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Monday, February 29, 2016

North Carolina's Political Pirate Nest

"An Eclipse signifies an intense time of energy, which can spark the beginning or end of relationships and situations" according to a fairly recent New York Daily News article. This article involved horoscopes. While I'm not overly enthusiastic about such things, other people are. This enthusiasm and knowing about such an event can create something of a self-fulfilling prophecy - you may act a certain unusual way because of these thoughts and thereby create the weirdness through no fault of nature itself. 

Of course, the events of January 7, 1730 in Edenton, North Carolina may not have depended upon such an unusual event as a total solar eclipse. That was still four days away from the wintry and weird events of this cold Saturday afternoon, but perhaps the eerie howling of the wind foretold an omen. All of these events occurred nearly three hundred years ago, following just after the Golden Age of Piracy.

Perhaps the maritime residents of this fledgling backwater, yet growing colonial outpost of Great Britain felt an eeriness due to the building affects of the prescient natural phenomenon. Then again, perhaps the illusion of power and position in the ever-humbling, diseased, and mosquito-infested swamps of early North Carolina played a bigger part in their reactions. 

Still, it was winter, a time of reprieve from disease as well as working fields - and the self-induced hysteria of January 11, 1730 was still four days away.

No... the assassins probably had no excuses for attempting to murder Vice-Admiralty Judge Edmund Porter. But, it would not be the last time that an attempt would be made on North Carolina's admiralty officers...

Unsurprisingly, the backgrounds of two men involved in these events were gorged with wealth, status, power, and piracy. 

Miles Gale, master of the sloop Two Brothers, who made regular runs from North Carolina to Boston, was the son of Chief Justice Christopher Gale, who had served in that capacity both in North Carolina and in the Bahamas. Christopher Gale captained the Delicia, the vessel that carried former privateer Gov. Woodes Rogers from London to his new station as first royal governor of the Bahamas. Rogers had been appointed the daunting task of ridding that dilapidated island of the "Flying Gang" of pirates, led by Benjamin Hornigold, who infested that chain of nearly 700 islands. Still, Rogers depended upon ex-pirates like Hornigold to aid in capturing unrepentant ones... and the ex-pirates often returned to piracy themselves.

As for Edmund Porter, he came from a Virginian family of Quakers, son of John Porter. John was as much a controversial figure as Bahamian pirates. He led the Quaker faction against the legal Anglican government of North Carolina, reinvigorated in their state-supported religious resolve in the Vestry Act of 1701 against dissenters or Quaker "heathens" like Porter. The Cary Rebellion (1708-1711) collapsed the government and initiated the Tuscarora Indian War of 1711-1715. Edmund probably found it more comfortable to go with Gale to the home of the pirate gangs. There, he met Elizabeth Peterson, daughter of Bahamian planter Richard Peterson. Edmund and Elizabeth married and he returned to North Carolina a decade later and took the position of Admiralty Judge in the capital of Edenton. 

North Carolina was between governors at this time in 1730. George Burrington last filled that position, but due to his irascible nature, alienated much of the colony and left for the Lower Cape Fear in 1725, then for home in 1726. Sir Richard Everard, Bart. filled his place during the interim. It appears that Miles Gale and his partner Mr. James Chamberlain took issue with Everard and Porter, probably for political and/or financial reasons - maybe even due to affects of the coming eclipse. Well, probably not.

Whatever the reason, these issues broiled almost an entire year, well past the eclipse on January 11th, from a sneak attack and attempted murder of Judge Porter that month to outright attack in broad daylight on the marshal and his deputy in October. The Judge escaped with his life because he was warned and placed mock judges and court officials in place of the real ones to fool the attackers. The open attack in October appeared rather erratic in nature. It begs the question of just what emotional catastrophe must have befallen these fellow Carolinians.  

Pre-1801 Union Flag flies at Fort York, a former British Army base in Toronto

On October 4, 1730, the sloop Two Brothers had recently offended acting governor Everard by "lately at Several times in a very insulting manner, wore the Union Jack; pendant in the Harbour and Port of Edenton; has also in a Dareing Manner fired Guns and Hoisted up an Union Jack or Flag at Mast Head at three Several times (vizt) first on or about the last of August, and on the 18th and 19th of September last in the Harbour aforesd." The governor stated that Miles Gale had been cautioned about this insult to the "Jurisdiction of the Admiralty," but continued it nevertheless.

Gov. Everard explained: Gale's actions, he said were "contrary to the holsom Orders and Ordinances of the Treaty of Union [1 May 1707] and the Queens [Anne] Proclamation in pursuance thereof our Merchant Ships or Vessels, wearing Flaggs, Jacks, or any Pendants whatsoever, without particular warrant from the Lord High Admiral or the Lords Comrs. of the Admiralty." Everard, "conceiving the Offense to be attended with ill consequence" demanded on October 4th a citation be issued for Miles Gale to appear in Vice-Admiralty Court.  

Treaty of Union (1 May 1707), adopted under Queen Anne
Soon after, Samuel Snowden, Marshall of the Admiralty and son of Thomas Snowden who had recently passed away (1728), went with his deputy in a small boat one afternoon to the sloop, laying at anchor just off Edenton. Snowden carried the citation for Miles Gale, sole owner of the vessel Two Brothers from Judge Porter. Miles Gale's crew again insulted the authority of admiralty officers.

As Snowden and his deputy crossed the calm cool waters of Albemarle Sound before the docks of Edenton, they approached from astern. James Chamberlain, then master of Two Brothers  and another man saw their approach, ducked into the cabin, and brought out muskets. Chamberlain told Snowden that if "he came one foot farther, he was a dead man." Before Snowden could negotiate with Chamberlain, he asked someone for a match to fire the cannon, forcing Snowden to retreat back to the shore. 

Sauthier's map of Edenton, 1769. Edenton was formerly “The Towne on Queen Anne’s Creek" and was named "Edenton" in 1722 to honor Gov. Charles Eden who had just died that year.

Capt. Joseph Kidder, whose vessel was anchored nearby when Snowden and deputy approached Two Brothers, confirmed Marshall Snowden's testimony and added that Chamberlain at first presented a small arm that he had on his person before ordering the muskets to be brought up.

Shortly afterward, on October 16, 1730, Gale, Chamberlain, and three of their men came on shore, armed with pistols and cutlasses. They swore that "they valued the Govr. no more than they did the Judge of Admty." Gale claimed that Porter had no authority over him, that admiralty jurisdiction, he claimed, was "His Father's business." And, he added that "no man else had any thing to do wth such things or things of that nature but his Father [Christopher Gale]."

Edmund Porter ordered Gale and his men to appear in court on the 24th to answer these further charges. 

No further records exist to illuminate the end results, but since Miles Gale and Edmund Porter survived past them, few people were probably killed and the howling wind died down a bit. 

Why did Miles Gale begin his acting out or protests in favor of his father that August 1730? 

Politics - plain and simple.  

Biographer George Stevenson explained the events that alienated George Burrington from Chief Justice Christopher Gale in the Dictionary of North Carolina Biography. Everything was copacetic in April 1724 when Gov. George Burrington first became governor. He put Gale and his brother Edmund on his council. The trouble centered around Gov. Charles Eden's (deceased in 1722) will and, when July 1724 came around, the Gale-Burrington relationship began to unravel:
Toward the end of July 1724 Burrington received a petition asking him to grant redress in his capacity as ordinary of the colony. The petition was from Eden's niece, Margaret Pugh, and Ann and Roderick Lloyd. They denounced the will said to be Eden's as a fraud and alleged that Lovick had obtained it illegally. On 31 July, Burrington carried the petition to a meeting of the council that was attended by both Lovick and Gale. The governor explained that the council would proceed in the matter as a Court of Ordinary. An order-in-council was issued requiring the recordation of the London petition and power in the records of the General Court. (The court was then in session.) It must have been an exhilarating occasion. To have proceeded in the matter would have meant an examination and scrutiny of Lovick, Clayton, the Badhams, and possibly Gale himself.
Gale refused to give Badham the order and Burrington went ballistic. Burrington threatened to "ruin Mr. and Mrs. Badham and declared that he would have Lovick and Gale in irons. In fact, he announced his intention to crop Gale's ears and slit his nose like a common felon." Burrington had denounced Gale on the bench as a rogue and a villain before the entire General Court. He even planned to assail Gale at his house, only to discover that he had left the colony. 

Stevenson assures that it was an easy matter for Gale to have Burrington removed, which did happen only a couple of years later. In the meantime,
Burrington and the council declared Gale's offices vacant on 24 Oct. 1724 and filled his seat on the council as well as the office of chief justice. Gale's son-in-law Henry Clayton was dismissed as provost marshal, his brother Edmund was turned off the General Court, and after the October term Badham was replaced as clerk of the court by Samuel Swann. 

In essence, Gale was publicly and officially humiliated within North Carolina. Things had calmed down once Burrington left the colony in 1725 and replaced in the interim with Sir Richard Everard:   
The peremptory removal of Burrington ended any real threat from Eden's English heirs. The heirs petitioned the Court of Chancery for relief in April 1725, Burrington presiding; their bill was thrown out in July 1725, Sir Richard presiding, when the death of one of the plaintiffs was falsely suggested.
There had been political divisions and struggles in the colony before now, but none of them equaled the fight that arose upon the removal of Burrington and the substitution of Sir Richard Everard as governor. Gale resumed his seat as chief justice, Little was restored as attorney general, and Gale gave back to Badham his old office as clerk of the General Court. For a time the coalition of Everard, Lovick, Gale, and Little ruled the colony. The General Court became first a political tool in the hands of Gale and his faction, then an object of contempt in the province. Similarly, the Court of Vice-Admiralty in the hands of Edmond Porter (who had been one of the attorneys for Eden's heirs-at-law) became a tool of political opposition against Gale's faction.

The Lords Proprietors of Carolina ignored any possible mishandling of the Eden will probate. They had much more with which to concern themselves at the time - ridding themselves of their other "nest of pirates," after the Bahamas in 1718 and South Carolina in 1719.

The Proprietors had negotiated to resume North Carolina under royal, as opposed to private, control by July 1729. Maybe this way, they could get some sleep. Never was a more fervent argument proposed against privatization!

The next governor would be the first royal governor of North Carolina. The sitting Secretary of State, the Duke of Newcastle, argued for that governor to be - George Burrington! They officially made the announcement that August 1730, but Newcastle's intentions had already been known for months, even before January. 

Chief Justice Gale's hated enemy would be returning as commander-in-chief of North Carolina. This undoubtedly prompted Miles Gales' defense of his father's authority. Then, an apparently "unknown" assailant attempted to murder Admiralty Judge Edmund Porter, Burrington's old ally, on January 7, 1730. As if defiantly slapping the Gale family in the face, on that same day, the Duke of Newcastle wrote to the Board of Trade and Plantations:

                                                Whitehall Janry 7th 1729/30.

My Lords,

His Majesty having been pleased to appoint George Burrington Esqr Governor of North Carolina has commanded me to signify to your Lordships His Pleasure, that you prepare a Commission and Instructions for him accordingly
                                                 I am
                                                 My Lords
                                                 Your Lordships most obedient humble servant
                                                 HOLLES NEWCASTLE

As for George Burrington, the "Family" friends that he had earlier made in the Lower Cape Fear settlement of Brunswick, before he left North Carolina in 1726, characteristically became his certain enemies almost immediately upon his return. He began his mission to found the enormously successful port town of Wilmington, in direct opposition to the Family's Brunswick Town.  He won, but at great expense to his own reputation.

The Family took their vengeance upon Burrington - even in death!  But that's another North Carolina pirate tale!


Read about North Carolina's piratical birthpangs in the Brunswick Town & Wilmington affair and the hero that saved the Port of Wilmington from the Family's political opposition, Capt. James Wimble

Both can be found at the author's Amazon page and at

From the author of Blackbeard Reconsidered!