Buccaneers and Pirates of our Coasts - F. R. Stockton

Bonnet Again To The Front

It must not be supposed that the late commander of the Revenge  continued to be satisfied, as he sat in the cabin of Blackbeard's vessel and made the entries of the day's sailing and various performances. He obeyed the orders of his usurping partner because he was obliged to do so, but he did not hate Blackbeard any the less because he had to keep quiet about it. He accompanied his pirate chief on various cruises, among which was the famous expedition to the harbor of Charles Town where Blackbeard traded Mr. Wragg and his companions for medicines.

Having a very fine fleet under him, Blackbeard did a very successful business for some time, but feeling that he had earned enough for the present, and that it was time for him to take one of his vacations, he put into an inlet in North Carolina, where he disbanded his crew. So long as he was on shore spending his money and having a good time, he did not want to have a lot of men about him who would look to him to support them when they had spent their portion of the spoils. Having no further use for Bonnet, he dismissed him also, and did not object to his resuming possession of his own vessel. If the green pirate chose to go to sea again and perhaps drown himself and his crew, it was a matter of no concern to Blackbeard.

But this was a matter of very great concern to Stede Bonnet, and he proceeded to prove that there were certain branches of the piratical business in which he was an adept, and second to none of his fellow-practitioners. He wished to go pirating again, and saw a way of doing this which he thought would be far superior to any of the common methods. It was about this time that King George of England, very desirous of breaking up piracy, issued a proclamation in which he promised pardon to any pirate who would appear before the proper authorities, renounce his evil practices, and take an oath of allegiance. It also happened that very soon after this proclamation had been issued, England went to war with Spain. Being a man who kept himself posted in the news of the world, so far as it was possible, Bonnet saw in the present state of affairs a very good chance for him to play the part of a wolf in sheep's clothing, and he proceeded to begin his new piratical career by renouncing piracy. So leaving the Revenge  in the inlet, he journeyed overland to Bath; there he signed pledges, took oaths, and did everything that was necessary to change himself from a pirate captain to a respectable commander of a duly authorized British privateer. Returning to his vessel with all the papers in his pocket necessary to prove that he was a loyal and law-abiding subject of Great Britain, he took out regular clearance papers for St. Thomas, which was a British naval station, and where he declared he was going in order to obtain a commission as a privateer.

Now the wily Bonnet had everything he wanted except a crew. Of course it would not do for him, in his present respectable capacity, to go about enlisting unemployed pirates, but at this point fortune again favored him; he knew of a desert island not very far away where Blackbeard, at the end of his last cruise, had marooned a large party of his men. This heartless pirate had not wanted to take all of his followers into port, because they might prove troublesome and expensive to him, and so he had put a number of them on this island, to live or die as the case might be. Bonnet went over to this island, and finding the greater part of these men still surviving, he offered to take them to St. Thomas in his vessel if they would agree to work the ship to port. This proposition was of course joyfully accepted, and very soon the Revenge  was manned with a complete crew of competent desperadoes.

All these operations took a good deal of time, and, at last, when everything was ready for Bonnet to start out on his piratical cruise, he received information which caused him to change his mind, and to set forth on an errand of a very different kind. He had supposed that Blackbeard, whom he had never forgiven for the shameful and treacherous manner in which he had treated him, was still on shore enjoying himself, but he was told by the captain of a small trading vessel that the old pirate was preparing for another cruise, and that he was then in Ocracoke Inlet. Now Bonnet folded his arms and stamped his feet upon the quarter-deck. The time had come for him to show that the name of his vessel meant something. Never before had he had an opportunity for revenging himself on anybody, but now that hour had arrived. He would revenge himself upon Blackbeard!

The implacable Bonnet sailed out to sea in a truly warlike frame of mind. He was not going forth to prey upon unresisting merchantmen; he was on his way to punish a black-hearted pirate, a faithless scoundrel, who had not only acted knavishly toward the world in general, but had behaved most disloyally and disrespectfully toward a fellow pirate chief. If he could once run the Revenge  alongside the ship of the perfidious Blackbeard, he would show him what a green hand could do.

When Bonnet reached Ocracoke Inlet, he was deeply disappointed to find that Blackbeard had left that harbor, but he did not give up the pursuit. He made hot chase after the vessel of his pirate enemy, keeping a sharp lookout in hopes of discovering some signs of him. If the enraged Bonnet could have met the ferocious Blackbeard face to face, there might have been a combat which would have relieved the world of two atrocious villains, and Captain Maynard would have been deprived of the honor of having slain the most famous pirate of the day.

Bonnet was a good soldier and a brave man, and although he could not sail a ship, he understood the use of the sword even better, perhaps, than Blackbeard, and there is good reason to believe that if the two ships had come together, their respective crews would have allowed their captains to fight out their private quarrel without interference, for pirates delight in a bloody spectacle, and this would have been to them a rare diversion of the kind.

But Bonnet never overtook Blackbeard, and the great combat between the rival pirates did not take place. After vainly searching for a considerable time for a trace or sight of Blackbeard, the baffled Bonnet gave up the pursuit and turned his mind to other objects. The first thing he did was to change the name of his vessel; if he could not be revenged, he would not sail in the Revenge. Casting about in his mind for a good name, he decided to call her the Royal James. Having no intention of respecting his oaths or of keeping his promises, he thought that, as he was going to be disloyal, he might as well be as disloyal as he could, and so he gave his ship the name assumed by the son of James the Second, who was a pretender to the throne, and was then in France plotting against the English government.

The next thing he did was to change his own name, for he thought this would make matters better for him if he should be captured after entering upon his new criminal career. So he called himself Captain Thomas, by which name he was afterward known.

When these preliminaries had been arranged, he gathered his crew together and announced that instead of going to St. Thomas to get a commission as a privateer, he had determined to keep on in his old manner of life, and that he wished them to understand that not only was he a pirate captain, but that they were a pirate crew. Many of the men were very much surprised at this announcement, for they had thought it a very natural thing for the green-hand Bonnet to give up pirating after he had been so thoroughly snubbed by Blackbeard, and they had not supposed that he would ever think again of sailing under a black flag.

However, the crew's opinion of the green-hand captain had been a good deal changed. In his various cruises he had learned a good deal about navigation, and could now give very fair orders, and his furious pursuit of Blackbeard had also given him a reputation for reckless bravery which he had not enjoyed before. A man who was chafing and fuming for a chance of a hand-to-hand conflict with the greatest pirate of the day must be a pretty good sort of a fellow from their point of view. Moreover, their strutting and stalking captain, so recently balked of his dark revenge, was a very savage-looking man, and it would not be pleasant either to try to persuade him to give up his piratical intention, or to decline to join him in carrying it out; so the whole of the crew, minor officers and men, changed their minds about going to St. Thomas, and agreed to hoist the skull and cross-bones, and to follow Captain Bonnet wherever he might lead.

Bonnet now cruised about in grand style and took some prizes on the Virginia coast, and then went up into Delaware Bay, where he captured such ships as he wanted, and acted generally in the most domineering and insolent fashion. Once, when he stopped near the town of Lewes, in order to send some prisoners ashore, he sent a message to the officers of the town to the effect that if they interfered with his men when they came ashore, he would open fire upon the town with his cannon, and blow every house into splinters. Of course the citizens, having no way of defending themselves, were obliged to allow the pirates to come on shore and depart unmolested.

Then after this the blustering captain captured two valuable sloops, and wishing to take them along with him without the trouble of transferring their cargoes to his own vessel, he left their crews on board, and ordered them to follow him wherever he went. Some days after that, when one of the vessels seemed to be sailing at too great a distance, Bonnet quickly let her captain know that he was not a man to be trifled with, and sent him the message that if he did not keep close to the Royal James, he would fire into him and sink him to the bottom.

After a time Bonnet put into a North Carolina port in order to repair the Royal James, which was becoming very leaky, and seeing no immediate legitimate way of getting planks and beams enough with which to make the necessary repairs, he captured a small sloop belonging in the neighborhood, and broke it up in order to get the material he needed to make his own vessel seaworthy.

Now the people of the North Carolina coast very seldom interfered with pirates, as we have seen, and it is likely that Bonnet might have stayed in port as long as he pleased, and repaired and refitted his vessel without molestation if he had bought and paid for the planks and timber he required. But when it came to boldly seizing their property, that was too much even for the people of the region, and complaints of Bonnet's behavior spread from settlement to settlement, and it very soon became known all down the coast that there was a pirate in North Carolina who was committing depredations there and was preparing to set out on a fresh cruise.

When these tidings came to Charles Town, the citizens were thrown into great agitation. It had not been long since Blackbeard had visited their harbor, and had treated them with such brutal insolence, and there were bold spirits in the town who declared that if any effort by them could prevent another visitation of the pirates, that effort should be made. There was no naval force in the harbor which could be sent out to meet the pirates, who were coming down the coast; but Mr. William Rhett, a private gentleman of position in the place, went to the Governor and offered to fit out, at his own expense, an expedition for the purpose of turning away from their city the danger which threatened it.