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

A Six Weeks' Pirate

About the time of Stede Bonnet's terminal adventures a very unpretentious pirate made his appearance in the waters of New York. This was a man named Richard Worley, who set himself up in piracy in a very small way, but who, by a strict attention to business, soon achieved a remarkable success. He started out as a scourge upon the commerce of the Atlantic Ocean with only an open boat and eight men. In this small craft he went down the coast of New Jersey taking everything he could from fishing boats and small trading vessels until he reached Delaware Bay, and here he made a bold stroke and captured a good-sized sloop.

When this piratical outrage was reported at Philadelphia, it created a great sensation, and people talked about it until the open boat with nine men grew into a great pirate ship filled with roaring desperadoes and cutthroats. From Philadelphia the news was sent to New York, and that government was warned of the great danger which threatened the coast. As soon as this alarming intelligence was received, the New Yorkers set to work to get up an expedition which should go out to sea and endeavor to destroy the pirate vessel before it could enter their port, and work havoc among their merchantmen.

It may seem strange that a small open boat with nine men could stir up such a commotion in these two great provinces of North America, but if we can try to imagine the effect which would be produced among the inhabitants of Staten Island, or in the hearts of the dwellers in the beautiful houses on the shores of the Delaware River, by the announcement that a boat carrying nine desperate burglars was to be expected in their neighborhood, we can better understand what the people of New York and Philadelphia thought when they heard that Worley had captured a sloop in Delaware Bay.

The expedition which left New York made a very unsuccessful cruise. It sailed for days and days, but never saw a sign of a boat containing nine men, and it returned disappointed and obliged to report no progress. With Worley, however, progress had been very decided. He captured another sloop, and this being a large one and suitable to his purposes, he took possession of it, gave up his open boat, and fitted out his prize as a regular piratical craft. With a good ship under his command, Captain Worley now enlarged his sphere of action; on both shores of Delaware Bay, and along the coast of New Jersey, he captured everything which came in his way, and for about three weeks he made the waters in those regions very hot for every kind of peaceable commercial craft. If Worley had been in trade, his motto would have been "Quick sales and small profits," for by day and by night, the New York's Revenge, which was the name he gave to his new vessel, cruised east and west and north and south, losing no opportunity of levying contributions of money, merchandise, food, and drink upon any vessel, no matter how insignificant it might be.

The Philadelphians now began to tremble in their shoes; for if a boat had so quickly grown into a sloop, the sloop might grow into a fleet, and they had all heard of Porto Bello, and the deeds of the bloody buccaneers. The Governor of Pennsylvania, recognizing the impending danger and the necessity of prompt action, sent to Sandy Hook, where there was a British man-of-war, the Phnix, and urged that this vessel should come down into Delaware Bay and put an end to the pirate ship which was ravaging those waters. Considering that Worley had not been engaged in piracy for much more than four weeks, he had created a reputation for enterprise and industry, which gave him a very important position as a commerce destroyer, and a large man-of-war did not think that he was too small game for her to hunt down, and so she set forth to capture or destroy the audacious Worley. But never a Worley of any kind did she see. While the Phnix  was sailing along the coast, examining all the coves and harbors of New Jersey and Pennsylvania, the New York's Revenge  put out to sea, and then proceeded southward to discover a more undisturbed field of operation.

We will now leave Worley's vessel sailing southward, and go for a time to Charles Town, where some very important events were taking place. The Governor of South Carolina had been very much afraid that the pirates in general would take some sort of revenge for the capture of Stede Bonnet, who was then in prison awaiting trial, and that if he should be executed, Charles Town might be visited by an overpowering piratical force, and he applied to England to have a war-vessel sent to the harbor. But before any relief of this kind could be expected, news came to Charles Town that already a celebrated pirate, named Moody, was outside of the harbor, capturing merchant vessels, and it might be that he was only waiting for the arrival of other pirate ships to sail into the harbor and rescue Bonnet.

Now the Charles Town citizens saw that they must again act for themselves, and not depend upon the home government. If there were pirates outside the harbor, they must be met and fought before they could come up to the city; and the Governor and the Council decided immediately to fit out a little fleet. Four merchant vessels were quickly provided with cannon, ammunition, and men, and the command of this expedition would undoubtedly have been given to Mr. Rhett had it not been that he and the Governor had quarrelled. There being no naval officers in Charles Town, their fighting vessels had to be commanded by civilians, and Governor Johnson now determined that he would try his hand at carrying on a sea-fight. Mr. Rhett had done very well; why should not he?

Before the Governor's little fleet of vessels, one of which was the Royal James, captured from Bonnet, was quite ready to sail, the Governor received news that his preparations had not been made a moment too soon, for already two vessels, one a large ship, and the other an armed sloop, had come into the outer harbor, and were lying at anchor off Sullivan's Island. It was very likely that Moody, having returned from some outside operation, was waiting there for the arrival of other pirate ships, and that it was an important thing to attack him at once.

As it was very desirable that the pirates should not be frightened away before the Charles Town fleet could reach them, the vessels of the latter were made to look as much like mere merchantmen as possible. Their cannon were covered, and the greater part of the crews was kept below, out of sight. Thus the four ships came sailing down the bay, and early in the morning made their appearance in the sight of the pirates. When the ship and the big sloop saw the four merchant vessels sailing quietly out of the harbor, they made immediate preparations to capture them. Anchors were weighed, sails were set, and with a black flag flying from the topmast of each vessel, the pirates steered toward the Charles Town fleet, and soon approached near enough to the King William, which was the foremost of the fleet, to call upon her captain to surrender. But at that moment Governor Johnson, who was on board the Mediterranean, and could hear the insolent pirate shouting through his speaking-trumpet, gave a preconcerted signal. Instantly everything was changed. The covers were jerked off from the cannon of the pretended merchantmen, armed men poured up out of the holds, the flag of England was quickly raised on each one of them, and the sixty-eight guns of the combined fleet opened fire upon the astonished pirates.

The ship which seemed to be the more formidable of the enemy's vessels had run up so close to her intended prey that two of Governor Johnson's vessels, the Sea-Nymph  and the Royal James, once so bitterly opposed to each other, but now fighting together in honest comradeship, were able to go between her and the open sea and so cut off her retreat.

But if the captain of the pirate ship could not get away, he showed that he was very well able to fight, and although the two vessels which had made him the object of their attack were pouring cannon balls and musket shot upon him, he blazed away with his cannon and his muskets. The three vessels were so near each other that sometimes their yard-arms almost touched, so that this terrible fight seemed almost like a hand-to-hand conflict. For four hours the roaring of the cannon, the crushing of timbers, the almost continuous discharge of musketry were kept up, while the smoke of the battle frequently almost prevented the crews of the contending ships from seeing each other. Not so very far away the people of Charles Town, who were standing on the shores of their beautiful harbor, could see the fierce fight which was going on, and great was the excitement and anxiety throughout the city.

But the time came when two ships grew too much for one, and as the Royal James  and the Sea-Nymph  were able to take positions by which they could rake the deck of the pirate vessel, many of her men gave up the fight and rushed down into the hold to save their lives. Then both the Charles Town vessels bore down upon the pirate and boarded her, and now there was another savage battle with pistols and cutlasses. The pirate captain and several of his crew were still on deck, and they fought like wounded lions, and it was not until they had all been cut down or shot that victory came to the men of Charles Town.

Very soon after this terrible battle was over the waiting crowds in the city saw a glorious sight; the pirate ship came sailing slowly up the harbor, a captured vessel, with the Sea-Nymph  on one side and the Royal James  on the other, the colors of the Crown flying from the masts of each one of the three.

The other pirate ship, which was quite large, seemed to be more fortunate than her companion, for she was able to get out to sea, and spreading all her sails she made every effort to escape. Governor Johnson, however, had no idea of letting her get away if he could help it. When a civilian goes out to fight a sea-battle he naturally wants to show what he can do, and Governor Johnson did not mean to let people think that Mr. Rhett was a better naval commander than he was. He ordered the Mediterranean  and the King William  to put on all sail, and away they went after the big ship. The retreating pirates did everything they could to effect escape, throwing over their cannon, and even their boats, in order to lighten their ship, but it was of no use. The Governor's vessels were the faster sailers, and when the King William  got near enough to fire a few cannon balls into the flying ship, the latter hauled down the black flag and without hesitation lay to and surrendered.

It was plain enough that this ship was not manned by desperate pirates, and when Governor Johnson went on board of her he found her to be not really a pirate ship, but an English vessel which not long before had been captured by the pirates in whose company she had visited Charles Town harbor. She had been bringing over from England a company of convicts and what were called "covenant servants," who were going to the colonies to be disposed of to the planters for a term of years. Among these were thirty-six women, and when the South Carolinians went below they were greatly surprised to find the hold crowded with these unfortunate creatures, some of whom were nearly frightened to death. At the time of this vessel's capture the pirate captain had enlisted some of the convicts into his crew, as he needed men, and putting on board of his prize a few pirates to command her, the ship had been worked by such of her own crew and passengers as were willing to serve under pirates, while the others were shut up below.

Here was a fine prize taken with very little trouble, and the King William  and the Mediterranean  returned to Charles Town with their captured ship, to be met with the shouts and cheers of the delighted citizens, already excited to a high pitch by the previous arrival of the captured pirate sloop.

But Governor Johnson met with something else which made a stronger impression on him than the cheers of his townspeople, and this was the great surprise of finding that he had not fought and conquered the pirate Moody; without suspecting such a thing, he had crushed and utterly annihilated the dreaded Worley, whose deeds had created such a consternation in northern waters, and whose threatened approach had sent a thrill of excitement all down the coast. When this astonishing news became known, the flags of the city were waved more wildly, and the shouts and cheers rose higher.

Thus came to an end, in the short time of six weeks, the career of Richard Worley, who, without doubt, did more piratical work in less time than any sea-robber on record.