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post #1 of 2 (permalink) Old 07-10-2007, 01:20 PM Thread Starter
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Stede Bonnet


Originally Posted by Wikipedia
Stede Bonnet (1688?-December 10, 1718) was an English pirate in the early 18th century. He is sometimes called "the gentleman pirate", since he had been a moderately wealthy landowner in Barbados before turning to a life of crime.

Pre-criminal life
Bonnet was born on Barbados, possibly in the year of his baptism, 1688. His parents, Edward and Sarah Bonnet, owned an estate of over four hundred acres southeast of Bridgetown. It was bequeathed to Stede Bonnet on his father's death in 1694. It is not known where he received his education, but many who knew him described him as bookish, and the judge who sentenced him alluded to Bonnet's liberal education.

Bonnet married Mary Allamby in Bridgetown on November 21, 1709. They had three sons - Allamby, Edward, and Stede - and a daughter, Mary. Allamby died before 1715, while the others survived to see their father abandon them for piracy. The popular tale that Stede Bonnet was driven to piracy by Mary's nagging originated with Charles Johnson, whose book A General History of the Pyrates refers to the "Discomforts he found in a married State."

Details of Bonnet's military service are unclear, but he held the rank of major in the Barbados militia. This was probably due to his land holdings, since deterring slave revolts was an important militia function. Bonnet's militia service coincided with the War of the Spanish Succession, but there is no record that he took part in the fighting.

Early piratical career
Some time in the summer of 1717, Stede Bonnet decided to become a pirate, despite having no knowledge at all of shipboard life. He bought a sixty-ton sloop, which he named the Revenge and outfitted with ten guns. He enlisted a crew of seventy. This was unusual, as most pirates seized their ships by mutiny or boarding, or else converted a privateer vessel to a piratical one. Even more unusual, Bonnet chose to pay his crew wages, rather than follow the traditional pirate system in which crew were received only in shares of any plunder they took.

Bonnet's initial cruise took him to the coast of Virginia, where he captured four vessels, burning the Barbadian ship Turbet to keep news of his crimes from his home island. He then sailed north to New York, taking two more prizes and picking up naval stores at Gardiners Island. By August 1717, Bonnet had returned to the Carolinas, where he attacked two more ships, stripping and then burning another Barbadian vessel.

In September 1717, Bonnet set course for Nassau, then an infamous pirate den on the island of New Providence in the Bahamas. En route, he encountered, fought and escaped from a Spanish warship. Bonnet was seriously wounded in this skirmish and was still not fully recovered by the next year. Putting in at Nassau, he replaced his casualties and refitted the Revenge, increasing the sloop’s armament to twelve guns.

Collaboration with Blackbeard
At Nassau, Bonnet first met Edward Teach, better known as Blackbeard, who was destined to play a large role in the remainder of Bonnet's life. Disabled by his wounds, Bonnet temporarily ceded command of the Revenge to Blackbeard, but remained aboard as a guest of the more experienced pirate captain. Blackbeard and Bonnet weighed anchor and sailed northward to Delaware Bay, where they plundered twelve merchantmen. Captain Codd, whose merchant ship was taken on October 12, described Bonnet as walking the deck in his nightshirt, lacking any command and still unwell from his wounds.

Blackbeard and Bonnet returned to the Caribbean in November, 1717, where they continued to raid shipping successfully. Some time after December 19, Bonnet and Blackbeard separated.

Bonnet now sailed into the western Caribbean. In March, 1718, he encountered the 400-ton merchant vessel Protestant Caesar off Honduras. The ship escaped him, and his frustrated crew became restive. When Bonnet encountered Blackbeard again shortly afterward, Bonnet's crew effectively deserted him to join Blackbeard, and Bonnet found himself again relieved of command and a guest aboard Blackbeard's new ship, the Queen Anne's Revenge. Blackbeard put a henchman named Richards in command of the Revenge. Bonnet would not exercise command again until the summer of 1718.

Bonnet accompanied his host/captor to South Carolina, where Blackbeard’s four vessels blockaded the port of Charleston in the late spring of 1718. Blackbeard and Bonnet then fled north to Topsail Inlet, where Blackbeard’s Queen Anne’s Revenge ran aground and was lost.

Leaving the remaining three vessels at Topsail Inlet, Blackbeard and Bonnet went ashore and journeyed to Bath, then capital of North Carolina, where both accepted pardons from Governor Charles Eden under King George's Act of Grace, putatively on condition of their renouncing piracy forever. While Blackbeard quietly returned to Topsail Inlet, Bonnet stayed in Bath to get a "clearance" to take the Revenge to Denmark’s Caribbean colony of St. Thomas, where he planned to buy a letter of marque and go privateering against Spanish shipping. Eden granted Bonnet this clearance.

Resumption of pirate command
Bonnet returned to Topsail Inlet to find that Blackbeard had beached the majority of their crew, robbed the Revenge and two of the other vessels of the squadron of most of their supplies, and then sailed away for parts unknown aboard the sloop Adventure, carrying all the loot with him. Bonnet now (probably late June or early July of 1718) resumed command of the Revenge. Few, if any, of his original crew from Barbados were still aboard. Bonnet reinforced the Revenge by rescuing a number of men whom Blackbeard had marooned on a sandbar in Topsail inlet.

Shortly after Bonnet resumed command, a bumboat’s crew told him that Blackbeard was moored in Ocracoke Inlet. Bonnet set sail at once to hunt down his treacherous ex-confederate, but could not find him. Bonnet never met Blackbeard again.

Although Bonnet apparently never discarded his hopes of reaching St. Thomas and getting his letter of marque, two pressing problems now tempted him back into piracy. First, Blackbeard had stolen the food and supplies he and his men needed to subsist (one pirate testified at his trial that no more than ten or eleven barrels remained aboard the Revenge). Second, St. Thomas was now in the midst of the Atlantic hurricane season, which would last until autumn. However, returning to freebooting meant nullifying Bonnet’s pardon.

Hoping to preserve his pardon, Bonnet adopted the alias "Captain Thomas" and changed the Revenge’s name to the Royal James. He further tried to disguise his return to piracy by engaging in a pretense of trade with the next two vessels he robbed. Soon afterward, Bonnet quit the charade of trading and reverted to naked piracy. In the course of July 1718 he cruised north to Delaware Bay, pillaging another eleven vessels, and taking several prisoners, some of whom joined his pirate crew. While Bonnet set loose most of his prizes after looting them, he retained control of the last two ships he captured: the sloops Francis and Fortune.

On August 1, 1718, the Royal James and the two captured sloops sailed southward from Delaware Bay. The captured sloops lagged behind, and Bonnet threatened to sink them if they did not stay closer. During the passage, Bonnet and his crew divided their loot into shares of about £10 or £11 and distributed them amongst themselves. This is the only time Bonnet is known to have practiced this important pirate custom, and it suggests he had by then abandoned his unorthodox practice of paying regular wages to his crew.

On the twelfth day out of Delaware Bay, Bonnet entered the estuary of the Cape Fear River and anchored near the mouth of a small waterway now known as Bonnet’s Creek. The Royal James had begun to leak badly and was in need of careening. Shortly afterward, a small shallop entered the river and was captured. Bonnet had the shallop broken up to help repair the Royal James. The work of careening was done, in whole or in part, by the prisoners Bonnet had captured, which included several black slaves. Bonnet threatened at least one man with marooning if he did not work the Royal James’ pumps.

Bonnet remained in the Cape Fear River for the next 45 days. According to Bonnet’s boatswain, Ignatius Pell, the pirates intended to wait out the hurricane season in this location. Because it would have required little more than a week to careen a sloop like the Royal James, this story is likely true.

Battle of Cape Fear River
By the end of August, news had reached Charleston that Bonnet’s vessels were moored in the Cape Fear River. Robert Johnson, governor of South Carolina, authorized Colonel William Rhett to lead a naval expedition against the pirates, even though the Cape Fear River was in North Carolina’s jurisdiction. After a false start due to the appearance of another pirate ship near Charleston, Rhett arrived at the mouth of the Cape Fear River on September 26th with two eight-gun sloops and a force of 130 men.

Bonnet initially mistook Rhett’s squadron for merchantmen and sent three canoes to capture them. Unfortunately for Rhett, his flagship Henry had run aground in the river mouth, enabling Bonnet’s canoe crews to approach, recognize the heavily armed and manned sloops as hostile and return uninjured to warn Bonnet. The sun had set by the time the rising tide lifted the Henry off the river bottom.

The 46 pirates were scattered among the three sloops. During the night, Bonnet brought all of them aboard the Royal James and planned to fight his way out to sea in the morning rather than risk the Cape Fear River’s narrow channels in the dark. Bonnet also wrote a letter to Governor Johnson, threatening to burn Charleston to the ground.

At daybreak, on September 27th, 1718, Bonnet set sail toward Rhett’s force, and all three sloops opened fire, initiating the Battle of Cape Fear River. The two South Carolinian sloops split up in an effort to bracket the Royal James between them. Bonnet tried to avoid the trap by steering the Royal James close to the river’s western shore, but ran aground in the process. Rhett’s closing sloops also ran aground, leaving only the Henry in range of the Royal James.

The battle was stalemated for the next five or six hours, with all the participants immobilized. Bonnet’s men had the advantage that their deck was heeled away from their opponents, giving them cover, while the Henry’s deck was tilted toward the pirates, thus exposing Rhett’s men to punishing musket volleys. Bonnet’s force suffered twelve casualties while killing or wounding 24 of Rhett’s 70-man crew. Most of Bonnet’s men fought enthusiastically, challenging their enemies to board and fight hand to hand, and tying a wiff knot in their flag as a mock signal to come aboard and render aid. Bonnet himself patrolled the deck with a pistol drawn, threatening to kill any pirate who faltered in the fight. Nevertheless, some of the prisoners who had been forced to join the pirate crew refused to fire on Rhett’s men, and one narrowly escaped death at Bonnet’s hands in the confusion of the engagement.

The battle was ultimately decided by the rising of the tide, which lifted Rhett’s sloops free while temporarily leaving the Royal James stranded. Bonnet was left watching helplessly while the enemy vessels repaired their rigging and closed to board his paralyzed vessel. In a boarding action, Bonnet’s men would be outnumbered almost three to one, and his case was clearly hopeless. He ordered his gunner, George Ross, to blow up the Royal James’ powder magazine. Ross apparently attempted this, but was overruled by the remainder of the crew, who raised a white flag in surrender. Rhett arrested the pirates, returning to Charleston with his prisoners on October 3.

Escape, recapture, and execution
In Charleston, Bonnet was separated from the bulk of his crew and held for three weeks in the provost marshal’s house along with his boatswain, Ignatius Pell, and his sailing master, David Herriott. On October 24, Bonnet and Herriott escaped, probably by colluding with local merchant Richard Tookerman. Governor Johnson at once placed a £700 bounty on Bonnet’s head and dispatched search teams to track him down.

Bonnet and Herriott, accompanied by two of Tookerman’s slaves, obtained a boat and made for the north shore of Charleston Harbor, but foul winds and lack of supplies forced the four of them onto Sullivan's Island. Governor Johnson sent a posse under Rhett to Sullivan’s Island to hunt for Bonnet. The posse discovered Bonnet after an extensive search, and opened fire, killing Herriott and wounding the two slaves. Bonnet surrendered and was returned to Charleston.

The hanging of Stede Bonnet in Charleston, December 10, 1718.On November 10, 1718, Bonnet was brought to trial before Sir Nicholas Trott, sitting in his capacity as a judge of Vice-Admiralty. Trott had already sat in judgment on Bonnet’s crew and sentenced most of them to hang. Bonnet was formally charged with only two acts of piracy, against the Francis and the Fortune, whose commanders were on hand to testify against Bonnet in person. Ignatius Pell had turned King’s evidence in the trial of Bonnet’s crew and now testified, somewhat reluctantly, against Bonnet himself. Bonnet pled not guilty and conducted his own defense without assistance of counsel, cross-examining the witnesses to little avail, and calling a character witness in his favor. Trott rendered a damning summation of the evidence, and the jury delivered a guilty verdict. Two days later, after treating the convicted man to a stern lecture on his violation of Christian duties, Trott sentenced Bonnet to death.

While awaiting his execution, Bonnet wrote to Governor Johnson, begging abjectly for clemency and promising to have his own arms and legs cut off as assurance that he would never again commit piracy. Bonnet’s visibly disintegrating mind moved many Carolinians to pity, particularly (so Charles Johnson tells us) the female population. But the governor would not be moved. Bonnet was hanged at White Point, in Charleston, on December 10, 1718.

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Last edited by Trip; 07-10-2007 at 01:39 PM.
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post #2 of 2 (permalink) Old 07-10-2007, 11:52 PM
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Interesting read, one HELLUVA life.
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