Captain Stede Bonnet The Gentleman Pirate

Stede Bonnet (c. 1688 – December 10, 1718) was an early 18th-century Barbadian pirate, sometimes called "the gentleman pirate"[4] because he was a moderately wealthy landowner before turning to a life ofcrime. Bonnet was born into a wealthy English family on the island of Barbados, and inherited the familyestate after his father's death in 1694. In 1709, he married Mary Allamby, andengaged in some level of militia service. Because of marital problems, and despite his lack of sailingexperience, Bonnet decided to turn to piracy in the summer of 1717. He bought asailing vessel, named it Revenge, and traveled with his paid crew alongthe Eastern Seaboard of what is now the United States, capturing other vessels and burning other Barbadian ships.
Bonnet set sail for Nassau, Bahamas, but he was seriously wounded en route during an encounter with a Spanish warship. After arriving in Nassau, Bonnet met Edward Teach, the infamouspirate Blackbeard. Incapable of leading his crew, Bonnet temporarily ceded his ship'scommand to Blackbeard. Before separating in December 1717, Blackbeard andBonnet plundered and captured merchant ships along the East Coast. After Bonnetfailed to capture the Protestant Caesar, his crew abandoned him to joinBlackbeard aboard the Queen Anne's Revenge. Bonnet stayed onBlackbeard's ship as a guest, and did not command a crew again until summer1718, when he was pardoned by North Carolina governor Charles Eden and received clearance to go privateering against Spanish shipping.Bonnet was tempted to resume his piracy, but did not want to lose his pardon,so he adopted the alias "Captain Thomas" and changed his ship's nameto Royal James. He had returned to piracy by July 1718.
In August 1718, Bonnet anchored the Royal James on an estuary of theCape Fear River to repair and careen the ship. In late August andSeptember, Colonel William Rhett, with the authorization of South Carolina governor Robert Johnson, led a naval expeditionagainst pirates on the river. Rhett and Bonnet's men fought each other for hours,but the outnumbered pirates ultimately surrendered. Rhett arrested the piratesand brought them to Charleston in early October. Bonnetescaped on October 24, but was recaptured on Sullivan's Island. On November 10, Bonnet wasbrought to trial and charged with two acts of piracy. Judge Nicholas Trottsentenced Bonnet to death. Bonnet wrote to Governor Johnson to ask for clemency, but Johnson endorsed thejudge's decision, and Bonnet was hanged in Charleston on December 10, 1718.

Bonnet is believed to have been born in 1688, as he was christened atChrist Church parish on July 29, 1688.[5] His parents, Edward and Sarah Bonnet, owned an estate of over400 acres (1.6 km2) southeast of Bridgetown,[6] which was bequeathed to Bonnet upon his father's death in1694. It is not known where Bonnet received his education, but many who knewhim described him as bookish, and Judge Nicholas Trott alluded to Bonnet'sliberal education when sentencing him.[7][8] Bonnet married Mary Allamby in Bridgetown on November 21, 1709.[9] They had three sons—Allamby, Edward, and Stede—and a daughter, Mary.Allamby died before 1715, while the other children survived to see their fatherabandon them for piracy.[10] Edward's granddaughter, Anne Thomasine Clarke, was the wife of GeneralRobert Haynes, for 36 years Speaker of the Assembly of Barbados.[11]
In A General History of the Pyrates, Charles Johnson wrote that Bonnet was drivento piracy by Mary's nagging and "[d]iscomforts he found in a marriedState."[12][13] Details of Bonnet's military service are unclear, but he held the rank of major in the Barbados militia. Therank was probably due to his land holdings, since deterring slave revolts was an important function of the militia. Bonnet's militia servicecoincided with the War of the Spanish Succession, but there is no record thathe took part in the fighting.[1]
Early career as a pirate
During the spring of 1717, Stede Bonnet decided to become a pirate, despitehaving no knowledge of shipboard life. He bought a sixty-ton sloop, which he equipped with six guns[14] and named the Revenge. This was unusual, as most pirates seizedtheir ships by mutiny or boarding, or else converted a privateer vessel to a pirate ship. Bonnetenlisted a crew of more than seventy men. He relied on his quartermaster andofficer for their knowledge of sailing, and as a result, he was not highlyrespected by his crew.[1] In another break from tradition, Bonnet paid his crew wages, not shares ofplunder as most pirates did.[1][15] Royal Navy intelligence reported that he departed Carlisle Bay, Barbadosunder cover of darkness.[14]
Bonnet's initial cruise took him to the coast of Virginia near the entranceof the Chesapeake Bay, where he captured andplundered four vessels, and burned the Barbadian ship Turbet to keepnews of his crimes from his home island.[16] He then sailed north to New York, taking two more ships, andpicking up naval supplies and releasing captives at Gardiners Island. By August 1717, Bonnet had returned to theCarolinas, where he attacked two more ships, a brigantine from Boston and aBarbadian sloop.[17] He stripped the brigantine, but brought the cargo-filled Barbadian sloopto an inlet off North Carolina to use for careening and repairing the Revenge.[16] After the Barbadian sloop's tackle was used to careen the Revenge,the ship was dismantled for timber, and the remains were then burned. InSeptember 1717, Bonnet set course for Nassau, which was then an infamous pirate den on the island of New Providence in the Bahamas. En route, heencountered, fought, and escaped from a Spanish man of war. The Revenge was badly damaged, Bonnet was seriously wounded, andhalf the crew of the sloop was lost in the encounter. Putting in at Nassau,Bonnet replaced his casualties and refitted the Revenge, increasing thesloop's armament to twelve guns.[18]
Collaboration with Blackbeard
While at Nassau, Bonnet met Captain Benjamin Hornigold and Edward Teach for the first time; Teach, better known as Blackbeard, played a large role in the remainder of Bonnet's life. Disabled by hiswounds, Bonnet temporarily ceded command of the Revenge to Blackbeard,but remained aboard as a guest of the more experienced pirate captain.[19] Blackbeard and Bonnet weighed anchor and sailed northward to Delaware Bay, where they plundered eleven ships. On September 29, 1717, the Revenge,captained by Blackbeard, plundered the sloop Betty, which had a cargofull of Madeira wine.[20] Captain Codd, whose merchant ship was taken on October 12, describedBonnet as walking the deck in his nightshirt, lacking any command and stillunwell from his wounds. The Revenge later captured and looted the Spoffordand Sea Nymph, which were leaving Philadelphia. On October 22, the Revengestopped and robbed the Robert and Good Intent of their supplies.[21]
Blackbeard and Bonnet left Delaware Bay and returned to the Caribbean in November, where they successfully continued their piracy. On November17, a 200-ton ship named the Concorde was attacked by two pirate craftnearly 100 miles (160 km) away from the island of Martinique.[21] The lieutenant on board described the pirate vessels as one having 12 gunsand 120 men and the other having eight guns and 30 men. The crew of the Concordeput up a fight, but surrendered after the pirates bombarded them with "twovolleys of cannons and musketry."[22] Blackbeard took the Concorde and sailed south into the Grenadines, where he renamed the ship Queen Anne's Revenge, possibly as an insult to King George I of Great Britain.[23] Some time after December 19, Bonnet and Blackbeard separated.[24] Bonnet now sailed into the western Caribbean. In March 1718, heencountered the 400-ton merchant vessel Protestant Caesar off Honduras. The ship escaped him, andhis frustrated crew became restive.[25] When Bonnet encountered Blackbeard again shortly afterward, Bonnet's crewdeserted him to join Blackbeard. Blackbeard put a henchman named Richards incommand of the Revenge. Bonnet, surprised that his colleague hadbetrayed him, found himself as a guest aboard the Queen Anne's Revenge.Bonnet confided in a few loyal crew members that he was ready to give up hiscriminal life if he could exile himself in Spain or Portugal. Bonnet would notexercise command again until the summer of 1718.[26]
Under Captain Richards, the Revenge captured a Jamaican sloop, the Adventure,captained by David Herriot. Herriot joined the pirates, and Blackbeard nowpossessed three ships. Bonnet accompanied Blackbeard to South Carolina, where Blackbeard's fourvessels blockaded the port of Charleston in the late spring of 1718.[27] Needing a place to rest and refit their vessels, Blackbeard and Bonnetheaded north to Topsail Inlet, where the Queen Anne's Revenge ranaground and was lost.[28] Leaving the remaining three vessels at Topsail Inlet, Blackbeard andBonnet went ashore and journeyed to Bath, which was then capital of North Carolina. Once there, both menaccepted pardons from Governor Charles Eden under King George's Act of Grace, putatively on condition of theirrenouncing piracy forever.[27][29] While Blackbeard quietly returned to Topsail Inlet, Bonnet stayed in Bathto 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.[30]
Resumption of pirate command
Bonnet returned to Topsail Inlet to find that Blackbeard had beached themajority of their former crew, robbed the Revenge and two other vesselsof the squadron of most of their supplies, and sailed away for parts unknownaboard 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. Bonnetreinforced the Revenge by rescuing a number of men whom Blackbeard had marooned on a sandbar in Topsail Inlet.[31][32][33]
Shortly after Bonnet resumed command, a bumboat's crew told him thatBlackbeard was moored in Ocracoke Inlet. Bonnet set sail at once to hunt down his treacherousex-confederate, but could not find him, and Bonnet never met Blackbeard again.[34] Although Bonnet apparently never discarded his hopes of reaching St.Thomas and getting his letter of marque, two pressing problems now tempted himback into piracy. First, Blackbeard had stolen the food and supplies he and hismen needed to subsist (one pirate testified at his trial that no more than tenor eleven barrels remained aboard the Revenge).[35] Second, St. Thomas was now in the midst of the Atlantic hurricane season, which would lastuntil autumn. However, returning to freebooting meant nullifying Bonnet'spardon.[36]
Hoping to preserve his pardon, Bonnet adopted the alias "CaptainThomas" and changed the Revenge's name to the Royal James.[37] The name Royal James that Bonnet conferred on his sloop waspresumably a reference to the younger Prince James Stuart, and may suggest that Bonnetor his men had Jacobite sympathies. One of Bonnet's prisoners further reported witnessing Bonnet'smen drinking to the health of the Old Pretender[38] and wishing to see him king of the English nation.[39]
Bonnet further tried to disguise his return to piracy by engaging in apretense of trade with the next two vessels he robbed. Soon afterward, Bonnetquit the charade of trading and reverted to naked piracy. In July 1718, hecruised north to Delaware Bay, pillaging another eleven vessels. He tookseveral prisoners, some of whom joined his pirate crew.[40] While Bonnet set loose most of his prizes after looting them, he retainedcontrol of the last two ships he captured: the sloops Francis and Fortune.[41] On August 1, 1718, the Royal James and the two captured sloopssailed southward from Delaware Bay.[36] The captured sloops lagged behind, and Bonnet threatened to sink them ifthey did not stay closer. During the passage, Bonnet and his crew divided theirloot into shares of about £10 or £11 and distributed them amongst themselves.[42] This is the only time Bonnet is known to have practiced this importantpirate custom, and it suggests he had by then abandoned his unorthodox practiceof paying regular wages to his crew.
Twelve days out of Delaware Bay, Bonnet entered the estuary of the Cape Fear River and anchored near the mouth of a small waterway nowknown as Bonnet's Creek. The Royal James had begun to leak badly and wasin need of careening. Shortly afterward, a small shallop entered the river and wascaptured. Bonnet had the shallop broken up to help repair the Royal James.[43][44][45] The work of careening was done, in whole or in part, by the prisonersBonnet had captured. Bonnet threatened at least one man with marooning if hedid not work the Royal James' pumps.[46] Bonnet remained in the Cape Fear River for the next 45 days. According toBonnet's boatswain, Ignatius Pell, the pirates intended to wait out the hurricane seasonthere.[36]
Battleof Cape Fear River

By the end of August, news had reached Charleston that Bonnet's vesselswere moored in the Cape Fear River. Robert Johnson, governor of South Carolina,authorized Colonel William Rhett to lead a naval expeditionagainst the pirates, even though the Cape Fear River was in North Carolina's jurisdiction.[46] After a false start due to the appearance of another pirate ship nearCharleston, Rhett arrived at the mouth of the Cape Fear River on September 26with two eight-gun sloops and a force of 130 men.[47] Bonnet initially mistook Rhett's squadron for merchantmen and sent three canoes to capture them.[48] Unfortunately for Rhett, his flagship Henryhad run aground in the river mouth, enabling Bonnet's canoe crews to approach,recognize the heavily armed and manned sloops as hostile and return uninjuredto warn Bonnet. The sun had set by the time the rising tide lifted the Henryoff the river bottom.[49]
The 46 pirates were scattered among the three sloops. During the night,Bonnet brought all of them aboard the Royal James and planned to fighthis way out to sea in the morning rather than risk the Cape Fear River's narrowchannels in the dark. Bonnet also wrote a letter to Governor Johnson,threatening to burn all the ships in Charleston harbor. At daybreak, onSeptember 27, 1718, Bonnet set sail toward Rhett's force, and all three sloopsopened fire, initiating the Battle of Cape Fear River.[47] The two South Carolinian sloops split up in an effort to bracket the RoyalJames. Bonnet tried to avoid the trap by steering the Royal Jamesclose to the river's western shore, but ran aground in the process. Rhett'sclosing sloops also ran aground, leaving only the Henry in range of the RoyalJames.[50]
The battle was at a stalemate for the next five or six hours, with all theparticipants immobilized. Bonnet's men had the advantage that their deck washeeled away from their opponents, giving them cover, while the Henry'sdeck was tilted toward the pirates, thus exposing Rhett's men to punishingmusket volleys. Bonnet's force suffered twelve casualties while killing ten andwounding fourteen of Rhett's 70-man crew.[49] Most of Bonnet's men fought enthusiastically, challenging their enemies toboard and fight hand to hand, and tying a knot in their flag as a mock signalto come aboard and render aid. Bonnet himself patrolled the deck with a pistoldrawn, 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 tofire on Rhett's men, and one narrowly escaped death at Bonnet's hands in theconfusion of the engagement.[51][52][53]
The battle was ultimately decided when the rising tide lifted Rhett'ssloops free while temporarily leaving the Royal James stranded.[53] Bonnet was left helpless, watching while the enemy vessels repaired theirrigging and closed to board his paralyzed vessel. Outnumbered almost three toone, Bonnet's men would have had little hope of winning a boarding action.Bonnet ordered his gunner, George Ross, to blow up the Royal James's powdermagazine. Ross apparently attempted this, but was overruled by the remainder ofthe crew, who surrendered. Rhett arrested the pirates and returned toCharleston with his prisoners on October 3.[54][55]
Escape,recapture, and execution

In Charleston, Bonnet was separated from the bulk of his crew and held forthree weeks in the provost marshal's house along with his boatswain, IgnatiusPell, and his sailing master, David Herriott. On October24, Bonnet and Herriott escaped, probably by colluding with local merchantRichard Tookerman. Governor Johnson at once placed a £700 bounty on Bonnet'shead and dispatched search teams to track him down.[56] Bonnet and Herriott, accompanied by a slave and an Indian, obtained a boatand made for the north shore of Charleston Harbor, but foul winds and lack ofsupplies forced the four of them onto Sullivan's Island. Governor Johnson sent aposse under Rhett to Sullivan's Island to hunt for Bonnet.[57] The posse discovered Bonnet after an extensive search, and opened fire,killing Herriott and wounding the two slaves. Bonnet surrendered and wasreturned to Charleston.[58] While awaiting trial, some sort of civil uprising in his support tookplace within the city, an event authorities would later describe as havingnearly resulted in the burning of the town and the overthrow of the government.[59]
On November 10, 1718, Bonnet was brought to trial before Sir NicholasTrott, sitting in his capacity as Vice-Admiralty judge. Trott had already satin judgment on Bonnet's crew and sentenced most of them to hang.[60] Bonnet was formally charged with only two acts of piracy, against the Francisand the Fortune, whose commanders were on hand to testify against Bonnetin person.[61] Ignatius Pell had turned King's evidence in the trial of Bonnet's crewand now testified, somewhat reluctantly, against Bonnet himself.[62] Bonnet pled not guilty and conducted his own defense without assistance ofcounsel, cross-examining the witnesses to little avail, and calling a character witness in his favor. Trott rendereda 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 hisviolation of Christian duties, Trott sentenced Bonnet to death.[63]
While awaiting his execution, Bonnet wrote to Governor Johnson, beggingabjectly for clemency and promising to have his own arms and legs cut off as assurance that hewould never again commit piracy.[64] Charles Johnson wrote that Bonnet's visibly disintegrating mind moved manyCarolinians to pity, particularly the female population, and London paperslater reported that the governor delayed his execution seven times.[65] Bonnet was ultimately hanged at White Point, in Charleston, on December10, 1718.[66]
The actual degree of authority any pirate captain exercised over his crewwas questionable, as he had no access to the procedures and sanctions of admiralty law that supported legitimate captains. Many pirate captains were elected bytheir crews and could be deposed in the same manner.[67] Because of his ignorance of nautical matters, Bonnet was in an even weakerposition than other pirate captains, as is demonstrated by the utter dominationBlackbeard exercised over him during their collaboration. During Bonnet's earlycareer, his crew seems to have been less than loyal to him and to have greatlypreferred the more charismatic and experienced Blackbeard.[68]
At his trial, Bonnet downplayed his own authority over his pirate crew. Hetold the court that his crew engaged in piracy against his will, and said hehad warned them that he would leave the crew unless they stopped robbingvessels.[69] He further stated that he had been asleep during the capture of the sloop Francis.The court did not accept these protestations.[70] Boatswain Ignatius Pell testified that Bonnet's quartermaster, Robert Tucker, had more power than Bonnet.[71] A powerful quartermaster appears to have been a common feature of piratecrews in the early modern era.[72]
Nevertheless, Bonnet's crew represented him as being a leader, and itappears likely that, after his rescue of Blackbeard's marooned crewmen, hebecame at least a co-equal commander aboard the Royal James. He appearsto have been entrusted with the company's treasure, and made most major commanddecisions such as the direction of the ship and what vessels to attack. Mostsignificantly, at Delaware Bay he ordered two of his crew to be flogged for breaches of discipline.[45] Pirates did not lightly submit to flogging, as they resented the frequentuse of this punishment in the naval and merchant services from which most ofthem came,[73] and thus only a leader who commanded the obedience ofhis crew could successfully order such penalties.

Bonnet's flag is traditionally represented as a white skull above a horizontal long bonebetween a heart and a dagger, all on a black field. Despite the frequentappearance of this flag in modern pirate literature, no known early-Georgian period source describes any such device, much less attributes it toBonnet. This version of Bonnet's flag is probably one of a number of pirateflags appearing on an undated manuscript with unknown provenance in Britain's National Maritime Museum, which was donated by Dr.Philip Gosse in 1939. Bonnet's crew and contemporaries generally referred tohim flying a "bloody flag",[74] which likely means a dark red flag. There is also a report from the 1718 Boston News-Letter of Bonnet flying adeath's-head flag during his pursuit of the Protestant Caesar, with nomention of color or of any long bone, heart, or dagger.[75]
Walking the plank
Bonnet is alleged to have been one of the few pirates to make his prisonerswalk the plank.[76] No contemporary source makes any mention of Bonnet forcing prisoners towalk the plank, and modern scholars such as Marcus Rediker, Professor ofHistory at the University of Pittsburgh, generally agree that thewhole concept of pirates forcing prisoners to walk the plank belongs to a laterage than Bonnet's.[77]

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