Monday, May 07, 2018

Fountain of Hope: Dimensions is published!

Hey all! Just a brief announcement about the revised edition of Heirloom: Fountain of Hope. It has been modernized and republished as Fountain of Hope: Dimensions. The epub version is available here. A brief synopsis:

The history of St. Augustine, Florida may be wrong. Native Americans from one North Florida tribe are said to have lived for centuries due to the inexplicable power of a mysterious source of water. Some say this is not true. Early explorers went in search of this “Fountain of Youth” only to come back disappointed. Still, the Fountain did indeed exist.

Young Lt. Stephen Hathorne, shipwrecked in Spanish La Florida in 1808 will discover the secrets of this tribe if he can survive the trip. Indeed, he discovers that he and his own family are responsible for their very existence! Traveling through threads of time's sensitive fabric, Stephen and his new-found love will have to face many dangers: pirates, zealots, slavers, and a madman from the future before they can find peace in the past.

In this story, four time periods of the beautiful and exotic Floridian town of St. Augustine are explored. Although a sci-fi romance, lovers of history will be thrilled at the meticulous detail.

Incidentally, for North Florida fans of historical fiction, Itchetucknee Springs near Fort White stars as the legendary "Fountain of Youth"... with a real scientific explanation!

Watch the video above for all the detail!


 Fountain of Hope: Dimensions

Available at

Epub version, too!

Coming Soon to Amazon!


Murder at Ocracoke!

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Murder at Ocracoke!

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Read the exciting details concerning the most notorious murder of all time! You decide who to blame! Edward "Blackbeard" Thache has been misrepresented, misunderstood, and rhetorically damned in the 300 years since "A General History of the Pyrates" was first published in 1724. Indeed, Thache and his reputation has all but been lost to us. This book explores the details, motivations, and literary evidence used against Blackbeard leading up to his death and in the profitable aftermath. It has been presented as a publication of "Blackbeard 300: Nov. 22, 1718-2018" tri-centennial.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Was Blackbeard the Pirate from Jamaica?

Was Blackbeard from Jamaica?

Well... before Disney's movie Blackbeard the Pirate in 1952, that was the general consensus... that he was born on Jamaica, lived there, or at least worked out of Jamaica as a mariner. Nathaniel Mist - you know him better as "Charles Johnson" - wrote in his first edition of A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pyrates that Blackbeard was born in Jamaica. He changed this slightly in his second edition: that he was born in Bristol, but worked out of Jamaica. So, for well over two centuries, we believed that Edward Thache at least lived his adult life on the Caribbean Isle.

Since then, however, a huge media campaign was launched that gave him a new home in North Carolina. Yes, he died there. We know that. We even have a date: November 22, 1718. We know this with much greater assurance than his birth... still presumed to be in Bristol, which has been questioned recently as well. 

Why all the confusion with Jamaica?

I blame Patrick Pringle. Not that Pringle didn't do a good job in trying to investigate the question of whether or not Blackbeard came from Jamaica. Before the publication of his book Jolly Roger: The Story of the Great Age of Piracy in 1953, Pringle wrote to the new and first government archivist on Jamaica, Clinton Vane de Brosse Black, to find evidence of Edward Thache's existence on the island. Black wrote back to him that there was no evidence that he could find. 

We have to understand, however, the context in which Black answered Pringle's question. Black had just started as archivist in 1950. Pringle's letter had to arrive before 1953... say between 1950-1952. Again, Black had JUST started his job! He himself told of the condition of government records when he began at the government offices in Spanish Town. He said the archives were a shambles. Records were scattered everywhere, misplaced, and never in any type of order. Employees at the government complex had been known to use the deeds, wills, and other important historical documents as placemats for their lunch... even used to wrap their food to keep it fresh!

Black also did not have computers to help him search for any references to any specific person, place, or record. He had to hand search the millions of scattered records for the name "Edward Teach" or any phonetic variation. Black faced an impossible task before the decades it would require for him to put this mass of records into any semblance of order with a finding aid. 

In essence, Black could never have given a definitive answer to Pringle's question. I don't particularly care for A General History as an actual source of history, but I do think he was right about Bristol and Jamaica.

Still, pirate enthusiasts wanted more... and Disney brought Blackbeard back into the excited eyes of American pirate fans and their kids... who wanted an American hero or anti-hero, as it were.

Throughout the early 20th century, North Carolina had actively sought to build a pro-Blackbeard outlook... for financial reasons, of course. Prior to this date, the southern state was intimately aware of their descent from the West Indies and the pirates associated with early America. Nathaniel Mist even called America the "Commonwealth of Pyrates."

In the late 1920s, the town of Wilmington held "Feast of Pirates" festival, the first national pirate celebration that attracted as many as 40,000 visitors from around the nation. Louis Toomer Moore photographed the events of 1927-1929. There was obviously more than a passing interest in America's former heroes. The festivals are discussed at this link.  

Bath Town had long been the focus of the pirate's attention, but it was a rather small hamlet on the Pamlico River in an out-of-the-way section of coastal North Carolina. There was no commercial base there... like in Wilmington. Still, it was also the state's oldest incorporated town from 1705. A great deal of the state's earliest maritime history was focused there - one of the first ports in a geographically-handicapped state. This topped maritime interest in Queen Anne's Town, or Edenton, as well... the focus of Port Roanoke. 

The interest in pirates quickly waned after this brief southern blip on the radar in the early 20th century. The Great Depression may have made some contribution to the nation's loss of focus on entertainment - corporate pirates then took the wind from our sails!

Durham Morning Herald, 12 Oct 1947

Occurrences of "Blackbeard" in articles appearing in American newspapers from colonial times to the present. The most obvious increase in public interest in pirates began not only after the publication of Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island in 1883, but it jumped to more than four times after Disney's Blackbeard the Pirate feature film in 1952. Furthermore, the interest sustained itself for nearly four decades, with increased southern newspaper occurrences!

As can be clearly seen, interest in pirates remained down, with a definite surge in the 1930s, again probably reduced by World War II. Still, the interest lulled throughout the 40s, with North Carolina struggling to make Bath Town historically popular. Disney's movie, Blackbeard the Pirate, however, appeared in 1952 and the newspapers literally exploded! What's more, the interest sustained itself through the next four decades, giving Bath Town its opportunity to break into the competition.

Adding to the state's excitement, Prof. Herbert Paschal wrote A History of Colonial Bath, published by Edwards & Broughton Co. in 1955. Unfortunately, Paschal made a transcription error on an Ormond family will which made it appear that this Ormond died in the colony 50 years earlier than 1773! This initiated speculation that the pirate Edward Thache married this man's daughter "Mary Ormond" as his fourteenth wife, showing devotion to the fantasies of Nathaniel Mist or "Charles Johnson" in A General History! This error made him intimately - if erroneously - acquainted with North Carolina. Ironically, this error made Blackbeard a virtual "son" of the state! Other North-Carolina-centered "theories" evolved that would make Blackbeard more intimately associated with the state - one actually made him a North Carolinian!

The sudden surge of interest in North Carolina and the lack of a definitive connection to Jamaica by 1953, easily handed Blackbeard the Pirate into North Carolina's financially-downtrodden family! William Byrd's "Lubberland" became the pirate king's personal domain! 

Thus, Edward Thache, the conservative war veteran and gentleman resident of Spanish Town, Jamaica became a victim of the media and a forced offspring of the state of North Carolina. Yeah, he was a pirate, but early America loved such conservative Jacobite defenders of their liberty! He was only married once that I know of and he even had a daughter - Elizabeth, named for Thache's mother and who married a prominent and wealthy doctor and multiple plantation owner of Spanish Town. The genealogical exploration has been quite definitive! 

Posters available in various sizes at Zazzle


Read about the final end of Edward Thache:

Murder at Ocracoke! Power and Profit in the Killing of Edward "Blackbeard" Thache

In commemoration of "Blackbeard 300 Tri-Centennial":

As always, drop by and check out the primary source transcriptions available there!

Friday, April 06, 2018

Time and Tide Make Us Mercenaries All!

As pirate victims go, they are generally concerned with reporting their losses and hurt feelings to the Admiralty. Their depositions are usually filled with details of how pirates rifled their goods, threatened and sometimes tortured them to learn the whereabouts of any gold, silver, rum, or other valuables they had on board. What they generally don't report are the illegal goods that they often willingly accept from the pirates... goods that they later try to sell for profit at their next ports of call. 

There are no heroes in pirate stories!

36-year old Capt. Thomas Creed (d. 1721) of Coward was captured 17 June 1719 by Edward England. He testified that another victim, like himself, had joined with England's crew and had directed a small pirate sloop, Buck, to take his vessel in only "two fathoms of water." He argued that if Capt. Henry Hunt of Sarah galley had not piloted this pirate, his vessel would not have been taken, his goods stolen, and his ship burnt! Furthermore, he charged Hunt with sailing away 5th July after helping pirates to rifle his sloop and that of Capt. Thomas Lynch's Carteret, stealing "several brass Panns & bottles" from him and an unknown quantity from Lynch. 

Creed may have been the only honest one in the bunch, but it didn't pay!

Weekly Packet of 24 October 1719 provided a long list of vessels said to have been taken by pirate Edward England in his ship 30-gun, 160-man Royal James, also said to have been former Capt. Edward Tyzard or Tyzach's Pearl of Bristol. The pink Eagle was probably captured by Howell Davis, on the Gambia River in March, but not during the period May-July when the rest of these ships were taken. The rest, however, probably were the prizes of Edward England.

Newspapers often misquote or get some facts wrong, but are usually fairly reliable. Certain details of this article, however, had been skewed. Charlotte listed in the article was actually commanded by Capt. Branson Oulson, not Oldson, but this was a minor mistake, especially at a time when spelling was phonetic and not yet standardized. Another simple misspelling appears with Sarah, Capt. "Stunt." His name was actually Capt. Henry Hunt, a defendant in this criminal case at the Old Bailey. Another huge error, though, was Carteret, Capt. Snow. While Carteret was a snow-rigged vessel, the captain's name was actually Thomas Lynch. 

The error-filled article above did actually get the date of Capt. Thomas Creed's Coward correct as 17th of June 1719. This assumes that Thomas Creed's deposition of 27 September 1720 gave the correct date. Presumably, Weekly Packet obtained this news from the deposition. It's actually common practice even today for journalists to obtain their information from police reports and depositions.

As Creed stated in his deposition,  he was captured by pirates in "Buck Sloop," probably the vessel shown as "Bank" in the Weekly Packet, a vessel of Capt. Sylvester originally used as a packet boat in the Gambia River. This should not be confused with Buck sloop on which Howell Davis mutinied on his way to the Cape Verde Islands from New Providence earlier. Davis was hundreds of miles too far south at Principe Island in King James at this time, most likely accompanied by his old Buck sloop.  

Trade winds ran north to south down the African Coast and northward travel was more difficult. That's why ships usually entered at the Cape Verde Islands in the northern latitudes adjacent Gambia River before sailing south to Sierra Leone, Whydah, Old Calabar, and Cape Lopez, off Angola. 

The pirates aboard Buck included, as Creed observed, 25-year-old Henry Hunt, "then on board the sd pirate Vessel & piloted her at the time." Creed believed that "if the sd Henry Hunt had not piloted the sd Sloop and directed her Company... she would have escaped." 

There is logical merit to his argument. River topography is such that dangerous shoals develop in rather shallow waters, drastically varying the depth of the water where only a few feet could mean you run aground. Without a pilot familiar with those particular waters, a vessel, even a sloop. might easily founder near two fathoms of water, or only twelve feet - possibly shifting quickly to only a few feet. The younger Hunt must have been in Gambia River before. perhaps with his brother Thomas in Saint Quintine the year before. This is why pirate Capt. Edward England would have desired him to pilot one of his vessels - in this case, Buck. It might easily appear to Creed, arriving later, that Hunt had indeed, joined the pirates!

An unmarried Henry Hunt (d.1739), later of Poplar, but then also of the parish of Stepney, Middlesex where mariner Thomas Creed lived with his wife Sarah and their son, Thomas, testified as well on the same day. He stated that he had been captured on 27 May 1719 by Edward England in Royal James already accompanied by two former prizes, Charlotte or Charlot, Capt. Branson Oulson, and probably the snow Carteret, Capt. Thomas Lynch.  

According to Hunt,  the pirates "forced [him] into their Service" on the pirate sloop when Coward was taken. He said that he knew nothing about any stolen goods or the burning of Creed's vessel. 

The Political State of Great Britain, a monthly news digest, for October 1720 shows that Capt. Hunt and Oldson (or Oulson) were tried and acquitted for piracy. 

As Creed said that he saw, the stolen goods were placed on Sarah, Hunt's vessel before it was released (Delight was Creed's most recent command). Hunt visited the Admiralty Office in late summer of 1720 to obtain a Mediterranean pass and was arrested for piracy. He was then incarcerated in Marshalsea Prison, awaiting trial, the results of which you can read in the Political State of Great Britain. The owners of Sarah and Charlotte appeared for them, vouched for their conduct, demeaned Creed's accusations, and obtained an acquittal. Still, Hunt probably did take advantage of the pirates' generosity. It appears that Oulson did also.

Capt. Branson Oulson, a mariner of Swedish descent, was also brought up on charges of piracy with Hunt, apparently also because of Thomas Creed's testimony. It should be noted that the wording of his deposition, however, did not accuse Oulson. He may have indicated to the Admiralty earlier that Branson was also involved. Any deposition that he gave against Oulson no longer survives. 
Primary sources of genealogical content make exploring these early mariner's lives quite possible now. Unlike the singly-married Creed and the bachelor Hunt, Branson Oulson had been married three times: to Mary Cable in 1710 while living in Woolwich, Kent; after Mary's death, to Elizabeth Woodard in London in 1716; and upon her death to Dorcus Berry in the same place on 9 February 1721, just after settlement of this court issue. He and Dorcus had two daughters, Rebecca and Margaret. Dorcus also died in 1727, followed closely by her husband, Capt. Branson Oulson in 1731. 

 Branson Oulson had also been released by the pirates, but with some "added extras" for his cargo. He proceeded to Barbados after his release and attempted to sell his "piraiticall slaves" merchandise there in September 1719. Henry Lascelles, who famously arranged for the disposal of French pirate Olivier LeVasseur de la Buse's vessel Blanco in 1717, denied that he knew anything of this illegal cargo of Charlotte: "I never understood that they belonged to any particular person," as he described to a very interested Board of Trade and Plantations. 

Another interesting detail is that Thomas Creed, Henry Hunt, and Branson Oulson were all residents of Stepney Parish, Middlesex County in 1720. Creed, the accuser, at age 37, died in April 1721, just a few months after this trial of Hunt and Oulson at the Old Bailey. 

The cynic in me wonders... lol. 

“Looters become looted while time and tide make us mercenaries all.”
~ Patrick Rothfuss in The Wise Man’s Fear


Look for the new booklet for the Blackbeard 300 Tri-Centennial festivities, Murder at Ocracoke: Power and Profit in the Killing of Edward "Blackbeard" Thache, available now at Lulu Publishing!

Thursday, January 25, 2018

"Fake News" Rhetoric and the Damage that it Does

Today's news organizations are under repeated fire from conservatives and even some liberals concerned with the "specter" of "fake news." Many conservatives ill-advisedly get the bulk of their "news" from "Fox News." I try to convince those of the conservative persuasion that "Fox News" is unreliable because they often purposely fake their news. Truth be told, in 2004, they won a lawsuit by declaring that they were "entertainment" and NOT "news," so it didn't matter that they lied in their programming. But, conservative Americans REALLY WANT to believe what they believe, so it is difficult to convince them otherwise.

Perhaps an example from my own work in history will help:

Charles Johnson (not really his name; actually Nathaniel Mist) has been considered the foremost expert on piracy since 1724 when he published "A General History of the Pyrates." Indeed, having the word "History" in its title served Johnson's deceptive purposes as much as "News" does in "Fox News!" I have demonstrated several times that Johnson did not just get some things wrong, but that he outright lied... intentionally, again as "Fox News" does and to which they admitted in 2004. See:

This is dangerous to history because Johnson has become so well respected in pirate history circles for the past 300 years! The same is true of the lies spewed by "Fox News." They are dangerous to our current political quandary, sitting as it is on the verge of a constitutional crisis over the very likely firing of special council Robert Mueller by the subject of his investigation: Donald J. Trump.

Whereas, CNN has skewed some truths to make them more appealing to the general public, I have yet to see or hear that they have outright lied, as Trump's rhetoric would have you believe. If you do not carefully view and critically examine news stories on a consistent basis, you can be fooled into believing Trump's rhetoric, possibly leading you into the crisis. To the average viewer, CNN could appear to you as just as unreliable as "Fox News," much like the unreliable and sometimes purposely faked "A General History" was universally accepted as "history" for the last 300 years.

This is the inherent danger of Trump's purposeful fascist rhetorical method, much like that touted by Joseph Goebbels, Nazi propaganda minister. It is indeed insidious in its simplicity.

Remarkably. spreading the rhetoric of "fake news" casts doubt upon ALL news. regardless of the source. CNN has had particular scrutiny placed upon them, even though they consistently work hand in hand with reputable news agencies such as the Washington Post and the New York Times. Close study of any of these news sources will verify their honesty and integrity. If they print something that is later proved wrong (a very rare case, to be sure), they immediately print a retraction to maintain their integrity. "Fox News" does not, indeed is not even REQUIRED to do so.

Coming Soon!

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Sunday, October 29, 2017

Pirate Edward Congdon retires...

Excerpt from the soon-to-be-released Sailing East: West Indian Pirates in Madagascar:

 Le Mercure told of a letter dated November 1721 that arrived from [the island of] Bourbon with the details of Congdon’s experiences after taking the West African ship full of rubies, diamonds, and specie. Soon arriving back at Madagascar 1 October 1720, Edward Congdon, “who has an arm cut off,” met a Mr. Henry Beker, master of Cooker, seeking slaves from Madagascar.

Similar to Capt. Stratton, Beker and Congdon had transacted some business for wine and liquors at Îsle St. Marie. Suddenly, Congdon then took his captain, surgeon, and carpenter, and two sailors, as well as some of his cargo. Congdon, however, had no intention of keeping these people and items. Congdon wanted to insure that Beker sailed Cooker to Îsle de Bourbon to deliver a message. He needed the governor there to know that Congdon wished to surrender and beg for a pardon. He sent three surgeons, one a Parisian named Du Vernet, a Flemish man, and one English, the latter two taken off vessels of Ostend, as a measure of good faith.[1]

Beker agreed to his terms, not as if he had a choice. He sailed from Madagascar and arrived at the port of Saint-Denis on Bourbon on 15 November 1720. Beker and the three surgeons made depositions before Gov. Joseph de Beauvoilier de Courchant, who had orders from the French East Indies Company, based in L’Orient, France,  to employ all means of attracting pirates to surrender themselves and settle there. All those who would hand over their vessels to them and abandon piracy would receive full pardons. The rich pirates were expected to be quite helpful for the island’s economy.[2]

Congdon drove a hard bargain, but so did Courchant. Congdon had ordered Beker to tell the governor that in case there was no amnesty for them, that his men would fortify in four months, and would do the most harm and injury, till an amnesty of Europe had been sent. Courchant offered “that the Pirates had to assure them that if they were granted an Amnesty, they would come to the Îsle de Bourbon to deliver their ship, arms and ammunition to the Governor, to submit to his orders, Good & faithful Subjects of the King of France.”[3] They were to bring with them only peaceable and mild-mannered slaves. For each of these slaves (and each white man could retain only one), they were to pay twenty piasters to the French Compagnie des Indies in L’Orient, in compensation for the loss to their commerce.[4]

Gov. de Courchant assembled the Provincial Council of the island. After maturely examining the details, they granted Congdon’s wishes, for the benefit of all nations which traded in India, for the French CDI, and for their own local economy. Beker returned to Madagascar with an approved and signed pardon, dated 25 November 1720, for 135 men, accompanied by a letter for Capt. Congdon.[5]

By the end of December, Congdon returned Beker in Cooker to tell him that they happily accepted the pardon and were preparing to burn Dragon and proceed to Bourbon in Cooker. Some of the pirates had already died, of what is unknown, but they were increasingly anxious to leave Madagascar. They set fire to two other of their ships, after spiking their cannon. It took twenty-seven days to finish preparations and Beker returned on 3 January 1721 to pick them up.[6]

In the meantime, a plot was brewing amongst the Betsimisaraka of Îsle St. Marie. They had happily traded through Congdon for a year by then and desired to keep the merchandise of Dragon and its crew. Sudden news of his departure was quite unwelcome.

The natives poisoned Congdon’s crew, probably in food that they prepared for them. Many of Dragon’s crew took sick and Congdon soon realized what had happened. He ordered his crew to get aboard Cooker as fast as they could, but “several of them having dragged themselves to the shores of the sea to embark, were falling dead before they could set foot in the shallop.”[7] On the 30th of January 1721, 42 out of 135 set sail and left some of their brethren still dying on the beach. The fleeing 42 were in little better shape, “nearly all in very bad condition by the poison given them by the blacks of Madagascar.”[8] In the crossing four of their comrades died, leaving a miserable 38 sickly ex-pirates for delivery to Bourbon.

[1] G. Cavelier, ed., Le Mercure, May 1722, p 152-156; Joan DeJean, The Essence of Style: How the French Invented Fashion, Fine Food, Chic Cafés, Style, Sophistication, and Glamour (New York: Free Press, 2005), 47.
[2] Cavelier, Le Mercure.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Ibid.
[7] Ibid.; Alfred Grandidier, (19031907), Collection des Ouvrages Anciens concernant Madagascar, Vol. 5: 1718-1800 (Paris: Comité de Madagascar, 1907), 104 n1; Translated: In a manuscript of the Deposit of Maps and Plans of the Marine of Paris, volume 84 ', Sea of India, Exhibit 17, at the bottom of page 7, it says: "In 1722, Mangaely [Mamoko Islands, of Ampasindava] was repaired by pirates, and it is said that there was a massacre of pirates made there by the blacks of the country, and that the king of Massailly [Bombetoke Bay], named Ratocaffe [Ratoakafo] sent his soldiers there to cover all the black men, women and children, even the dogs, and pillaged all the cattle, and since that time the place has been deserted."
[8] Ibid.


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Baylus C. Brooks' books:

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Saturday, September 02, 2017

How a Force of Nature Created the Golden Age of Piracy

Possible tracks of Hurricane Irma - 9-2-17
Hurricane Harvey left a tremendous path of destruction in Houston, Texas and surrounding areas just a week ago. Hurricane Irma is expected this week along the many possible paths shown in the map above and is expected to be as powerful as Harvey, if not worse. Its most likely track takes it along the Florida coast. 

In my opinion, Irma possibly emulates another hurricane that struck July 30, 1715 along the same path and was the most likely cause of the upsurge in English piracy that many refer to as the "Golden Age." This hurricane demolished eleven heavily-laden vessels of a twelve-ship Spanish treasure fleet, slamming them into the Florida coast.

While a single wrecked Spanish vessel provided wrecking crews from Jamaica, Bermuda, the Bahamas, and other English settlements with months, even years, of valuable Spanish silver mined in Mexico and Peru, eleven ships would provide an absolute fortune in treasure unparalleled in the annals of the maritime Atlantic community!

Wreck Fishing

“Fishing” wrecks was a common activity all along the American coast, including the American West Indies. This was especially true with North Carolina’s Outer Banks and the Bahamas where wrecks occurred most often. A single wrecked Spanish treasure vessel provided a great deal of profit for English investors and lasted a whole five years!

Wrecking also became more refined after the successes in the 1680s of William Phips, wealthy carpenter of Boston. He was hired by a group of aristocratic investors, eager to fish a wrecked Spanish vessel in the lower Bahamas. 

Charles II, the English king, himself, partnered with Christopher Monck, duke of Albemarle, Sir James Hayes (probable former apothecary master to Carolina naturalist John Lawson from 1677-1683 who later served as apothecary-general to his Majesty’s forces in the West Indies from 1692-4), Viscount Falkland (Hayes’ step-son), Sir John Narbrough, Isaac Foxcroft and Virginia governor Francis Nicholson to invest in fishing a Spanish wreck of Nuestra Señora de la Concepcion. According to the duke of Beaufort, the wreck had “lain in the sea forty-two years [wrecked November 2, 1641]” and was being fished “chiefly by the Spaniards that lost her.” So, the English would obtain only the leftovers or residue unrecovered by Spanish divers...

In 1686, Phips left England in the James and Mary to engage in a salvage expedition for these partners. There, he recovered twenty-six tons of silver valued at over £200,000 from the Spanish wreck of Nuestra Señora de la Concepcion. The massive silver remaining after the original Spanish recovery from this single ship ran out for the British wreckers only by 1691. Beaufort estimated Albemarle’s portion at £40,000-50,000. Illustrating the immensity of the fortune, Hayes would rebuild his four-story manor of Great Bedgbury in Kent with his part of the proceeds. Also, the dangers of this venture were illustrated by the armament carried by the wrecker vessels involved, as shown in Table 1.

Phips employed only four native divers, probably from the Bahamas, home of the most experienced wreck fishers and later, home of Benjamin Hornigold's "Flying Gang" of pirates. Most likely, they made use of a diving bell, a large weighted device that forced trapped air below the surface which enabled divers to breathe under the surface with shorter dives at the intended salvage. While the salvage proceeded, Phips and crew were joined by at least eight ships and forty-eight smaller craft, all hunting for the treasure, as illustrated in Table 1 below. Maritime researcher John E. Ratcliffe assures that “The speed with which these scavengers appeared is evidence of a flourishing small-scale salvage industry based out of islands like Jamaica, Bermuda, and the Bahamas.”

Table 1
One can barely conceive of the massive wealth provided by only one already salvaged Spanish treasure ship - try to imagine eleven vessels, heavily laden with treasure, basically as yet un-salvaged, and in shallow waters where the fishing would be easier than with Nuestra Señora de la Concepcion!  Not only did the hurricane of July 30, 1715 deposit these eleven treasure ships in shallow waters of the Florida coast, but famous astronomer Edmund Halley had recently invented a new diving bell that would make fishing wrecks even more efficient for the British. 

Edmund Halley's "diving bell" 1690

Hurricane of July 30, 1715 - the Fleet of 1715

General of the Windward Squadron Pedro de Ribera vacillated constantly on his fleet’s time of departure. He first prepared his fleet to sail in late 1712 from Havana, Cuba, but it did not sail until three years later.  A second fleet, in mid-1712, under Juan Estaban de Ubilla arrived in Veracruz, Mexico with eight more vessels, ordered to load with bullion, passengers, and merchandize and return to Spain as soon as possible. Neither of these fleets left on schedule. A large part of the postponement centered upon news of the concessions of October 1711 and the coming peace treaty in the Dutch city of Utrecht the next year that would end Queen Anne's War. The dangers of both weather and anti-Catholic pirates, namely British, also figured prominently in their debates. 

The Spanish Navy at this time was also handicapped by favoritism, officer appointments occurring more because of important connections rather than merit and ability. The British Royal Navy, however, was little better. Arguments between fleet officers happened often, especially with haughty and arrogant men like Ubilla. Ribera, arrogant enough on his own, defied the subordinate Ubilla’s complaint of who could fly the command flag on their combined voyage home. Ribera, assured Ubilla of “his right to fly the command flag from the masthead of his ship,… ‘by ancient law and privilege.’”  General Ubilla never reacted well to Ribera’s assertions of authority. 

Furthermore, frequent postponements plagued the scheduled departure dates. The next march, Ubilla was delayed by procrastinating local merchants. His wealthy connections influenced the Junta, or ruling council, to reschedule for May, depending upon the weather. Still, it was postponed again until August, which drove Ubilla nearly mad. As a result, the aggravated Ubilla became involved in a duel and apparently suffered an injury. Fears of a winter passage, sightings of English pirates passing Cuban posts, Ubilla’s recuperation from sword wounds, and word of the peace treaty delayed departure once again. 

Juan Estaban de Ubilla decided to reduce the tension in his letters to the Viceroy and he received another departure date of March 1714. All of his eight vessels, waiting in port, had been continuously careened and repaired. Again, Ubilla was ready to leave when news of the treaty came. The wait played on Ubilla, who added ascerbicism once again to his writing. Furthermore, six English ships were sighted east of Cuba and eighteen off Puerto Rico. By July, a nasty storm had threatened his fleet, not simply the frequent nortes (cold northeasterly windstorms) of the Mexican shores.  Summer passed and another departure date postponed. During another storm that September, Ubilla wrote another letter that seemed to indicate he had completely lost his senses. The storm drowned five vessels in the harbor - fortunately, however, none of his. 

That fall of 1714, the Vicereoy wrote and expressed his disappointment over Ubilla and especially for the tone of the accusations in his letters. Ubilla fell into deep depression, still not fully recovered from his physical wounds. Ubilla’s biographer Lowell W. Newton said that his response “degenerated into a string of incoherent phrases that seem to represent a rambling, disjointed attempt to justify his earlier demands to the Viceroy and his conflict with Ribera over the command flag.”  Furthermore, his finances were exhausted. His expenses then relied solely on credit and he incurred heavy debt. The loss of royal confidence, Newton declares, came close to finally breaking his spirit.

Reconciliation occurred when Ubilla finally cowed before royal chastisement. His authorities sent pay for him and his men and set a new departure date for March 1715. One urca, or cargo ship under Miguel de Lima had to be remasted and Ubilla did not leave until that May to rendezvous in Havana with the galleones fleet. On the way, Ubilla’s flagship had been demasted in another storm and, once he arrived, he engaged in another argument with one Gen. Don Antonio de Echeverz, the new leader of the Havana squadron. The argument involved Echeverz demand to accompany Ubilla’s fleet to Spain. Once that was settled, the entire squadron of Ubilla and Echeverz totalled eleven vessels plus one Frenchman. They transported “merchandise, 14,000,000 pesos in silver, and significant quantities of gold; much-needed bullion for merchants whose trade had been victimized by the war and the long delay since the 1713 Peace of Utrecht, and by a monarchy overwhelmed with war debts.”  Only one of the vessels, the French ship La Grifon, ever reached home.

Four days out of Havana, on July 30, 1715, the fleet met with a hurricane near Cape Canaveral, at latitude of 28 deg north. Two ships sank in deep water, one went down in the shoals near shore, another ran ashore (Urca de Lima, now one of Florida’s Underwater Archaeological Preserves), two ships destroyed, and the flagship got off a single boat before taking 225 people, including Juan Esteban de Ubilla, to the reputed Davy Jones’ locker.

As Newton inferred the British were “particularly successful in their attempts to seize Indies bullion,” by whatever means, essentially making the most effective pirates.  This wreck event became the quintessential natal event of the Golden Age. Piracy, as our culture has come to understood it ever since, began with the hurricane’s passage through the Florida Straits and destruction of the massive treasure fleet of Ubilla and Echerverz on July 30, 1715.

As I have previously detailed in "American Pirates in the News!," the entire Atlantic community came to fish the wrecks. Many simply waited for others to do the work of fishing and then, pirated them as they left the Florida coast. All pirates preyed on all nations - anyone with bullion on board. Afterwards for these mariners, it became a simple matter to ignore already weak British legal constraints and continue taking these vessels long after the wrecks ran out of bullion. 

In the Boston News-Letter, occurrences of the term "pirate" appear more often after the hurricane of July 30, 1715

The Boston News-Letter, the premier newspaper of the time, began to refer to British pirates following this event. For their eleven-year existence prior to the hurricane of July 30, 1715, they mentioned only "pirates" of French or Spanish origin. The most common term was "privateer," which indicated that these brigands had official sanction from at least one government. The point being that they did not prey on vessels of their own national patron. After the hurricane, however, pirates preyed upon everyone. 

The "Golden Age of Greed" was born!


Hopefully, at the end of 2017, I will be finished with my newest book: Dictionary of Pyrate Biography, 1713-1720 which will attempt for the first time ever to re-discover pirate history without using A General History. I guarantee a lot of surprises!

Please keep up with updates on my website at

Meanwhile, visit my Lulu page for already published material, including Quest for Blackbeard! 

Quest for Blackbeard is 15% OFF ALL PRINT FORMATS now at:

#blackbeard #pirates #history #maritime

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

Negotiating a Pardon for Piracy

300 years ago today...

August 1, 1717:
Mr. Attorney General [Edward Northey] to the Council of Trade and Plantations. Your Lordships informed me that when I should send the draught of the Proclamation for pardoning of pirates (v. July 15), you would give me your assistance, etc. When the draught of the pardon was made, all piracies were excepted, nevertheless such pirates. who should surrender themselves by a day to be prefixt were to be pardoned. But on further consideration thereof, the Nevertheless etc. was left out, and the exception of pirates remained absolute, it being then intended to issue a pardon by Proclamation for pirates, on such terms as should be thought proper. Whereupon I was commanded to prepare the Proclamation for that purpose with your Lordships' assistance etc. (v. July 15). I have now prepared the draught, which is submitted to your Lordships, etc. Signed, Edw. Northey. Endorsed, Recd, 2nd, Read. 7th Aug., 1717. 1 p. Enclosed,
1. i. Draught of H.M. Proclamation for suppressing of pyrates, referred to in preceding. 2½ pp. [C.O. 323, 7. Nos. 104, 104 i.; and 324, 10. pp. 127–131.]

Proclamations against piracy and pardons for such piracy had been issued since the Glorious Revolution of 1688. British officials, however, were faced with a recent increase in this activity that was detrimental to trade. Still, they were reticent about restricting the mercantile freedoms of their substantial citizens - mariners, for instance, who brought profit to the realm - even if those merchants might engage in piracy. Piracy, of course, was an act that was long-accepted "beyond the lines of amity" in America, even if not accepted at home in England.

Another issue facing Britain at this time was one of loyalty among the various colonies. The new king, George I of Hanover, was German, spoke no English, and was not looked upon favorably by much of the Stuart Tories that flooded America. Every act of this new dynasty was a matter of diplomacy at a time of upheaval at home (Stuart-Jacobite rebellions) and abroad (pirates who held Jacobite sympathies). The king could not chance angering these wealthy gentlemen too much. In an effort to calm the gentlemen in his realm, he intended to issue yet another proclamation to pardon pirates who had recently committed these acts in American waters. The king had hopes that these gentlemen would return to their quasi-legal mercantile professions (those that did not involve piracy of English ships).

There were personal matters to consider - matters that might upset these angry "wayward" gentlemen - such as whether or not they would be allowed to keep the plunder, or their proceeds from such illegal profiteering. The attorney-general, Edward Northey, in drafting this pardon, needed to consult with the Board or Council of Trade and Plantations closely to determine how these gentlemen might react.

Thus, pirates like the wealthy Bermudan Henry Jennings, from a family of smugglers, were eventually allowed to keep their treasure, so long as they surrendered and stopped attacking English ships. The proclamation was officially issued a month later, September 5, 1717:

By the King, A PROCLAMATION for the Suppressing of Pyrates

Whereas we have received information, that several Persons, Subjects of Great Britain, have, since the 24th Day of June, in the Year of our Lord, 1715, committed divers Pyracies and Robberies upon the High-Seas, in the West Indies, or adjoyning to our Plantations, which hath and may Occassion great Damage to the Merchants of Great Britain, and others trading unto those Parts; and tho' we have appointed such a Force as we judge sufficient for suppressing the said Pyrates, yet the more effectually to put an End to the same, we have thought fit, by and with the Advice of our Privy Council, to Issue this our Royal Proclamation; the said Pyrates, shall on, or before, the 5th of September, in the year of our Lord 1718, surrender him or themselves, to one of our Principal Secretaries of State in Great Britain or Ireland, or to any Governor or Deputy Governor of any of our Plantations beyond the Seas; every such Pyratee and Pyrates so surrendering him, or themselves, as aforesaid, shall have our gracious Pardon, of, and for such, his or their Pyracy, or Piracies, by him or them committed, before the fifth of January next ensuing. And we do hereby strictly charge and command all our Admirals, Captains, and other Officers at Sea, and all our Governors and Commanders of any Forts, Castles, or other Places in our Plantations, and all other our Officers Civil and Military, to seize and take such of the Pyrates, who shall refuse or neglect to surrender themselves accordingly.

And we do hereby further declare, that in Case any Person or Persons, on, or after, the 6th day of September, 1718, shall discover or seize, or cause or procure to be discovered or seized, any one or more of the said Pyrates, so refusing or neglecting to surrender themselves as aforesaid, so as they may be brought to Justice, and convicted of the said Offence, such Person or Persons, so making such Discovery or Seizure, or causing or procuring such Discovery or Seizure to be made, shall have and receive as a Reward for the same, viz. for every Commander of any private Ship or Vessel ,the Sum of 100 l. for every Lieutenant, Master, Boatswain, Carpenter and Gunner, the sum of 40 l. for every inferior officer, the Sum of 30. and for every private Man the Sum of 20 l. And if any Person or persons, belong to, and being Part of the Crew, of any Pyrat Ship or Vessel, so as he or they be brought to Justice, and be convicted of the said Offence, such Person or Persons, as a Reward for the same, shall receive for every such Commander, the Sum of 200 l. which said Sums, the Lord Treasurer, or the Commissioners of our Treasury for the time being, are hereby required, and desired to pay accordingly.

Given at our Court, at Hampton-Court, the fifth Day of September 1717, in the fourth Year of our Reign.

George R.

God save the King


Hopefully, at the end of 2017, I will be finished with my newest book: Dictionary of Pyrate Biography, 1713-1720 which will attempt for the first time ever to re-discover pirate history without using A General History. I guarantee a lot of surprises!

Please keep up with updates on my website at

Meanwhile, visit my Lulu page for already published material, including Quest for Blackbeard! 

Quest for Blackbeard is 15% OFF ALL PRINT FORMATS now at:

#blackbeard #pirates #history #maritime