Friday, February 28, 2020

Private Proprietary Pirates - Early Capitalism in America, 1700

A letter from Edward Randolph depicts the arrogance of aristocratic oligarchs known as the Lords Proprietors in England and the negligence they placed upon their private possessions in the American colonies, particularly Carolina, the Bahamas, and New Jersey. This was a prime example of the dangers of private control in the matters of government. Privatization at this level facilitated piracy in the Bahamas as well as multiple abuses across America. Indeed, it began the development of America by the Stuarts of England as a criminal domain, given as gifts to these aristocrats who were charged with the theft of all the possessions of Spain "beyond the lines of amity" or friendship! This attitude remained in America through the reign of the Stuart Dynasty - nearly the entire 17th century - until the ascendancy of the Whigs, or more liberal administrators of England took control after the "Glorious Revolution of 1688." Still, the damage was already done.

These pervasive criminal tendencies involved theft, slavery, murder, extortion, bribery, rampant smuggling so far from authorities, 3,000 miles away in England. It probably infested the nascent United States with the same ubiquitous criminal element and led to the Confederate States of America attempting to maintain this criminal West-Indian society, slavery, and all the abuses that accrued hereto during the Civil War (1861-1865). And, it likely led to many abuses we find in government today under the outlaw Trump Administration. We are indeed, as "Capt. Charles Johnson," the author of A General History of the Pyrates, called us in 1724, a "Commonwealth of Pyrates!"

This is just a small window into the behavior of the men that came to rape Spain's colonial lands - before the development of the "Flying Gang" of Benjamin Hornigold in the Bahamas almost two decades later. Edward Randolph tried to warn the Board of Trade of the dangers still infesting these waters because of these criminal creoles. Many of today's Americans are their descendants.


March 25, 1700  New Providence [separated for readability]

Edward Randolph to the Council of Trade and Plantations. Begins as March 11.

I am, I thank God, in health but not recovered of the lameness I got in gaol at Bermuda. I landed [at New Providence] the 10th inst.[March 1700] and finding Mr. Read Elding (tho'illegally, yet) actually in the possession of the Government,

... the next day, after some debate [I] had with him [Elding], I administered to him the oath, though several objections were at that time made to the contrary, viz. that he assumed the Government by virtue of an illegal commission clandestinely obtained from [Nicholas] Webb, being also contrary to the Lords Proprietors' instructions which direct the method of appointing another Governor, in case of the death or departure of the present.

Besides, Webb went away on a suddaine to Philadelphia, not having first advised with the Council nor had the consent of any one of them about his appointing Elding his Deputy, which was not known to any of them till Webb was under sail, so that the Government is of right invested in Mr. Richard Peterson, a Lords' Deputy and the first in Council.

But they, finding the inhabitants divided and ready to cast off all Government, chose rather to sit still than hazard the peace of the country, and expect the Lords Proprietors' directions in that matter.

But the chief thing before I gave the oath that I scrupled at [had a problem with] was, that Elding, under pretence of a commission to him from Webb to apprehend pirates, etc., piratically seized a briganteen of Boston, John Edwards, Master.

Webb, Elding, and the others to whom he had given the like commissions, shared the money they found aboard.

Elding does not only brave it out [take advantage of?] upon the Commission Webb gave him to be Lieutenant Governor, but supports himself in the lawfulness of the other commission to take pirates, but sets a very high value upon his services by the accidental seizing Hind the pirate and afterwards executing six of his accomplices.

Hind and four of his men were surprised upon an island 10 or 12 leagues from hence by a Bermuda man [Bermuda vessel]: the three others were taken by chance and executed also, but one of the four, having nothing proved against him, [though he] was discharged and sent by Elding to cut logwood at Campeach, run away, and [Elding] believes his good services against Hind, etc., will expiate for his own piracy upon Edwards.

[Elding] a day or two ago caned Mr. Gower, a Lords' Deputy, most severely, and keeps him in prison, for questioning his power to appoint a Judge to try the pirates, a thing questioned by all the Lords' Deputys.

Their Lordships [Lords Proprietors] at home are very careless and ignorant of their own interest and of the good of the inhabitants. Though many complaints upon just grounds are made to them, praying for relief, yet they take no notice of it, nor of the most arbitrary government of Trott and Webb; neither of the late action done by Elding against Edwards, which they had notice of, but discourse him very indifferently upon that matter.

These inhabitants are daily more unsettled, and will give little credit to what their Lordships [Proprietors] say or promise them they will do for their encouragement, when at the same time they sell and dispose of their privileges for very inconsiderable sums, as Hog Island, lying to the north of Providence, which makes the harbour, 'tis, after several grants and confirmations thereof to the inhabitants, sold to [ex-Gov] Mr. Trott for 50l., to the utter ruin to the inhabitants of this town.

Hog Island in the Bahamas - just across Nassau Town Harbor from Nassau, New Providence Island

Their Lordships [Proprietors] have likewise granted away the royalty of the whale fishing and a great part of the Island of Abbico to one Dudgeon, late Secretary and Marshall of Bermuda a sort of stock jobber, for 30 years, as appears upon record here;

... neither do they regard into whose hands the Government of these Islands comes [lawlessness].

I am well informed that for more than seven years past seldom less than four known pirates have been [on] the Council.

I brought Commissions to persons upon the place to be Officers in the Court of Admiralty, but all of them, except Ellis Lightwood, the intended Judge, are either dead or removed.

I find him [Lightwood] an ill man, and was a busy promoter of oppression in Trott's and Webb's time, as appears by the records of the Courts in which he was Judge. Besides, he is the only security for Bridgeman [Henry Bridgham], alias Every's appearing here when demanded, in one bond of 1,000l., and also for 10 or 12 of his company in a like bond of 1,000l. for each of their appearance.

I have suspended the delivery of the Commission to him for that reason. 'Tis expected that orders will be directed to some persons here to put those bonds in suit, ('twill deter others); the securities have got a great deal of money.

I know no man so fit for that service as Mr. Thomas Walker;

... as to Mr. Warren, the Attorney General, he is security also for some of Every's men.

Packer, one of that gang [Henry Avery/Bridgham's], is married to Elding's sister now in town. His Majesty will have little justice done him by Elding and others of his party, who bear all the sway here.

Webb was directed and proved an apt scholar under Trott's discipline and advice: Elding writes after his [Webb's] copy and expects to be made the Governor, by which appears the deplorable and miserable conditions the poor inflicted inhabitants have lived in from the time of their resettlement, after they were drove off and destroyed in 1680 by the Spaniards, who watch an opportunity to do the like again.

The Lords Proprietors laid out money and sent over a few arms with some ammunition to the value of 3,600l. [it actually came to just over 800l., which was the presumed profit of the Bahamas] sterling towards the defence of the country. After all their charge their fort is not serviceable. Certainly the inhabitants will either desert the place or submit to any foreign Power that will protect them.

The interests and the affairs here between the Lords and the inhabitants are so different and distracted that it will require a long time to bring them to a right understanding. From the consideration whereof I humbly propose that His Majesty will please to require Read Elding to answer in England for his piracy against Edwards, and, further, that in the meantime till there be a complete settlement in this and all other the Proprieties, that His Majesty be pleased to direct his Commission to Thomas Walker, Esq., an ingenuous man, one of the Lords' Deputies, to be the President, and to Richard Peterson [father-in-law of Adm. Judge Edmond Porter of North Carolina], a Deputy, Isaac Rush, Richard Tollefero, Thomas Williams, Martin Cook, Samuel Frith, Perient Trott, Jeremiah Wells, and John Bethel, to be the Council and to take upon them the administration of the Government of these Islands, (being all of them settled inhabitants,) during His Majesty's pleasure.

Probably the Draft Commissioned below... in the Library of Congress maps

I have the promise of an exact draft of these Islands and of the fort and harbour of of this town, but being presently bound to Carolina in my return to Bermuda, I have recommended the care thereof to Mr. Walker, who will make it his business to see them exactly drawn and transmit them with a complete narrative thereof to your Lordships. Signed, Ed. Randolph, S.G. Endorsed., Recd. July 20, Read July 25, 1700. Holograph. 2½ pp. Enclosed,

    250. i. Abstract of above. 1¼ pp.
    250. ii. Copy of Read Elding's Commission from Gov. Webb to be Deputy Governor of New Providence, etc. April 13, 1699. Endorsed., Recd. July 20, 1700. 1 p.
    250. iii. Copy of a clause in the Lords Proprietors' Commission to their Governor about appointing Deputy Governors, Jan. 12, 1692. ½ p. Same endorsement.
    250. iv. Copy of Gov. Webb's Commission to Read Elding to take pirates, July 13, 1698. 1 p. Same endorsement.
    250. v. Copies of depositions by John Edwards, Master; Ebenezer Dennesse, Mate; and John Stiles, Boatswain; William Gray and John Ashcroft, Mariners, of the Bohemia Merchant, which was chased and piratically seized by Read Elding off Cape Florida, August 2, 1698; and of Daniel Kenney, of the Sweepstakes. 3 pp. Same endorsement.
    250. vi. Copy of letter from Lords Proprietors of the Bahama Islands to Gov. Webb and Council, May 27, 1699. 1¾ pp. Same endorsement.
    250. vii. Copy of an Order of the Grand Council, Nassau, July 8, 1690, making Hogg Island a free Common. On back, Copy of disallowance of the same by the Lords Proprietors. Sept. 21, 1699. Same endorsement. [Board of Trade. Proprieties, 5. Nos. 31, 31.i.–vii.; and (without enclosures), 26. pp. 248–256.]


Just published 2nd Electronic Edition of Quest for Blackbeard!

Some of the poorer sort went aboard pirate ships and sloops as crew, certainly, but they usually were not as well educated as those who navigated them. The tale of these early pirate leaders’ gentlemanly demeanor, formerly wealthy privateers, has been confined, narrowed, and almost eradicated by literary rhetoric. Worse still, modern historians attempt to explain them all as an early form of democratic society, confusing some of these gentlemen with the common people and further skewing their reality. The people we call “pirates” today most resemble those found in the Bahamas after 1715, driven out by 1718, scattered refugees of a barren island and rude maritime subsistence, but the real pirate leaders of the Golden Age were wealthy – the 97% were blamed for the crimes of the 3%! This injustice is where we must begin the true Quest for Blackbeard!
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