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Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Review: Quest for Blackbeard


Review of original 2016 edition...

Now updated and expanded.. and affordable e-book edition!

A truly groundbreaking Book!
By Mark Martinez on July 16, 2017
Baylus C. Brooks' Quest for Blackbeard I believe will help to usher in a sea change in the field of piracy in the 18th century West Indies. A highly sourced and entirely readable work, Quest presents a much needed critique of Captain Charles Johnson's 1724 book "A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the most notorious Pyrates" which has served as the principal source used by researchers since the time of its writing in defining the character and exploits of the famous pirate.
Brooks helps to reinforce the emerging theory among researchers that the Captain Johnson who wrote "A General History" was actually the 18th-century Jacobite printer and journalist, Nathaniel Mist. Mist's reputation is best understood by examining his "Weekly Journal" which was the most vocal and extreme resistance newspaper to emerge in opposition to the Hanoverian Whig takeover of the British parliament in 1715. Brooks explains how Mist, under the Johnson pseudonym, wrote "a General History" largely as an exploitation and/or propaganda narrative designed to appeal to the unique political sensibilities of his readers. As such, it has been wrong for researchers to use it blindly, as it has been, to define who Blackbeard was and how he should be understood in history.
In this regard, Brooks has done groundbreaking work in uncovering the true origins of Blackbeard. Unlike the image painted by Mist of a vulgar and brutal monster of low birth, Brooks has discovered through records he has brought to light found in St Catherine's Parish registries of Jamaica and Jamaican deed books as well as through genealogies compiled from wills kept by the Prerogative Court of Canterbury in England that Blackbeard, whose given name was Edward Thache, was actually from a minor aristocratic family who was not far removed from high level players in the political circles of his time - principally among them, the Lechmeres of Hanley Castle in Worcestershire who supported the 1st Whig Junto and who were, through marriage, connected to the Winthrops of Connecticut. Brooks has discovered that Thache began his career, surprisingly, as a well-respected mariner serving in the British Royal Navy aboard the HMS Windsor.
Put simply, Brooks has made a compelling case that Thache was perhaps more privateer than pirate, at least in his early days, with sympathies more aligned with the ousted Stewarts than with the ascendant Hanovers. These alignments appear to have led him onto the wrong side of history. It can be argued that he may have gotten caught in his own emerging reputation fostered by his own press along with the unstable politics of his age, a combination that led him into an outlaw career that he perhaps couldn't escape.
In all respects, Quest is a groundbreaking book. It offers much food for thought no matter what opinions the reader holds on the subject and, at a minimum, presents much newly discovered source material that makes the light of day for the first time in this work. These documents, by themselves, make the book worth purchasing. The well-conceived conclusions Brooks draws makes it invaluable. In all respects Quest for Blackbeard is well worth the read for all who are interested in the subject.

Sunday, November 01, 2020

Carpenter's Bay and the Mystery Tomb of Mauritius

Northwest Port and Tombeau, Brow’s, or Peter Butts Bay from “A chart of the Island of Mauritius” by John Thornton, made 1702-1707. 

In writing Sailing East: West-Indian Pirates in Madagascar, a reference came up often about a tomb on the shores of the East-Indian island of Mauritius at a place called "Brown's Bay" or "Carpenter's Bay." This tomb became the apparent reason for the changing of the name of that bay to "Bay of Tombs" or "Baie de Tombeau" in French. This tomb also was so large, that it was visible for miles and often used as a navigational aid by ship's masters:

HMS Salisbury log - 28-30 March 1722 at Mauritius

The tomb was used by pirates to scribble a message in charcoal for probably Capt. James Macrae, former commander of the East-Indiaman Cassandra, whom the pirates believed was chasing them. Earlier, the pirates had taken this vessel from him.. an important man who would soon be president at Fort Madras. Thing is... Commodore Thomas Matthews thought the message had been written for him by these same pirates as he sailed for Madagascar from Bombay to find them. 

1765 Jacques N. Bellin Map

So, more than one level of confusion existed over this tomb and its message!

One such quandary concerned whose tomb this was and when they were buried, and under what conditions. My investigations revealed more than one possible answer. 

Part of Sailing East: West-Indian Pirates in Madagascar, Chapter Six reads:

Comm. Mathews Again
Visits Madagascar

After witnessing Gov. Boone’s retirement and the succession of John Pitts as governor of Bombay for the EIC, and after removing Sir Robert Johnson as captain of HMS Exeter for violating orders, the fleet departed Bombay in February 1722 – Exeter, then under Capt. Samuel Braithwaite. They followed the Indian west coast or Malabar in the south. They were bound for Madagascar and, so then branched west and made for Mauritius, as Downing wrote:

In February 1721-2 we left the Coast of Malabar, and took our Departure from Cape Commeron [Comorin] in the Latitude of 7 Deg. 10. M. Northerly, and shaped our Course for the Island of Moroslas [Mauritius], but made no Stay there; tho' we here found writ on Capt. Carpenter's Tomb with a Piece of Charcoal, [“]We were here in the Cassandra and Victory [not Defense; This was written when the pirates repaired Victory Feb-April 1721, not 1722], expecting your Coming; we left this Place on the 28th of February [confusing; if 1721, they arrived about that date – had they left this message for Macrae when they arrived?], and are now on our Voyage for Port Dolphin [Dauphin], on the Island of Madagascar.[“ Was this another misdirection intended for Macrae?]

The Commodore and his men, however, almost missed the pirates’ message, which appears to have been written instead for James Macrae, who the pirates believed followed behind them as they sailed south from the Malabar Coast. As Lion’s log recorded, the fleet made sail on 15 March for Bourbon, “where some of our People disposed of several Casks of Arrack, and Madera Wine, &c. for very good Profit.”

The fleet then left Bourbon for Madagascar. Lion’s log told, however, that weather alternated for weeks between fair, rainy, and contrary winds – Lion, Exeter, and Salisbury made little headway. There came a strong lightning storm thirty miles northwest of Round Island, a small island about fourteen miles north of Mauritius. The storm separated Lion from her consorts and split her mizzen topsail “from head to foot.”
Blown six leagues back southeast, Lion’s crew made sight of Round Island four leagues away. They knew they were close to Mauritius and decided at nightfall to return to that destination for resupply and to make repairs. The next afternoon, 28 March at 3 pm, Lion anchored in the northwest harbor of Mauritius, likely where the pirates had made their repairs to Victory the year before. Salisbury and Exeter had landed there as well. On 29 March, the fleet made for the next bay north, or Carpenter’s Bay [“Brown’s Bay,” “Pieter Both Bay,” “Peter Butts Bay,” “Baye de Tombeau,” or “Bay of Tombs”], to “wood and water.”

This bay was apparently where they found the message written on Capt. Carpenter’s tomb by the pirates – perhaps a large white marble tomb erected during the Dutch occupation period (until 1710) – which the Navy men believed was a taunt written for their benefit, not Macrae’s, urging them to find the pirates who took Cassansdra at Port Dauphin.  As HMS Salisbury’s log makes clear, Carpenter’s tomb was large and obvious enough so as to function as a navigational feature, seen from aboard ship. Salisbury’s log mentions “wee finde here 2 french Ships that brought people to Settle this place” to join with an unknown number of English pirates already there, probably in the former dwellings of the previous Dutch residents.  Lion and Salisbury mounted forty and thirty-six guns. Mathews informed the Admiralty that they brought twelve shore guns, but were “in a very bad condition, and no way provided with Men sufficient, or Provisions, or, indeed, with any necessaries to preserve them from the attempts of the Pirates.”  After nearly a week at Mauritius, the fleet resupplied and weighed anchor on 4 April to resume her voyage, now for Port Dauphin, following the misunderstood message of the pirates, to find them at Madagascar, not at Île Saint-Marie, but at the location to which they hoped to misdirect Macrae.*


* The investigations revealed:

“The Manuscripts of P. Edward Tillard, Esq., of the Holme, Godmanchester,” Fifteenth Report, Appendix, Part X (London: Her Majesty’s Stationary Office, 1899), 79; Cemetery location and fauna detail from the observations of William Tillard, 17 May 1699 at Carpenter’s Bay, Mauritius: “There is verry good fresh water about half-a-mile up ye river from Carpenters bay w[h]ere we lay with our ship, so yt we made 3 turns with fresh water every day, & yt with ease. There is a tomb built at ye entrance of ye river [Terre Rouge or Rivière du Tombeau], a little way from ye shore, where lyes one Welden [Tillard assumed this to be George; will prob. 11 March 1698 - PROB 11/444/239; “Will of George Weldon, Merchant of the East Indies bound on Ship Benjamin“], who died on this Isld abt 2 yrs since, returning home in ye Benja [British hired storeship of 450 tons – captain John Brown] from Bombay.

I looked at the will of George Weldon, but found nothing to indicate his date of date, just the probate of his will on 11 March 1698, which did mean that he died before this date, and while on Benjamin, so it worked. 

But, Weldon was not the only person suggested to be buried in that tomb:

Another reference made in 1709 by Jean de la Roque (1661-1745) in A voyage to Arabia Felix through the Eastern Ocean and the streights of the Red-Sea, being the first made by the French in the years 1708, 1709 and, 1710…, page 151, states "As we drew near the Sea Shore, we found by the side of a little Torrent, a very handsome Tomb of Freestone, cover’d with a Marble [table or tablet], with an Inscription, which gave us to understand, that it was the Tomb of the wife of a Dutch General who dy’d in this Island going to the Indies;” 

De la Roque gave a wonderful description of the tomb and why it was so obvious from ships off shore. And, his reasoning was close - at least it involved a woman! Still, de la Roque apparently couldn't tell the difference between English and Dutch! Thus, he also missed, as the woman buried here was the widow of a British East India Company official...

The actual journal of Benjamin shows that “Lady Susannah Child” had died 26 March 1697 and was buried on the shore of Mauritius and that Capt. John Brown fired 20 guns in her honor:

Journal entry from 26 March 1697

"Portrait Of A Lady, Said To Be Lady Susannah Child" oil on Canvas, by Maria Verelst.
Lady Susannah Child was the wife of Sir John Child, who was deputy Governor of Bombay from 1679-1681 and President of Surat from 1682 until his death in 1690.

The storeship Benjamin was listed as: 450/468 tons, 30 guns, 90/93 crew.


(1) 1688/9 St Helena, Bombay and Sumatra. Capt Leonard Browne. Downs 7 May 1689 - 19 Jul Madeira 8 Aug - 6 Jan 1690 St Helena - 28 May Bombay 26 Sep - 8 Oct Surat - Jul 1691 Acheh - Oct Malacca - 29 Jan 1692 Acheh - 26 Apr Onore - 10 May Karwar 23 Sep - Goa - 16 Oct Surat 14 Feb 1693 - 16 May Cape 2 Jun - 18 Sep Ascension - 31 Oct Plymouth.

(2) 1693/4 Surat. Capt John Brown. 22 Jul 1694 - 13 Oct São Tiago - 1 Mar 1695 Moheli - Bombay 16 Sep 1696 - 11 Nov Bandar Abbas - 17 Dec Bombay - 10 Jan 1697 Karwar - Bombay 18 Feb - 22 May Mauritius - Cape 5 Aug - 30 Sep St Helena - 27 Jan 1698 Margate.

(3) 1698/9 Madras. Capt John Brown. Downs 29 Oct 1698 - 20 Dec Cadiz - 2 Mar 1699 Cape - 2 Jun Fort St David - 4 Jun Madras - 24 Jul Fort St David - 1 Aug Pondicherry - 4 Aug Madras - 26 Aug Masulipatam - 30 Aug Vizagapatam - 16 Sep Balasore - 25 Dec Vizagapatam - 30 Jan 1700 Masulipatam - 3 Feb Madras - 17 Jun St Helena - 27 Sep Downs.