a Boat, and a few Hands, to go to some inhabited Place in North Carolina, or to Virginia . . . and desired the said Thatch to make this Deponent some Satisfaction for his said Sloop: Both which said Thatch promised to do. But instead thereof, ordered this Deponent, with about sixteen more, to be put on shore on a small Sandy Hill or Bank, a League distant from the Main; on which Place there was no Inhabitant, nor Provisions. (Information of David, 46)
Herriot and his comrades spent “two Nights and one Day” marooned on this island. (Information of David, 46) They totally expected to die there since Thache had also taken the boat used to transport them ashore.

Stede’s current mode of transportation was insufficient to rescue the marooned men. He ventured over to the wrecks where luckily, he found that Thache had left Revenge unharmed. Stede “reassumed the Command of his Vessel” and retrieved Herriot and the others from the island. When they were all together, Stede shared his plans about going to Saint Thomas to “take a Commission against the Spaniards . . . and that he would give this Deponent his Passage thither, but could not pay him any Wages . . . .” (Information of David, 46)

Herriot felt that fair, as did the others, and so they set sail aboard Revenge. There were just two problems with their current predicament. No one had any money since Thache had taken it all for himself and his closest cohorts, and without money, they could not purchase the necessary supplies to get them to St. Thomas. Temptation, of course, provided a simple solution. The easiest way to obtain what was needed was to revert to their old ways, with a slight twist. For example, while in Virginia waters, they seized “ten or twelve Barrels of Pork, and about four hundred Weight of Bread.” In return, they gave those on the pink “eight or ten Cask of Rice, and one old Cable.” (Information of David, 46) Not exactly a fair trade, but in the eyes of Stede and his men, it was legal to trade one set of goods for another. Stede just conveniently forgot that trade meant that both parties were desirous of the exchange. That was not the case this time or any other instance where he employed this tactic. Just ask the master of a fifty-ton sloop that they stopped. He had to swap “twenty Barrels of Pork, some small Quantity of loose Bacon” for “two Barrels of Rice, and a Hogshead of Molosses.” (Information of David, 46)

Bernard Partridge cartoon, 1909
                                (Source: Dover's Pirates CD-Rom)With temptation – or necessity as Stede preferred to think of what they did – having caused him to stray over to the dark side once again, he realized the need to protect his pardon. If anyone got wind of what they were doing, they would once again be hunted men. So Stede Bonnet became Captain Thomas and Revenge, the Royal James.

Captain Manwareing and his crew were among those who fell victim to Stede and his men. One evening they anchored “at Cape James about Nine a-clock at Night.” Pirates, “well arm’d with Guns, Swords, and Pistols,” boarded his vessel and promised that he would come to no harm as long as he was civil. They asked about his cargo, which was “Rum, Molosses, Sugar, Cotton, and Indigo.” Then Captain Manwareing was required to accompany several pirates “with two of his Men . . . on board the Royal James” while four other pirates remained on his vessel. (Information of Capt., 49)

Now that he was formally a prisoner, Manwareing was forced to accompany Stede to Cape Fear River, a journey of eleven days. By the time they finished looting his ship, they had helped themselves to “twenty six Hogsheads of Rum, three Teirces, and three Barrels; twenty five Hogsheads and Teirces of Molosses; three Teirces and three Barrels of Sugar; two Pockets of Cotton, and two Bags of Indigo . . . nineteen Pistoles, two Half-Moidores of Gold, fourteen Crowns, and a Silver Watch . . . and one Pair of Silver Buckles . . . .” (Information of Capt., 49) Manwareing would remain with the pirates and during his stay, he later testified, the pirates “were civil to me, very civil: But they were all very brisk and merry; and had all Things plentiful, and were a-making Punch, and drinking.” (Tryals, 13)

William Russell Flint,
                      artwork from 1911 edition of The Pirates of
Pirate scene from The Pirates of Penzance (1911) by William Russell Flint
(Source: Dover's Pirates CD-Rom & Book)

Although the shores of Cape Fear were sparsely populated, word spread that pirates were in the area.
[A] Pirate Sloop of ten Guns and sixty Men was at Cape Fear River, to the Northward of this Port, with two Prizes, and had there begun to careen and refit. (Moss, 102)
Portrait of Colonel William Rhett
                                by unknown artist, circa 1700 (Source:
                                https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Colonel_William_Rhett.jpg)The Council of South Carolina heard the rumors and took them seriously; they were not in the mood for a repeat of Thache’s blockade. One of the leading citizens of Charles Town and the colony’s receiver general, Colonel William Rhett, volunteered to hunt down the pirates. Not wishing to look a gift horse in the mouth, Governor Robert Johnson accepted and immediately issued the necessary paperwork for Rhett to proceed. Once preparations were completed, he set sail with two sloops under his command: the eight-gun Henry (seventy men) and the eight-gun Sea Nymph (sixty men). John Master and Fayrer Hall were the captains of the two vessels, respectively.5 Rhett was on board Henry.

Consequences of Temptation
Early engraving of Charles Vane
                                (Source: Pirate Images,
                                https://beej.us/pirates/pirate_view.php?file=vane.gif)When Colonel Rhett’s sloops reached the harbor entrance in 1718, they stopped at Sullivan’s Island. There, Rhett encountered a shipmaster named Cook, who had come north from Antigua. He had just survived a pirate attack by the notorious Charles Vane, and his wasn’t the only vessel that had been taken. As far as Rhett was concerned, Vane posed the greater threat to Charles Town, so he and his men went in search of Vane. Finding no trace of these pirates, Rhett resumed his original plan and, on 26 September, Henry and Sea Nymph arrived at Cape Fear River.

Before long, the hunters spied the masts of what they assumed were the pirate ship and her prizes. Unfortunately, both Henry and Sea Nymph ran aground and it was dark before they got free. During this time, the pirates had spotted the newcomers and Stede sent out three canoes to find out who they were. It didn’t take long for his scouts to learn the truth and hie back to the Royal James (Revenge) with their alarming news.

Stede issued orders to prepare for battle. Although not everyone was keen to heed them, he gave them no choice. One pirate later testified that “Major Bonnet declared, if any one refused to fight, he would blow their Brains out.” (Tryals, 19)

Ignatius Pell, who would testify for the Crown, concurred. Stede had been about to deal with a pirate named Thomas Nichols, but “one that Major Bonnet loved very well,” had just been slain. Otherwise, he would have “blowed his Brains out; for he had his Pistol ready.” (Tryals, 25)

Death might be the consequence for his men if they dared to refuse, but Stede wasn’t about to let South Carolinians escape without consequences either. He summoned one of his prisoners, Captain Manwareing, with whom he shared a letter that he had written.
[I]n case the Vessels which then appeared . . . were sent from South Carolina to fight or attack them, and he got clear off, then he the said Bonnet would send that Letter to the Governor of South Carolina.

. . . the Substance of that Letter . . . did contain in effect, That he the said Bonnet would burn and destroy all Vessels going in or coming out of South Carolina. (Affidavit, 50)
Of course, the two hunters were from South Carolina, but even had he known of the threat, Rhett wasn’t about to back down.

                                Mutineers by George Varian, 1920
                                (Source: Dover)Stede was determined to get free and devised a plan. The next morning, the pirates weighed anchor and headed for the Atlantic. Stede intended to pass the intruders with all guns blazing; his hope was that the hunters would be so disabled that pursuit would be impossible. This would then allow Royal James to have free access to the ocean and freedom. Rhett, on the other hand, had other plans. He placed his sloops so that the Royal James would have to sail between Henry and Sea Nymph, opening the pirates up to broadsides from both directions.

Of course, no one asked the river what it had planned. The water was shoaly and narrow, making it easy for vessels to run aground. Which was exactly what happened to all three sloops. Then it became a race to see which one got free first. In the meantime, the donnybrook became a free-for-all

Henry and Royal James were close enough to each other to exchange small arms fire. The former
lay within musqt. shott of the pirate, and the water falling away (it being ebb) she keel’d towards him, which exposed our men very much to their fire, for near six hours, dureing wch. time they were engaged very warmly, untill the water riseing sett our sloops afloat, about an hour before the priate . . . (America, Oct. 21. 730.)
This meant that Henry leaned toward Royal James, making it easier for the pirates to pepper the hunters with lead. Royal James leaned away from their pursuers, prohibiting Rhett and his men from effectively targeting the pirates. While Sea Nymph was also aground and in range of Royal James’s guns, her crew could do little to help Rhett and his men. This stalemate went on for five hours, with the Henrys and the Jameses taunting each other in between pistol shots.

As the tide came in, Henry floated free first. The sloop retreated to deeper water and set about making repairs. As soon as they were ready, Rhett headed toward the Royal James. He expected heavy fighting; instead, the white flag of surrender had been hoisted. Although a few pirates objected to yielding, Rhett took command of the pirate sloop with little interference. This was when he found out exactly whom he had captured. (Remember, Stede had been using an alias.) Rhett was delighted to hear he had captured Major Bonnet.

The final tally of casualties? Seven pirates died; five suffered wounds, some severe enough that two more soon succumbed. The Henrys lost ten men and fourteen were wounded. Sea Nymph’s losses were relatively few: two killed, four injured.

Three days after what became known as the Battle of Cape Fear River or the Battle of the Sandbars, the five sloops – Rhett’s two, the pirates’, and the two freed pirate prizes – departed the river on the last day of September 1718. They arrived in Charles Town on 3 October “to the great Joy of the whole Province.” (Prefatory, v) Two days passed before any of the pirates were offloaded. One reason for the delay might have been because Charles Town lacked a gaol. Instead, Provost Marshal Nathaniel Partridge oversaw the transfer of thirty pirates to the Watch House, “constructed around 1701 at the intersection of Broad and East Bay Streets.” (Butler) According to the legislators, it was to be “a brick watch house, capable of containing thirty men.” (Butler) The building’s interior
must have included some sort of interior partition that separated the watchmen and their arms and accoutrements from their prisoners. The partition probably consisted of a masonry wall, or several partial walls, that incorporated some arrangement of iron bars to create a cage-like enclosure within the larger interior space. . . . Considering that it was intended to hold a relatively small number of people for a matter of hours, however . . . it probably occupied a relatively small portion of the building’s footprint. (Butler)
The only pirate who did not have to suffer the rank smell and crowded confines of the Watch House was Stede. He stayed in Partridge’s house. Once David Herriot and Ignatius Pell agreed to turn king’s evidence, they were taken from the Watch House and confined with Stede. Two sentries stood guard outside to make certain the prisoners stayed within.

How closely the sentries watched became a matter of debate. On 24 October, Stede donned women’s attire and escaped with Herriot. With the help of three slaves belonging to Richard Tookerman, a local resident, the escapees fled in a canoe. It wasn’t long before people spoke of collusion and bribery whenever they discussed the escape. Attorney General Richard Allein would even make mention of these at the upcoming trials.
I am sensible, Bonnet has had some Assistance in making his Escape; and if we can discover the Offenders, we shall not fail to bring them to exemplary Punishment. (Tryals, 9)
Hue and Crys and Expresses by Land and by Water” were sent out, but there was no word of the escapees even though Governor Johnson offered a bounty of £700 for Stede’s return. (Tryals, 9) So, the governor called for Colonel Rhett, who set forth once again to recapture Stede.

Shortly after the pirates were incarcerated, the legislature passed “An Act for the more speedy and regular Trial of Pirates.” This statute allowed South Carolina to appoint “the judge or judges of the Admiralty or Vice-Admiralty . . . [who] shall have full power to do all things in and about the inquiry, hearing, determining, adjusting and punishing,” as well as to try the accused and impanel “twelve good and lawful men, inhabitants of this Province” to sit in judgement of the defendants. (Cooper, 42)

Backed by this new law, the trials of the pirates could begin. They would be tried in batches because the vice-admiralty court was held in the home of Garret Vanvelsen, a prominent shoemaker in the city. Nicholas Trott presided over all the trials. He was the nephew of Sir Nicholas Trott, who had governed the Bahama Islands in the late 1600s and made the mistake of accepting a bribe from Henry Every, one of the most infamous pirates of his day. South Carolina’s chief justice would not repeat his uncle’s mistake. As far as he was concerned, pirates were hostis humani generis (enemy of mankind). While he oversaw the trials, his brother-in-law, William Rhett, was out hunting the escapees.

Helping Trott were ten assistant judges. Six were attorneys: George Logan, Alexander Parris, Philip Dawes, George Chicken, Benjamin de la Conseillere, and Samuel Dean. Two gentlemen (Edward Brailsford and John Croft) also served as did two captains, Arthur Loan and John Watkinson. The pirates would be tried by Richard Allein, South Carolina’s attorney general, and Thomas Hepworth, assistant prosecutor.

This was a period in judicial history when the thinking of the court was that an innocent defendant “‘ought to be able to demonstrate it for the jury by the quality and character of his reply to the prosecutor’s evidence.’” (British, 2:xii) Therefore, the pirates had no need for “defence lawyers to object to or probe the state’s case.” (British, 2:vii) Equally true in this time was that juries weren’t necessarily impartial and they were rarely on the same footing socially and financially as the pirates. They often owned property – pirates didn’t legally – and they were upstanding citizens – by definition, piracy was a crime. The men who sat on the upcoming trials “were court ‘insiders’ who heard several cases each session and enjoyed a working relationship with the judge that expedited the business of justice but often led them too easily to endorse the inequities of the legal system.” (British, 2:xiii) For these trials there were essentially “two juries (with minor variations in membership) . . . the first jury sat on the first, third, fifth, sixth, eighth and tenth trials; the second jury on the second, fourth, seventh and ninth.” (British, 2:323) Thus, “impartial” wasn’t necessarily a descriptor of those who served in judgement on the thirty-four pirates, including Stede, indicted for two piracies: the Francis under the command of Peter Manwareing, and the Fortune, whose master was Thomas Read. Except for James Wilson (Dublin, Ireland) and John Levit (North Carolina), thirty pled not guilty to these charges. Daniel Perry of Guernsey pled guilty to one indictment and not guilty to the other.

To be continued . . .

1. Between 1689 and 1740, an able-bodied seaman (AS) earned 25 to 55 shillings per month or £15 to £33 a year. (Ordinary seamen and those rated lower earned less, whereas officers earned more in the merchant marine.) That £15 in 1717 (when Bonnet sailed) equates to UK £2,603.52 or US $3,281.44 in February 2024. The higher amount equates to UK £5,727.74 or US $7,219.17 today. (This information comes from Peter T. Leeson’s The Invisible Hook (Princeton, 2009), the Bank of England’s Inflation Calculator, and Xe.com.)

2. Sixty-six of La Concorde's crew and 455 slaves were released on Bequia Island. Several barrels of beans were given them for food. Perhaps enjoying the irony, Thache gave Captain Pierre Dosset a previously captured sloop named Mauvaise Rencontre, which in English meant "Bad Encounter."

3. The hanging of six pirates to which Thache refers pertains to the trial of the survivors following the demise of Samuel Bellamy's Whydah. Two of the eight defendants were acquitted, but six danced the hempen jig.

4. The Triple Alliance was formed in January 1717 as a means of protection against Spain, which wanted to change the peace treaty that ended the War of the Spanish Succession four years earlier. In August of 1717, Austria would join the alliance and the war became known as the War of the Quadruple Alliance. It lasted into 1720.

5. At this time, Captain Hall had been a ship’s master for a minimum of four years and he had worked on ships significantly longer than that. The interesting fact is that he was connected to Richard Tookerman, who may have already had dealings with Stede or soon would. Barker points out in his article that while no documentary evidence exists as to any orders given, the perception exists that he didn’t want Stede to be captured, which is why Captain Hall did not participate as fully as he might have during the battle between Rhett’s forces and the pirates.

Colonel Rhett certainly believed this. Two years later, he would tell high-placed citizens of Charles Town that he could prove that Hall was a pirate. Hall sued, saying the claims were slanderous. Although he won his case because Rhett never appeared in court, he received no damages.

“The Affidavit of Capt. Peter Manwareing” in The Tryals of Major Stede Bonnet. Printed for Benj. Cowse, M. DCC.XIX., 50.
America and West Indies: January 1718, 1-13” in Calendar of State Papers Colonial, America and West Indies: Volume 30, 1717-1718. His Majesty’s Stationery Office, London, 1930. (Jan. 6. 298.)
America and West Indies: May 1718” in Calendar of State Papers Colonial, America and West Indies: Volume 30, 1717-1718. His Majesty’s Stationery Office, London, 1930. (May 31. Bermuda. 551)
America and West Indies: June 1718” in Calendar of State Papers Colonial, America and West Indies: Volume 30, 1717-1718. His Majesty’s Stationery Office, London, 1930. (June 18. Charles Towne, South Carolina. 556.)
America and West Indies: October 1718,” in Calendar of State Papers Colonial, America and West Indies: Volume 30, 1717-1718. His Majesty’s Stationery Office, London, 1930. (Oct. 21. Charles town, South Carolina. 730.)

Baker, Daniel R. “Stede Bonnet: The Phantom Alliance,” The Pyrate’s Way (Summer 2007), 21-25.
Bialuschewski, Arne. “Blackbeard off Philadelphia: Documents Pertaining to the Campaign against the Pirates in 1717 and 1718,” The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography v.134: no. 2 (April 2010), 165-178.
“Boston,” The Boston News-Letter 16 June 1718 (739), 2.
British Piracy in the Golden Age: History and Interpretation, 1660-1730 edited by Joel H. Baer (volume 2). Pickering & Chatto, 2007.
Brooks, Baylus C. Quest for Blackbeard: The True Story of Edward Thache and His World. Independently published, 2016.
Butler, Nic. “The Watch House: South Carolina’s First Police Station, 1701-1725,” Charleston Time Machine (3 August 2018).

Cooper, Thomas. “An Act for the More Speedy and Regular Trial of Pirates. No. 390.” in The Statutes at Large of South Carolina. Printed by A. S. Johnston, 1838, 3:41-43.
Cordingly, David. Under the Black Flag: The Romance and the Reality of Life Among the Pirates. Random House, 1995.

Dolin, Eric Jay. Black Flags, Blue Waters: The Epic History of America’s Most Notorious Pirates. Liveright, 2018.
Downey, Christopher Byrd. Stede Bonnet: Charleston’s Gentleman Pirate. The History Press, 2012.

Fictum, David. “'The Strongest Man Carries the Day,' Life in New Providence, 1716-1717,” Colonies, Ships, and Pirates (26 July 2015).

Hahn, Steven C. “The Atlantic Odyssey of Richard Tookerman: Gentleman of South Carolina, Pirate of Jamaica, and Litigant before the King’s Bench,” Early American Studies 15:3 (Summer 2017), 539-590.
History of South Carolina edited by Yates Snowden. Lewis Publishing, 1920, 1:173-182.

“The Information of Capt. Peter Manwareing” in The Tryals of Major Stede Bonnet. Printed for Benj. Cowse, M. DCC. XIX., 49.
“The Information of David Herriot and Ignatius Pell” in The Tryals of Major Stede Bonnet. Printed for Benj. Cowse, M. DCC. XIX., 44-48.

Johnson, Charles. A General History of the Pyrates. T. Warner, 1724.

Logan, James. “James Logan letter to Robert Hunter, October 24, 1777." Historical Society of Pennsylvania Discover.
(Special note, the date of the entry is misleading as the date of the letter [viewable and downloadable here] is 24 8 1717 or 24 August 1717. James Logan was deceased in 1777.)
The London Gazette. Issue 5573 (14 September 1717), 1.

Marley, David F. “Thatch, Edward, Alias ‘Blackbeard’ (fl. 1717-1718),” Pirates of the Americas. ABC-CLIO, 2010, 2:787-799.
Malesic, Tony. E-mail posting on PIRATES about Richard Tookerman, 26 September 2001.
Moss, Jeremy R. The Life and Tryals of the Gentleman Pirate, Major Stede Bonnet. Köehler, 2020.
Moss, Jeremy. “Stede Bonnet, Gentleman Pirate: How a Mid-life Crisis Created the ‘Worst Pirate of All Time,’” History Extra (4 January 2023).

“Philadelphia, October 24th,” The Boston News-Letter 11 November 1717 (708), 2.
“A Prefatory Account of the Taking of Major Stede Bonnet, and the other Pirates, by the two Sloops under the Command of Col. William Rhett” in The Tryals of Major Stede Bonnet. Printed for Benj. Cowse, M. DCC. XIX., iii-vi.

Ramsay, David. Ramsay’s History of South Carolina: From Its First Settlement in 1670 to the Year 1808. W. J. Duffie, 1858.

Top-Earning Pirates,” Forbes (19 September 2008).
The Tryals of Major Stede Bonnet, and Other Pirates. Printed for Benjamin Cowse, MDCCXIX.

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.

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