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"|
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 BakerOne 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. SmallwoodIt 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!
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