Donate to Brooks Historical

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Edward Congdon, the Misunderstood Pirate!

"Biblio Piratica" - 1724
A single book defines the history of piracy to such a degree, that for 300 years, this book has become the literal "Bible" of Piratica! It was first published in May 1724, but then it was refined and updated again in December 1724, with notable changes to a few entries, most notably, the part of Edward Thache, or "Thatch," as the author first called him, but "Teach," as he called him six months later. This was my recent area of study in Quest for Blackbeard. Phonetics were all that mattered in a name from the early 18th century anyway!

The book was called A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pyrates and its author called himself "Capt. Charles Johnson." If you wish to view the 1726 edition of this book, with added material, you can find it at ECU's digital collections site.

Thanks to the excellent work of historian Arne Bialuschewski, we now know that the author (of at least the 1724 editions) was Nathaniel Mist, a controversial Jacobite polemical newspaper publisher of the Weekly Journal and Saturday Evening's Post in London. Mist worked there in his offices on Great Carter Lane. Mist cleverly took his pseudonym from the name used by the author of a recent popular play about pirates. Fortunately for this polemicist, he also lived in a time when plagiarism and telling "fibs" were wholly acceptable literary tactics. Still, he did a lot of research, too. He was better than most in his day. Still, he had this political agenda and he got in trouble for it repeatedly.

The authorship is not generally accepted by many true followers of the pirate fan world. Many years ago, a noted antiquarian decided that the writing was similar to that of Daniel DeFoe and for decades now, DeFoe has been attributed as the author and even accepted by the hardliners of evangelical piratistarians.

There is a small amount of evidence to support their contention. In reality, DeFoe once worked for Mist, was probably hired by the government to work with Mist and "tone down" his dangerous propaganda. He defied the government as well and competed with Mist, copying A General History in 1725, almost word for word!  I should say that his drawings were less sophisticated, however:

Three versions of the first pirate histories: the 1st and 2nd editions of "Charles Johnson" and the copied version of Daniel DeFoe's in 1725

Some of Mist's pirate history, although based in some fact, often loosely, as with the faraway Americans (he was more accurate closer to home in London, obviously) Blackbeard, Martel, Bonnet, etc. is beyond the pale of reality (not easy to prove in 1724, but times have changed). He also made pirates seem completely despotic and inhumane, less normal than the rest of the population. I rather think this was the polemicist in him, though. Piracy was essentially a business, as author Peter Leeson makes quite clear in The Invisible Hook.

I'd like to demonstrate my point by using the 1726 version of the tale of "Christopher" Condent, which may or may not be Mist's work, but follows similar paths. The entire section is repeated here. I have placed numbers by certain parts of the passages that I'd like to explain later - they are in bold print, as well as the notes that refer to them following the passage. Note also that in this earliest version, "Captain Condent's" first name is never mentioned:

Captain Condent [1] was a Plymouth Man born [2], but we are as yet ignorant of the Motives, and Time of his first turning Pyrate; he was one of those who thought fit to retire from Providence (on Governor Roger's Arrival at that Island) in a Sloop belonging to Mr. Simpson, of New York, a Jew Merchant, of which Sloop he was then Quarter-Master. Soon after they left the Island, an Accident happened on board, which put the whole Crew into Consternation; they had among them an Indian Man, whom some of them had beat; in revenge, he got most of the Arms forward into the Hold, and designed to blow up the Sloop. Upon which, some advised scuttling the Deck and throwing Grenade Shells down, but Condent said, that was too tedious and dangerous, since the Fellow might fire thro’ the Decks and kill several of them; he, therefore, taking a Pistol in one Hand, and his Cutlash in the other, leaped into the Hold; the Indian discharged a Piece at him, which broke his Arm [3], but, however, he ran up to and shot the Indian. When he was dead the Crew hack'd him to Pieces, and the Gunner ripping up his Belly, tore out his Heart, broiled and eat it.

After this, they took a Merchant Man, called, the Duke of York; and some Disputes arising among the pyrates, the Captain, and one half of the Company, went on board the Prize; the other half, who continued in the Sloop, chose Condent Captain; he shaped his Course for the Cape de Verd Islands, and in his Way, took a Merchant Ship from Maderas, laden with Wine, bound for the West Indies, which he plundered and let go; then coming to the Isle of May, one of the said Islands, he took the whole Salt Fleet, consisting of about 20 Sail; he wanting a Boom, took out the Mainmost of one of these Ships, to supply the Want: Here he took upon him the Administration of Justice, enquiring into the Manner of the Commander's Behaviour to their Men, and those, against whom Complaint was made, he whipp'd and pickled. He took what Provisions and other Necessaries he wanted, and having augmented his Company, by Voluntiers and forced Men, he left the Ships and sailed to St. Jago, where he took a Dutch Ship, which had formerly been a Privateer; this prov'd also an easy Prize, for he fired but one Broadside, and clapping her on board, carried her without Resistance, for the Captain and several Men were killed, beside some wounded by his great Shot.

This Ship proving for his Purpose, he gave her the Name of the Flying Dragon [4], went on board with his Crew, and made a Present of his Sloop to a Mate of an English Prize, whom he had forced with him; from hence he stood away for the Coast of Brazil, and in his Cruize, took several Portuguese Ships, which he plundered and let go.

After these, he fell in with the Wright Galley, Captain John Spelt, Commander, hired by the South-Sea Company, to go to the Coast of Angela for Slaves, and thence to Buenos Ayres. This Ship he detained a considerable Time, and the Captain being his Townsman, treated him very civilly; few Days after he took Spelt, he made Prize of a Portuguese, laden with Bale Goods and Stores; he new rigg'd the Wright Galley, and put on board her several Goods.

Soon after he had discharged the Portuguese, he met with a Dutch East-India Man of 26 Guns, whose Captain was kill'd the first Broadside, and took her with little Resistance, for he had hoisted the pyrates Colours on board Spelt's Ship.

He now, with three Sail, steer'd for the Island of Ferdinando, where he hove down and clean'd the Flying Dragon; having careen'd, he put 11 Dutchmen on board Captain Spelt, to make Amends for the Hands he had forced from him, and sent him away, making him a Present of the Goods he took from the Portuguese Ship. When he sail'd himself, he ordered the Dutch to stay at Ferdinando 24 Hours after his Departure; threatning, if he did not comply, to sink his Ship; if he fell a second Time into his Hands, and to put all the Company to the Sword. He then stood for the Coast of Brazil, where he met a Portuguese Man of War of 70 Guns, which he came up with; the Portuguese hal'd him, and he answer'd, from London, bound for Buenos Ayres: The Portuguese mann'd his Shrouds and chear'd him, when Condent fired a Broadside and a Volley of small Arms, which began a smart Engagement for the Space of 3 Glasses; but Condent finding himself over-match'd, made the best of his Way, and, being the better Sailor, got off.

Few Days after he took a Vessel of the same Nation, who gave an Account [5], that he had killed above 40 Men in the Guarda del Costa, beside a Number wounded; he kept along the Coast to the Southward, and took a French Ship of 18 Guns, laden with Wine and Brandy, bound for the South-Sea, which he carried with him into the River of Plate. He sent some of his Men ashore to kill some wild Cattle, but they were taken by the Crew of a Spanish Man of War; on their Examination before the Captain, they said they were two Guiney Ships, with Slaves belonging to the South-Sea Company, and on this Story were allowed to return to their Boats: Here five of his forced Men ran away with his Canoe, he plundered the French Ship, cut her adrift, and she was stranded. He proceeded along the Brazil Coast, and hearing a Pyrate Ship was lost upon it, and the pyrates imprisoned, he used all the Portuguese, who fell into his Hands, who were many, very barbarously, cutting off their Ears and Noses [6]; and as his Master was a Papist, when they took a Priest, they made him say Mass at the Main-mast, and would afterwards get on his Back and ride him about the Decks, or else load and drive him like a Beast. He from this went to the Guiney Coast, and took Captain Hill in the Indian Queen [7].

In Luengo Bay he saw two Ships at Anchor, one a Dutchman of 44 Guns, the other an English Ship, called the Fame, Captain Bowen, Commander; they both cut and ran ashore, the Fame was lost, but the Dutch Ship, the Pyrate, got off and took with him. When he was at Sea again he discharged Captain Hill, and stood away for the East-Indies. Near the Cape he took an Ostend East-India Man, of which Mr. Nash, a noted Merchant in London, was Supercargo. Soon after he took a Dutch East-India Man, discharged the Ostender, and made for Madagascar; at the Isle of St. Mary [8], he met with some of Captain Halsey's Crew, whom he took on board with other Stragglers, and shaped his Course for the East-Indies, and in the Way, at the Island of Johanna [9], took [10], in Company of two other pyrates he met at St Mary's, the Cassandra East-India Man, commanded by Captain James Macragh [change in spelling from "Mackra"]; he continued his Course for the East-Indies, where he made a very great Booty, and returning, touch'd at the Isle of Mascarenas, where he met with a Portuguese Ship of 70 Guns, with the Vice-Roy of Goa, on board [11]. This Ship he made Prize of, and hearing she had Money on board, they would allow of no Ransom, but carried her to the Coast of Zanguebar [Bay of Delagoa, Mozambique], where was a Dutch Fortification, which they took and plunder'd, razed the Fort, and carried off several Men who enter'd voluntarily [12]. From hence they stood for St. Mary's, where they shared their Booty, broke up their Company, and settled among the Natives: Here a Snow came from Bristol [13], which they obliged to carry a Petition to the Governor of Mascarenas for a Pardon, tho’ they paid the Master very generously. The Governor returned Answer, he would take them into Protection if they would destroy their Ships, which they agreed to, and accordingly sunk the Flying Dragon, &c. Condent and some others went to Mascarenas, where Condent married the Governor's Sister-in-Law, and stay'd some Time; but as I have been credibly inform'd, he is since come to France, settled at St. Maloes [14], and drives a considerable Trade as a Merchant.

[1] From the Wikipedia article on "Christopher Condent": 
Christopher Condent's real name is uncertain. He has been known under the surnames Condent, Congdon, Connor or Condell; various given names also arise, including William, Christopher, Edmond or John. He is often known as Christopher Condent, but perhaps most commonly known simply as "Billy One-Hand".
A General History never mentions his first name. Does any primary record? When did "Christopher" become his accepted given name and used so widely? Tons of books have been written in the last 20 years calling him "Christopher," yet I can find no sources. The National Archives in London contain no references to "Condent," but do, however have 125 that refer to "Congdon."

The Dutch book, Pirates and Corsairs of World History (1963) is the earliest reference to "Christopher Condent" that I have found yet. Conversely, Christopher Hill and Ann Leighton's People and Ideas in 17th Century England, Volume 3, published by the University of Massachusetts Press in 1986, tells of "Capt. Edward Condent" on page 178, so the use of "Christopher" is not universal.

[2] In 1724, genealogical records were almost impossible to access remotely. Today, however, they are much more accessible. Up until 40-50 years ago, genealogists presented often "tall tales" about their ancestors, having little information to go on. They elaborated greatly. That is not so today, with a digitization craze that has taken the historical/genealogical world by storm. Literally millions of people we never knew existed are identified readily on and as well as a plethora of other genealogical sites. 
I have explored and for any hits relative to the surname "Condent" in Devon, England. There was only one: a woman named Anna Condwent married a man named Matasha Snook in 1717. She could have come from elsewhere to marry Snook since there seemed to be no Condwents or any variation of that name living in that area.
Edward himself declared "to be a native of Plymouth" when he married Marie Catherine Ancré in 1723 in Brittany, France. She was a native of Saint Omer in northeast France. So, it may be that Mist had learned of his arrival in Brittany, as he did mention that near the end of his narrative, though he got the exact location wrong. Perhaps he heard about the grand wedding affair with the king's lieutenant Francois Burin of Ricquebourg in attendance. 
Still, he may have originally come from Cornwall, not far from Plymouth, as I did find a "Congdon" family, in Cornwall, only one Christopher, dead by 1721. What may be significant is that a man named Edward Congdon was bapt. in 1683, son of John and Catherine Congdon in Saint Mellion, Cornwall, England - less than 10 miles from Plymouth. This may have been a different Edward, as he married a woman name Grace, had three children named Edward Congdon, jun., Rich. Congdon and Jn. Congdon, and was still in St. Mellion in 1714. He later obtained a lease for property in St. Mellion on 29 Sep 1731. The pirate Edward Congdon died 3 May 1734 in Port Louis, Brittany, France. But, I'll bet they were related.
[3] Condent here sustains an injury to his arm. Assuredly, he got the nickname "Billy One-Hand" from this characteristic, if that was accurate. Le Mercure, a French annual produced from a weekly news journal, stated in May 1722 (before publication of A General History) that "on the first of October [1720] the Dragon, an English Pirate Ship, arrived at the Isle of Madagascar, commanded by Captain Congdon [note the spelling "Congdon"], who has an arm cut off." Other details from this article include the vessel Prince Eugene and seeking a pardon on the Island of Bourbon or Reunion in February 1721. It seems rather apparent that Mist may have had access to French publications like Le Mercure and La Gazette. After all, he did flee the British government to France in 1728. 

[4] The ship name Dragon seems to be the only one found in primary sources, like Le Mercure, May 1722 mentioned above in [3]. From where Mist got Flying Dragon is second-hand only in a deposition

[5] Still searching for this account.

[6] Pirates, at least in the primary sources, are usually not this ruthless. There are notable exceptions: Edward Low and Charles Vane are two. The villainous wording used to describe their activities in A General History is probably more literary hype, meant to sell copies to an eager audience without the benefit of "Stone Cold Steve Austin" on weekend television.

[7] Indian Queen is of particular interest here. Captain "Mackra" (1724) or "Macreah" (1726) is a man well known of by Nathaniel Mist who must have read the article in the Post Boy newspaper issue of 25 & 27 April 1721. These pair of articles are certainly the source of Mist's references to this man in 1724 and in 1726, assuming that Mist developed the material for this latter edition. The reference that I find most telling is that at Johanna, an island known today as "Anjouan," on the 25 July 1720, Mackra had arrived in his ship Cassandra and found refugees from the pirate ship "Indian Queen, of two hundred and fifty Tons, twenty eight Guns, and ninety Men, commanded by Capt. Oliver de la Bouche, bound from the Guinea Coast to the East Indies." Condent or Congdon may have taken this ship and gave her to La Buse, or La Bouche, but the passage includes another reference to Cassandra, elaborated upon in point [10].

[8] Isle de Saint-Marie, just off the east coast of northern Madagascar.

[9] Johanna is an island known today as "Anjouan" in the Comoros, just NW of Madagascar.

[10] In this 1726 segment, Mist wrote "in Company of two other pyrates he met at St Mary's, the Cassandra East-India Man, commanded by Captain James Macragh." "Mackra's" account from Post Boy, 25 & 27 April 1721 told "about Eight o' Clock in the Morning, when we discover'd two Pyrate-Ships standing into the Bay of Juana [Johanna], one of thirty four and the other of thirty Guns." A battle ensued with Macrae's ship and his consort Greenwich between two pirate ships. Macrae disabled one ship called the Fancy, but the pirates got the better of him, boarding his ship and chased Macrae into the woods of Johanna. "Mackra" wrote that the "Chief Captain" was Edward England" and that England, formerly in command of two ships, including Fancy, planned to take Cassandra and burn Fancy. Another account of Richard Moor, formerly of Comrade, taken earlier on West African coast told that the two ships involved were Victory, under Capt. Richard Taylor (another hopelessly confused pirate actually named Richard Taylor) and Fancy, under Edward England. He said they took Cassandra and afterward, turned out Edward England, and replaced him with Jasper Seager. He also told that Capt. Condent, Congdon, or whatever, was not at the next major capture attributed to him by A General History, in [11]. 

[11] Richard Moor continues in his account: Victory, under Taylor, and Cassandra, under Seager, proceeded to Don Maskarene (Bourbon Island) where they arrived Easter Sunday, or April 13, 1721 (corrected from his 1720). Moor alleges that these two pirates took Guelderland, with the Viceroy of Goa on board and another Ostend ship in the harbor of Saint-Denis. The most important part of Moor's testimony, relative to the story of Christopher Condent, was that his name was not Christopher, but Edward. Moor said that a man that they had met on Bourbon and "drank and caroused with" was a pirate belonging to the command of "Edward Conden" and that he later saw Edward Conden "commonly reputed to be Comander of a pirate Ship called the Dragon [not Flying Dragon]" and that Conden had at least briefly retired on Bourbon with a pardon and was able to keep the tremendous wealth he had attained as a pirate. 

This account is confirmed by the narrative written by the viceroy himself, in Le Mercure, May 1722, the very same publication from which Mist drew the information about Condent's arm being cut off, his pardon, and the Prince Eugene. Luís Carlos Inácio Xavier de Meneses, Comte d'Ericiera, Viceroy of the East Indies (1689-1742) told that his vessel, the Vierge de Cap, formerly known as the Dutch vessel Guelderland, or officially by the Portuguese as the Nossa Senhora do Cabo, "pierced for 72 pieces of cannon, but having only 30, the crew was 130 men, and there were a great number of Ecclesiastical Passengers and People of Justice who were returning to Europe," had first run into a cyclone that left them with 21 cannon and blew them into Bourbon. On the 16th, the "Victorious [Victory], one of the Pirate Ships, mounted with 36 pieces of cannon, and 200 men of crew, commanded by La Bousse, French National, moored under his bowsprit, and at the same time the other Pirate named Fantasie [Cassandra?], commanded by Siger [Seager] An Englishman of 58 guns and 280 men [Taylor at that time was the quartermaster]," came up on his starboard side. We have to remember that the Count of Ericiera was Portuguese and probably not good with English ship names. The pirates hoisted their black flags and opened fire. The Portuguese battled them fiercely, in some detail, according to the narrative of Ericiera, of course the hero of that losing fight. Afterward, while the Viceroy was being entertained on board the pirate ship, "At eight o'clock in the evening the Count of Ericeira saw Cogdom [Condent or Congdon], the English Pirate, come on board, who had commanded a ship, and had obtained for him and his crew an Amnesty in the name of the King and the Company [Feb 1721]. He made compliments from the Governor to his Excellency, and endeavored to persuade the Pirate Officers to allow the Count of Ericeira to go ashore, but he did not succeed in obtaining any of his entreaties." The pirates requested a ransom and the money was promptly delivered by M. de Beauvoilier de Courchant, the governor. "The 2,000 piastres arrived at noon, and the Pirates magnificently carpeted their finest canoe, which they offered to the Count to take him to the ground. The officers accompanied him, each ship, as well as the prisoners saluted him with 21 cannon shots, and eleven cries of 'Long Live the King.'" The Count saw them as rather civilized, behaving more as military men than vicious rogues. 

[12] The attack on Delagoa of April 1722 most likely was not carried out by Condent or Congdon, who had retired in Feb 1721. Other depositions also state that it was Taylor and La Buse. This detail makes Mist's narrative even more suspicious in light of [13].

[13] The details which Mist used to finish his detail on Condent most likely came from Le Mercure, May 1722 as well. The ship in question was the Cooker, Capt. Henry Beker. He relayed the message to Gov. M. de Beauvoilier de Courchant, who sent a letter assuring Congdon of the pardon. The best part of this story got left out of Mist's book, though:
Finally, on the 30th of January, 1721, the Cooker came to St. Paul [Mauritius], in charge of Captain Congdon, with 42 of his pirate crews, nearly all in very bad condition by the poison given them by the blacks of Madagascar, The crew of the Dragon had perished [92 of them]. They had engaged M. Beker to pass them over the Isle of Bourbon, after having set fire to two others of their ships, of which they had previously spiked the canon, that they could not embark on the little English ship.
In the crossing four of their comrades died; They do not believe that none of those who remain can retreat; For several of them having dragged themselves to the shores of the sea to embark, were falling dead before they could set foot in the ship.
The Negroes of Madagascar will always take care to destroy those who have brought money to their isle, will want to leave it before they have spent it. Debauchery still greatly helps the poison, whose cupidity arms these unfortunate islanders, and quarrels often prevent the effect of both.
As soon as Captain Congdon learned of the poison, he retired on board, where he remained ever since with the most wise of his Crew without going ashore, which kept them.
[14] Actually, Port Louis, France on southern shores of Brittany. St. Malo is on the northern shores. 

What is most apparent is that there really is no quandary about this pirate's name. It is most certainly Edward Congdon. Furthermore, Henri-François Buffet, with the Archives départementales de la Réunion knew this pirate as "Edward Congdon" when he wrote "The End of the Pirate Edward Congdon" for his archives' journal in 1960. Remember, Réunion was the island that used to be called "Bourbon" and where the Count d'Ericiera had his ship taken in 1721. Of course, Congdon lived and spent his riches there for a couple of years before moving on to France. 

One primary record recorded the name Thomas, but it was a trader that had met him briefly before carrying his request for a pardon to the governor of Bourbon. There were many Congdons, few Condents and no "Christophers." What's more, I can't find anything earlier than the 1960s even in a newspaper, record, or book suggesting that this pirate's name was Christopher! An article in Washington, DC's Evening Star, August 19, 1906, Page 11, called "Stories of the Pirates, by John L. White, of course, strictly copies "Johnson" with "Captain Condent." No newspaper articles in the Library of Congress ever printed a story about "Christopher Condent." Those newspapers go back to the 18th century. An article in the Morning Star (Rockford, Illinois), April 2, 1899, and Washington, DC's Evening Star, of August 19, 1906 reprints A General History's "Capt. Condent" and never gives his first name. In fact, many ads for reprinting and selling copies of this book attest to its great popularity! Finally, a story appearing in a South Carolina newspaper in 1926 called him "Jerry Condent." This may be precisely why there are so many names - not because pirates were fond of aliases, but because the general public liked to fantasize so much! I imagine that the author of that article had a son or friend named Jerry and he did it as a joke for him. But, we don't know why he did it! The next generation was apt to accept this as truth - incorporate the name into pirate dogma! We can't adopt this as actual history!

Ad to reprint A General History in Gleaner (Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania), October 14, 1814, 1.

Haverhill Gazette (Haverhill, Massachusetts), May 13, 1826, 4.

Morning Star (Rockford, Illinois), April 2, 1899, 10.

Washington, DC's Evening Star, August 19, 1906, Page 11, called "Stories of the Pirates, by John L. White

"Capt. Jerry Condent" in Evening Post (Charleston, South Carolina), August 6, 1927, 5.

Mist's extravagances and, I suspect, his withholding of information somewhat overwhelms the point of his research. For instance, he may have known a great deal more of Congdon's life in Brittany but chose not to share it. The excitement, however, has  seriously debilitated pirate history. Many still depend upon A General History, eagerly absorbing every morsel of information, no matter the source, that they can add to it. Times have changed, though - primary sources are more accessible than they used to be... the primary sources of information that Johnson or Mist was privy to are well known. Secondary sources like special features in newspapers have and still cause serious problems. They're usually written for the purpose that Mist wrote his book - profit or entertainment - and are not truly meant to be history. And, the lack of citations never helps. Many have devoured these modified tales throughout the last 300 years, totally obscuring fact and fiction! This has affected even scholarly inquiry!

Denis Piat's Pirates & Privateers of Mauritius is an obviously well-researched book. He has included information on pages 42-43 that include details that had to have come from these French records in Le Mercure. Piat has to know that what he sees in A General History is compromised. Still, he titles this section "Christopher Condent (?-1734)." and his first line comes straight from A General History.

Furthermore, John de Bry, an archaeologist in search of William Kidd's Adventure Galley leads him to question the dating of his rich watery find in the bay at Saint-Marie Island with gold coins and porcelain. He suspected it came from the period 1720-1721. When this happened, the scholarly De Bry did excellent historical pre-study on this new pirate and his ship, with the help of Barry Clifford who helped excavate the Whydah in New England. De Bry also obviously knew about the records in Le Mercure. Still, bowing to the great "Almighty Lord Johnson" and his devotees, Clifford suggested to him that it may be the Fiery Dragon of Christopher Condent! All of his reports include this error.

Whatever. It worked. De Bry probably found a rich pirate ship related to Christopher Condent.... or rather, Edward Congdon or any other of dozens of pirate ships and their prizes in that area from 1720-1722. It may have been the Dragon, although Congdon supposedly burned the two ships he had with him at the time and De Bry never mentioned anything about archaeological evidence of a fire, which certainly would have effected the gold and porcelain artifacts found.

Now. let's talk about this "John Taylor" fellow... or was it "Richard" or "George"... lol.


Hopefully, at the end of 2017, I will be finished with my newest book: Dictionary of Pyrate Biography, 1713-1720 which will attempt for the first time ever to re-discover pirate history without using A General History. I guarantee a lot of surprises!

Please keep up with updates on my website at

Meanwhile, visit my Lulu page for already published material, including the Quest for Blackbeard! 


Saturday, May 06, 2017

Brief History of American Violence

Many folks criticize me for the assertion that Pirates of the Caribbean actually founded America's Deep South through Carolina and, ultimately, infected the whole country with their extreme conservative ideology. Remember the Civil War? What about the recent presidential election? Guess where the conservative anti-government theme comes from...

This should, however, be rather obvious to most historians. I'm sure it is to Richard Dunn, author of Sugar & Slaves,  author Douglas R. Burgess, Jr., of The Politics of Piracy, and especially to Colin Woodard, author of American Nations.  This is especially obvious when you truly see pirates for who they actually were, instead of just reading about "alternative" pirates in Robert Louis Stevenson novels or in 300-year-old texts written in London by a man with an agenda - no, not a politician - but, a "running mouth" who owed money to politicians.

"Alternative" Pirates of the 18th century "fake media"

A "pirate" was generally a sea-going vessel run by a crew who raided and stole from you - your government and its citizens - yes, sometimes the other guy's, but you only cared about yours - that's very important. Only those personal-affecting marauding types were called "pirates." Now, "you" might mean English, Spanish, Dutch, French, Portuguese... even Swedish! Your own "pirates" were called "privateers" and you generally loved them - yours, I mean - not the ones who preyed on you! Everyone fought like cats and dogs to steal each others' stuff... for centuries! Not only did they get their stuff taken, but they died a lot, too.

Consequently, the West Indies was a maelstrom of all of these governments vying for the gold, silver, sugar, and slaves concentrated there. It was like a gigantic factory where all the companies competed against one another on a daily basis - in the same building - while taking each others' profits! Pirates were once greatly needed to steal from other companies/nations and they even invigorated heroic visions among their thieving descendants. Sir Francis Drake, Sir John Hawkins, Sir Henry Morgan and many others were often knighted flamboyant treasure-seekers - especially even Morgan, who held an official office of power in the West Indies. Morgan was once governor of Jamaica some years after the English conquest of 1655 - a colony stolen from Spain, of course.

Sir Francis Drake being knighted by Queen Elizabeth

Needless to say, only the roughest, most ruthless, unprincipled corporate-types were successful in the American business of piracy and its cousin, chattel slavery. Every man in America with a ship, sloop, or even a canoe and the know-how to navigate probably committed piracy at one time or another. This is important: only educated gentlemen of some stature were capable of the math necessary to navigate. Pirate captains and many of their crew were not born poor folks! Most of these unprincipled ruthless gentlemen were cast out of England for various reasons, usually religious (Anglicanism played a significant role - if only to alleviate the guilt of slavery) or criminal, especially after the Jacobite Rebellions. This may have affected any links they may have had to their original family fortunes, but America offered great treasures in gold, silver, and slaves! Rebellion paid well!

"Beyond the line..." of Civilization

The Brits had a saying for this faraway lucrative "Frankenstein" creation of theirs - "anything was possible beyond the line in America," referring to the southwest quadrant of the Atlantic community - specifically Southern America and the West Indies. This meant that any deprivation, no matter how disgusting or reviled it would be in European civilization, could be conducted with impunity across the Atlantic - "over there" - as long as it wasn't brought back home. This continued for centuries and became well-ingrained in a newer more unique American culture.

Nathaniel Mist, the controversial Jacobite polemicist who wrote as "Capt. Charles Johnson," even called America the "Commonwealth of Pyrates," in print! He did this most likely because Lord Sunderland threatened him, but the appellation was still appropriate. 

Now, you can imagine how a growing population of outcast conservative rebel gentlemen, with multiple generations in America and Stuart politics firmly planted in their psyche, might view their "mother country," right? From 3,000 miles away in England -  too far for the government to mount a serious opposition? They dallied a bit with the idea of separation... especially in Barbados during the Interregnum or Parliamentary rule when the Stuart king's head was removed and his son and heir kicked out - Stuart rule was re-established in a short time, after the son came back from France. The Interregnum only lasted eleven years - a bit longer than a two-term American president. Still, the Interregnum proved that the world did not explode when you chopped off a king's head. It also gave Parliament a taste of what government could be like without a monarch controlling everything like a dictator!

Liberal Reform and Cultural Divergence

Now, imagine that the formerly unprincipled (and already weakened by distance) government that once created an unprincipled America in its own Stuart image began to fall from power in England itself -  they were replaced by Parliamentary reformers of a more liberal persuasion. Parliament, growing ever more powerful, finally ousted the elite Stuarts, rejecting their heir to the throne, James III, and replacing him with a "Dutch dog," as one American referred to him, Protestant Dutchman William of Orange.

Suppose these reformers then passed anti-piracy legislation following that Great Revolution of 1688? Rules such as proper flag use on vessels so as not to fool an adversary (favorite pirate tactic), new regulations involving condemning prizes, wreck salvage, reinforced tax laws, etc. - and, they expected Americans to abide by these regulations - regulations designed to handicap their success and profit! How did these piratical Americans see their liberalizing, weakening "mother" once she began to betray their conservative Stuart principles and time-honored practices - like their beloved piracy?

Edward Randolph, colonial administrator, understood all too well! He fought for revocation of politically corrupt private colonies like Carolina, the Bahamas, and the Jerseys - colonies run by wealthy aristocrats who never left their comfortable homes in London or other great estates. Lord Carteret, for instance, carried on a strong political rivalry with one of the Whig reformers, Sir Robert Walpole, known as England's first prime minister. Randolph scorned the Stuart or Tory abuse of power and privilege of men like Carteret, and the careless allowance of the colonies to hold Vice-Admiralty courts over themselves - how could pirates try pirates, he argued?

From an outside perspective, South Carolina, one of Randolph's favorite reform projects, appeared to respond to reform measures. This was, however, only superficial at best. Their merchants had no intention of reforming, but merely responded to being picked on so heavily and personally by pirates since 1717. After all, it was James Moore, a former governor of South Carolina, who had recently said in court that “Mr. [Peter] Painter having comitted Piracy & not having his majesties Pardon for ye Same [meaning South Carolina's permission].  Its resolved he is not fit for that trust.”

South Carolina, founded in 1671 by the "Corporation of Barbados Adventurers" to "Conquer and Dominate the World," once viewed piracy as a "trust" - not at all a crime! How reform-minded were they in 1717? Not really - just pissed, actually. Americans adored their pirates as well as their conservative political ideology. I wrote American Pirates in the News! telling of how even the word "pirate" was never used in a colonial newspaper in reference to Englishmen until 1716. England, however, used the term regularly in their records and newspapers. Again, they were 3,000 miles away from the land "beyond the line," in the "Commonwealth of Pyrates," a land where even the governors dealt in stolen goods with men like Edward "Blackbeard" Thache, Henry Jennings, and Benjamin Hornigold. Even the Puritanical north had been affected by the pirate William Kidd in 1699. Gov. Samuel Cranston had bartered with him for gold and jewels from a Red Sea raid.

South Carolina administrators' open policy on piracy had changed only a little - and only when it interfered with their profit. Merchants' property had been taken, their ships prevented from leaving harbor, at least three times by pirates Stede Bonnet, Edward "Blackbeard" Thache, and Charles Vane... it was threatened a fourth time by Richard Worley, but by then, South Carolina's merchants had had enough. Their "privateers" sought Vane, captured Bonnet, and killed Worley in their harbor, both of his ships confiscated. There was nothing personal about any of this, you understand - only business!

Stede Bonnet was to be tried by their Vice Admiralty court. But, before that could happen, a local resident of South Carolina, Richard Tookerman, a wealthy man with an estate in Goose Creek, several slaves, and owner of two ships, broke Stede Bonnet from jail. He loaned him a canoe, two slaves and ammunition to get away from Charles Towne - at least until they cooled off!

South Carolina's official administrators, sent from England, might have been more upset than the locals - residents who helped Bonnet, like Richard Tookerman of Goose Creek, a pirate himself, referred to notoriously by Woodes Rogers, governor of the Bahamas. Remember, Rogers came from England to clean up the Bahamas' pirate nest.

Americans in general, still revered their pirate heroes and dealt regularly with pirates and their illicit goods, available to an often disenfranchised destitute people for pennies on the pound. Wealthy men like Tookerman were the upper crust, the 3% merchant class of landed, rich, and voting South Carolinians - men who desired to live their lives in the style of their own heroes: Drake, Hawkins, and Morgan, early thieves, slavers, and murderers of America! Corruption was simply the norm. South Carolina usually looked the other way when you had power, influence, and money.

In fact, a great many of those pirates, men who once sailed with Thache, Hornigold, Rackham, Vane, Burgess, Nichols, Napping, and many others, who surrendered in the Bahamas to the Rogers administration, came to privately-run South Carolina afterward. They knew that they could retire there with their illegally-acquired wealth - even continuing to pirate treasure from their new base - with permission, of course. That "permission" entitled South Carolina to a cut of the booty.

Thomas Porter, brother of Daniel Porter, and former master of the pirate vessel Mayflower (then captained by his brother), came to South Carolina in 1718 in the company of a surrendered pirate, Othniel Davis. Porter had earlier purchased a South Carolina estate of over a thousand acres from the Bahamian customs collector John Graves - probably while conducting pirate raids with Benjamin Hornigold in Bennett late in 1717. He settled there while Davis became a commissioned privateer for South Carolina and went on to become another great American hero, destroying Spanish privateers in 1719 and 1720. Who knows what money he collected on the side... or how?

This excerpt from Quest for Blackbeard illustrates Thomas Porter's wealth and South Carolina's ingrained corruption:
Consequently, the will of Thomas Porter of Colleton County, South Carolina, planter (11 Sep 1755-12 Oct 1755) appears rather interesting. Porter appeared to begin his family in the mid-1720s, as his pirate career wound down. He purchased his 1,036-acre plantation in Colleton County from an aged John Graves, former collector for the Bahamas who argued fervently for Resumption of private charters for two decades, 1697-1717, and died soon after Woodes Rogers arrived as the Bahamas’ first royal governor. Porter served on a SC Grand Jury in 1740. In his will, he mentions 100 acres of land at Beechill that borders Richard Be[a]don, son of George and brother of Stephen Beadon, who claimed the slave Peter from the effects on board Stede Bonnet’s Revenge when Richard and Katherine Tookerman claimed their slave Ned Grant. He also refers to two houses and fifty acres near Dorchester. Porter was rather wealthy at the time of his death. The slaves York, Phillis, and Caser [Caesar], he left to his wife Elizabeth along with the Beechill estate. His eldest son Thomas received half of the old Graves land, along with “wearing apparel: my Gold Buttons, my Gold Buckles, my Gold headed Cane, my sword & other of my Weapons of War,” and a mulatto boy named Elick with the assorted silver in the house. George received the other half of the main estate. His daughter Elizabeth acquired “one necklace of Pearl with a Gold Locket, one pair of Gold shoe Buckles, one Diamond Ring,” a gold crop, a prayer book, and £2,000. His daughter Mary received a similar collection of gold and jewels. Thomas Porter, Bahamian ship owner and repeat-offender former pirate, later upstanding South Carolinian, was not, by any stretch of the imagination, a poor man.
America’s Deep South, the later Confederacy, came into being with Carolina whose Barbadian founders even then fully intended to fill the land with rice and slaves. The sugar islands and the wealth that they generated contributed significantly to Carolina, intended as a "breadbasket" of sorts to a West-Indian colony who sugar crop was too lucrative to grow food! Driven by the profits of a lucrative West Indian sugar production, laissez-faire capitalism also developed “with the convergence of agricultural improvements, global explorations, and scientific advances.” America became independent and resented government control from a nation that no longer served their interests.

So, as you can see by Porter's will, in the Deep South of the "Commonwealth of Pyrates," crime paid pretty well! Ask any corporate CEO how it pays today - remember that "crime" - to you - is defined by your own country's laws and your own cultural influences. America called the shots after 1783 - and, it's written history reflects the new power structure.

Carolina was not the glorified and gilded fantasy, ordained by God, often displayed in early history textbooks, with Stevenson's visions of imaginary "alternative pirates" diverting criticisms of America's corporate ancestry. It was an often overlooked and religiously-justified immoral and bloody affair, a crime by any other name. Woodard wrote:
Scholars have long recognized that cultures organized around [chattel] slavery rely on violence to control, punish, and terrorize—which no doubt helps explain the erstwhile prevalence of lynching deaths [see map] in Deep South and Tidewater. But it is also significant that both these nations, along with Greater Appalachia, follow religious traditions that sanction eye-for-an-eye justice, and adhere to secular codes that emphasize personal honor and shun governmental authority. As a result, their members have fewer qualms about rushing to lethal judgments. 

Woodard, in his book, painted Deep South slave society as “a system so cruel and despotic [that it] shocked even its seventeenth-century contemporaries.” He further clarified that it has remained a “bastion of white supremacy, aristocratic privilege, and modeled upon the classical Republicanism of the slave states of the ancient world.” Moreover, they practiced a religiously-justified plantation economy based upon slave labor - modernizing a brutal Stuart conservative-Jacobite culture in every sense.

Wealthy English corsairs and businessmen perpetrated heinous deeds from Carolina's shores, not unlike the Crusades of the Middle Ages: Spain’s territory invaded, their treasures stolen, Dutch and French trade and lands forcefully bootlegged, and Africans, Indians, and even Europeans murdered, mutilated, and/or enslaved. Of course, the fact that the Spanish, French, Dutch, etc. committed their own crimes against the English often rhetorically justified those of the English, citing their own "gentler treatment" as a sign that they most deserved God's blessings!  One’s “adventurer” is another’s “criminal,” just like one’s “privateer” is another’s “pirate.” And, the violence continues...


"Quest for Blackbeard" is now available in ebook format and can be found on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other online booksellers, including Apple iTunes.

Quest is already previewable on Google Books.