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The History of Maritime Piracy

Cindy Vallar, Editor & Reviewer
P. O. Box 425, Keller, TX  76244-0425


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Pirates of Canada
By Cindy Vallar

At the age of seven Robert Chevalier ran away from home and was adopted by the Iroquois who lived near Quebec.  In 1695, however, his grand adventure ended when he was captured and returned to his parents.  Boredom soon found him allying himself with the Algonquin.  France and England were at war, and that conflict was felt in the colonies, especially at Louisbourg where the English lay siege to the French garrison. Chevalier and his Algonquin friends, who fought for the French, met buccaneers in Louisbourg and their tales led him to join their crew.  He soon became a successful pirate, but he also became known as a womanizer, preferring petticoats to treasure.  That failing led to his demise when he died as a result of a duel over a woman.

L'OllonaisWhen Pierre Le Picard retired to Acadia, he left behind a career plagued by bad luck.  He joined forces with the notorious líOllonnais in 1688.  They wished to attack Nicaragua, but ended up in Honduras.  They ransacked a number of cities, but acquired little treasure.  A galleon of the Spanish treasure fleet was soon to put into Belize, but the two pirates waited three months for its arrival.  Hoping to improve his fortune, Picard struck out on his own.  He plundered and killed, but achieved little of note.  Then he joined a band of 260 pirates led by seven captains that terrorized the Pacific coast of Latin America.  Eventually they divided into smaller, more mobile groups, but this strategy failed to deliver significant rewards.  After retirement, he raided the English after they attacked a French settlement.  When his attacks met with success, a former comrade and English pirate was sent to ensnare him.  Picard withdrew and was never heard from again.

When John Stairs, a witness for the Crown, took the stand in the Halifax courthouse, he recounted a harrowing tale of what transpired aboard Three Sisters on 13 September 1809.  When the schooner he captained set sail three days earlier, on board were the crew (John Kelly, Thomas Heath, and Ben Matthews) and several passengers (Edward Jordan, his wife Margaret, and their four children).  While Stairs was in his cabin on the fateful day, Jordan tried to shoot him.  The ball grazed his nose and face before entering Heathís chest, killing him.  Stairs went to arm himself, but found his weapons missing.  He met Jordan, armed with pistol and axe, at the ladder.  Stairs called for help, but Kelly failed to answer because he was in league with Jordan.  Matthews, however, did and was wounded.  During the struggle, Mrs. Jordan repeatedly hit Stairs with a boat hook. Jordan hit the wounded Matthews several times on the back of the head with an axe.  Fearing for his life, Stairs jumped overboard and was rescued by a fishing schooner three hours later.

In October, Jordan, who wished to sail the schooner to Ireland, hired Patrick Power as navigator in St. Johnís, Newfoundland.  They never reached their destination because Lieutenant Bury and a boarding party from HM schooner Cuttle ordered them to Halifax.  Power told Bury that Jordan had said he would have succeeded in the venture had Kelly allowed him to kill Stairs outright.  Instead, Kelly had insisted that Stairs would never survive the swim to shore.  The court took less than an hour to find Edward Jordan guilty of piracy, murder, and robbery.  On 24 November, he was hanged.  Margaret Jordan was acquitted.

Thirty-five years later six men, known as the Saladin pirates, went on trial for piracy.  Their crime was described as one of the most spine-chilling and blood drenched tales of the sea.  When Captain Cunningham boarded the Saladin in May 1844, the crew claimed that their captain and first officer had died, and that the second officer and several others had fallen from aloft and drowned.  The Saladin sailed from Valparaiso on 8 February.  The last entry in the log was dated 14 April.  The man responsible for those deaths was never tried.

Captain Fielding lost his ship and his reputation when he circumvented Peruvian law by smuggling.  Captain MacKenzie of the Saladin, a Scot who planned to retire after this voyage to London, accepted Fielding and his fifteen-year-old son as non-paying passengers.  The two captains failed to get along, and Fielding persuaded George Jones to help him kill the captain and commandeer the ship.  Other crew members (John Hazleton, William Trevaskiss, Charles Anderson, William Carr, and John Galloway) were also enlisted.

Mate F. Byerly woke to find three men standing over him.  They struck him twice with an axe, then threw him overboard.  James Allen was struck from behind at the wheel.  The carpenter, whose tools became murder weapons, was the next struck down, but he was alive when he hit the water.  This gave Fielding a reason to roust MacKenzie from his cabin and kill him.  Moffat and Collins soon followed.  Galloway and Carr knew none of this at the time.  When they came on deck, the mutineers had had their fill of killing and refused to slay them.  Fearing for their lives, the two men agreed to join the pirates.  Wary that Fielding might double-cross them, the pirates killed Fielding and his son.

Gallowayís confession led the others to confess.  Jones, Hazelton, Anderson, and Trevaskiss were tried for piracy and murder.  The jury deliberated for fifteen minutes before returning guilty verdicts and sentences of death by hanging.  A separate trial for murder was held for Carr and Galloway.  The jury felt that they had no alternative but to kill or be killed.  They were found not guilty.

Queen Elizabeth sent Peter Easton, a naval officer, to Newfoundland in 1602.  The following year, though, James I became King of England.  Preferring peace to war, he signed a treaty with Spain and downsized the Royal Navy, leaving Easton and his men without pay or the means to return home.  As a result, they turned pirate, plundering ships and pillaging coastal communities.  By 1610, the English referred to Easton as Notorious Pirate.  His fleet of forty ships crewed by upward of 5000 pirates and plundered wealth made him a powerful adversary.  Bristol merchants complained to the Lord Admiral, who attempted to rid the Western Hemisphere of this scourge.  Instead, Easton captured the earlís ships, pocketed $100,000, and enlisted 500 more men to his cause.

After Easton fortified Harbour Grace in 1610, he captured Sir Richard Whitbourne, the Kingís representative, and imprisoned him aboard ship for eleven weeks, hoping to persuade him to join his piracy ventures.  Whitebourne refused, but offered to petition King James for a pardon for the pirate.  The English government sent the requested pardon, but Easton never received it, even though he waited two years for it.  In 1614 he captured three Spanish treasure ships and fought for the King of Algiers against Spain.  Eventually he retired to France where he married a woman of nobility and became the Marquis of Savoy.

Perhaps the most legendary of Eastonís captives was the Carbonear Princess.  Her name was Sheila Na Geira and she was an Irish princess, descended from a Celtic king of western Ireland.  Or perhaps she was the daughter of Sir Hugh OíConnor of Connaught, whom the Irish deemed a traitor for siding with the English.  She sailed from Ireland either to visit her aunt, the abbess of a French convent, or to escape a threat of death or kidnapping from Irishmen bent on reeking vengeance on her father.  Dutch pirates captured her ship, and shortly thereafter, Easton captured the Dutch.  Sheila fell in love with one of Eastonís navigators, Gilbert Pike, and married him ten days later.  Legend also says that their child was the first European born in Newfoundland.  Whatever the truth behind the legend, one thing should be noted.  At the time Easton captured the Dutch pirates and Sheila wed Pike in 1602, Easton was not a pirate.  When he turned to piracy a year later, Pike resigned from Eastonís crew.

Another pirate who followed in Eastonís wake was John Nutt.  He first appeared in Newfoundland around 1620.  Three years later, he was granted a pardon on condition of paying a ransom of £500.  He returned to England where the Vice Admiral of Devon, John Eliot, imprisoned Nutt and tried him for piracy.  Convicted of the charges, Nutt was sentenced to hang, but the Secretary of State, George Calvert, intervened.  He freed Nutt and gave him £100 in compensation, then arrested Eliot.

Pierre Maisonnate, aka Baptiste, was a French pirate who frequented the ports of St. Johnís and Beaubassin.  In 1692 over a period of six months, he captured nine English ships.  He sailed them to France where he regaled his countrymen with tales of his exploits.  Upon his return to Nova Scotia two years later, he brought with him five prizes taken off the New England coast.  The following year he and his men eluded capture by two English warships, but the signing of the Treaty of Ryswick meant Baptiste could no longer prey upon English ships.  Instead, the French hired him to enforce the treatyís provisions that prohibited New Englanders from fishing within sight of Acadian lands.  This led to his capture in 1702, but since England and France were once again at war, he was no longer considered a pirate but rather a prisoner of war.  After four years of captivity, he was exchanged for the Reverend John Williams, a prominent New Englander captured by the Abenaki in a raid.  Baptiste married twice and outfitted privateers until 1713 when the French ceded their settlements to England.  The last mention of him appeared in the 1714 census.

Perhaps the most daring pirate endeavor, though, belongs to Bartholomew Roberts, aka Black Bart.  He turned to piracy at the age of 36 when the pirate Howell Davis captured the ship on which Roberts sailed.  Upon Davisí death, the pirates chose Roberts as their new captain even though he abhorred liquor, forbade gambling, and encouraged prayer.  In just 2 ½ years, he captured more than 400 prizes.  Known for his flamboyant dress, Black Bart wore crimson waistcoat and breeches, a hat with a scarlet plume, and a jeweled cross hanging from a gold chain whenever he went into battle.  In 1720 he sailed into Newfoundlandís Trepassey Bay aboard a 10-gun sloop.  He and his crew of sixty plundered and destroyed 21 merchant ships manned by 1200 tars.  The pirates stowed their booty aboard the remaining brigantine and sailed away.  Two years later the HMS Swallow engaged Roberts in battle off the coast of Africa.  Wounded in the neck when a broadside hit the ship, Roberts died.  His fellow pirates followed his last order and dumped his body overboard.

© 2001 Cindy Vallar

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