Written and Illustrated By: Kevin Ward
“Damnation seize my soul if I give your quarters, or take any from you.” (Edward Teach)
1714 saw a surge in pirating in the Caribbean and East Coast of the Americas; the reason for this was an often forgotten conflict known as the War of Spanish Succession. This war lasted from 1701 to 1714 during which the British Navy, in order to undermine their enemies, commissioned Privateers to attack and rob Spanish and French merchant vessels. It was assumed that once the war ended and the Privateers were no longer needed, their crews would return to more lawful work. Not shockingly, many decided against that.
It was in such a way that Blackbeard (Edward Teach) got his start. After the war he served on other ships and quickly rose to power, earning the respect of those around him and the fear of those he put in his crosshairs. He mastered not only sailing and fighting, but also the art of being terrifying just to look at. He would often light fuses in his beard to cause smoke to arise and make those whose ship he boarded think he was supernatural.
It was at the height of Blackbeard’s reign of the eastern seaboard that another pirate would rise, although he would be no equal to Blackbeard.
Stede Bonnet was not a privateer who had no choice but to be a buccaneer—he, in fact, was a retired British Military officer who had a nice fortune, wife and kids, and a sugar plantation in Barbados. Many ideas have ventured as to why Bonnet abandoned his family and home; some say it was the delusion of grandeur, boredom, or maybe some level of madness, but whatever the cause he left it all behind, purchased a ship, and hired a crew for the purpose of being a pirate. He named his vessel Revenge, for no other reason than it sounding like a pirate name. Blackbeard’s ship was called Queen Anne’s Revenge because he served in Her Majesty’s navy during the war and had some loyalty to her. He also did not buy his ship like Bonnet, but captured it from the French who had been using it to transport slaves.
Stede Bonnet had no sailing experience and knew nothing about running a ship; his crew discovered this pretty quickly. Bonnet would be given the nickname of The Gentleman Pirate by those who he robbed mostly based on his fancy dress and his proper speaking habits (not very common on pirate ships). Despite his shortcomings, they did have success in pirating and ended up with a decent profit.
Bonnet did what many of his ilks did in those days; they sailed for Honduras, which was a popular hangout for those in their line of work. It was while there he came face to face with the infamous Blackbeard and his crew. During many drinks the two men decided to join forces, so they could become truly unstoppable and double their profits.
Their alliance did bring them both great riches and fame, but it was not without its share of trouble. Once Blackbeard realized Bonnet’s lack of skill as a Captain, he had him moved to the Queen Anne’s Revenge and put his first officer in charge of the Revenge, Bonnet was understandably offended by this.
Despite this, their team up continued and eventually led to Blackbeard masterminding the siege of Charles Towne (Charleston), South Carolina. They, along with other pirates, blocked all incoming and outcoming vessels and successfully forced the town to pay them a ransom of medical supplies. It takes a high level of strategy and guts to pull off such a feat, but they did it and were able to leave the city without being caught by any British ships.
It was soon after this that England issued an offer to all pirates that if they gave up on September 5, 1718 all crimes would be forgiven. Blackbeard was interested, but cautious. He sent Bonnet to take the offer from the Governor of South Carolina and see what the result would be. It turned out the offer was on the level and Bonnet was given a full pardon, but when he returned to the meeting spot he and Blackbeard agreed upon, he found his ship, Revenge, adrift and stripped of all items of value. On a nearby island, he found 25 members of his crew stranded by Blackbeard; it seemed those few men refused to betray their captain.
Bonnet would vow revenge on Blackbeard (now he would have a reason to name his ship Revenge), but he would never get his chance. It seemed The Gentleman Pirate had fully misunderstood the whole purpose of getting a pardon and went back to Pirating. He was captured at the mouth of the Cape Fear River by the British Navy. He assumed his military service and his family name would earn him another pardon, and I am sure his face was red when it did not. Stede Bonnet had his date with the gallows on December 10, 1718. I would like to think that he took solace in one fact as he prepared to meet his eternal judgment, and that is that his former ally and one-time Judas, Edward Teach (Blackbeard) died 18 days before, off the coast of North Carolina. Blackbeard was shuffled loose this mortal coil by Robert Maynard and his crew, so it should shock no one that he was true to his form and went down swinging, inflicting damage to those who did him in.
Blackbeard lives on as the quintessential pirate, feared, brave, and cunning as any man could ever be, we see larger than life versions of him on television, in movies, and even in video games. Bonnet, on the other hand, lives on more as an example of the old saying “just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should.” His money and time may have been better spent on a nice vacation home or some nice shoes. It is interesting to think how different these two were, and even more interesting when you think for a time they were even allies.