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A Biography of Stede Bonnet

Author: Krzysztof Wilczynski

One of the sea’s strangest, and most unlikely pirates, from the Virginia coast. He was originally a high ranking individual, known as Major Stede Bonnet. Bonnet came from an upright French family. He himself possessed a liberal education, and was known to be "a man of Letters". In his middle age he seemingly had everything needed in life to settle down, and live a comfortable life of a successful planter. His sugar plantation brought him reasonable wealth, and he found himself among the best society of Bridgetown on the island of Barbados.

Therefore, it was a great shock to the high society of Barbados, when for no apparent reason, Major Bonnet left his life as a gentleman planter, to become a pirate. Doing so he mortified his neighbors who excused his actions as the result of some "disorder in his mind", a thought, not utterly unreasonable. There were also those who insinuated that it was his aversion toward respectability, that drove him to such an extreme change of career.

As a pirate, Bonnet was merely an amateur. Unlike stealing or capturing a ship, as any respectable pirate would do, he purchased his own, which was completely unheard of in the archives of piracy. This fast little ship was purchased in early 1717. It had ten pieces of artillery, secured to her single gun deck. For unknown reasons, he renamed her the Revenge. Bonnet did another unheard of thing by paying his crew out of his own pocket, instead of drawing up a contract for them to sign. It was this strategy however, that kept him from being deposed by the crew, and let him remain in command. He found his band from the taverns and grogshops of Bridgetown, and ended up signing on about seventy destitute seamen.

For several days after its purchase, the Revenge remained in the Bridgetown harbor, which Bonnet explained as his intention of pursuing an inter-island trade. But one night, he cast off without a word to his friends or his wife. He set his course for the Virginia Capes, where he captured a few vessels, the first of which were only plundered, and the last of which, the ship known as the Turbes, which was burned. After this every Barbadian ship taken by Bonnet was burned, as if to inurn his trail.

After sailing, and capturing prizes off the New England Coast, and some in the northern waters, he returned to the south. At this time however, there was trouble brewing. His inexperience began to manifest itself to the crew, who were slowly becoming hostile, and began whispering amongst themselves. During the increasing hostilities, Bonnet dropped anchor in the Bay of Honduras, where he met up with the Queen Anne’s Revenge, along with her captain, the fearsome Edward Teach, nicknamed "Blackbeard". The two quickly befriended each other, and this strange duo, a veteran and an amateur decided to cruise together.

This alliance however, soon proved a big mistake on the part of Bonnet. Teach became aware of his inexperience, and invited Bonnet aboard the Queen Anne’s Revenge, where Bonnet became pretty much a prisoner. Teach tried to convince him that a man of his education and mannerisms, should not be forced to the rigors of commanding a ship like the Revenge, and to transfer himself to the more comfortable and spacious quarters of the Queen Anne’s Revenge. There was little Bonnet could do or say, and soon one of Blackbeard’s lieutenants, by the name of Richards, took over command of the Revenge, and quickly stifled the threat of mutiny by imposing stern discipline, and gaining the crew’s confidence.

Eventually Bonnet convinced Blackbeard to allow him to command the Revenge again. Soon after, the two parted, and Bonnet left his ship for the town of Bath and surrendered himself as a reformed pirate to the Governor of North Carolina, Charles Eden. This act however did not subside Bonnet’s desire for Piracy, and he continued to scour the sea for vessels until his capture by Colonel William Rhett, from whom he escaped only to be recaptured, and brought to trial under a Court of Vice-Admiralty in Charles Town (Charleston), South Carolina. Sir Nicholas Trott Esq., who at that time was the judge of the Vice-Admiralty Court, sentenced Bonnet to death on the gallows. Stede Bonnet was hung for piracy on December 10, 1718.


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