The Shed

The Shed
The Shed

Saturday, April 20, 2013

R is for...Arrgghh?

Yes it is. R is for "arrgghh".

And what is "arrgghh"? "Arrgghh" is what a pirate says, although no one knows exactly why. Therefore "arrgghh" is an extension of R and also stands for pirate. Do you see, boys and girls, the marvelous way that words and letters can be made to mean whatever you want them to?

Those of you who master this essential fact will go on to become Senators or worse someday, I have little doubt.

And thus with no further fol de rol and/or buffoonery let us proceed directly to a tale of "arrgghh".

Whatever else he may have been Stede Bonnet was not your everyday run of the mill pirate captain.

There were many roads to piracy back in the 17th and 18th centuries, and Stede Bonnet followed none of them. Many of the Caribbean pirates were escaped slaves, or convicts, or men so down on their luck as to be without lawful options if they were to live. Others were decommissioned privateers, warriors of the sea with no legitimate wars to fight now that the distant European conflicts had cooled down temporarily. These men logically drifted into piracy as a continuation of the trade they had practiced for many years with at least the tacit blessing of a sovereign state. Stede Bonnet seems to be the only known corsair, certainly at command level, to have taken to piracy to escape a nagging wife.

An anomaly among pirates, he was not a seafaring man at all. Born on the island of Barbados to a well to do family of English sugar growers in 1688, Bonnet himself became the heir to the plantation in 1694. He apparently achieved the rank of Major in the local militia and in 1709 married a Mary Allamby, and his troubles began. By the spring of 1717 Bonnet had more than tired of connubial "bliss" and had purchased a sloop which he christened the Revenge, outfitted her with 10 guns at his own expense, had hired a crew for wages and had set out for a life of pirating.

Bonnets hold on his crews loyalty was a shaky one, sustained only by the practice, unheard of in pirating circles of paying wages to his crew. He had no concept of navigation and had to rely on his quartermaster for this vital task, nor did he have any clear idea of ship handling and again had to depend on the competence of the men he commanded. In spite of his fundamental weaknesses Bonnet was able to capture a number of ships off the coasts of Virginia and the Carolinas in the late spring and early summer of 1717, sailing to New York harbor to sell his loot and purchase supplies.

Bonnet may have been able to develop his command skills over time except for more bad fortune. Deciding to set sail for the Port of Nassau on New Providence Island in the Bahamas, at that time the de facto capital of the pirate community the Revenge fell in with a Spanish warship. In a stand up fight that lasted several hours the Revenge was badly knocked about, and a significant number of her crew killed or injured. Bonnet himself was severely wounded. The pirates gave as good as they got and the Spaniards either fell out of the fight or deliberately broke it off, allowing the Revenge to eventually reach Nassau.

This set the stage for Bonnets fateful meeting with another gentleman of the pirating persuasion, Edward Teach, better known as Blackbeard. The two pirate captains formed a combined fleet but Bonnet, due both to his injuries and the diminished confidence of his crew gradually lost command of his vessel, the crew of which increasingly looked to Blackbeard for orders. Be that as it may the combined fleet embarked on a successful round of plundering, looting eleven ships in Delaware Bay in late summer 1717, as well as plundering numerous individual vessels.

In March 1718 Bonnet, now back in independent command of the Revenge, failed to capture a large prize in the western Caribbean. The crew had had enough. When shortly thereafter they once again encountered Blackbeard the crew wholeheartedly went over to his command; Bonnet being reduced to the status of honored guest aboard the Queen Anne's Revenge, Blackbeard's flagship.

Bonnet was aboard the Queen Anne's Revenge in this capacity when Blackbeard blockaded the port of Charleston, demanding a chest of medicines as ransom, an event which is well documented but which has never been adequately explained.

In June of 1718, Both Blackbeard and Bonnet approached the Governor of South Carolina in what was then the capital city of Bath, seeking to obtain pardons in return for renouncing piracy forever. These were granted, but while Bonnet lingered in Bath, Blackbeard quietly returned to the fleet, sailing away with most of the ships, all of the loot, most of the supplies and all but a few pirates.

Bonnet, on his return, found only the Revenge and a handful of men. Augmenting his crew by rescuing a group of sailors that Blackbeard had marooned on a sandbar, Bonnet sailed off in pursuit of his traitorous former friend. He never found him.

He found a dozen vessels in Delaware Bay that July however, and evidently benefiting from the time spent with Blackbeard captured them all. Adopting standard pirating practices for the first time his crew divided their spoils, each man getting about 12 pounds. Two of the captured vessels were outfitted as pirate vessels and now Bonnet had his own flotilla.

His flagship was leaking badly and the fleet put into the Cape Fear River to make repairs, intending to remain there to ride out the hurricane season. Word of his presence eventually reached Governor Robert Johnson in Charleston who determined to make an end of this irritation once and for all. Governor Johnson authorized a fleet of two 8 gun sloops with 130 men under the command of a Colonel William Rhett. The fleet arrived at Cape Fear River on the morning of September 26, 1718.

On the morning of the 27th, Bonnet brought all the pirates aboard the Revenge and attempted to fight his way out. All the combatants eventually ran aground, the fight turned into a gunnery duel that lasted nearly 5 hours and caused casualties on both sides. When Rhett's flagship finally floated free, the pirates were faced with no option but that of surrender. Bonnet and his crew were delivered to Charleston on October 3rd.

Although Bonnet and his sailing Master, David Heriot, were able to escape briefly they were soon recaptured and a trial was held beginning on November 10th. Although he defended himself well, Bonnets fate was sealed. Along with the majority of his crew he received the death penalty. On December 10th, 1718 he was hanged.

Stede Bonnet, most unlikely of pirates, jammed a lot of life into his scant 30 years, and a lot of pirating into a meager 22 month career. But the age of piracy was coming to an end, and 10 years would see the Caribbean nearly as safe as a bathtub, the great pirate cities of Nassau, Tortuga and Port Royal all safely under government control. It was the end of an era.


"Mr. Blog Writing Person! Mr. Blog Writing Person?" A hand waved frantically.
"Yes my child?"
"I'm not your child I'm Farm Girl! Just because you dandle me on your knee from time to time, even though that isn't a knee and I'm pretty sure that what's going on isn't dandling either unless the definition of the word has changed somewhat over time does not indicate the close familial relationship that your words would seem to imply."
"Whew. What a whacking great run on sentence! Well I'm not Mr. Blog Writing Person either I'm Uncle Mac. What's on your mind?"
"Well first of all the post is way too long and no one read it, secondly; what does it have to do with gardening?"
"I have it on good authority", said Uncle Mac, "that one time Stede Bonnet ate a parsnip."
"He's the one?"
"Wow and look at how he ended up."
"My very point. Let's go dandle."
"Okee Dokkee!"


Mike W said...

It wasn't until he was hung that I figured out what this had to do with gardening. said...

Too funny, but how did Mike know? Wait…I ate some spinach last night, does that mean you’ll tell a boring story about me? Not that the Stede story was boring, but mine won’t compare well to a pirate story surely!