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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