Stede Bonnet – The Gentleman Pirate

Introduction:

Family history research often uncovers small surprises and the pirate Stede Bonnet is one of them.  Recently Andrew Gomes who lives in Edmonton e-mailed me telling that Stede Bonnet, the Gentleman Priate, was the great-grandfather of Anne Thomasine Clarke, the wife of General Robert Haynes, who for 36 years was Speaker of the Assembly of Barbados.

After a bit of intricate research I was indeed able to prove the family relationship between Anne Thomasine Clarke and Stede Bonnet.  Unfortunately, us Gittens folks are not directly related to Stede Bonnet but all of the Clarke family in my database are related to him.

Stede Bonnet (c. 1688 – December 10, 1718) was an early 18th-century Barbadian pirate, sometimes called “the gentleman pirate” because he was a moderately wealthy landowner before turning to a life of crime.  Bonnet was born into a wealthy English family on the island of Barbados, and inherited the family estate after his father’s death in 1694.  In 1709, he married Mary Allamby, and engaged in some level of militia service.  Because of marital problems, and despite his lack of sailing experience, Bonnet decided to turn to piracy in the summer of 1717.   In A General History of the PyratesCharles Johnson wrote that Bonnet was driven to piracy by Mary’s nagging and “[d]iscomforts he found in a married State.  He bought a sixty-ton sloop, which he equipped with six guns named the Revenge, and traveled with his paid crew along the Eastern Seaboard of what is now the United States, capturing other vessels and burning other Barbadian ships.

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

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 infamous pirate Blackbeard. Incapable of leading his crew, Bonnet temporarily ceded his ship’s command to Blackbeard. Before separating in December 1717, Blackbeard and Bonnet plundered and captured merchant ships along the East Coast.  After Bonnet failed to capture the Protestant Caesar, his crew abandoned him to join Blackbeard aboard the Queen Anne’s Revenge.  Bonnet stayed on Blackbeard’s ship as a guest, and did not command a crew again until summer 1718, 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 name to Royal James.  He had returned to piracy by July 1718.

In August 1718, Bonnet anchored the Royal James on an estuary of the Cape Fear River to careen and repair the ship. In late August and September, Colonel William Rhett, with the authorization of South Carolina governor Robert Johnson, led a naval expedition against pirates on the river. Rhett and Bonnet’s men fought each other for hours, but the outnumbered pirates ultimately surrendered. Rhett arrested the pirates and brought them to Charleston in early October. Bonnet escaped on October 24, but was recaptured on Sullivan’s Island. On November 10, Bonnet was brought to trial and charged with two acts of piracy. Judge Nicholas Trott sentenced Bonnet to death. Bonnet wrote to Governor Johnson to ask for clemency, but Johnson endorsed the judge’s decision, and Bonnet was hanged in Charleston on December 10, 1718.

 

Bonnet’s pirate flag

Bonnet's pirate flag

Bonnet’s pirate flag

Bonnet’s flag is traditionally represented as a white skull above a horizontal long bone between a heart and a dagger, all on a black field. Despite the frequent appearance of this flag in modern pirate literature, no known early-Georgian period source describes any such device, much less attributes it to Bonnet. This version of Bonnet’s flag is probably one of a number of pirate flags 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 to him 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 a death’s-head flag during his pursuit of the Protestant Caesar, with no mention 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 prisoners walk the plank.[76] No contemporary source makes any mention of Bonnet forcing prisoners to walk the plank, and modern scholars such as Marcus Rediker, Professor of History at the University of Pittsburgh, generally agree that the whole concept of pirates forcing prisoners to walk the plank belongs to a later age than Bonnet’s.

This post was taken from Wikipedia the free encyclopedia and the full article can be seen at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stede_Bonnet

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to top