The reason why he turned buccaneer is not clear, but Capt Charles Johnson says those who knew him "believed that his humour of going a pyrating proceeded from a disorder in his mind which had been but too visible in him some time before his wicked undertaking; and which is said to have been occassioned by some discomforts he found in a married state. Be that as it may, the major was ill qualified for the business, as not understanding maritime affairs."
He bought a ship and hired a crew to take to the sea. Being only mildly successful, he ran into Edward Teach (Blackbeard) at Carolina in 1718, who took over his ship. He acted as a layabout on Teach's ship while a new captain (Richards) took over his ship and crew.
At Topsail inlet, Teach broke up his company and parted company with Bonnet (probably to get rid of him), taking a king's pardon, which he urged Bonnet to do. Bonnet got his ship back and sailed off to claim the pardon. He hoped to sail to St Thomas, to claim a privateering commission against the Spanish, as war had recently been declared again. Returning to Topsail Inlet, he found Teach gone with the plunder, and rescued a number of men marooned by Teach. Hearing of Teach's location, he set off to seek revenge on him, but the two pirates were to never meet again.
Major Stede Bonnet, aka the "Gentleman" pirate was captured after a relatively short pirating career by Col. William Rhett of Charles Town, South Carolina in August 1718, just a few months after splitting from Blackbeard's fleet and only a few months before Blackbeard was killed by Lieutenant Robert Maynard of the Royal Navy.
Bonnet stopped in a lonely, uninhabited Cape Fear River to careen and repair his ship, the Royal James when Rhett came looking for him, armed with a warrant from South Carolina governor Robert Johnson.
Bonnet remained in the Cape Fear River for the next 45 days. According to Bonnet's boatswain, Ignatius Pell (whose testimony appears below), the pirates intended to wait out the hurricane season there.
It was a bad way to be caught unawares. The two ships engaged and fought in what has become known as the Battle of Cape Fear (1718). Brunswick Town was founded there in 1726 and became the first English town on the river since 1665. The tiny hamlet that became Wilmington developed seven years later about thirteen miles upriver from there.
The actual transcript of Bonnet's trial held in Charles Town on 10 November 1718 is available and provides a wonderful impression of a pirate's life on the sea and a rare glimpse into the wilderness of the Lower Cape Fear. Blackbeard died just twelve days later.
Here presented is the part of the trial transcript that includes Bonnet's boatswain, Ignatius Pell's testimony who turned crown evidence and was pardoned. I have left the writing and spelling exactly as it was printed in the transcript published in 1719 by Benjamin Crowse in London... with one exception. You will not have to bother with the 18th century "s" that looks like an "f."
General description from the transcript:
|Stede Bonnet from A General History of the Pyrates|
'Tis probable Faughan the Pirate, before Things could be got in readiness, might have some Intimation of our Design, and made his way off the Coast, tho all possible Care was taken to prevent it. However, Col. William Rhett and the rest of the Gentlemen were resolv'd not to return without doing some Service to their Country, and therefore went in quest of a Pirate they had heard lay at Cape Fear. About the latter end of September they came up with, and engaged them: The Fight lasted above six Hours, and the Pirates were forced to surrender, tho the Colonel's Vessel running a-ground, lay under all the Disadvantages in the world, as you are all sensible.
The Piratical Crew at the Bar, and now to be tried, in the Engagement, killed ten or eleven of our Men on the spot, and wounded about eighteen, several of which died since they came ashore here.
This Pirate-Sloop was commanded by that noted Pirate Major Stede Bonnet, and formerly called the Revenge, now the Royal James, and was one of those very Sloops that lay off the Harbour of Charles-Town about May last, when they took Mr. Wragg Prisoner, and sent up their insolent Demands to the Governor, as I have mentioned before.
And now. Gentlemen of the Jury, I must remind you of your Duty on this occasion. You are bound by your Oaths, and are obliged to act according to the Dictates of your Consciences, to go according to the Evidence that shall be produced against the Prisoners, without Favour or Affection, Pity or Partiality to anyone of them, if they appear to be guilty of those Crimes they are charged with. And you are not allowed a latitude of giving in your Verdict according to Will and Humour.
I am forry to hear some Expressions drop from private Persons, (I hope there is none of them upon the Jury) in favour of the Pirates, and particularly of Bonnet i that he is a Gentleman, a Man of Honour, a Man of Fortune, and one that has had a liberal Education. Alas, Gentlemen, all these Qualifications are but several Aggravations of his Crimes. How can a Man be said to be a Man of Honour, that has lost all Sense of Honour and Humanity, that is become an Enemy of Mankind, and given himself up to plunder and destroy his Fellow-Creatures, a common Robber, and a Pirate?
We shall call the Evidence, and prove the Facts fully and clearly upon them. Take notice. Gentlemen, that the boarding, breaking, and entry of one, if the rest were present and consenting, is the boarding, breaking, and entry of all the rest.
We shall prove, that all the Prisoners at the Bar were at the taking of Manwareing's Sloop, that they all bore Arms, and that they all shared a few days before they came to Cape Fear: and if so, we doubt not but you'll find them Guilty, and discharge that Duty the Country expects from you.
|1708 Moll Map showing Charles Town, SC and Cape Fear River|
Testimony of Ignatius Pell
We shall now call our Witnesses, who will relate to you what enormous and horrid Crimes the Prisoners at the Bar have committed in the Prosecution of the Fact laid in the Indictment.
Clerk Call Ignatius Pell, the Boatswain, who appear'd, and was sworn.
Mr. [Thomas] Hepworth. Do you know the Prisoners at the Bar ?
Ig. Pell. I know them all very well
Mr. Hepworth. Please to give the Court an Account what Vessels were taken after you came from North Carolina.
Ig. Pell. I shall begin before that time. We came from the Bay of Honduras, and from thence to Providence, after which we took several Vessels, and then we came and lay off this Bar, where we took five Vessels.
Judge [Nicholas] Trott. Did all the Prisoners come from the Bay of Honduras ?
Ig. Pell. All except Robert Tucker, he came out of a Sloop belonging to Bermuda; after that we took a Brigantine, out of which we took fourteen Negroes. After we had discharged the Brigantine, we set fail and went to Topsail Inlet at North Carolina, where the Ship was run ashore and lost, which Thatch caused to be done. After we had been there some time, Capt. Thatch came aboard, and demanded all our Arms, and took our best Hands, and all our Provision, and all that we had, and left us.
|1733 Moseley Map showing Cape Fear and Topsail Inlet (top right)|
Attor. Gen. Were all these Men sent aboard of Major Bonnet immediately, or no ?
Ig. Pell. No, Sir, they were put ashore upon an Island.
J. Trott. How came they on board the Revenge ?
Ig. Pell. The Boat was sent off to fetch them aboard. Pris. Maj. Bonnet came with the Boat, and told us, as we were on a Marroon Island, that he was going to St. Thomas's to get a Commission from the Emperor to go against the Spaniards a Privateering, and we might go with him, or continue there : so we having nothing left, was willing to go with him.
Attor.Gen. You say all were on shore, and all might have gone up into the Country, pray what Constraints were any of you under ?
Ign. Pell. Sir, none; when we left Topsail-Inlet, it was with a Design to go to St. Thomas's for the Emperor's Commission to go against the Spaniards; but the first Vessel we saw, we gave Chace to, and came up with her.
Mr. Hepworth. What did you take out of that Vessel ?
Ign. Pell. We took some Provisions out of her. After we bad discharged her, we saw another, which we chaced and took.
Attor.Gen. Were all these Men aboard and in Arms at the same time ?
Ign. Pell. Yes, Sir, all was in Arms: So after we had taken some Provisions out of her, then we discharged her. Next Day we saw two Sloops bound to Bermuda, which we took. The next Day we gave Chace to another, and about Seven or Eight of the clock we came up with them.
Judge Trott. I suppose you were always ready for an Engagement; so that they had their Arms always in Order.
Ign. Pell. I know nothing to the contrary.
Judge Trott. Was Tucker there in particular ?
Ign. Pell. He was, to be sure.
Judge Trott. Go on. . .
Ign. Pell. Then we gave Chace to a Ship bound and we came up with her, in which was some Negroes. We left three Negroes on board, and two White-Men, and sent three Hands from the Revenge: But we seeing two Sloops more, we stood after them, and the other turn'd Tail, and we never saw them more: So we came up with the Sloop, out of which we took thirty Barrels of Beef, and some Butter, and other Provision.
Mr. Hepworth. What did you return in the room of these Goods ?
Ign. Pell. Some Molasses that we had on board Maj. Bonnet's Sleep, after we had discharged
these Sloops. Next Day we took a Ship, and a Scooner, which Major Bonnet took with him.
Mr. Hepworth. Did you take no Plunder out of those ?
Ign. Pell. The chief was Provisions. Then we sailed in company; and the next Day we came to the Capes of Virginia where we met with two Vessels bound for Glasgow in Scotland out of which we took Provisions, and some Tobacco. And after we had discharged them, we sailed for Cape James and after we had been at Anchor some time, we saw a Sloop, which was Captain Manwareing: We let down our Dory, and sent some Hands on Board; and in a little time after they came on board the Revenge with Captain Manwareing.
Attorn. Gen. Were all the Prisoners on board Manwareings Sloop; or had they all their Arms ready when Manwareing was taken?
Ign. Pell. I cannot fay that they were all on board, but they had all their Arms ready.
Judge Trott. Did they all appear forward and alive? Did none of them show themselves
dissatisfied or unwilling to act at that time?
Ign. Pell. No, I don't know but one was as forward and as willing to act as the other; all of them had their Arms ready.
Judge Trott. Well, how did you proceed after Captain Manwareing was taken ?
Ign. Pell. Next Day we haled the Scooner, a long-side of Captain Manwareing’s Sloop, and hoisted out several Hogsheads of Molasses, and put on board the Scooner.
Mr. Hepworth. What became of the Scooner afterwards?
Ign. Pell. After we put Reeve’s Wife on board, and Captain Read's Son, and we sent them on shore.
Attorn. Gen. How long was Capt. Manwareing a Prisoner ?
Ign. Pell. About ten Weeks.
Attorn. Gen. Was not there more Goods taken out of Manwareing’s Sloop ? What became of them? Did you not share them ?
Ign. Pell. Yes, we shared a little before we came to Cape Fear.
Attorn. Gen. Did all the Prisoners at the Bar receive their Shares ?
Ign. Pell. Yes, Sir, I know nothing to the contrary.
Judge Trott. They did not refuse their Shares, none of them, did they ?
Ign. Pell. No.
Clerk Have any of you any Questions to ask the King's Evidence? Robert Tucker have you any?
Prisoner. No, Sir.
Clerk. Edward Robinson, have you ?
Prisoner. No, Sir.
Mr. Hepworth. May it please your Honours, we will proceed to call another Evidence.