Monday, April 10, 2017

Blackbeard and Henry Timberlake of Boston

Boston Harbor
Henry Timberlake, born c. 1680, son of Corporal Henry Timberlake of Rhode Island, married Mary Langdon on November 22, 1709 in Boston, Suffolk County, Massachusetts. On the 27th of January, 1711, the couple's first son, Henry Jr. was born. Indeed, the Timberlakes had a moderate family of mostly sons: Henry, Daniel, James, and Sarah.   

Henry Timberlake provided for his family as a mariner, working for various ship owners of Boston. During 1715-1716, he generally followed the Jamaican run. On April 13, 1715, he returned from sugar plantations of Dutch Suriname on the northern coast of South America in Leopard, 50 tons, with 101 hogsheads of molasses and 2 hogsheads of rum to his home port in Massachusetts. Massachusetts had quickly become an importer of molasses for Boston's distilleries and rum manufacturers. 

Afterward, as master of the sloop Adventure, of 35 tons, he departed June 6th for Jamaica. On the same page of Boston's outgoing vessels, future pirate of Bermuda, then living on Jamaica, Henry Jennings in the Rhode Island-built Bathsheba (AKA Barsheba), departed July 7th for home (see photo). Another record shows that Timberlake again departed Boston on September 27th for Jamaica and again in Leopard

By November of 1716, he sailed the brigantine Lamb. Shipping records are no longer remaining for 1716. Still, the details of Timberlake's November-December Jamaica run are known because his brigantine Lamb was the first vessel captured on record for the famed pirate Edward "Blackbeard" Thache. 

June-July departures from Boston, 1715

Capt. Timberlake departed Boston on November 16, 1716, bound for Jamaica, as usual, with a load of staves and shingles. The trip usually took about a month, having to sail against the northward current of the Gulf Stream in the Florida Straits. Timberlake would have passed the eleven Spanish wrecks on the Florida shores (wrecked in a hurricane July 30, 1715) south of Cape Canaveral before opting for a southeastward course over Cuba. Here, he entered along the Windward Passage. He then turned south between Capes Maize (Cuba) and Nicholas (Hispaniola), on his way to Port Royal, Jamaica. 

Path of Henry Timberlake's brigantine Lamb, Dec 1716

 As Timberlake passed between Navassa Island and the western or French end of Hispaniola, at eight o'clock the night of the 13th of December, a sloop fired several warning shots at him, ordering him to come to. The pirate sloop that faced Timberlake was a small one of 8 guns and about 90 men named Delight and was commanded by pirate Benjamin Hornigold of Harbour Island, Eleuthera, Bahamas. Hornigold was an older man, about fifty years of age whose family was from the maritime town of Ipswich, England with family, including a sister, in Massachusetts. He probably settled on Harbour Island about 1710-1714. 

As Lamb and Delight came alongside, Hornigold signaled for Capt. Timberlake to come aboard Delight. Timberlake and two of his men climbed into a dory or launch and paddled to the pirate's sloop. Once aboard, Capt. Timberlake was treated to a couple of brags: that Hornigold had just that Thursday, taken a 40-gun Spaniard (quite the feat in an 8-gun sloop!) and a ship from Bristol, Capt. Quarry, days before that, but also that fifteen of his men had absconded with a canoe and 40,000 pieces of eight! This was quite an admission from Hornigold to his captive. Then, Hornigold blustered a bit and declared "give my Service to the Captn of the man of warr [HMS Diamond, Royal Navy vessel at Jamaica] and tell him I design to have his Ship from him if I meet him." 

Hornigold himself led a party of about a dozen men aboard Lamb to take her cargo. He ordered Timberlake to remain on Delight as he unloaded the Bostonian's brigantine. This went on for about six hours, requiring two or three trips in Hornigold's boat. After the first hour, another pirate by the name of Edward Thache [ex-Royal Navy man from Spanish Town, Jamaica] arrived in his own sloop, equal in size and power to Hornigold's. Thache sent his own boat to plunder Lamb as well. Two crews then plundered Timberlake's food supply and clothing. 

From: Deposition of Henry Timberlake, 17 December 1716, 1B/5/3/8, 212–3, Registrar General’s Department, Spanish Town, Jamaica - This is the first official document that shows Edward "Blackbeard" Thache engaged in piracy!
The pirates informed Timberlake that they were after provisions and Timberlake's later description confirms this: "Three Barrils of Porke, one of Beef, two of peese, three of Markrill [fish?] five Barrils of onions Several Dozen Caggs of oysters most of his Cloaths and all his Ships Stores Except about Fforty Biskets and a very Small quantity of meat just to bring them in [to Jamaica, about 150 miles or 50 leagues] and threw Some of their Staves over board." 

The provisions made sense - but throwing staves overboard was unnecessary, unless they intended to make a pirate vessel of Lamb. Timberlake later guessed that the loss was about £60 worth. 

When Hornigold returned to Delight after pirating Lamb, he told Timberlake about news he learned from the Bristol ship the week before. The news vexed the old pirate somewhat. Hornigold "understood... that Captn [John?] Quarry was in Goal [in Jamaica] for being concerned in a Pyracy with him but Said he was wrongfully accused therein." The pirate captain further informed Timberlake that "Quarry did not act [in this piracy] and was by [Hornigold] forced to be in their Company." Hornigold "declared that it was him and his Crew alone that had robbed that Spaniard."

Hornigold charged Timberlake that so "Soon as he got into Jamaica" he would inform the authorities there that they might set Quarry free. If he would do this, Hornigold told him, then he had a mind to let him go with his own brigantine. 

Four days later, after traversing the last 150 miles of his nearly 2,000-mile journey, Henry Timberlake gave his deposition on December 17th before Peter Heywood, who had just assumed the acting governorship of Jamaica. Gov. Lord Archibald Hamilton had been removed by the king and recalled to London for his alleged involvement in piracies against the Spanish government. This involved Henry Jennings' raid of their salvage camps on the Florida shores. More than likely, however, Heywood and the other "piratish" gentlemen of Jamaica bad-mouthed Hamilton in an attempt to have him removed - they wanted the British appointee out of the way so they could profit fully from the lucrative wrecks on the Florida coast. Almost everyone in America was a pirate - land or sea! 

A few years later, Henry Timberlake could be found on the Boston - St. Christopher's (St. Kitts) run... he quite gave up on that "nest of pirates," Jamaica!


"Quest for Blackbeard" is now available in ebook format and can be found on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other online booksellers, including Apple iTunes.

Quest is already previewable on Google Books.

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