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Tuesday, February 16, 2016

News from America! Gov. Woodes Rogers Arrives in a Nest of Pyrates!

With the Stars! TV series, Black Sails, doing their third season on the surrender of the Bahamas to Gov. Woodes Rogers, I thought it would be nice to read the newspaper article that provided much of the context for this event. I've enjoyed Black Sails not for its history per se, but for its contextual representation of pirate life, owing undoubtedly to Benerson Little being the historical consultant. Still, much of the historical events the show represents did, indeed, happen - maybe not exactly the way you're seeing it, but basically, it's right. Anyway, sit back in your favorite coffee house near Charing Cross (as it is a lot safer in London, as opposed to Nassau!), pick up this electronic copy of the London Gazette for December 27, 1718 and enjoy!

London Gazette (December 27, 1718):

Town of Nassau on the Island of Providence, Nov. 11.

On the 25th of July last in the Evening, His Majesty's Ship the Rose, which had come in Company with Mr. Woodes Rogers, Governor of the Bahama Islands, came into our Road; but one Charles Vane, who commanded the Pyrates, caused a French ship of 22 Guns that he had taken to be set on fire, in order to drive out the Rose; which was obliged to cut her Cables and run out in the Night.

The next morning, His Majesty's Ship the Milford, and the Delicia, on board was the Governour, being seen at some Distance standing in for this Harbour; Vane and about 90 of his Men made off in a Sloop: Two Sloops were sent after them, but could not get up with them. 

The Governour sent Officers ashore at his first coming in on the 26th; but his Ship and the Milford running a-ground, he delayed landing till the 27th; when he took Possession of the Fort, and caused His Majesty's Commission to be read in the Presence of his Officers, Soldiers, and about 300 of the People found here, who received him under Arms, and readily surrendered, expressing great Joy for being restored to a regular Government. 

The most recent chapter in Black Sails brings Gov. Woodes Rogers. "Governor of the Bahamas and savior of Nassau, much of Rogers life is well known with the help of his biographer. He was a well-known English sea captain and sailed the world as a privateer with 2 ships and offered support against the Spanish. He was viewed as a national hero having been the only Englishmen to sail the known globe and return with his original ships and most of his crew. Rogers even saved Scottish sailor Alexander Selkirk, who was marooned on an uninhabited island for 4 years. Selkirk’s rescue would later inspire the character Robinson Crusoe and also be part of Rogers own novel, A Cruising Voyage Round the World."
The Governour haveing chosen six of the Persons who with him, viz. M. Robert Beauchamp, William Fairfax [later land agent in Virginia in 1734 whose daughter Ann married Lawrence Washington], Wingate Gale, George Hooper, Christopher Gale [formerly of North Carolina], and Thomas Walker, and six of the Inhabitants who had not been Pyrates, and were of good Repute, viz. M. Nathaniel Taylor, Richard Thompson, Edward Holmes, Thomas Barnard, Thomas Spencer and Samuel Watkins, to form a Council; he assembled them on the 1st of August, when Mr. William Fairfax was received as Judge of the Admiralty in the Bahama Islands, and Mr. John Graves [see note 1 below] as Collector of the Customs, pursuant to the Commissions they had brought with them from England; and Mr. Robert Beachamp (1st Lieutenant of the Governour's Independant Company) was appointed Secretary, as were Mr. Christopher Gale Chief Justice and Register, Mr. William Walker Provost Marshall, and Mr. George Hooper Naval Officer, to continue till His Majesty's pleasure be known.

From: Boston News-Letter, December 9, 1717

That day came before the Council about 100 of those who had been pyrates, and surrendered themselves to the Governour, claiming the Benefit of His Majesty's Proclamation relating to Pyrates, and took the Oaths of Allegiance to His Majesty, as did also several Inhabitants of these Islands.
A Number of the Inhabitants and of their Negroes have since been employed to put this Fort into the best Repair possible, and to mount Guns upon it; as also to clear the Ground of Brushwood and Shrubs within Gun-shot of the Fort, and to cut Pallisadoes to be placed round the Fort, that this Place may be defended from all Insults of Pyrates or Enemies.

Encouragement has likewise been offered to such as shall build and settle in this Town, or come and settle in the Country of this and the other Bahama Islands.

There had been a Sickness upon the Island about a Fortnight before the Governour came in, imputed to a great Number of raw Hides put on Shore near the Town, which putrified and infected the Air.

The Inhabitants were soon freed from the Distemper, but several of the Soldiers, Passengers, and Seamen who came with the Governour sickened and died. 

This was such a Mortality as Persons who have lived here these forty Years never knew of the like; on the contrary they all agree, that People when they become sickly in most of the other American Plantations, find Relief when they come hither [doubtful, in the 18th century!].

“An exact draught of the island of New Providence one of the Bahama Islands in the West Indies” (c1700) – Library of Congress # 74692182.

This Island every where affords the best Stone, Lime and Timber, and the Soil is very productive of Grain, &c.

The Governour has caused a small Fort of eight Guns to be built at the Easternmost Entrance into the Harbour, where Watch is kept.

The Independent Company, consisting of 112 Men, garrison the Forts.

The Inhabitants and all the rest of the Men on this Island are formed into three Companies of Militia under their own Officers, who by turns keep Guard in the Town every Night.

A Guard-Ship also, well provided for Defense, lies in our Road.

Our Governour has appointed Mr. Holmes, one of the Council, to be Deputy-Governour of the Island of Elutheria [Eleuthera], where there are about 50 Families and 70 Men formed into a Militia Company, and Mr. Thompson, another of the Council, to be Deputy-Governour of Harbor Island, where there are about 60 Families and 80 Men which are also a Company of Militia, they have fortified themselves and secured the Harbour which is very narrow at the Entrance, but a Ship of 18 Foot Water may go in and ride very safely: Our Governour has supplied them with Powder and shot [which the proprietors earlier refused to do], for they have two small Forts, one having six Pounders, and the other 4 nine Pounders, which command the Entrance and Harbour.

One of the Men of War that came with the Governour sailed the 16th of August, the other on the 14th of September.

1732 Herman Moll Map of the West Indies, Florida, Mexico, and the Caribbean

That Day came Advice that three Vessels, supposed to be Vane and his Prizes were at Green Turtlekey near Albacoa [Abaco], whereupon the Governour caused a Sloop to be fitted out under the Command of Captain [Benjamin] Hornigold [see note 2 below] to go and view them, and bring them an Account what they were: In about three Weeks Captain Hornigold returned, having lain most of that Time concealed and viewing Vane the Pyrate, with design to surprize him or some of his Men, who they expected would pass near them in their Boats; but tho' he failed in this, he brought in with him a Sloop of this Place which had got Leave of the Governour to go out a Turtling, but had been trading with Vane, who had then with him two Ships and a Brigantine, his Sloop that he escaped in from hence being run away by some of his Fellow-Pyrates.

Those two ships he had taken coming out of Carolina, one of 400 and the other of 200 Tuns, laden with Rice, Pitch, Tar and Skins bound for London; the Neptune Captain King, being the largest, he sunk; the Emperour Captain Powers, he left without doing her any great Damage, except taking away her Provisions.

Our Governour has caused the Merchant who traded with Vane to be seized and laid in Irons, to be sent to England by the next Ship; there to be tried for his Offense.

He has sent to England three Criminals, who pyratically ran away with the Vessel they belonged to, leaving her Master and Merchant on St. Lucia one of the Caribbee Islands inhabited only by Savages.



1. From: Homeward Bound: A History of the Bahama Islands to 1850 with a Definitive Study of Abaco in the American Loyalist Plantation Period :

Gov. Rogers had some difficulty installing William Fairfax as Deputy Customs Collector:

I did indeed receive an order from the Lords of the Treasury to appoint him [William Fairfax] Deputy to Mr. Graves, Collector, in case of that old man's inability to act, which he has not been able to do otherwise than in his chamber or bed, but is Of so petulant a temper that I have been unwilling to interfere, and Mr. Fairfax not pressing to serve under such a peevish gentleman without the manner of his acting and pay, or fees, was settled, for which I have no direction how to divide it, and Mr. Graves having no other support but this employ which he has been several years possess'd of. I am very unwilling to meddle in this affair without its first being settled in England. But beg leave to propose for His Majesty s approbation that Mr. Graves may enjoy his annual sallary Of L70, and the fees of Collector will content Mr. Fairfax during Mr. Graves's life.

 2. From: “America and West Indies: July 1716;” Calendar of State Papers:

240. i. Deposition of John Vickers; late of the Island of Providence. 

In Nov. last [1715] Benjamin Hornigold arrived at Providence in the sloop Mary of Jamaica, belonging to Augustine Golding, which Hornigold took upon the Spanish coast, and soon after the taking of the said sloop, he took a Spanish sloop loaded with dry goods and sugar, which cargo he disposed of at Providence, but the Spanish [probably the French Mary of Rochelle] sloop was taken from him by Capt. [Henry] Jennings of the sloop Bathsheba [Barsheba] of Jamaica. In January Hornigold sailed from Providence in the said sloop Mary, having on board 140 men, 6 guns and 8 pattararas, and soon after returned with another Spanish sloop, which he took on the coast of Florida. After he had fitted the said sloop at Providence, he sent Golding's sloop back to Jamaica to be returned to the owners: and in March last sailed from Providence in the said Spanish sloop, having on board near 200 men, but whither bound deponent knoweth not. [he was going to the north coast of Cuba - see map insert]

About 22nd April last, Capt. Jenings arrived at Providence and brought in as prize a French ship [Marianne] mounted with 32 guns which he had taken at the Bay of Hounds [Bahia Honda], and there shared the cargo (which was very rich consisting of European goods for the Spanish trade) amongst his men, and then went in the said ship to the wrecks where he served as Comodore and guardship. 

There are at Providence about 50 men who have deserted the sloops that were upon the wrecks, and committ great disorders in that Island, plundering the inhabitants, burning their houses, and ravishing their wives. 

One Thomas Barrow formerly mate of a Jamaica brigantine which run away some time ago with a Spanish marquiss's money and effects, is the chief of them and gives out that he only waits for a vessell to go out a pirating, that he is Governor of Providence and will make it a second Madagascar, and expects 5 or 600 men more from Jamaica sloops to join in the settling of Providence, and to make war on the French and Spaniards, but for the English, they don't intend to meddle with them, unless they are first attack'd by them; nevertheless Barrow and his crew robb'd a New England brigantine, one Butler master, in the harbour of Providence and took a Bermuda sloop, beat the master and confined him for severall days, but not finding the said sloop fitt for their purpose, discharged her. 

About a year ago one Daniel Stillwell formerly belonging to Jamaica, and lately settled on Isle Aethera, went in a small shallop, with John Kemp, Matthew Low, two Dutchmen, and—Darvell to the coast of Cuba and there took a Spanish lanch having on board 11,050 pieces of eight, and brought the same into Isle Aethera; and Capt. Thomas Walker of Providence having received advice thereof from the Governor of Jamaica, seized Stillwell and his vessell, but upon the coming of Hornigold to Providence, Stillwell was rescued and Capt. Walker threatned to have his house burned for offering to concern himself, Hornigold saying that all pirates were under his protection. 

It is common for the sailors now at Providence (who call themselves the flying gang) to extort money from the inhabitants, and one Capt. Stockdale who came passenger with deponent to Virginia was threatned to be whipp'd for not giving them what they demanded, and just upon his coming from thence he payed them 20sh. for which the aforementioned Barrow and one Peter Parr gave him a receipt on the publick account. Many of the inhabitants of that Island had deserted their habitations for fear of being murdered. 

Sometime about the beginning of March one Capt. [Francis] Farnandez, an inhabitant of Jamaica, in the sloop Bennet mounted with 10 guns and with about 110 men took a Spanish sloop with about three millions of money as it was reported and silks and cochenile to the like value and brought the sloop into Providence and there divided the money and goods among the men and is returned to the North side of Jamaica to try whether he may go home in safety and if he found he could not he gave out that he would return to Providence and settle amongst the Rovers. 

Signed, John Vickers. Endorsed as preceding. 2 pp.

A good early history of the Bahamas before the Golden Age (how it fell to pieces and became a pirate nest) is included in Pirates & Slaves: Making America


Why did pirate hunter Woodes Rogers lose his governorship? by Colin Woodard...

A Cruising Voyage Round the World: The Adventures of an English Privateer by Woodes Rogers...


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