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Did You Know the Gentleman Pirate Escaped Custody?

Wednesday, October 24, 2018
Pirate Flag of Stede Bonnet
Author: 
Stephen Atkinson, QAR Conservator

When we last visited Stede Bonnet, he was in a bad way, injured and relegated to the role of passenger after having ceded control of his ship to Blackbeard. In the months that followed, Blackbeard used Bonnet’s ship, Revenge, to capture numerous prizes. With the help of Hornigold and Ranger, this culminated in the capture of La Concorde, which then became Blackbeard’s flagship, Queen Anne’s Revenge. Bonnet, now fully recovered, returned to his ship and parted ways.

He soon found himself off the Spanish Main, engaged in battle with a formidable merchantman, Protestant Caesar. Despite Bonnet’s best efforts, he was bested, battered, and injured. Having turned tail, Bonnet by chance came across Blackbeard off the coast of Belize, who once again assumed control of Bonnet’s ship and remaining crew. Bonnet lived aboard Queen Anne’s Revenge during multiple battles, including the blockading of the port of Charleston. Queen Anne’s Revenge eventually ran aground in Topsail Inlet, (now Beaufort inlet), marooning much of the crew. Frustrated and dejected, Bonnet decided to head to the town of Bath, North Carolina to seek the king’s pardon and attempt to procure a legitimate letter of marque to assume the role of privateer.

When Bonnet returned to his vessel, he discovered that Blackbeard had absconded in a sloop laden with all the loot from the previous months, abandoning the remaining crew at Topsail Inlet. Incensed at Blackbeard's treachery, Bonnet's intentions to live an honest life lasted but a short while. He decided to head back to his old stomping grounds of the Virginia capes, returning to piracy and with relative success. He was soon over-encumbered with prize vessels and sorely needed to refit his own ship, now named Royal James, and so pulled into the Cape Fear River in August 1718.

The city of Charleston by this time had suffered multiple pirate attacks, first from Blackbeard, then another from Charles Vane. Once they received word of Bonnet's presence, authorities decided enough was enough. Summoning the local military leader Colonel William Rhett, the governor awarded Rhett a commission as vice Admiral along with two ships outfitted for pirate hunting. Rhett’s immediate target was Charles Vane, who was said to be ravaging ships not far from the city.

After thorough searching, Rhett failed to locate Vane, and therefore headed straight for where he heard Bonnet and his crew were hiding. Colonel Rhett sought out the pirates in the Cape Fear and engaged in a battle lasting several hours. Greatly outnumbered, the pirates ultimately surrendered and were brought to Charleston to await trial. On October 24, Bonnet escaped custody. 

Sources:
-Butler, L.S. Pirates, Privateers, and Rebel Raiders of the Carolina Coast. Chapel Hill and London: The University of North Carolina Press, 2000.

Images:
-Pirate Flag of Stede Bonnet {{CC0 1.0}}
-Stede Bonnet, A General History of the Pyrates by Charles Johnson, 1725. {{PD-1923}}