In Late September... When Bonnet Met Blackbeard

Friday, September 22, 2017
Location of Blackbeard in September 1717.
Author: 
Elise Carroll, QAR Assistant Conservator

In late September 1717, Stede Bonnet met Blackbeard. Benjamin Hornigold and his associates, including his protégé Blackbeard, spent the spring and summer of 1717 plundering ships throughout the Caribbean, headquartered at the pirate haven of New Providence. After a harrowing first month as a pirate, Bonnet made his way to New Providence as well, where he encountered this band of rogues.

Bonnet is a unique figure in the history of piracy because he did not come by the profession from a traditional route. Bonnet, often referred to as the Major, owned a sugar plantation on the island of Barbados, where he lived with his wife and children. In A General History of the Pyrates, Johnson says the community considered Bonnet to be a “Gentleman of good Reputation,” wealthy, and educated before he took up piracy. These characteristics were unique for a budding pirate, differentiating him from other pirates like Blackbeard. When Bonnet’s new aspirations became known, his community was shocked that a “generally esteemed and honoured” man would make such a drastic life change, willingly giving up family, wealth, and reputation. Before he left in the summer 1717, Bonnet gathered supplies and informed his family that he was going on a short voyage, when in reality he was setting off to begin his new, short career as a pirate.

Johnson says Bonnet was considered to be “ill qualified for the Business” and lacked an understanding of “maritime Affairs.” Unusual for a pirate, he funded his own vessel through his personal fortune, outfitting his sloop, Revenge, with ten guns and seventy men before setting off on his first venture up the eastern coast of the British colonies, plundering his first vessel off the Capes of Virginia and continuing towards Long Island, New York. In September 1717, as he returned south toward the pirate haven of New Providence (Nassau), Bonnet stopped at an inlet in North Carolina to purchase supplies and clean the vessel. After departing North Carolina, Bonnet and his crew engaged a Spanish Man-of-War. Although he was able to escape, the encounter cost Bonnet half of his crew, his health, and damage to Revenge. Bonnet and his remaining crew traveled to New Providence to refit the vessel and hire additional crew. It is there that he ran into Hornigold and Blackbeard. It has been suggested that Blackbeard forced or tricked Bonnet into turning over his vessel, but regardless of how it occurred, Blackbeard became captain of Revenge, in place of the injured Bonnet.

Sources:
-Butler, Lindley S. Pirate, Privateers, & Rebel Raiders of the Carolina Coast. Chapel Hill and London: The University of North Carolina Press, 2000.
-Johnson, Charles. A General History of the Pyrates, second edition. London: printed for, and sold by T. Warner, 1724.
 
Images:
-Stede Bonnet, A General History of the Pyrates by Charles Johnson, 1725. {{PD-1923}}
 
Map:
-Thornton, John. Atlas maritimus or, the sea-atlas. London: John Thornton, 1700. Map. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/2010592349/.