One of the interesting character and a unique pirate in the history of the Caribbean was Major Stede Bonnet who was also popular as “The Gentleman Pirate”. He was called so because of the reason that he was previously a wealthy planter in Barbados who later decided to become a pirate and set sail in search of adventure and riches, unlike other pirates who are forced into this profession.
Early Life of Stede Bonnet
When was Stede Bonnet Born?
Stede Bonnet was born in a wealthy English family on the island of Barbados. He inherited all the property and estate of the family after his father’s death when he was just 6 years old. In 1709, he married May Allamby, one of the local girl. They bore 4 children together out of which only 3 survived to their adulthood.
He held the rank of a Major in the militia of Barbados, however the fact that he undertook any training is still doubtful. Major Stede Bonnet had obtained liberal education and was known to others as a man of letters. By his middle years, he had successfully achieved everything possible to lead a happy life. His wife had been his support system for him. He was the owner of sugar plantations which gave him sufficient to live a comfortable life.
Why did Stede Turn to Piracy?
The fact that a man like Stede who was so stable in life could opt for pirating shocked his neighbors. The reason is still not certain but Captain Charles Johnson stated that Bonnet was feeling uncomfortable in his marriage life and he had some disorder of mind which was also known to the local citizens of Barbados. So without ant solid reason he abandoned his wife, children, estate, and fortune and decided to become a pirate in 1717.
Bonnet’s Ship “The Revenge”
Stede Bonnet was a part-time pirate. He had no knowledge about and so he had bought his own ship rather than plunder a ship and then capture it. Bonnet purchased a sloop legally and named his sloop as “The Revenge” This ship of Stede had the capacity to keep 10 pieces of armament. He hired a crew of 70 seamen and started his adventure journey throughout the Caribbean Sea.
Bonnet had a comfortable cabin that he filled with his favorite books. Another thing that he did that other pirates refrained from was to pay the crew members from his own money. His crew still thought that he was eccentric and had very little respect about him. It was because of this reason that he was never overthrown as a captain but had a good command of the Revenge.
Setting Feet’s into Piracy.
For many days after buying the Revenge, it was kept in the Bridgetown harbor but one night he just sailed away with the ship without notifying his family or friends. After leaving Bridgetown, Stede sailed for Virginia Capes. Once he reached there, he began capturing ships, plundering them and he was known to have turned a ship as well.
Then in Summer of 1717, Bonnet took over the shore of eastern seaboard starting from the Carolinas to New York. However he released most of them after capturing it, but he burned a ship from Barbados as he didn’t want the news about the piracy to reach his home.
Later in August or September, Bonnet and his crew fallen into the Spanish war where Bonnet ordered to attack them. In the result of this war, they lose, their ship was destroyed and half of his crew were dead. Bonnet was also badly injured.
Bonnet’s Association with Blackbeard
The crew after spending some time with Stede realized that he was an inexperienced pirate and this caused the crew to grow hostile towards him. He was in the Bay of Honduras when Bonnet met Edward Teach also popular as “Blackbeard” and his pirate ship Queen Anne’s Revenge. The two soon became good friends and decided on going on expeditions together.
Soon after they teamed up, Blackbeard realized that Bonnet was an inexperienced pirate. Blackbeard was however successful in convincing Bonnet to be a ‘guest’ on Queen Anne’s Revenge while Blackbeard had appointed someone to command the Revenge. Bonnet was able to bring Blackbeard to an agreement of returning the Revenge to Bonnet. Bonnet would spend his time in his deck reading books and talking to himself.
Disintegration with Blackbeard
Queen Anne’ Revenge was marooned from the shore of North Carolina in June 1718. Now Bonnet was sent with some men to reach the town of Bath and ask for the pardon of his pirates. In return, he and his pirates would leave the thievery. He became successful in this matter. But as soon as he returned, he found out that Blackbeard had cheated him and he sailed off with some of the Bonnet’s men as well as the loot.
Bonnet then aground the remaining men near to him and rescued them. He then swore a revenge to defeat Blackbeard but he never crossed Bonnet again.
Stede Bonnet as Captain Thomas Alias
After rescuing his men, Bonnet set again on the sail with the Revenge. He did not have any food or treasure and so it was a dire need for him to turn into piracy. It is believed that in order to cover-up his identity, and preserve his pardon, he is known to have changed his name to Captain Thomas and re-named the ship, Royal James.
There came a period from July to September 1718, which was considered to be the peak time of Bonnet’s career in piracy. He captured many ships and vessels from the Atlantic Seaboard. After sailing for some time in his newly adopted identity, Bonnet was captured by Colonel William Rhett on September 27, 1718.
Trial and Execution of Bonnet Stede
Colonel and his crew found out Bonnet in the Cape Fear River inlet with two captured vessel. Bonnet protested against them and tried to escape but Rhett managed somehow in the 5-hour battle and captured Bonnet with his crew. Late they were sent to Charleston and a trial of piracy was put on them.
Bonnet had written letters seeking pardon but was found guilty of the charges. Later in December 1718, Bonnet was hanged. His 22 pirates were hanged before him on November 1718. His body was kept hanging in the open for four days as a warning to the potential pirates.