Friday, April 06, 2018

Time and Tide Make Us Mercenaries All!

As pirate victims go, they are generally concerned with reporting their losses and hurt feelings to the Admiralty. Their depositions are usually filled with details of how pirates rifled their goods, threatened and sometimes tortured them to learn the whereabouts of any gold, silver, rum, or other valuables they had on board. What they generally don't report are the illegal goods that they often willingly accept from the pirates... goods that they later try to sell for profit at their next ports of call. 

There are no heroes in pirate stories!

36-year old Capt. Thomas Creed (d. 1721) of Coward was captured 17 June 1719 by Edward England. He testified that another victim, like himself, had joined with England's crew and had directed a small pirate sloop, Buck, to take his vessel in only "two fathoms of water." He argued that if Capt. Henry Hunt of Sarah galley had not piloted this pirate, his vessel would not have been taken, his goods stolen, and his ship burnt! Furthermore, he charged Hunt with sailing away 5th July after helping pirates to rifle his sloop and that of Capt. Thomas Lynch's Carteret, stealing "several brass Panns & bottles" from him and an unknown quantity from Lynch. 

Creed may have been the only honest one in the bunch, but it didn't pay!

Weekly Packet of 24 October 1719 provided a long list of vessels said to have been taken by pirate Edward England in his ship 30-gun, 160-man Royal James, also said to have been former Capt. Edward Tyzard or Tyzach's Pearl of Bristol. The pink Eagle was probably captured by Howell Davis, on the Gambia River in March, but not during the period May-July when the rest of these ships were taken. The rest, however, probably were the prizes of Edward England.

Newspapers often misquote or get some facts wrong, but are usually fairly reliable. Certain details of this article, however, had been skewed. Charlotte listed in the article was actually commanded by Capt. Branson Oulson, not Oldson, but this was a minor mistake, especially at a time when spelling was phonetic and not yet standardized. Another simple misspelling appears with Sarah, Capt. "Stunt." His name was actually Capt. Henry Hunt, a defendant in this criminal case at the Old Bailey. Another huge error, though, was Carteret, Capt. Snow. While Carteret was a snow-rigged vessel, the captain's name was actually Thomas Lynch. 

The error-filled article above did actually get the date of Capt. Thomas Creed's Coward correct as 17th of June 1719. This assumes that Thomas Creed's deposition of 27 September 1720 gave the correct date. Presumably, Weekly Packet obtained this news from the deposition. It's actually common practice even today for journalists to obtain their information from police reports and depositions.

As Creed stated in his deposition,  he was captured by pirates in "Buck Sloop," probably the vessel shown as "Bank" in the Weekly Packet, a vessel of Capt. Sylvester originally used as a packet boat in the Gambia River. This should not be confused with Buck sloop on which Howell Davis mutinied on his way to the Cape Verde Islands from New Providence earlier. Davis was hundreds of miles too far south at Principe Island in King James at this time, most likely accompanied by his old Buck sloop.  

Trade winds ran north to south down the African Coast and northward travel was more difficult. That's why ships usually entered at the Cape Verde Islands in the northern latitudes adjacent Gambia River before sailing south to Sierra Leone, Whydah, Old Calabar, and Cape Lopez, off Angola. 

The pirates aboard Buck included, as Creed observed, 25-year-old Henry Hunt, "then on board the sd pirate Vessel & piloted her at the time." Creed believed that "if the sd Henry Hunt had not piloted the sd Sloop and directed her Company... she would have escaped." 

There is logical merit to his argument. River topography is such that dangerous shoals develop in rather shallow waters, drastically varying the depth of the water where only a few feet could mean you run aground. Without a pilot familiar with those particular waters, a vessel, even a sloop. might easily founder near two fathoms of water, or only twelve feet - possibly shifting quickly to only a few feet. The younger Hunt must have been in Gambia River before. perhaps with his brother Thomas in Saint Quintine the year before. This is why pirate Capt. Edward England would have desired him to pilot one of his vessels - in this case, Buck. It might easily appear to Creed, arriving later, that Hunt had indeed, joined the pirates!

An unmarried Henry Hunt (d.1739), later of Poplar, but then also of the parish of Stepney, Middlesex where mariner Thomas Creed lived with his wife Sarah and their son, Thomas, testified as well on the same day. He stated that he had been captured on 27 May 1719 by Edward England in Royal James already accompanied by two former prizes, Charlotte or Charlot, Capt. Branson Oulson, and probably the snow Carteret, Capt. Thomas Lynch.  

According to Hunt,  the pirates "forced [him] into their Service" on the pirate sloop when Coward was taken. He said that he knew nothing about any stolen goods or the burning of Creed's vessel. 

The Political State of Great Britain, a monthly news digest, for October 1720 shows that Capt. Hunt and Oldson (or Oulson) were tried and acquitted for piracy. 

As Creed said that he saw, the stolen goods were placed on Sarah, Hunt's vessel before it was released (Delight was Creed's most recent command). Hunt visited the Admiralty Office in late summer of 1720 to obtain a Mediterranean pass and was arrested for piracy. He was then incarcerated in Marshalsea Prison, awaiting trial, the results of which you can read in the Political State of Great Britain. The owners of Sarah and Charlotte appeared for them, vouched for their conduct, demeaned Creed's accusations, and obtained an acquittal. Still, Hunt probably did take advantage of the pirates' generosity. It appears that Oulson did also.

Capt. Branson Oulson, a mariner of Swedish descent, was also brought up on charges of piracy with Hunt, apparently also because of Thomas Creed's testimony. It should be noted that the wording of his deposition, however, did not accuse Oulson. He may have indicated to the Admiralty earlier that Branson was also involved. Any deposition that he gave against Oulson no longer survives. 
Primary sources of genealogical content make exploring these early mariner's lives quite possible now. Unlike the singly-married Creed and the bachelor Hunt, Branson Oulson had been married three times: to Mary Cable in 1710 while living in Woolwich, Kent; after Mary's death, to Elizabeth Woodard in London in 1716; and upon her death to Dorcus Berry in the same place on 9 February 1721, just after settlement of this court issue. He and Dorcus had two daughters, Rebecca and Margaret. Dorcus also died in 1727, followed closely by her husband, Capt. Branson Oulson in 1731. 

 Branson Oulson had also been released by the pirates, but with some "added extras" for his cargo. He proceeded to Barbados after his release and attempted to sell his "piraiticall slaves" merchandise there in September 1719. Henry Lascelles, who famously arranged for the disposal of French pirate Olivier LeVasseur de la Buse's vessel Blanco in 1717, denied that he knew anything of this illegal cargo of Charlotte: "I never understood that they belonged to any particular person," as he described to a very interested Board of Trade and Plantations. 

Another interesting detail is that Thomas Creed, Henry Hunt, and Branson Oulson were all residents of Stepney Parish, Middlesex County in 1720. Creed, the accuser, at age 37, died in April 1721, just a few months after this trial of Hunt and Oulson at the Old Bailey. 

The cynic in me wonders... lol. 

“Looters become looted while time and tide make us mercenaries all.”
~ Patrick Rothfuss in The Wise Man’s Fear


Look for the new booklet for the Blackbeard 300 Tri-Centennial festivities, Murder at Ocracoke: Power and Profit in the Killing of Edward "Blackbeard" Thache, available now at Lulu Publishing!

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