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Tuesday, April 27, 2021

"Capt. Charles Johnson" was indeed Nathaniel Mist


Stationers' Company Archive, London, Entries of Copies, 28 April 1710 to 25 September 1746, p. 317.

About the author of A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pyrates (1724):
From Quest for Blackbeard - "The most important detail, perhaps, appears that [Nathaniel] Mist’s foreman John Wolfe registered A General History in 'His Majesty’s Stationers’ Company' on June 24, 1724 'for Nathaniel Mist.'* Almost certainly, Mist authored A General History [he certainly owned the copyright] and he profited substantially from the publication. Indeed, A General History seemed to have been his financial lifeboat – at least for a few years [after his imprisonment and fines]. 
* Arne Bialuschewski, “Daniel Defoe, Nathaniel Mist, and A General History of the Pyrates,” Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America (PBSA), 98 (March 2004), pp. 25n14, 26 (from: Stationers' Company Archive, London, Entries of Copies, 28 April 1710 to 25 September 1746, 317 (see above picture); Mist owned 100% of the book, too). 
We should note here that Nathaniel Mist was a Jacobite-loving anti-government publisher (think: Fox News) who had been recently jailed and fined for his now-first-amendment-supported propaganda. Not that the propaganda was anything but harmful to Great Britain's reigning monarch. Only two years after publishing A General History, Mist fled England for France to avoid further trouble with the government. Arne Bialuschewski adds further:
In September 1728 an anonymous pamphlet entitled Mist’s Closet Broke Open appeared, which contained a number of epigrams that were published to ridicule Mist after he had taken flight. Its contents are of minor importance, except for the fact that there are two references to Captain Charles Johnson. The first comprises “Sea-news from Capt. Johnson to Mist,” the second is a fictional letter from Mist to Johnson.By that time, it seems, the connection between the fictitious captain and the Jacobite was an open secret in the publishing business.
Professor of Literature Dr. Manushag Powell of Purdue University assures us that this book was written as historical fiction or a "counterfactual" as she puts it.. Furthermore, Daniel DeFoe - sometime author of occasional articles appearing in Mist's newspaper, Weekly Journal or Saturday Evening Post - reputedly "authored" a cheap knock-off of A General History the year after Mist published it. DeFoe, however, never copyrighted this... which makes you wonder how he got later credit for it. Politics may have helped, as he was a spy for Lord Sunderland - keeping an eye on Mist and his anti-government writing! Jacobites often paid dearly for their treasonous efforts and Mist, of course, fled to France in 1726!
A General History is filled with corrigendums, or "things to be corrected, typically an error in a printed book," if we presume it to be an actual history. It is best viewed as historical fiction. How can we possibly treat Nathaniel Mist or any of his acquaintances as an historian or his uncited suspect secondary novel as an actual "history" in the face of this overwhelming evidence? There are a plethora of primary documents available from which to gain more trustworthy pirate history - many of them used and then, elaborated upon - even stretched into outright lies - by Mist! I often joke that my historical fiction, Fountain of Hope, could be looked at as "A General History of Florida" one day, based on this same criteria... some may even propose that time travel is real, based on that erroneous assumption! I assure you that - so far - it has not been proven and I never intended Fountain of Hope to be actual history, even though I loaded it to the brim with historical fact - a novelist's tactic to gain more realism. The polemical Mist, on the other hand, did indeed expect his readers to consider A General History to be just that! After all, he called his novel a "history," didn't he?

Monday, April 05, 2021

Who was Pirate Jasper Seager and Did he Use an Alias?

These details reference those pirates involved in the taking of Cassandra, an East India Company vessel under the command of James Macrae in the summer of 1720, in the bay of Anjouan or Johanna, just off the north-western tip of Madagascar.

First of all... Jasper Seager was NOT the same pirate as Edward England! 

Why would anyone think that, anyway? "Jasper" is no nickname for "Edward" that I've ever heard! "Seager" doesn't sound anything like "England." Presumably, some writers assume that pirates used aliases and this explains the comparison.

I read this all the time in various references - presumably because people today anachronistically believe that pirates used aliases on a regular basis. They really did not. There are a couple of rare examples, but it was by no means a common practice. Moreover, the common reference of "alias" in records of this time period simply meant "also known as" - perhaps a nickname commonly used - and was not a term necessarily to indicate an attempt by them to hide their true identity by taking on a completely different name. That's more of a 20th and 21st-century assumption about criminality and the modern concept of "alias."

Yes, pirates committed crimes, but the 18th century was far from a crime-free time period - much more crime-ridden than society today. The British government of older times often endorsed criminality themselves and often openly outside of Great Britain and especially in America - the land "beyond the lines of amity!" So, let's put this England-Seager false comparative assumption to rest once and for all!

Primary-source records - indeed, eyewitness accounts - can assure us that Jasper Seager and Edward England are not the same man:

John Barnes, the 1st mate of Greenwich, captain Richard Kirby, while in Johanna Bay, wrote in his journal entry for August 7, 1720 that Greenwich, Cassandra, and an Ostend vessel (220-ton Stahremberg, Capt. Richard Gargan) came under attack by two pirates: 46-gun French-built Victory, commanded by "Capt. England" and 36-gun Dutch-built Fancy, captained by "Capt. Seager." Barnes clearly understood that there were two different pirate captains named England and Seager.

Barnes' journal entry for August 7, 1720

Again, note that John Barnes' journal was an eye-witness account - and, therefore, a primary record! Most of the secondary sources - especially non-cited references, lacking in source notes - are definitely NOT primary sources! In my opinion, many 18th-century newspaper articles are highly suspect secondary sources - often derived from hearsay, printed quickly, and with little or no vetting. Many of those not trained in proper historical research techniques can misunderstand these subtle, but important, distinctions. Thus, a lot of popular pirate literature are bursting with errors and false assumptions.

I cannot say this enough, but Charles Johnson's counterfactual hit-piece A General History of the Pyrates is clearly secondary - quite faulty - and NOT a primary source! Yes, it was all that was handily available for nearly 300 years, but that fact does not magically give it precedence over valid primary sources readily available now! It also did not stop thousands of writers elaborating greatly upon the untold facts - again, over 300 years!

There are quite enough primaries available today that make using faulty references like Johnson's quite ill-advised (~175 transcribed primary records are available for all to use on the "Pirate Reference" tab of my website at Nothing in print can be trusted without detailed valid citations to indicate precisely where the author got his information. Otherwise, it might as well be rumors, religion, hearsay but certainly not history!

Okay... climbing down from the soapbox....

From Sailing East: West-Indian Pirates in Madagascar:

Jasper Seager is an historical enigma. His name does not appear in documents related to this particular group of pirates before sailing to Madagascar in 1720. He appears not to have come from the African Coast with the others. Still, he assumes command of Fancy, and possibly as commodore over both of the two ships that take Cassandra. If his name had not appeared in Chief Mate John Barnes’ journal from Greenwich as the captain of Fancy on the dated entry for 7 August 1720, before hostilities began on the 8th, he would not have been considered as all that important. His credit from historians is undeservedly and comparatively slight after taking Cassandra. He is not as perceptible in most narratives after the pirates take the Viceroy’s ship (see Chapter Five) at La Bourbon, despite the Viceroy’s own account – Richard Lasinby’s account, of course, came from aboard Victory and not Cassandra, then under Seager’s command. 

Owing purely to speculation, Seager may be regarded as an older man of great experience, perhaps already a pirate inhabitant of Madagascar when the others arrived. It is known that one Thomas Seager was in Henry Every’s crew, had not returned with others, and had possibly settled on Madagascar in the mid-1690s.  Perhaps another Seager served in Every’s crew or in Kidd’s? To his credit, Charles Johnson predicted that Edward England’s crew searched for Every’s old crew when they arrived at Île Saint-Marie. Evolving from this reasonable speculation, it may also be that later pirate crews [in the East Indies] consisted of mixes between elder pirate residents of Madagascar and the recent arrivals to the island. Charles Grey also alludes to this in Pirates of the Eastern Seas. As an older pirate residing on Madagascar who once possibly served with Henry Every, Jasper Seager could have been viewed by these younger pirates as legendary as Every himself. It should be noted that an early article by Grey, published in Bombay, India on the “Taking of Cassandra” gave Jasper Seager the primary credit for her capture, not Edward England. Indeed, from Barnes’ journal, it was Seager in Fancy who engaged Macrae for so long and so diligently while England in Victory chased Kirby’s Greenwich.

John Barnes Journal - entry for August 8, 1720

The entry in my Dictionary of Pyrate Biography for Jasper Seager is as follows:

Seager, Jaspar – possibly found at Madagascar by Edward England et al when they arrived in 1720; may be related to Henry Avery’s crewman, Thomas Seager; commanded Victory at Island of Johanna in the East Indies [Anjouan Island in the Comoros, NW of Madagascar], Edward England in Fancy with Richard Taylor aboard took East Indian vessel (8 Aug 1720; 17 Aug 1720 in misprinted Post Boy article) Cassandra, Capt. James Macrae [Mackra in Post Boy], 380 tons, 26 guns, 76 men (left Portsmouth, England 21 Mar 1720) – England is deposed by his crew and left at Madagascar – England then retires on Ile Saint Marie; Possibly an older man, Jasper Seager was made captain of Cassandra; met with Bombay Fleet, late 1720; proceeded to Dutch fort of “Cochins” [southwest coast of India, burial place of Vasco de Gama], Christmas 1720; see greater detail in Olivier LeVasseur and Richard Taylor; word that seven Indian ships sought them and hid at uninhabited island called “Morashes” [Mauritius] – cleaned and caulked badly leaking Victory; Seager in Cassandra, Taylor as quartermaster and LeVasseur made captain of Victory, Feb 1720; LeVasseur and Seager went to “Don Maskareene” [island group just east of Madagascar - Mascarene Islands: Mauritius, Réunion, and Rodrigues] – made for Bay of Bourbon or St. Denis, Réunion and arrived c. Easter Sunday [13 Apr; Moor says 8 Apr], 1721; Luís Carlos Inácio Xavier de Meneses, Viceroy of the East Indies, sailing on a Portuguese vessel, Nossa Senhora do Cabo [Guelderland - Vierge de Cap[1]] from Goa to France, after weathering a storm that blew down all masts and left them with 21 canons, captured by LeVasseur in Victory and Seager in Cassandra [Ericiera calls her Fantasie, variant of "Enchantress," a synonym for the meaning of "Cassandre"] in Bay of Saint-Denis, Isle de Bourbon (a booty equivalent to ten million Euros today, in diamonds, gold, silver coin, bar or ingot), 11/16 April 1721; to leeward [west] of island, captured Dutch ship City of Ostend (former Greyhound), 21/26 Apr 1721; arguments over the Nossa Senhora do Cabo ensued - returned to Madagascar with City of Ostend to clean and sell slaves - desired to split company; Seager died at Madagascar while avoiding British fleet under Comm. Matthews - Olivier LeVasseur took his place as captain of Cassandra.[2]

[1]Research conducted by Baneto and Verazzone at Les Archives Nationales Portugaises de la Torre do Tombo. LISBOA – Portugal,; This royal frigate was named after the DNS Zeelandia, DNS Gelderland and DNS Galderland. It was a second-class warship and was bought and renamed the Nossa Senhora do Cabo (“Our Lady of the Cape” called Vierge de Cap or “Celebrate the Cape” in Dutch by Comte d’Ericiera) by Portugal in 1717.

[2]“Captain Mackra’s ship taken by Edward England, Post Boy, 25 & 27 Apr 1721, “Richard Lazenby, a prisoner of Taylor,” “The Examination of Richard Moor, 31 October 1724 (addenda 5 November 1724), HCA 1/55, ff. 94-97,” “The Examination of John Matthews, 12 October 1722, HCA 1/55, ff. 201-21” in E. T. Fox, Pirates in Their Own Words (Fox Historical, 2014), 271-276, 276-285, 207-213, 192-195; “Jaques du Bucquoy” in Alfred Grandidier, Collection des Ouvrages Anciens concernant Madagascar, Vol. 5(Paris: Comité de Madagascar, 1888), 61-72; L. Robert, “Description, in general and in detail, of the island of Madagascar, made on the best memoirs of the old officers who lived in this island [at] the Port Dauphin; all checked exactly on the spot by the sieur ROBERT; Part 1. The discovery of the island. - 2nd part. The detail of each kingdom or provinces. - 3rd part. The Dauphin Port. - 4th part. The rancidity of the pirates; the great advantages that there would be in forming colonies there." (1730), No. 196, Manuscript 3755, Manuscrits de la Bibliothèque du Service Historique de la Défense, Bibliothèques de la Marine (Vincennes, Val-de-Marne, France), 4th part, ff. 109-117; La Gazette de Paris, Bureau d'adresse (Paris), 23 May 1722;“Relation of Count Ericiera” in G. Cavelier, Le Mercure, May 1722, 54-68; both translated by Baylus C. Brooks.


Saturday, April 03, 2021

Ancestry of Pirate Henry Jennings

Would it surprise you to know that pirate Henry Jennings is part of a wealthy family of Bermuda and grandnephew of Perient Trott whose other grandchild, Vice-admiralty Judge Nicholas Trott of South Carolina, tried and hanged Stede Bonnet and other pirates for piracy?

The Jennings are also founding fathers of the modern United States, with connections to the grandfather of President George Washington! 

Presenting the surprising genealogy of Henry Jennings:

The original immigrant to Bermuda was Richard Jennings, his will - as listed in Early Wills of Bermuda: 1629 - 1835 by Clara F. E. Hollis Hallett shows:

Capt. Richard Jennings' purchased - mostly from Capt. William Sayles - the maximum amount of land possible for residents on the tiny island of Bermuda: 250 acres.

Richard Jennings may have plotted to take over the government of Bermuda, yet in three years had become a member of the Bermudan Council. He also sold land there to a “Mr. Carter” in England that, in 1656, belonged to Capt. Lawrence Washington, “High Sheriff of Virginia” and great-grandfather of later U.S. president George Washington. The survey of 1663 includes part of his 250 acres of land (the most allowed in tiny Bermuda) in ten properties:

Capt. Jennings' two sons, Richard II and John inherited that property about 1669: Richard II in Smith's Tribe and John in Southampton Tribe.

Bermuda by J. Blaeu. 1647-49

The pirate Henry Jennings descends from John Jennings and Sarah Richards in Southampton Tribe. As the Early Wills of Bermuda shows:

John's will - written in 1684 and probated in 1688 - and compared to information from his father's will, shows that his brother Richard Jennings II had likely married Mary White, the sister of Anthony White. Richard Jennings II captained Charles Gally, cut logwood at the Bay of Campeche, and lost his vessel to pirate Francis Fernando in 1707. The interesting part is that Henry Jennings was later one of ten Jamaican privateers that included this same Francis Fernando!

In 1700, Richard Jennings II made a call at Charles Town, South Carolina and left this notation about his father's will of 1690, including his mother's remarriage to Robert Hall of Bermuda:

Richard Jennings' Will info from South Carolina Probate Records in 1700

John married a Trott, daughter of Perient and Mary Trott and sister of Perient Trott (brother also of Samuel and Nicholas Trott - the later governor of the Bahamas who traded with pirate Henry Avery). John Jennings' only male child was John.

John Jennings, son of John also appears in Early Wills of Bermuda:

 Here, we first see Henry appear, along with brothers Daniel, Richard, and Benjamin and sisters Mary and Sarah. John made this will in 1733 and died in 1740, so was very much alive when his son Henry had gone to the new town of Kingston in Jamaica:

Christian Lilly's Survey of Kingston, Jamaica in 1703

Henry Jennings had purchased two lots in Kingston. He was listed innocuously in shipping records as a mariner involved in “trade.”

British engineer Christian Lilly made a plan (shown above) of the new town of Kingston which included names of subscribers for town lots. “H Jennings” appears twice: one lot on the east side of Orange Street and another on the lower part of King’s. 

As master of Seaflower in 1710, he collected logwood from the Bay of Campeach – like his cousin Richard Jennings III in Charles Gally - and traded slaves on a minor scale to Jamaica. 

Henry was one of many “sugar drovers,” one who had been recorded losing a sloop Diamond, of four guns, in Jamaica in January 1712.  

Colin Woodard found him in “Bathsheba” of Jamaica in Boston’s customs records on July 7, 1715, just a few weeks before the hurricane that year. 

Henry Jennings in Shipping Records of Jamaica

Henry Jennings in Massachusetts Shipping Records of 1715 - located by Colin Woodard and also shows Henry Timberlake - later taken by Edward "Blackbeard" Thache and Benjamin Hornigold in Delight, late 1716.

In only a few months, perhaps influenced by his “Sea Dog” heroes, Henry Jennings became an American pirate legend. Captain John Balchen, of HMS Diamond, wrote to Admiralty Secretary Burchet from Jamaica on the 13th of May, 1716, describing Henry Jennings’ official commission from “Lord Hamilton… for suppressing of piracys.”  Balchen said Jennings sought to capitalize upon the spilled Spanish treasure, not take pirates. Jennings and Wills, guided by their heroes, greed, and holding little regard for the Spanish even in peacetime, stole recovered treasure directly from their salvage base camp on the Florida shore, rather than simply fishing the wrecks in English waters - the more legal route. Trouble was that most of the treasure was on the La Florida or Spanish coast! Jennings would gather together another fleet to go after – not just wrecks – but foreign vessels that he possibly learned about from the Cuban Deputy-governor del Valle’s letter to Hamilton. 

It seems that hunting foreign treasures was about all the English had the desire to do in the West Indies!

By early 1718, Henry returned to his old home place in Bermuda after his short, blatantly illegal run as a pirate. There, he may have contented himself with the family’s smuggling and slave business. Gov. Bennett, who may have been glad to have him back in local business, wrote to the Board, specifically mentioning “Capt. Henry Jennings one of them (who left off that way of liveing [piracy] some months since) has arrived here who with seven others [who] have surrendred themselves.”

Shortly afterward, a Henry Jennings was found sailing in March 1719 from Jamaica to Philadelphia. The next year, the wealthy maritime warrior operated again as a privateer from Bermuda in the next war with Spain, carrying three prize vessels into New York with cargos of “Snuff, Sugar, Oyle Soap, and European Goods.” In 1723, he was captured by another pirate named “Evans” and held prisoner until a quarrel broke out among the pirate crew. Jennings and other “forced men” retook the ship and sailed it back to Bermuda. The Jennings family operated as merchants, slavers, smugglers, and privateers, making their usual runs to Philadelphia, Jamaica, and New York, yet faded from the shipping records by the 1730s. 

Capt. Richard Jennings III of the Somers Islands and a few other captains named Jennings operated sparsely in Bermudan traffic for the following decades. In 1742, as the aging owner of Henry Jennings & Company of Bermuda, this Henry dabbled in the earliest family business, transporting slaves from Africa to the West Indies in the ironically-named Friendship. While likely pirate and mariner Henry Jennings died before 17th of December 1750, a younger “Capt. Henry Jennings” of sloop Ranger, a vessel owned by “Richard Downing Jennings and Henry Jennings of Bermuda” also traded to Philadelphia in 1767.  

The Jennings’ family businesses of smuggling, piracy, and slavery in America – Johnson’s “Commonwealth of Pyrates” – probably continued right up to the American Revolution and beyond. They may even have shared runs with the smuggling Hancocks of Revolutionary-era Boston. 


Most of the genealogy is new research of mine, but the latter detailed part was adopted from the 2020 E-edition of Quest for Blackbeard: The True Story of Edward Thache and His World