Major Stede Bonnet
Copyright 2001, David Stapleton
Reference to Major Stede Bonnet, places him as an educated and respected plantation owner in Barbados prior to his turning to piracy. There is no mention of how or in which service he achieved the rank of major, but it is mentioned that he had little or no knowledge of maritime matters. It is speculated that he turned to a life of piracy in an effort to escape a nagging wife.
He must have been of at least moderate affluence as he purchased and outfitted his own ship, the 10 gun sloop Revenge. He recruited a crew of 70 and set sail for Virginia, where he took several prizes including the Anne, Turbet, Endeavour and Young. Proceeding North the pirates took more prizes off New York. The next they are heard from is in August of 1717, when they take a brigantine and sloop off South Carolina.
After careening in North Carolina there was apparently some indecision as to where the ship should sail to next, until March 1718 when they fell in with Edward Teach (Blackbeard). Teach replaced Bonnet with his own man, Richards, and Bonnet became little more than Teach's guest. Grounding his own ship in June of the same year, Teach ran off with most of the company's acquired plunder and accepted the King's pardon. Bonnet reassumed command of the Revenge and sailing to Bath-Town, North Carolina accepted the King's pardon as well.
He and his crew then set out for St. Thomas to get a commission to go privateering against the Spanish. Or at least that may have been their original intent, however, it was not long before they settled into their old habits. Bonnet assumed the alias of Captain Thomas to avoid further corruption of his own name after so recently accepting pardon. In August 1718 he and his crew are placed in Cape Fear River careening their vessel, but they stayed too long at the task. News of the pirates' location became known in South Carolina and two sloops, the Henry and Sea Nymph, were manned and sent to capture or destroy the pirates, although they may have thought they were after Charles Vane, who was recently active in the area.
The pirates were not caught totally unaware; they attempted to flee, but the river bed seems to have been tricky to navigate as both of the attacking sloops and the pirates became grounded. The attackers' ships went free first though and the pirates were forced to surrender or face the guns of the other two sloops. Taken to Charleston, Bonnet and his sailing master Hariot escaped from the lax watch that was placed upon them and fled the area. They were soon recaptured although Hariot died in the fight. Bonnet was tried and hanged in November 1718; 22 of his crew were also executed and 29 acquitted.
Bonnet is probably one of the more inept pirates that is referenced in the common literature. Why he ever took up the profession is still a matter for speculation - nagging wife, naivety based upon description in literature or just a taste for adventure - we will probably never know. Regardless, a man with little knowledge of the maritime trade had no business commanding a ship, let alone taking up piracy. Teach's actions with respect to Bonnet raise further questions - such as, why keep him around, why not just maroon him or put him ashore somewhere? Bonnet is a puzzle, we know he acted as a pirate and was hung for it, but there are a number of questions left lingering.
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