North Carolina's Pirates

  • Stede Bonnet -- Stede Bonnet, "The Gentleman Pirate", was a wealthy sugar plantation owner in Barbados, retiring there after attaining the rank of Major in the Army during the war with Spain. Some claim he got bored, others that he went crazy. A third suggestion is that he needed to escape a shrewish wife with a shrill voice. In any case, he purchased a ship and hired a crew. He did not know how to run a ship, despite some modest pirating victories, and when he met Blackbeard in 1718, Blackbeard suggested they team up, sending one of his own's to run Bonnet's ship, while Bonnet remained in his cabin. When Blackbeard took advantage of one of the King of England's pardons not to pirate anymore, and returned his ship to his command, Bonnet changed his name to Captain Thomas and the name of his ship to Royal James. At the mouth of the Cape Fear River, near a creek now called Bonnet's Creek, where he had anchored his ship to make some much needed repairs, Captain William Rhett, sent to capture him succeeded. Bonnet and his crew were taken to Charles Town for trial. Bonnet pleaded for clemency. Most of the crew were sentenced and hanged immediately, but Bonnet escaped. He was brought back a few days later from the marshes near Sullivan's Island by Rhett and hanged 10 Dec 1718 and buried below the high-tide mark.

  • Anne Bonny -- Anne Bonny was the illegitimate daughter of a wealthy lawyer and his maid. Her arrival in this world forced her parents to move to the Carolinas. Anne had a penchant for trouble. When she was 13 she knifed a servant girl. She took up with a petty criminal named James Bonny, who perhaps saw her as a way to her family's wealth. To end it, her father disowned her. She left with Bonny to New Providence in the Bahamas, where she caroused with the dregs of society, drinking and gambling. There she met Calico Jack Rackham, a pirate who offered to buy her from Bonny. Bonny not only refused, but lodged a complaint with the governor. She escaped with Calico Jack and acted as his cabin boy, since women were considered bad luck on a ship. When pirate hunters captured the Revenge, only herself and the other woman on board, Mary Reed, put up a fight. The rest of the crew were all sentenced and hung, while Anne and Mary claimed they were pregnant. Mary died in prison in 1721. There is no official record of Anne.

  • Blackbeard -- Blackbeard's career began as a young boy, when he was a privateer during Queen Anne's war on a fleet of two ships with 20 cannons. He and his mates captured the Dutch ship Concorde de Nantes adding 20 more guns and rechristening it Queen Anne's Revenge, the flagship of the pirate's fleet. He blockaded the Charles Town Harbor when his men needed medicine, taking townsmen as hostages to get what he wanted. The Queen Anne's Revenge sank in Beaufort Inlet and some believe that Blackbeard himself sank it to reduce the size of his crew, and keep more of the booty for himself. Archeologists are presently trying to excavate a wreck, believed to be Queen Anne's Revenge. He then used a ship named Adventure as his flagship. His last wife (he may have had as many as 14, and supposedly murdered at least one), lived in their home in Bath, where Governor Charles Eden also lived. It is said that Governor Eden married them. It is supposed that Governor Eden was either bribed or just turned the other way in the dealings with Blackbeard. Merchants, frustrated with their losses, contacted Virginia Governor, Alexander Spotswood, for aid. Acting on the information that Blackbeard was holed up at Ocracoke and with a new flagship, Spotswood sent Lieutenant John Maynard with two small sloops, thought to be easily maneuvered in the shoals. Blackbeard had been warned, but ignored the warning after a night of drunkenness. On 22 Nov 1718, Maynard's ships ran aground and he ordered most of the men below decks, so that when Blackbeard boarded the vessels, thinking they were not well manned, he had sailors coming at him from all sides. Blackbeard was shot five times and had more than 20 cuts, including decapitation before he finally died. His headless body was thrown overboard, where legend has it that it swam around the Adventure several times before sinking. Maynard is said to have hung Blackbeard's head off the bowspirt of his ship when he returned. Another legend says that Blackbeard's skull was made into a silver-plated punch bowl.

  • Edward Low -- Born in England, Edward Low started out as a pickpocket. When he came to America, he tried to straighten his life out, marrying Eliza Marble. First his child died, then his wife died in childbirth. In 1722, on board the Honduras, Low with a group of his friends, planned to mutiny and take over the ship. His plan was foiled and he with his friends were put off the ship in a small boat. When a small sloop came and rescued them, Low made his move. For a time, he was a lieutenant under George Lowther. However, Low had a sadistic side, where other pirates' goals were to acquire wealth, Low's seems to have been to torture and mutilate his victims. He became captain of the Rebecca. He went up to Nova Scotia, where he acquired 13 fishing boats, outfitting a schooner with ten guns, he named her Fancy. Believing himself invincible, he became more sadistic. He went on a rampage and killed 53 Spanish captives at once. He sewed men into a sail and rolled them overboard. By the time he returned south to North Carolina waters, the HMS Greyhound, was closing in. It is unclear exactly what happened when the Greyhound met the Fancy. Some say the Fancy was riddled with holes and sank in a storm. Others say that before the battle, Low was put adrift off the ship and picked up by a French ship, who, recognizing him, hanged him for his crimes.

  • George Lowther -- George Lowther was the Second Mate on the Gambia Castle, a slave ship captained by Charles Russell. There are several different tales about what happened, but there was a mutiny and George Lowther ended up in charge. He renamed the ship Delivery. After some small victories at see, some of the men wanted to attack a village, which Lowther refused. Another mutiny resulted with Lowther and his men getting a smaller ship they named the Happy Delivery. His fleet grew to several ships, but when he attempted to take a British ship, he ran ashore to avoid capture. In 1722, it happened again, when the Eagle commanded by Walter Moore forced them ashore and those of his crew caught fleeing on foot were severely beaten. In a search, Lowther's body was found with a pistol in his hand. He committed suicide rather than face trial and hanging.

  • Calico Jack Rackham -- The name "Calico" seems to have come to him because of his penchant for wearing cotton striped pants in a social setting. He served as the Quartermaster under Charles Vane. After leading a mutiny when Vane refused to fight, he was chosen as the captain. In 1719, pirates were offered a King's Pardon for converting to privateering, which, while not mending their ways, would fill the King's coffers with a share of the booty. Calico Jack accepted the offer. Jack met and fell in love with a married woman, Anne Bonny, and when her husband complained to the governor, Anne was ordered to be whipped for adultry. Refusing to accept the sentence, Jack and Anne stole a sloop and took off, where the had a successful pirating career. Captain Jonathan Barnette, a pirate hunter, was sent after them. In 1720, he found the ship, with the crew too drunk to fight. Only the two women on board, Anne Bonny and Mary Reed, put up any resistance. Jack and the crew, except for Anne and Mary, were hung 20 Nov 1720.

  • Mary Reed -- Mary Reed was an illegitimate child, whose mother disguised her as a boy, so she could find work. She served as a footman, then on a ship. While on ship, she met a sailor, fell in love and they jumped ship. They married and bought an inn. For the first (and only) time in her life, she was dressed as a woman. When her husband died, she put on his uniform and enlisted in the Army. Deserting from the Army, she signed on as a crew member on a ship bound for the West Indies. Her ship was captured by Calico Jack and she became a pirate. When their ship was captured by pirate hunters, only Mary and Anne Bonny put up a fight. Claiming pregnancy, she was put in prison and not hanged with the rest of the crew. She died in prison in 1721.

  • Charles Vane -- One of the early settlers to New Providence in the Bahamas, Vane outwitted the Governor, Roger Woodes, a former pirate turned pirate hunter, on a heisted French fireship and leaving on his own six-gun sloop Ranger, vowing to return. By 1718, he was in a 12-gun Ranger ravaging the Carolina coast. He spent a week at Ocracoke with Blackbeard, as well as a number of others of the same bent. He took his ship (they were always named Ranger) up to the New York coast, then returned to the Carribbean. In the Carribbean, he refused to battle a French ship and was voted out of office, to be replaced by Calico Jack Rackham, and set adrift in a small boat. He took over another ship which floundered in a storm in Feb 1719 and he and one other survivor made it to a deserted island in the Bay of Honduras. After months, they were picked up by a ship, the sailors recognized Vane and took him to Jamaica to be hanged.

  • Richard Worley -- Richard Worley began his pirating career with eight friends when they heisted some household goods from a ship. When the authorities only considered it burglary and not piracy, the aspiring pirates commandeered a sloop and headed for the bahamas. Worley was the first pirate to fly the flag known today as the "Jolly Roger". With the aid of his flag, he did well in the Carribbean. Worley was heading along the Carolina/Virginia coast. One tale says that he attempted to blockade a port, thinking there were four merchant ships there, but in reality they were warships, and fired at Worley's ship until it sunk and he and the surviving members of his crew were hung 17 Feb 1719. Another version says that Worley was killed in the firefight and 25 of his men were hung.

Blackbeard Exhibit at Western Archives

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