Copyright 2003, David Stapleton
Alternatively known as James Gilliam or Sampson Marshall, James Kelley is mentioned in several books and seems to have typified many that went into piracy in the late 17th and early 18th centuries.
He is said to have first left England in 1680 aboard a slave ship for the west coast of Africa. Upon arrival the ship he was on was captured by pirates led by a Captain Yankee, and he decided to join their ranks. Yankee returned from Africa to the Caribbean. Like many pirates Kelley cruised with a ship for while, until the ship returned to harbor and his pockets were full of plunder. He would spend what he had earned on drink, women and finery and sign on with another ship when the money ran thin.
Under a John Cook, he was involved in the capture of two French merchants and after stopping in Virginia for victuals and more crew (including William Dampier and Ambrose Cowley, both now famous for their chronicles of life among the pirates), they sailed to the Pacific Ocean. In 1683, they sailed for the Cape Verde Islands and from there to the west coast of Africa. Replacing their ship with a captured Danish ship, they traded with a slaver for some African women and renamed their ship the Bachelor's Delight. Rounding Cape Horn bad weather forced south of 60 degrees south latitude (the story is that the men survived the cold by drinking three quarts of brandy a day). Heading north again they joined another pirate ship, the Nicholas; adding ships along the way north, the little fleet of pirates grew to six ships. Little of note was achieved and the ships separated. Kelley continued with Edward Davis to little result.
Returning to the Caribbean, he accepted a pardon in Jamaica and turned to privateering. He is reported to have joined William Mason in 1690 aboard the Jacob taking ships of all nations in the Atlantic.
Lacking the freedom of piracy, Kelley returned to piracy and along with a group of others seized the sloop Diamond. Kelley was elected captain sailed via the Cape of Good Hope into the Indian Ocean. He then disappears for a few years. This time may have been spent in a Moghul prison along with several others including Robert Culliford, Jon Swann and William Mason. It is here that Kelley was circumcised. The men eventually escaped in the spring of 1696 and traveled to Bombay.The shortage of skilled sailors ensured them of berths on Mocha Frigate of the English East India Company. In company with Swann and several others from their recent jailing, Kelley killed Captain Edgecombe, and took over the ship. In June of 1696 the Mocha Frigate, captained by Ralph Stout, freed Culliford from the ship Elizabeth in Nicobars.
Onboard the Resolution, captained by Culliford, Keley used the name Sampson Marshall. Kelley, rich with booty from Culliford's cruise, decided to retire (or possibly quarreled with some of the crew and was booted off the ship) upon arrival at Saint Marie in April 1698. After two decades of pirating, he planned to return to England and reunite with his wife and family. He joined William Kidd on his ill-fated return to New England, changed his name to James Gilliam.
Kelley was captured and identified (by the fact that he had been captured by Moors earlier in his career and forcibly circumcised); shipped to London and on July 12, 1700 hanged. His corpse was then hung in a cage at Gravesend on Hope Point to serve as a warning to any that would think of pursuing a life of piracy.
The turn of the century, 1700, was a hard time for pirates. Governments were seeing trade as more lucrative than privateering or dealing with pirates. The result was a crackdown on piracy and the elimination of licenses for privateers. The options for those that had made a career of piracy were distinctly limited; pardons were getting harder to come by and often being ignored by the courts in favor of making an example of captured pirates. To make matters worse the havens and markets for plundered goods were also drying up. Hard times indeed, and Kelley like the more famous William Kidd fell afoul of the times, having outlived his era. P-)
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