Tuesday, November 06, 2018

Madagascar Pirates and the Illegal Slave Trade

Secured deeply in the East Indies Original Correspondence, Colonial Office papers is a long discussion relative to the East India Company's prohibition to selling East Indies goods, particularly slaves, to West Indian markets. One of the Navigation Acts of 1663 forbade purchases in America from anywhere else but England. East India Company officials stated on July 21, 1721 that "the Legislature did not think fitt to allow the Company to Send Slaves thither [West Indies], for fear of filling the Plantations with the India goods." This would directly oppose the profits of legal merchants abiding by the Act of 1663. Profit, however, is rarely an inducement in favor of legal thinking and many merchants of Great Britain ignored the usual statutes. They bestowed this attribute upon early American capitalism.

This particular discussion would never have been generated in the walls of Whitehall if not for the "loose lips" of a carpenter named Phillip Nicholas, then serving aboard Gascoigne of Bristol, Capt. Challoner Williams. Nicholas, upon his return from Madagascar to Bristol, England, by way of Virginia, spoke with customs officer George Benyon and "had been with the East India Company & informed ag[ains]t. all the Ship's that went"  to Madagascar to trade with pirates!

Nicholas had informed on some very important and wealthy merchants in England and Ireland who were trading illegally with the pirates who controlled St. Mary's Island at Madagascar.  Four English vessels intentionally sailed from England with sailing instructions for Africa, but the actual purpose, as indicated in the testimonies, was illegal trading with pirates in the East Indies. The merchants ordered the captains to extend their trade in Africa around the Cape of Good Hope, breaking the law. At least one captain questioned these orders, but went along with them anyway. He became the primary witness against these merchants.

On the 22nd of October 1719, a small vessel of about 80 tons called Farrant Snow, was bought in the river of Thames by London merchant John Smallwood. Smallwood purchased this vessel from Mr. Henry Farrant of Doctors Commons for L237: 10 s. Smallwood renamed this vessel Coker.

Smallwood was partnered with a Bristol merchant by the name of Henry Baker, of a wealthy family of Bristol merchants sired by Henry Baker, the elder, deceased. John Baker and his sons, Stephen and Henry, carried on that tradition. Smallwood and Baker together purchased another vessel in the Thames,  Gascoigne of 130 tons which Smallwood and Baker bought and named Henrietta.

These two ships, now called Coker and Henrietta, "were laid at Union Stairs on the Middlx. Shore," and Henry Baker was made Master of Henrietta and Richard Taylor, recently married (1720) mariner of Liverpool, was made master of Coker Snow. Taylor married his wife, Jane Beck of Stepney, just over a year before in August 1720.

Thames River in the 19th century showing "Union Stairs"
These vessels were provisioned with "Arm's powder shott Looing Glasses Scissors, Knives Corne & Beades" for trade in Madagascar slaves. Baker and Smallwood explained to Capt. Richard Taylor "that the voiage [voyage] was designed for Madera & so to Madagascar, but desired he would conceal the voiage to Madagascar, and he asking the reason for that desire, was told that there was an Act of Parliament agt. Trading to Madagascar, but that it wou'd come to nothing & they wou'd Indemnify him."

Capt. Thomas Hebert, another London mariner and budding merchant, joined Capt. Baker aboard Henrietta. Hebert would aid Baker's control of matters over the trade of Henrietta and Coker. In January 1720, the two ships moved down the Thames to the Downs.

There, by February, the two captains informed Taylor that "he sho'd deliver the Cargo to the said Baker & Hebert & to follow their directions" and "the two Ships sho'd keep Company together & by no meanes seperate." The underhanded intent was clear in the order "he sho'd conceal his Orders from his Mates & other Sailors till they came into the Latitude of Ten North." This latitude equates to just north of Sierra Leone, Africa. The crews were kept in the dark until they cruised past the destination which they believed was their only destination.

By the 10th of March, the ships reached Madeira where they added wine and brandy to their cargoes. By the 10th of April, Baker and Hebert informed Taylor to guide Coker around the Cape of Good Hope and, if separated, await them at Port Dauphin in southeast Madagascar. Note that there was no reason to believe that the crews were upset by this news - trading with pirates at Madagascar was very much a profitable, if illegal, endeavor. Most would easily risk the minimal dangers for the opportunity to make a lifetime's worth of profit.

Only by this point did Capt. Taylor of Coker receive his orders from Baker and Hebert as to how he would trade for slaves and rice. The two vessels lost touch on the 24h May. By July 21, Coker landed at Port Dauphin and began to trade for slaves. Capt. Taylor learned that he missed Henrietta by five days, but they returned 12th of September (after trading at Masselage, Massailly, or the Bay of Boeny or Bombetok and picking up survivors from Cassandra).  Baker and Hebert had aboard a cargo of "Cowries, pepper, Muslin, ffrankinsence & other goods" and slaves that they earlier gathered at Port Dauphin. Taylor had traded about 70 slaves when Henrietta arrived. Capt. Baker then left Henrietta at Port Dauphin and the 70 slaves in the care of Capt. Hebert. Baker joined Taylor aboard Coker and sailed for Matalan (possibly Manakara up the east coast). Not being able to land at "Matalan," they altered course for "Bonvola," landing there October 5th, "a good place for Trade & safe riding, & three White Men are the head of the place who promised them Slaves enough in a month so it was concluded to go to St. Mary's for 14 or 15 days & return thither again."

The 9th of October, Coker landed at St. Mary's Island. There, "Baker & Taylor went ashore with some Liquors to treat the principal of the place which being done, he retuned on board along with them to agree for a Trade & they swore together that Night to Trade honestly." They spent the next few days trading cowries and slaves.

They were however, surprised on the 13th, when they "spyed two large Vessels making Sail towards the harbour & thereupon they made clear to Sail, but were not able to get out of the harbour, upon which Baker & Taylor went off in their Boat to meet the said two Ships, and they proved to be a Pyrate named the Dragon, whereof one [Edward] Congdon was Comander & a Mocha Ship of about 500 Tons, which the Dragon had taken."  Congden sent three of his crew to take possession of Coker.

The next day, the pirate Edward Congden came aboard Coker and took some wine, for which the pirate (surprisingly to us modern observers, perhaps)  paid Capt. Baker. After two days of negotiations, Congden, now filthy rich because of the wealthy Mocha ship and who hoped to surrender to the French at La Bourbon Island (today, La Réunion), decided to send Coker to the French at La Bourbon to inquire as to the Act of Grace from their king. They sent five prisoners taken from Prince Eugene and House of Austria, two Ostender vessels taken near the cape in February of that year, with a passage fee of L50 each. As to hostages for the return of Coker, the pirates "resolved to keep Captain Taylor, the Doctor the Carpenter & two Sailors belonging to the Coker."

Coker set sail for La Bourbon (or "Don Mascareen" as they called it) on 17th of October. Nine days later, another vessel named Prince Eugene, this one of Bristol, Capt. Joseph Stretton, arrived and stood about six miles off to negotiate with the pirates. They eventually reached an agreement and "a list of the Cargo was sent to the Pyrates with the Prime Cost of the Cargoe amounting to abt. 1500 lbs. Sterling money & at length the Pyrates agreed to [Purchase] of it at 500 lb. P[er] Cent profit." Further trading for Spanish dollars resulted in a profit of L9000 for Stretton, who then sailed away.

By November 4th, Gascoigne of Bristol, Capt. Challoner Williams, also "arrived at St. Mary's & the Capt came ashore to Congdon & Dined with him, & sold a small part of his Cargo to him & after a Stay of 4 or 5 days Sailed out again for Port Dolphin." William's carpenter, Phillip Nicholas, of course, would later alert the authorities in Bristol to this illicit trade.

By the 26th of November, Coker returned with the Act of Grace, but without any provision for keeping their spoils. Congden turned Coker around on the 5th of December to obtain the required changes to the act, which they obtained and returned again on the 27th, two days after Christmas 1720.

A vote was taken among 83 pirates, 43 of whom accepted the Act of Indemnity from the king of France's governor at La Bourbon, "but by reason that 40 of the Pyrates remained behind, & that many of the 43 pyrates who had determined to go to Don Mascareen were disabled through Sickness, therefore there were not hands enough to carry those two Ships to Mascareen, & so those that accepted the Indempnity determined to destroy those Ships least the Pyrates who remained behind sho'd make use of them, which accordingly they did, on the 9th. of January."

Once they had destroyed their vessels, Congden secured Capt. Baker's use of Coker for "passage & carriage of their Effects... to Don Mascareen." This was much to Baker's advantage. They each promised L50 to Capt. Baker for their passage plus each a slave, which amounted to L2150 plus 43 slaves, more than adequate payment for such a short voyage! The total value accumulated by Baker was "so much money & so many Slaves as amounted to 3702," but he "defrauded the Owners of 1000 lb. giving them Credit Therein only for 25 lb. a head instead of 50 lb. & consequently made the receipt only 2702 lb. instead of 3702 lb."

On 13th of February 1721, Capt. Baker and Capt. Hebert sent Capt. Taylor his orders:
Don Mascharinas ffebry 13th 1721. Capt Taylor you find by your Orders given you by the Concerned that you are to follow my directions in all things, therefore as you have now your Vessel fitted & prepared with all things in Order for the Sea, It is my Order that you make the best of your way to Dingley de Crouch [Daingean Uí Chúis; Dingle Harbour] in Ireland avoiding if possible to speak with or goe on Board any Ships & when you are arrived there you are to send your Letter's by an Express to Alderman [James] Lenox in Cork to be forwarded to London & Bristoll, & there to stay till you have farther Order's from the concerned & then you are to proceed according to their directions, Given from under my hand this 13th of ffebry 1721. Henry Baker
One the 22nd of March, the vessels encountered Rebecca snow, Capt. Timothy Tyzack, "he belonged to Capt [Joseph] Stratton [of Prince Eugene] & came from Young Owle in the Isle of Madagascar & had 79 Slaves on board & was bound for Virginia."  The snows all kept company until April 27th, still en route for Virginia.

Information of Thomas Pyke, November 9, 1721

Gascoigne, Prince Eugene, and Rebecca all made directly for Virginia. Henrietta stopped off first in Brazil and made Barbados by May 22, 1721. Thomas Pyke, a soldier previously aboard Cassandra (an East India Company vessel taken by pirates Edward England and Jasper Seager in August 1720) took passage aboard Henrietta from Madagascar with three other sick men ("Vizt. John Cook & Francis Blackmore Seamen & John Gilligan a Sold[ie]r" all who died en route to Barbados) left by Capt. James Macrae on the island of Johanna. Pyke was able to inform the Board of Trade that Capt. Thomas Hebert asserted to Barbadian authorities and Capt. Thomas Whitney of HMS Rose that he came from Guinea, "but the persons shook their head and said Madagascar." [Platt, "The East India Company and the Madagascar Slave Trade," William and Mary Quarterly, Vol 26:4, 567] The king's officers tried to arrest Hebert, but he bribed them with two slaves and proceeded from there to Virginia to dispose of more illegal Malagasy slaves from Madagascar. Pyke left the company of these Henrietta men and took passage aboard Priscilla & Mary of Topsham, arriving in England 13th of October, when he gave his deposition 9th of November.
The Madagascar vessels arrived in Virginia over a period of six weeks, entering at York River as follows: the Gascoigne Galley with 133 Negroes on May 15, 1721, the Prince Eugene with 103 Negroes on June 21, the Rebecca Snow with 59 Negroes on June 26, and the Henrietta with 130 Negroes on June 27. The numbers carried were surprisingly small, and the captains were in a hurry to sell for fear of embarrassing inquiries. They had come to a bad market and could not afford to extend credit, so their sales forced down prices generally. In one of the vessels, probably the Gascoigne Galley, the Negroes became practically unsalable because of "a distemper in their Eyes" of which a great many became blind and "some of the Eye Balls come out. [Platt, "The East India Company and the Madagascar Slave Trade," William and Mary Quarterly, Vol 26:4, 567-8]
As for Coker, she put in at "Dingley de Crouch [Daingean Uí Chúis]" on 9th of July 1721, as the other vessels negotiated slave sales at York, Virginia. Interestingly, Capt. Baker appears to have remained behind on St. Mary's Island with the 40 other pirates of Congden's Dragon. The next day Capt. Taylor dispatched an Express to Cork with "two Packetts of L[ett]res" given him by Capt. Baker, with one of his own directed to Mr. Smallwood giving him an account of the voyage and some particulars of the goods he had on board. On August 3rd, Taylor received a response from Smallwood, through Lenox and Boyle, agents at Cork, who enclosed their own orders for Taylor. Those letters alluded to the fears of Smallwood, Boyle, and Lenox of Phillip Nicholas' revealing of their plans to the Bristol port authorities and read:
London July 25th. 1721.
Capt Richard Taylor Sr. I have your favour of the 10th Currant.
I note the several Species of Goods you have on board which Must not be brought to this Markett, the Concerned thinks it proper for their & your safety to proceed with all Expedition to Mr. Peter Bruze [French; d. 19 Apr 1751] Merchant at Altona [large Jewish community] on the Elbe near Hambourgh [Germany].
And upon your arrivall there apply yourself to him, but before you proceed from Dingley it may be necessary you discharge such of your people there, that may be suspected of discovering your proceedings abroad, if all or the best part of your people are desirous to be discharged, we have given Orders to our ffriends Messrs, Boyle & Lenox to pay them their wages, which must be left to your prudent management, It's my Strict Orders you do not mention me on any Acco[un]t. drawing Bills or otherwise.
That you take care to secure yourself & those of your ffriends that are with you, the reason of this Caution is that the Carpenter that was formerly in the Ormdud[?] & went out Carpenter with Capt Challoner Williams in that Ship is come home & had been with the East India Company & informed agt. all the Ship's that went that way, from which you may be assured they will endeavour to Intercept you, Therefore it's my advise you Act with all the Caution possible.
Ffearing you should meet with any trouble in Ireland by the Information of your People to any Custome house Officer there we have desired our ffriend to assist you in getting you clear, by giving such Officers money.
What Letters & papers you have received from me at any time that my name is wrote at Length or otherwise lett them be destroyed.
We have wrote Messrs. Boyle & Lenox to supply you with what money you shall want. If your people are not Inclineable to be discharged, It's my Opinion you cannot force them to leave you, but such of them as are desirous to go these discharge taking it under their hands, it was at their request, more especially those you are sensible will be rogues & discover your proceedings.
When you come to your Port then you may discharge all, of which shall further advise, also what shall be done with the Vessell.
After you have pu[ru]sed[?] this & what other Letters you may receive from me & taken out the heads of what I write you destroy them.
Take no notice to your people who are concerned, but that the property of your Ship is in fforeigners, the moment you arrive in Altona apply yourself to your Merchant
I desire you'll lett me know if the Pyrates gave your men any money or goods & how much & near to what vallue each man had.
It's my advise you Treat your people Civilly maybe means to Tye their Tongues.
The Letter of Boyle & Lenox enclosing that of Smallwood read:
Corke 1st. Augt. 1721. Sr. this Moment we rec[eiv]ed the Inclosed from John S------d of London with directions to supply you with what money you may have occasion for, in Order to discharge any men that you think improper to keep aboard, but as we cannot send you a Credit, nor do we know whither or no you will want money, we desire that in Case you discharge any of them you give them Bills on us which shall be paid at sight.
We presume you are to proceed for Hambourgh therefore begg you may with all Expedition get under Sail for our ffriends express a great uneasiness for any delay. they write you the needful no doubt.
70-year old Alderman James Lenox of Cork, Ireland, had served as Mayor of Londonderry and a member of Parliament for about ten years.  He was a defender against the Jacobite siege of Derry in November 1688. He negotiated regularly with the Admiralty during the early part of the 18th century and died only two years after these events of 1721.

Lenox and business partner Henry Boyle of the firm of "Boyle, Calwell and Barrett, merchants in the provision trade and embryonic bankers [Cullen, Anglo-Irish Trade, 1660-1800, 194]," engaged with Smallwood and Baker in their illicit trade. Henry Boyle (MP in 1715) became Speaker of the Irish House of Commons in 1733 and the dominant interest in Co. Cork for the rest of his life. He was a grandson of the 1st Earl of Orrery, and in 1726 he married Lord Burlington's sister, Henrietta. The vessel commanded by Baker and Hebert may have been named for his near-future wife.

It's apparent that the merchants in London, Bristol, and Cork needed Capt. Richard Taylor to get Coker and her illegal cargo well away from Great Britain. So, quickly on the 6th of August, Capt. Taylor set sail for Hamburgh, Germany to report to Peter Bruze, sell his cargo, and dispose of his vessel - to get rid of the evidence, in other words. Taylor arrived at Altona on the 28th of August, meeting further orders from Smallwood: "you shou'd come up the Channell I wish you safe to Port where I am persuaded you'll meet with no Interruption, get your goods out with all Expedition & discharge your People."

On the 5th of September, another letter came from Smallwood, which included some concern for Capt. Henry Baker, last known to have been with the pirates on La Bourbon and then a few days sailing northward to Mauritius, another island then occupied by the French:
That he expected Pres[en]t post the Acco[un]t. of disbursemts. & Seaman's wages & the Contents of what was on board & the Condition of the Ship, no news of Capt Baker, the Ships you mentioned that were to touch at Don Mascareen are both arrived at Port Lewis [Port Louis on Mauritius?] in fframe & no Acco[un]t. of him & said he was impatient to know if any English Servt. was with him & concluded he was for the concerned - his reall ffriend JS [John Smallwood].
Another letter of the 12th mentioned further "concern & was the more so since [Baker] had no White men with him." No news of Capt. Henry Baker or Capt. Thomas Hebert had been received throughout September. Smallwood may have been worried that Baker would betray him and their other merchant friends. By the middle of October, Hebert had written and informed Smallwood that he was on his way back from Virginia in Henrietta. News had come from France that Capt. Henry Baker was located there, although he had not written to Smallwood. How or why Baker landed in France was the question. Smallwood reiterated that Taylor should sell all cargo, his ship Coker, and discharge his men and then make his way by a sloop to Rotterdam and back to London. Still no word of Baker from France or from anywhere else...

A final letter to Capt. Taylor, last in Altona, Hamburgh, Germany, read:
London Decbr. 12th. 1721. Sr. I have your favour of the 8th. Curr[en]t. by wch. I observe your arrivall in Rotterdam, your Letter favours same to hand, I am now to request you'll at the receipt of this make the best of your way for London in the first Sloop, you are to observe that you be silent in relation to your Voiage & the Moment you come to London come to me, sho[ul]d. not the Vessell got up above Gravesend when you come over, then come up in a Wherry from thence. No News of Capt Baker [this obviously worried Smallwood] & it's feared Capt Hebert is lost he has been out of Virginia near three months & no news of him, all his Effects are with him[.] your Spouse [Jane Beck Taylor] is at Epou with the Deane & his Lady. I presume she'll be in Town before you get over [Smallwood perhaps feared that Taylor may inform against him and used his new bride to secure his silence].
I am Informed there is at Amsterdam at least 20. of Congdons Men, but are now come to Rotterdam & in particular Wm. Knight who it's said is aboard a large Bristoll Galley called the Gardner, if she's not Sailed pray Inquire after him. Lampoon abt. Tom Jones is at Rotterdam & appears in an Old Jackett & Old Trowsers. I bega you'll look out for him, & if you can find or meet with any you know press them hard to know how they came there & what is become of Capt Baker it's Ten to one but you see some of them there is also George Goodman at the same place.
I am Impatient 'till I see you & wish you a good passage over My ffamily Joines with me in sincere respects or Concludes me your assured ffriend & humble Servt. J. Smallwood
It is known that pirate Edward Congden eventually settled in L'orient, Brittany, France where he married and became a gentleman merchant. It is entirely possible that he was with those twenty men who traveled to Amsterdam and to Rotterdam aboard Gardner.  Perhaps Capt. Henry Baker joined him... and may have avoided legal trouble by settling with pirates in France!


Exciting new detail, including information from French and English depositions, appears in a new book, Sailing East: West-Indian Pirates in Madagascar, now available!

Find further details at baylusbrooks.com
Author's Bookstore
Author's Amazon.com  page

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Blackbeard in Philadelphia?

Quest for Blackbeard: The True Story of Edward Thache and His World attempts to right the wrongs of many past historians and authors, amateur and professional. One of those wrongs is warping the conservative war veteran Edward "Blackbeard" Thache into a virtual comic character, notorious and villainous, a "swaggering merciless brute," as Hugh Rankin called him, based upon simply the acts - as assumed by everyone but Thache, I might add - of the last two years of his life. But, in doing so, we tend to hide from our past and our true natures as citizens of a true "Pirate Nation."

Hiding from ourselves created modern America and destroyed the reputations of gentlemen like Edward Thache. Especially by the latter nineteenth century, a lot of our rhetoric was aimed against our former heroes – privateers and pirates - misunderstood founders of what "Capt. Charles Johnson" or Jacobite newspaper publisher Nathaniel Mist referred to as the "Commonwealth of Pyrates," or America. Still, holding pirates closely to our breasts, turn-of-the-century claims of a local origin for Blackbeard, in the United States, as opposed to Jamaica, appear greatly embellished – ahistorical, but sometimes directly covert.

Why? It seems that, in the latter nineteenth century, once the United States began to assert its own dominance and identity apart from England, Blackbeard became less of an historical figure and more of an ephemeral abstract object, about whom anything could be spoken or invented.

America "adopted" Blackbeard the Pirate! We liked the pirate... and probably his methods!

These literary inventions first appeared in 1844 in a book on Philadelphia – not his actual home of Jamaica – a book relying strongly on hearsay that incurred much damage to Edward Thache’s reputation, while also popularizing him as a local villain – perhaps to avoid the inevitable comparison to capitalists of the era, whose own methods were not so dissimilar.

John F. Watson, in writing the Annals of Philadelphia and Pennsylvania in 1844, first claimed Blackbeard to be a member of a family in North America rather than Jamaica in the West Indies. Watson pulled his information from an informant who told him that he knew the family and that “Captain Drummond was a half-crazed man, under high excitements, by his losses and imprisonment by the French.”  This account gave great detail about being a privateersman out of Liverpool (not Bristol?) – even mentioned a doctor who served with him. Drummond supposedly had been the wild son of Gov. William Drummond, first governor of North Carolina, and was later executed by the governor of Virginia, which invited speculation upon local politics as a factor. Watson’s early work planted a seed: that Blackbeard was not from Bristol or Jamaica, but Virginia and/or North Carolina.

This seed grew through the years, with ex-Confederate Thomas T. Upshur’s twilight-year genealogical theories of an Accomack County, Virginia family of Teaches. It continued through many local theories to Robert E. Lee’s mid-twentieth-century version, until the present day with other local North Carolina-biased work. They all repeated and enhanced the demonized version of Johnson’s “villainous” Blackbeard while also oddly claiming him as one of their own. But, why? Why did demonization of pirates become so popular at this time as opposed to earlier? Was it simply entertainment to the masses or was it more broad – cultural in context? And, why love the demon so much?

Still, Philadelphia held the first and most "supportable" fascination over Blackbeard and it has spawned many a "midnight theory" of notoriety by centuries of authors. Thache and his semi-pirate acquaintance Stede Bonnet visited the Delaware Capes around October - November 1717. A local Pennsylvania councilman named James Logan, and/or his fellow councilman Jonathan Dickinson, apparently remembered Edward Thache when he was the mate of a brigantine from Jamaica who had recently visited their port. Logan wrote about his experience in his peculiar early eighteenth-century literary style:
Some of our Mastrs. Say, they knew almost every man aboard, most of them having been lately in this River [-] their Comandr. is one Teach who was here a Mate from Jamca. [Jamaica], about 2 yrs. agoe...
Note this phrase "Mate from Jamca." The Boston News-Letter, Thursday, Nov 11, 1717, Boston, MA, Issue: 708, on page 2 shows:

Note here the phrase "formerly Sail'd Mate out of this Port." It sounds similar to the James Logan quote above and I believe it was bastardized from his letter. The intent was probably "sailed mate of a Jamaican brigantine out of this port." Newspapers of the day were notoriously unreliable in this respect. But, that does not stop the many authors who would dearly love to have the notorious and villainous comic character as "one of their own."

It's my opinion that Blackbeard never lived in Philadelphia or on the American mainland - in any part of the current United States. He visited that port of Philadelphia about the year 1715 while serving as a "Mate" on a Jamaican brigantine, certainly. He may have remained for a few weeks, maybe a month, as he and the crew exchanged cargoes. This was routine for most mariners and their vessels. But, then he sailed back to his home in Jamaica.

I apologize to all Americans for dashing their "piratish" hopes!


Exciting new detail, including information from French and English depositions, appears in a new book, Sailing East: West-Indian Pirates in Madagascar, now available! 

Find further details at baylusbrooks.com
Author's Bookstore
Author's Amazon.com  page

Friday, October 05, 2018

Howell Davis and the Royal African Company

Fort James on Kunta Kinteh Island
Renowned pirate Howell Davis is famous for using trickery to gain access to and burn the Royal African Company's (RAC) slave entrepôt on what was then called "James Island" in the Gambia River on the west coast of Africa - a fortified structure known as "Fort James." The island is now called "Kunta Kinteh Island,"  listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and an historical site in the West African slave trade.

A controversial Jacobite newspaper publisher named Nathaniel Mist, writing under the pseudonym "Capt. Charles Johnson," published A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pyrates in 1724. This extravagant, flamboyant, and ultimately popular narrative was literally a "political hit piece" on the "Commonwealth of Pyrates" across the Atlantic Ocean - a wilderness colony of England's, created by the cruder and more conservative Stuart Dynasty. We call it "America." The Stuarts had launched nearly a century of theft, native enslavement, and general mayhem originally intended to allow England's rise to power over their Spanish and French competitors in a land raped of its material wealth by all - America's nominal life of crime or piracy.

In that respect, a then financially-troubled Mist intended his book to be only partly a "history," while he had also been coerced by the new stabilizing Whig government to write derogatory references to this "Commonwealth" and its nests of maritime criminals known as "pirates" - commissioned to tell little white lies, as it were. England's desire was to use information warfare to end this Stuart menace to their trade in America. As Shakespeare knew all too well, "the evil that men do lives long after them [especially if in print] - the good is oft interred with their bones." Anyone in journalism or politics understands this human truth - including Nathaniel Mist and Lord Sunderland's Whigs. Sunderland intended to stop this century-old trend and bring America back into the fold of civilization by shaming them into giving up their evil ways - it may have only partly worked.

Mist also liked the idea of profiting from his book, which certainly would have effected it's accuracy! His property taxes and number of rental properties increased greatly after 1724!

Mist's tale for Howell Davis told of three similar incidents of his using slight of hand and playacting to fool administrators, governors, and others into believing that he was a gentleman merchant or official... and not a pirate! The last incident at Principe Island killed the amateur actor.

Davis had supposedly become a pirate because he was taken at Sierra Leone by Edward England off a vessel supposedly named Cadogan, Capt. Skinner. Skinner's first mate, Howell Davis (according to Mist), turned pirate a few months after being taken and imprisoned on his return to Barbados. His annoyance at being treated by Barbadian authorities as a pirate caused him to actually turn into one! He then supposedly surrendered at New Providence, the Bahamas, when Capt. Vincent Pearse arrived there late in February 1718. So, the Cadogan was supposedly taken by England at Africa before February 1718 - in other words, probably in 1717.

The problem with Mist's narrative is that the timing on these events does not fit. England probably began his career after capture of Cadogan - a vessel actually called Coulston and captained by Peter Skinner on a voyage to Africa throughout most of 1718, not 1717. The most damning part for Mist's elaborate and "villainous" (Mist's comic-book characterization of Edward England had him being allegedly rather rough with Skinner, killing him in 1718) narrative was the fact that Skinner's 1st mate was not named "Howell Davis," but "Hugh Vaughn," and Vaughn remained master of Coulston for another two years - he did not become a pirate. Oh, and there was the disappointing fact that Skinner died in 1719, not 1718 when Coulston was actually captured, and not in 1717 when England supposedly killed him! Mist apparently manipulated data to fit his literary needs - he wrote historical fiction, not history!

So... the actual history of Howell Davis probably never involved Edward England. The "enhanced" narrative (I'm being kind to Mist) that Mist provides for the events following the spring of 1718, after the pardoning at New Providence, however, could have been true - only the partisan Jacobite journalist Mist (not an historian) probably conflated (or intentionally faked) a great deal of information concerning Howell Davis with a pirate mentioned on Pearse's list of surrendered pirates named Othniel or "Othenias" Davis. This Davis, partner to pirate brothers Thomas and Daniel Porter on New Providence, was one-time master of Moville Trader, a vessel mentioned in Mist's "Howell Davis" narrative as Mumvil Trader, one of the two vessels (including Buck) fitted out by the Bahama's new governor, Woodes Rogers - as alleged by Nathaniel Mist. These events had to have occurred after April 1718 when Rogers arrived at the Bahamas. They are not the same men. The later legitimate anti-Spanish privateer Othniel Davis is discussed in Quest for Blackbeard: The True Story of Edward Thache and His World.

Again, Mist failed as an historian. 

Still, Mist's continued narrative after April 1718 for Howell Davis has him serving as a crewman aboard Buck, consorting with Mumvil Trader on a voyage to Martinique, "where Davis having conspired with some others, rise in the Night, secured the Master and seized the Sloop [Buck]." Davis called to the Mumvil Trader, "among whom they knew there were a great many Hands ripe for Rebellion," joining with them on Buck, and sending Mumvil Trader "to go where they pleased."

Mist then has Davis cleaning Buck, then crewed by 35 hands, at "the East End of the Island of Cuba" and then making sail to the north side of Hispaniola where they captured a French sloop of 12 guns and another of 24 guns and 60 men, keeping them for two days. Presumably, some of the French crewmen joined Davis, but Mist didn't say. He then "steered Northward, in which Course he took a small Spanish Sloop; after this, he made towards the Western Islands, but met with no Booty thereabouts; then he steered for the Cape de Verde Islands," which lay off the coast of Africa not far from the Gambia River and Fort James.

Cape Verde Islands location and detail

Mist then told that Davis cast anchor at the Portuguese island of São Nicolão or St. Nicholas where the inhabitants believed him to be an English privateer - perhaps giving him the idea for his future "piratical acting career." Davis and crew remained there for 5 weeks, "caressed by the Governor and the Inhabitants," exploring to the island's interior and enjoying their fortunate sojourn. Five of his crew remained behind for the "free Conversation of some Women" (leaving 30?); one, "Charles Franklin, a Monmouthshire Man, married and settled himself," supposedly still there in 1724 when Mist published his book. Presumably, these events occurred in late 1718, for by February-March 1719, Davis and his crew raided and burnt the RAC's Fort James.

Coast of modern-day São Nicolão
"From hence they [Davis and crew in Buck] sailed to Bonevista [Boa Vista; to east of São Nicolão], and looked into that Harbour, but finding nothing, they steer’d for the Isle of May [Maio; to south of Boa Vista]." Maio had been a source of salt, especially for the English, who exported it regularly from Porto Inglês (hence the name). There Davis and crew met "a great many Ships and Vessels in the Road" and plundered them. They took on new crew from those vessels, most of whom joined them willingly and "One of the Ships they took to their own Use, mounted her with twenty six Guns, and call’d her the King James (prob. former Loyal Merchant, Mathew Golding, commander)."

Afterward, as Mist wrote, Davis' crew could find no fresh water at the Isle of May and so they sailed for "St. Jago [Santiago]." Mist wrote:
Davis, with a few Hands, going ashore to find the most commodious Place to water at, the Governor, with some Attendants, came himself and examined who they were, and whence they came? And not liking Davis’s Account of himself, the Governor was so plain to tell them, he suspected them to be Pyrates. Davis seemed mightily affronted, standing much upon his Honour, replying to the Governor, he scorn’d his Words; however, as soon as his Back was turn’d, for fear of Accidents, he got on Board again as fast as he could. Davis related what had happened, and his Men seemed to resent the Affront which had been offered him [even though they actually were pirates]. Davis, upon this, told them, he was confident he could surprize the Fort [Forte Real de São Filipe is a 16th century fortress in the city of Cidade Velha in the south of the island] at in the Night; they agreed with him to attempt it, and accordingly, when it grew late, they went ashore well arm’d; and the Guard which was kept, was so negligent, that they got within the Fort before any Alarm was given: When it was too late there was some little Resistance made, and three Men killed on Davis’s Side. Those in the Fort, in their Hurry, run into the Governor’s House to save themselves, which they barricadoed so strongly, that Davis’s Party could not enter it; however, they threw in Granadoe-Shells, which not only ruin’d all the Furniture, but kill’d several Men within. [Oh, no... not the furniture! That was a beautiful Georgian desk! - "Not any more!" (French accent; sarcasm for those who've watched Pink Panther movies)...]
São Filipe fortress at Cidade Velha, Santiago island, Cape Verde. The fort has been restored in 1999-2001.

Forte de São Filipe: Walls and cistern

Mist told that Davis and crew, in King James and Buck, consisting now of 70-men, left the Island of Santiago, "having dismounted [and taken] the Guns of the Fort." The pirate ships then made for the Gambia River where "Davis, he having been employ’d in that Trade [Atlantic Slave Trade], was acquainted with the Coast." Davis added, in Mist's entertaining words, "a great deal of Money always kept in Gambia Castle [The RAC's Fort James], and that it would be worth their while to make an Attempt upon it."

A list of historic details and data regarding the RAC's Fort James is here: Data about Fort James

Kunta Kinteh Island is suffering heavy erosion, and is now approximately 1/6 of its size during the time when the fort was active.
Mist continued:
Having come within Sight of the Place [Fort James on James Island; today, Kunta Kinteh Island], he ordered all his Men under Deck, except as many as were absolutely necessary for working the Ship, that those from the Fort seeing a Ship with so few Hands, might have no Suspicion of her being any other than a trading Vessel; then he ran close under the Fort, and there cast Anchor; and having ordered out the Boat, he commanded six Men in her, in old ordinary Jackets, while he himself, with the Master and Doctor, dressed themselves like Gentlemen; his Design being, that the Men should look like common Sailors, and they like Merchants. In rowing ashore he gave his Men Instructions what to say in Case any Questions should be asked them.
Being come to the landing Place, he was received by a File of Musqueteers, and conducted into the Fort, where the Governor accosting them civilly, ask’d them who they were, and whence they came? They answered they were of Liverpool, bound for the River of Sinnegal, to trade for Gum [Olibanum; Frankincense] and Elephants Teeth... 
Mist goes on with tremendous detail about how Davis playacted, fooled, and tricked Agent Charles Orfeur, captured him and burnt the Royal African Company's Fort James, "dismounting the Guns, and demolishing the Fortifications."

Ruins on Kunta Kinteh Island (James Island)

An actual primary source document, a deposition from the Island of Barbados, reveals some similarities as to this story told by Nathaniel Mist. They suggest that he used this deposition as a base document on which he abundantly added the greater detail and elaboration, whether true or not. William Slade of Barbados, master of Guinea Hen, formerly in the service of the RAC under Solomon Raynesford and John Gill, had left Bridgetown, Barbados on December 23, 1718 for Gambia River, arriving by February 8, 1719. They had anchored by James Island before Davis entered Gambia River and made his way to raid the fort - thus, they were eyewitnesses to the arrival, deception, and raid by Howell Davis.

----------------------- Detail from Donnan, Documents of the Slave Trade, page 111
James Fort, and Island, in the River Gambia; the island walled round; Out-works, great Guns, small Arms, and Stores; formerly mounted with 90 great Guns; with several Warehouses, Rooms for Factors and Officers; Work-houses for Smiths, and other Artificers; by means whereof, together with the Agreements with the several Kings of that Country, the Company have heretofore enjoyed the Trade of that River upwards of 300 Leagues, with Settlements and Factories at the Places following; viz. Barracunda, Alunjugar, jamassar, Geregia, Tankerwall, Jovy, Sangrigo, Vintan, Gellifree, Barrafatt, Furbrow, Cumbo, and Benyoun, all within that River; and the Factories of Portodella, Joallee, Felan, and Bassally, without the said River; and by Sloops and Vessels, trading from the said James Island to Rio Pungo, Rio Nunez, Bissow, and Catchow, Places adjacent to the said Island; by all which in the time of settled Trade Carried forward £216,194 0 0 ‘This fort the company finally surrendered in 1728. The description of the forts already cited says of this one, the property of Messrs. Richard Oswald and Company: “This Fort has not been any Expence to the Public (notwithstanding it has been kept in better repair, and supplied with every necessary for its defence), than the Forts at Senegambia, and on the Gold Coast, and Whydah have been, where so much Public Money has been expended. . . . Belonging to the Fort 33 Europeans and Mullatoes, 137 Castle Slaves, besides Women and Girls, 10 Sloops, and Schooners, the Fort in Good repair, 28 Cannon”. Eg. MSS. 1162 B, f. 78.

As William Slade's deposition read:
And these Deponents Memory's a Ship [King James] Came Up the Sd: River, and Came to an Anchor & Saluted the fort and Immediately afterwards the Captain Or Cheif Officer of the Said Shipp (as these Deponents were informed) Went on Shoar and Acquainted the Company's agent [English agent from 1717-1721: Charles Orfeur (b. 1688? - d. 1745)] there, that he with his Said Ship were Drove off the Coast of Barbarry Where he had been trading for Gumm [Gum Olibanum or Frankincense?], and that he Came in there for Wood & Water; That he having told this plausible Story and the Agent belonging to the Said ffort Giving Credit to what was told him, And these Depon:ts at that time Suspecting Nothing he the said Cap:tn Or Cheife Officer of the Said Ship together with his Men Surprized & took ye Said ffort and the Said Agent & these Deponents found & Discovered them to be Pyrates, That the Said Capt:n of the Sd: Pirate Ship with his Company Immediately after they had So Surprized and taken ye Sd: ffort & Sloop, they Plundered & Ransacked the Sd: ffort [Fort James] & Sloop [Guinea Hen] of Every thing they thought fitt for them, and Sett the Said ffort On ffire; thereby burning & Destroying goods & Effects to a Great Value...
Note that the narrative is quite similar, except for one primary detail: the part above in red that reads "that he with his Said Ship were Drove off the Coast of Barbarry [North Africa] Where he had been trading for Gumm [Gum Olibanum or Frankincense?]." Mist's narrative, however, stated "they were of Liverpool, bound for the River of Sinnegal, to trade for Gum [Gum Olibanum; Frankincense]." 

Why the change in location? If Mist used this document on which to base his tale, which he apparently did, why did he change the location from which Davis claimed to have been before arriving at James Island? Yes, Slade could have gotten the details wrong but, if he did, then how did Mist know any location at all if not from Slade's deposition? Hearsay? The trade item "Gum" mentioned by both at exactly this point in the narrative is quite interesting, wouldn't you say?

Another primary source document came from Richard Luntley, a crewman aboard Guinea Hen. He tended to verify William Slade's testimony. His narrative agrees well with his captain's, but was curt on this event and did not mention details such as this Barbery-Liverpool discrepancy.

William Slade and Richard Luntley both mention that the pirate sloop Buck came up to the fort on 27 February, after Howell Davis and his crew seized the fort. They also both mention a surprise visitor, Olivier LeVasseur de la Buse, the famed "Buzzard," on the 8th of March, who "Arrived at the Mouth of the River in a Briganteen [Murrane],"  or, as Mist wrote. "a French Pyrate of fourteen Guns and sixty four Hands, half French, half Negroes; the Captain’s Name was La Bouse."

Mist wrote, "La Bouse desired Davis, that they might sail down the Coast together, that he (La Bouse) might get a better Ship." By coincidence (perhaps), William Slade deposed "Which Ship [King James] and Briganteen [Murrane] Consorted together, and on the Tenth of that Instant [March] went to Sea, having Obliged the Deponent William Slade at the perill of his life to Pilott out the great Ship [King James]," obviously accompanied by their prize, Slade's Guinea Hen

Mist next wrote:
The first Place they touch’d at, was Sierraleon, where at first going in, they spied a tall Ship at Anchor; Davis being the best Sailor first came up with her, and wondering that she did not try to make off, suspected her to be a Ship of Force. As soon as he came along Side of her, she brought a Spring upon her Cable, and fired a whole Broadside upon Davis, at the same Time hoisted a black Flag; Davis hoisted his black Flag in like Manner, and fired one Gun to Leeward.

In fine, she proved to be a Pyrate Ship of twenty four Guns, commanded by one Cocklyn.
Slade's deposition reads:

And these Depon:ts further Say, that about the 19th of ye Sd: Month of March as they were a going into the Said Port of Serraleon, they mett with Two Ships a Working out [transferring cargo?] the One proved to be another Pyrate [Jeremiah Cocklyn in Rising Sun], and the Other Ship that Pyrates Prize, being a Ship belonging to this Island Named the Two ffriends Commanded by Capt:n William Elliot, Which two Ships Commanded these Depon:ts to bring their Sloop [Guinea Hen] to an Anchor, and the Day following in the Morning the Said Pyrates Seized the Said Sloop [Guinea Hen] for the Use of an hospital Ship, they putting their Sick People On board of ye Sd. Sloop.
Mist further stated that:
... the third Day [22nd March] Davis and Cocklyn, agreed to go in La Bouse’s Brigantine [Murrane] and attack the Fort [RAC fort on Bunce or Bence Island]

They took Possession of it, and continued there near seven Weeks, in which Time they all cleaned their Ships. We should have observed, that a Galley came into the Road while they were there, which Davis insisted should be yielded to La Bouse, according to his Word of Honour before given; Cocklyn did not oppose it, so La Bouse went into her, with his Crew, and cutting away her half Deck, mounted her with twenty four Guns.

Photo from page 56 of the recently-published Sailing East: West-Indian Pirates in Madagascar by Baylus C. Brooks
"Artist's impression of Bunce Island c.1727 from the north-west" (circa 1727)

... ; they contrived it so, as to get up thither by high Water; those in the Fort suspected them to be what they really were, and therefore stood upon their Defence; when the Brigantine came within Musket-Shot, the Fort fired all their Guns upon her, the Brigantine did the like upon the Fort, and so held each other in Play for several Hours, when the two confederate Ships were come up to the Assistance of the Brigantine; those who defended the Fort, seeing such a Number of Hands on Board these Ships, had not the Courage to stand it any longer, but abandoning the Fort, left it to the Mercy of the Pyrates.
Slade went into more detail on this point regarding the RAC fort on Bunce or Bence Island in the Sierra Leone River and the many ships taken by these pirates, which compared well with the narrative of William Snelgrave (whose name shows up soon):
After Which they Immediately Weighed Anchor Carrying these Depon:ts Up the River with them to Bence Island, to Assist the Pyrate Brigantine [Murrane] their Consort, Which had Chased Up that River Seven Saile of Trading Ships & Vessels, Vizt: One Briganteen [Robert & Jane] belonging to Antigua Commanded by One Capt:n [John] Bennett, two Ships [Nightengall & Queen Elizabeth] Commanded by two Masters Named Cradons [James & David Creighton], the One belonging to London, the Other to Bristoll, One Snow [Parnall] Commanded by Capt:n [Henry] Morris belonging to Bristoll, One Other Ship [Jacob & Jael] belonging to London Commanded by Capt:n [John] Thompson, One Other Ship [Saint Antoine] belonging to London Commanded by a french Man [Clinet de Vitry], And One Other Ship belonging to London Named the Sarah Gally Commanded by Capt:n [Jonathan] Lamb. That these trading Ships having Run Up the River to Escape the Pyrates, The Pyrates Made after them in the aforesaid Ship [King James] & Briganteen [Murrane], and Coming Up with them the Commanders of these Trading Ships with Most of their People Quitted their Ships & Went on Shoar, And they together with the Company's Agent [Robert Plunkett] fled from the Fort, and Run into the Countrey to Save themselves, that the Pyrates Officers Coming to the ffort & finding but One Man there, they Writt a Letter to the afores:d Merch:ts and Agent to Come Down and take possession of their Ships and ffort, But two of the Master's (Vizt.) Capt. Bennett and Capt. Thompson Refusing to Come Down at the Pyrates Call[.] The Pyrates Sett their Vessells on fire And Burnt them, That the Pyrates after they had fitted their Ships & put the Briganteen's Company On board of the London Ship Called the Sarah Galley & Quitted the Briganteen they went Down the River where they Stayed Sometime, and took three Ships More Viz:t The Bird Gally Capt. [William] Snelgrave Commander[,] a french Ship bound for Widdah & a Company's [RAC's] Ship named the Dispatch Capt. Wilson Commander.
The RAC agent Robert Plunkett mentioned above also wrote to his superiors on April 16, 1719 telling them of the destruction of their "Factory at Bense Island" on March 22 or 23, 1719 by "the Pyrates from Gambia [Davis w/LeVasseur]." "That your Ship ye. Dispatch [Capt. Wilson] meet with the same Fate as did the Experimt. last Yeare." Plunkett took this opportunity to damn the European merchants, "so many Rascalls on Shore that Assist [pirates] wth Boats & Canoes to bring their goods on Shore" at the "Privateer Town [aka "Pirate Town" near modern Freetown at the mouth of Sierra Leone River]" as "All who live ashore except Capt. [Henry] Glynn & his Nephew [Robert Glynn?] ought to be tryd for being accessories to the Pyrates, who in 7 weeks had taken & ransacked 12 Ships [all listed in Sailing East: West-Indian Pirates in Madagascar], & no Sooner taken but his boats & Canoes were Sent from Shore on board the Prizes & plund loaden with goods & Liquors &c." Now, who doesn't love discount prices!?? ;)

BAIE DE SAWPIT, près de FREETOWN, location of the "Privateer Village" or "Pirate's Village" occupied by about 30 European merchants of ill-repute, including the ex-pirate Henry Glynn (see pic below), the only one who ironically had a good reputation with Agent Robert Plunkett at the RAC fort on Bence Island.
Capt. Vincent Pearse's List of Surrendered Pirates at New Providence (3 Jun 1718) - from the same Pearce's list showing Othenias Davis - here it shows "Henry Glinn[/Glynn]" and "Le[i]gh Ashworth." Glynn later serves as governor of the RAC Fort James in Gambia River from 6 Oct 1721 - 13 Apr 1723 as did Robert Plunkett from 28 Oct 1713 -  2 Nov 1725.

Note that this detail related on the RAC fort on Bence Island involving Capts. Bennett and Thompson was also commented upon in some detail and related in my new book Sailing East: West-Indian Pirates in Madagascar This detail came from the deposition, letter, and book of Capt. William Snelgrave, master of Bird Galley mentioned above in Slade's deposition. Pages 54-55 paraphrases and concatenates Snelgrave's various sources:
Robert and Jane, Capt. John Bennet, bound from Antigua to the coast of Guinea, was taken February 1719 at Cape Verde Islands by Howell Davis. Davis restored Bennet’s ship which unfortunately for Bennet then came into the Sierra Leone River about early March, where Capt. John Thompson of Jacob and Jael of London had arrived before him.  They carried their ships up river to “Brent’s Island” (Bunce Island; the fortified settlement of the Royal African Company) perhaps to see Gov. Robert Plunkett about slaves for their cargo. When [Davis again] approached them sometime in March, flying the “Jolly Roger,” they brought their ships very near the shore, entrenched under the fort’s guns, and having landed ammunition, resolved to defend them against the [two] pirate[s] who they saw coming after them.
LeVasseur in brigantine Murrane joined [Davis] in his March attack on these two vessels at the RAC fort. LeVasseur desperately wanted to be rid of William Moody’s old ship since before he met Davis at Gambia. He had hoped Bennet or Thompson’s vessel might suit him better. Robert Plunkett’s forces at the fort began firing at the pirates to protect the two ships under their walls. The pirates together took the day. Seeing the futility of the fight, Bennet and Thompson fled into the woods (presumably on the mainland) with the aid of Gov. Plunkett. These two captains hid from the pirates there, with only rice and oysters to sustain them.
Out of anger, Levasseur and [Davis] burned both captain’s vessels. They also kidnapped Gov. Plunkett, who would endure the same treatment under Bartholomew Roberts two years later. LeVasseur did not get a new ship that day, but soon found another to his liking, Sarah of London, Capt. Jonathan Lambert, a vessel captured by them shortly afterward. This vessel LeVasseur took and named Duke of Ormond, thereby happily scrapping his distasteful old Murrane. Snelgrave occasionally makes such diversions rich in detail.
Mist wrote about "La Bouse's" new vessel, saying "We should have observed, that a Galley came into the Road while they were there [Sierra Leone], which Davis insisted should be yielded to La Bouse, according to his Word of Honour before given; Cocklyn did not oppose it, so La Bouse went into her, with his Crew, and cutting away her half Deck, mounted her with twenty four Guns."

"A view of the new settlement in the river at Sierra Leone" (London: 1790) from the British Library
A modern view of the Sierra Leone River
"A View of the Entrance to Sierra-leone River" unknown origin

The pirates Jeremiah Cocklyn and Olivier LeVasseur left Sierra Leone on the 25th of April. Howell Davis soon followed them to Ouidah, Whydah or Judah on the coast of Benin. They caused great havoc to various French, Portuguese, Dutch, French, and English ships in that harbor. Howell Davis soon met his death on Principe Island, using the same dangerous tactics of slight-of-hand and playacting that served him so well at São Filipe and the RAC's Fort James. 

The Royal African Company suffered greatly... two forts burned within a month's time of each other! Was Davis making a statement against corporate monopolies on the African Slave Trade - a statement which favored private individual traders? Was Davis an early American Republican voter, favoring free-trade above all else? Was he yet another founding father of the "Commonwealth of Pyrates"? ;)

One thing that becomes clear in this study of documents on Howell Davis and his pirate companions, primary source data is a great deal more reliable, even if Nathaniel Mist elaborated a great deal more. A story isn't a story without the adventurous detail. Still, this is precisely why historians like myself simply cannot rely on "Capt. Charles Johnson" and his "alternate facts" or "fake news." He used sources available to him, but then inexplicably changed detail, like the "Barbery-Liverpool" quandary mentioned earlier. He appears to be bad actor in the annals of pirate history. But, then the king and Lord Sunderland's Whig ministry thought so as well - when writing under his real name: Nathaniel Mist! 


This exciting new detail, including information from French and English depositions, appears in a new book, Sailing East: West-Indian Pirates in Madagascar, now available! 

Find further details at baylusbrooks.com
Author's Bookstore
Author's Amazon.com  page

My thanks to Dr. Jacques Gasser, author of :

Dictionnaire des flibustiers des Caraïbes

for his late 17th-century tales of the "Flying Gang of Toruga," or French buccaneers of the Caribbean!

Dr. Gasser was instrumental in my acquisition of these French depositions from l'Amiraute de Nantes.  

Saturday, September 08, 2018

Birth of a Pirate - Bartholomew Roberts!

Harbour of Trepassey (1896) - Image extracted from page 694 of North Atlantic Directory. The physical geography and meteorology of the North Atlantic …, by ROSSER, William Henry. Original held and digitized by the British Library.
The London, England general public had learned of a brand new pirate in the Weekly Journal of London on October 15, 1720. This "active, brisk man" pirate had been the third mate of Princess Galley, captained by Abraham Plumb and owned by Richard Harris in partnership with Humphrey Morice, built in 1715. The newspaper told his name as "Thomas Roberts." We know him better as Bartholomew Roberts...

This article was first printed on the American side of the Atlantic "pond" in Boston News-Letter of August 20, 1720. Illustrating the wide connection of the Atlantic World, Capt. Plumb left England December 23, 1718, purchased his slave cargo on the coast of West Africa at Sierra Leone, was captured there by Howell Davis, plundered circa May 1719, traded for more slaves at Anomabu on the Gold Coast, and finally delivered human cargo to Kingston, Jamaica by December of 1719. The article then appeared eight months later, in America's first newspaper, Boston News-Letter, of Boston, Massachusetts. England finally learned about this piracy even later, in October 1720! The connection was wide, but also very slow!

Still, Capt. Plumb had lost "Thomas" Roberts to the pirate Howell Davis, who gave him his own sloop (as he had also done for Walter Kennedy at Sierra Leone) to pirate along the Guinea Coast as they made their way east from Sierra Leone. Capt. François Negré of Le Lesable was captured by Kennedy and these same pirates and narrated the journey from Sierra Leone River all across the Gold Coast by his captors.

Their eastward course showed them battling a vessel near Cape Appolonia on 19th June [dates in 18th-century Roman Gregorian calendar (10 days difference from the English Julian), so therefore the date for the English at the time would be 9 June] (meanwhile, “Pevas” or Davis’ consort “Pierre Roberd [Thomas, later, "Bartholomew" Roberts] of Jamaica” took Capt. Montigne, on the 20th of June [J: 10th Jun]. Roberts then took l’Anne de Sables, Capt. Francois Moreau, on the way to the forts at Cape Coast and Anomabo by the 6th of July [J: 26 Jun]. The pirates made Cap de Trois Pointes (Cape of Three Points), and Judah or Whydah by 21st of July [J: 11 Jul]. Davis, Roberts, and Kennedy were trailing three other pirates by about a month.

Portion of Thomas Grant deposition on his capture by Roberts in Experiment, 27 July 1719 near Cape Lopez off the southwest coast of Africa. It names the vessel as "Royal Rover" and the pirate as "Bartholomew Roberts."

Negre reported that Davis’ men were in search of Le Victorieux “who had evaded the pirates [Jeremiah Cocklyn, Olivier LeVasseur, Richard Taylor, et al from Sailing East], to give them this second” chance to supply Davis with free human cargo, “without paying the country's fees”! Late that July, Howell Davis would be killed at Principe Island by the Portuguese who did not long fall for his ruse as government officials. Roberts then took his command and the details of this adventure appeared in the Boston News-Letter which I present here for you.

This exciting new detail, including information from French depositions like those shown above, appears in a new book, Sailing East: West-Indian Pirates in Madagascar, coming out this month! 

Find further details at baylusbrooks.com
Author's Bookstore
Author's Amazon.com  page

While the book is not specifically concerned with the Bartholomew Roberts, there appear coincident events with Jeremiah Cocklyn, Olivier LeVasseur de la Buse, Richard Taylor, Edward England, and Edward Congdon, the particular subjects involved. This Boston News-Letter article tends to fill in the gaps on the "Dred Pirate" Bartholomew Roberts... to borrow a cinematic phrase. The article also contains many of the literary elements used by controversial Jacobite newspaper publisher Nathaniel Mist, writing as "Charles Johnson" to create his A General History of the Pyrates in 1724. 

Also, the entire piratical career of Roberts is much too detailed for a single blog article - he captured hundreds of vessels! Suffice it to say that, when Bartholomew Roberts took command of Howell Davis' vessel, then 32-gun Royal Rover, he sailed her south along the Angolan Coast where he took Experiment, then to Brazil with this prize and King James, took a Portuguese man-of-war, Sagrada Familia, then to Cayenne in modern French Guiana and there took a sloop of Rhode Island, Princess, Capt. Edward Cane, sailed her along the northern coast of South America, and renamed her Good Fortune, and endured apparent mutiny from Walter Kennedy. Roberts was then deposed by Thomas Anstis, who then sailed Good Fortune to the Leeward Islands and Barbados. He there dallied, fought with their forces, including Somerset Galley, Capt. Owen Rogers, and Phillipa, Capt. Daniel Graves. HMS Milford, HMS Shark, and HMS Rose were normally stationed in these islands, but also there were HMS Squirrel and HMS Rye, who were not normally stationed there, but just happened to be at Barbados when Anstis arrived in Good Fortune! The French were heavily preyed upon by the pirates, and also launched their own l'Atalanta, Capt. de Caffaro. Under the inexperienced Anstis, the Royal Navy warships weren't even necessary to take them, for Good Fortune was badly damaged by the Barbadian forces. After careening at Grenada, and nursing her wounds, Bartholomew Roberts was vindicated and reinstated as captain. On 25th of September, he took them far north to Trepassey, at the French colonies of Newfoundland - narrowly missing the French frigate l'Atalante which had come to Grenada in search of them. This article begins there...but also takes a flashback to their disastrous visit to Barbados:

Date: Thursday, August 22, 1720  
Paper: Boston News-Letter (Boston, Massachusetts)  
Issue: 858  
Page: 2  

I have removed the italics (except in ship names), separated phrases into smaller sections for easier consumption. Wherever relevant, I have added visuals, relevant documents, and commentary in red. Dashes "----" separate paragraphs in the original article:

Boston, On Monday last the 15th Currant arrived here the Ship Samuel, about eleven Weeks from London, and ten from Lands end, Capt. Samuel Carry Commander, who in his Voyage hither on the 13th of July [1720] past, in the Latitude of 44 about 30 or 40 Leagues to the Eastward of the Banks of New-foundland, was accosted and taken by two Pirates, viz. A Ship of 26 Guns [Good Fortune], and a Sloop of ten, both Commanded by Capt. Thomas Roberts, having on board about a hundred Men, all English: The dismal Account whereof follows:

The first thing the Pirates did, was to strip both Passengers and Seamen of all their Money and Cloths which they had on board, with a loaded Pistol held to every ones breast ready to shoot him down, who did not immediately give an account of both, and resign them up. The next thing they did was, with madness and rage to tare up the Hatches, enter the Hould like a parcel of Furies, where with Axes, Cutlashes, &c, they cut, tote and broke open Trunks, Boxes, Cases and Bales, and when any of the Goods came upon Deck which they did not like to carry with them a board their Ship, instead of Tossing them into the Hould again they threw them over board into the Sea;

The usual method they had to open Chests was by shooting a brace of Bullets with a Pistol into the Key-hole to force them open:

The pirates carryed away from Capt. Carry's Ship aboard their own 40 barrels of Powder, two great Guns, his Cables, &c. and to the value of about nine or ten Thousand Pounds Sterling worth of the Choicest Goods he had on board. There was nothing heard among the Pirates all the while, but Cursing, Swearing, Dam'ing and Blaspemimg to the greatest degree imaginable, and often saying they would not go to Hope point in the River of Thames to be hung up in Gibbets a Sundrying as Kidd & Bradish's Company did for if it should chance that they should be Attacked by any Superior power or force, which they could not master, they would immediately put fire with one of their Pistols to their Powder, and all go merrily to Hell together!

They often ridicul'd and made a mock at King GEORGE's Acts of Grace with an Oath, that they had not got Money enough, but when they had, if he then did grant them one, after they sent him word, they would thank him for it.

They forced and took away with them Capt. Carry's Mate, and his Seamen, viz. Henry Gilespie, Hugh Minneus, both North Britons, Michael Le Couter, a Jersey Man, and Abraham, a Kentish Man, could not learn his Sir-name, the Captains Book being carryed away, (except one Row born in Dublin which they would not take because born in Ireland:) holding a Pistol with a brace of Bullets to each of their breasts to go with them, or be presently shot down, telling them that at present they wanted none of their Service;

but when they came to any Action, they should have liberty to Fight and Defend the Ship as they did, or else immediately to be shot, that they should not tell tales. [origin of the phrase: "Dead Men tell no tales?"]

They had on board the Pirate near 20 Tuns of Brandy, However the Pirates made themselves very merry aboard of Capt. Carry's Ship with some Hampers of fine Wines that were either presents, or sent to some Gentlemen in Boston;

it seems they would would not wait to unty them and pull out the Corks with Skrews, but each man took his bottle and with his Cutlash cut off the Neck and put it to their Mouths and drank it out.

Whilst the Pirates were disputing whither to sink or burn Capt. Carry's Ship they spy'd a Sail that same evening and so let him go free.


And at Midnight they came up with the same, which was a Snow from Bristol Capt. Bowls Master, bound for Boston, of whom they made a Prize, and serv'd him as they did Capt. Carry, unloaded his Vessel & forced all his Men, designing to carry the Snow with them to make her a Hulk to Carreen their Ship with.

[took also Capt. Marston of Ireland, Bristol vessel from Virginia to Bristol (BNL, 29 Aug 1720); (noted in Boston Gazette as “John Roberts”) took briganteen Essex of Boston, Capt. Robert Peat and mate William Barnett (both testified in Boston 7 Oct 1720)]

Article takes a flashback ...

Again, by way of introduction: Roberts took command of Royal Rover on African Coast with quartermaster Walter Kennedy, took Experiment near Cape Lopez, and then left for the coast of Brazil - took two Portuguese vessels at Ferdnando de Noronha, Brazil – made pirate of one – went to “Bay of All Saints” and cruised two weeks – two Indians gave Roberts intel of a Portuguese fleet about to sail  - proceeded to Pernambuco to meet them (port of Recife) – captured Sagrada Familia, the 40-gun Vice-Admiral of the 48-ship Portuguese fleet; then to Surinam where they took a sloop of Rhode Island, Princess, Capt. Edward Cane – took this  sloop to Cayenne in modern French Guiana and renamed her Good Fortune – Capt. Thomas Anstis named her master, (excerpted from the upcoming book, Dictionary of Pyrate Biography)... Roberts lost Royal Rover, Experiment, and Walter Kennedy, he was degraded from command by Anstis, who then led Good Fortune into a nest of firepower in the Leeward Islands and Barbados... then, the article picks up from Barbados: 

The said Roberts [commanded by Anstis] in the abovesaid Sloop, Rhode-Island built, with a Briganteen Consort Pirate, was some time in January last in the Latitude of Barbadoes, near the Island, where they took and endeavoured to take several Vessels [took Benjamin, Capt. Hays near Barbados (AWM, 7 Apr 1720), Jan 1720]

but the Governour hearing of it, fitted out one Capt. [Owen] Rogers of Bristol, in a fine Gally, a Ship of about 20 Guns, and a Sloop [Phillipa], Capt. [Daniel] Graves Commander;

Capt. Rogers killed and wounded several of Robert's [at the time, Anstis'] Men, and made a great hole in his Sloop, which his Carpenter with very great Difficulty (hundreds of Bullets flying round him) stopt, and finding Capt. Rogers too strong for him, tho' Graves did nothing, which if had, he must of necessity been taken, he therefore run for it, as also did his Consort Briganteen, which he never saw nor heard of since.


From Barbadoes, Roberts [having resumed command] went to an Island called Granada to the Leeward of Barbadoes, where he carreen'd his Sloop, and from thence this Spring, with 45 Men he came to Newfoundland [a voyage of about 2,500 miles], into the Harbour of Trepassi, towards the latter end of June last, with Drums beating, Trumpets sounding, and other Instruments of Musick, English Colours flying, their Pirate Flagg at the Topmast-Head, with Death's Head and Cutlash, and there being 22 sail in that Harbour, upon sight of the Pirate [Good Fortune], the Men all fled on Shore, and left their Vessels, which they possess'd themselves off - burnt, sunk, and destroyed all of them [actually not true; just one ship was burnt and no one was killed], excepting one British Gally [Capt. Capleston; taken 21 Jun 1720], which they designed to be their best Pirate Ship, if a better did not present:

After they did all the mischief they could in that Harbour, they came on upon the Banks, where they met nine or ten sail of Frenchmen, one of whom is the Pirate Ship of 26 Guns [renamed Royal Fortune] abovesaid, taken from a Frenchman [wrong], unto whom Roberts the Pirate gave the Bristol Gally, but sunk and destroyed all the other French Vessels, taking first out what Guns were fit for his own Ship, and all the other valuable Goods.

The New Pirate "General Rendevous?"
St. Helena

A View of the Town and Island of Saint Helena in the Atlantic Ocean belonging to the British East India Company, engraving, c. 1790. The Dutch Republic formally claimed Saint Helena in 1633, although there is no evidence that they ever occupied, colonized, or fortified it. By 1651, the Dutch had mainly abandoned the island in favour of their colony at the Cape of Good Hope. A census in 1723 recorded 1,110 people, including 610 slaves.

Roberts the Pirate designed from Newfoundland to range thro' the Western and Canary Islands, and so to the Southward [briefly paying another visit to Sierra Leone*], to the Island of New Providence [not the Bahamas in 25 degrees North latitude - perhaps St. Helena (about 16 degrees South latitude), also referred to in a French deposition (Le Solide, Capt. Patterson) as the pirate's new place of rendevous by pirates Jeremiah Cocklyn and Olivier LeVasseur, two of the subjects of Sailing East], possest by Negroe's, in South Latitude 17 which they say is the place of the Pirates General Rendezvous, where they have a Fortification and a great Magazine of Powder, &c. where they intend to spend their Money with the Portuguese Negro Women. [Richard Sanders, Roberts' biographer, believes this was a fantasy, but St. Helena was mentioned by other pirates as well.. who knows what history may be found on that island!]

* “Roberts having three ships under his command, put into Sierra Leone for fresh water, and finding a trading vessel in the Bay of France [Frenchman’s Bay], took her thence and carried her into another near the Cape, which is very deep and has a long narrow entry. This the author in his survey has called Pirate’s Bay, because when Roberts had rifled that ship he set fire to her; and part of her bottom was to be seen at low water when Mr. Smith was there. The next day Roberts sent up a boat well armed to Governor Plunkett desiring to know if he could spare him any gold dust or powder and ball. Plunkett sent word he had no gold to spare, but that as to powder and ball he had some at his service if he would take the trouble to come for it. Roberts, considering this reply, anchored with his ships the next flood before Bunce Island, and a smart engagement followed between him and the Governor for several hours together, till Plunkett, having fired away all his ammunition, fled in his boat to a small island called Tombo. But, being overtaken by the pirates, was brought back again to Bunce Island, where Roberts swore heartily at him for his Irish impudence in daring to resist him. Plunkett, finding the bad company he had gotten into, fell acursing and swearing faster than Roberts, which raised much laughter amongst the pirates, who bid Roberts hold his tongue, for that he had no share at all in the palaver [court of judicature] with Plunkett. However, it is said that by mere dint of swearing Old Plunkett saved his life. When Roberts had rifled the warehouses, he went aboard and sailed out of the river next ebb, leaving Plunkett again in possession of the fort, which the pirates had much damaged." [T. N. Goddard, Hand Book Of Sierra Leone (Edinburgh: Riverside Press, n.d.), 17-18.]

Roberts the Pirate says, that there is a French Pirate on the North Coast of America, who gives no Quarter to any Nation, and if he met him, he would give him none. The Pirates seems much enraged at Bristol Men, for Capt. Rogers sake, whom they hate as they do the Spaniards.


Roberts returns to the Windward Islands

Daily Post (London), 3 Dec 1720

[Royal Fortune and Good Fortune seen by a French vessel careening on Carriacou Island, north of Grenada [Mesnier, 5 Oct 1720 & Feuquieres, 8 Oct 1720], bef. 25 Sep 1720; pirates left Carriacou (and passed 40-gun Atalante, Capt. Caffaro, coming south from Martinique), 25 Sep 1720; then Royal Fortune (with sloop Good Fortune in command of a French man named “Montanie”) sailed to Black Star at St. Christopher’s Island - blockaded Basseterre Road, St. Christophers (St, Kitts), 27-28 Sep 1720; here, pirates burned a vessel (Mary and Martha of Bristol, master Thomas Wilcox) out of which Bridstock Weaver was chief mate; Weaver et al were forced on Royal Fortune (Jones called her “New Providence”); 4-5 days after, Thomas Jones says they decided to run away with another Good Fortune [formerly a brigantine of Rhode Island – Weaver called her “Fortune”, master Norton; timing disputed with Weaver, see 18 Apr 1721]... (excerpted from the upcoming book, Dictionary of Pyrate Biography)

An eyewitness carried thousands of miles!

Deposition of Moyse Renos, (Moses Reynolds, or Renault,) of Dartmouth, Mariner. St. Christophers, 26th Sept., 1720. Was taken by a pirate sloop when on a fishing voyage on the Banks of Newfoundland in a pink belonging to William Cane of St. Johns. Within five or six days they took four or five prizes amongst them a vessell of Bristoll one Thomas Commander who formerly used to trade to Barbados they intended to use him ill but he giving them an account that a ship and sloop was fitted out of Barbados to pursue them (for they had been in the Royall Rover in these seas) and that it was reported at Barbados they had sunk the said pyrates, they in their merriments hereon returned him his ship and dismissed him but took two or three of his men by force who made their escape afterwards. Thence they went to Trepassi, and found in the harbour 22 sail of English bankers and fishers, of these they took one and in 10 days fitted her out with 18 guns for their own use oblidgeing the crews of all the ships to work and of the severall crews five or six took on willingly with them etc. They forced three or four more but only took provisions and left all the rest of the vessells there except one they burnt etc. They next took 5 or 6 sail of French bankers, among them the ship [Royal Fortune] they are now in, putting the Frenchmen on board the ship they took at Trepassi, for they would not force or permit any of any nation to be with them only English etc. Corroborates preceding. Signed, Moyse Renos. Endorsed as preceding.

"Thomas," or "Bartholomew" Roberts's trial at Cape Coast Castle on the west coast of Africa in 1722 was one of the largest hauls of pirates in the "War on Piracy" conducted by the Admiralty. Get all the details in Dictionary of Pyrate Biography for release in 2019! There are over 25 primary source depositions and reports available for the time here revealed on this pirate!


My thanks to Dr. Jacques Gasser, author of :

Dictionnaire des flibustiers des Caraïbes

for his late 17th-century tales of the "Flying Gang of Toruga," or French buccaneers of the Caribbean!

Dr. Gasser was instrumental in my acquisition of these French depositions from l'Amiraute de Nantes.