Stede Bonnet “The Gentleman Pirate” Who Met Up With Blackbeard
Garbed in a periwig and fancy clothes, Stede Bonnet who knew nothing of captaining took to sea, his sloop stocked with his beloved books and a mind set to become pirate.
- The early years
- Bonnet's odd way of acquiring a pirate ship
- Bonnet leaves his privileged life behind
- The Gentleman Pirate meets Blackbeard
- Bonnet loses command of his ship
- From the blockade of Charleston to the loss of Queen Anne's Revenge
- Hoodwinked by Blackbeard
- The capture of Stede Bonnet
- Bonnet's gentleman status earns him a comfortable imprisonment
- Execution of Stede Bonnet
The early years
Stede Bonnet is believed to be born in 1688 to a wealthy English family in Barbados. Bonnet inherited his family's estate at the young age of six and married fifteen years later to Mary Allamby in 1709.
It is possible Bonnet served as major during the War of the Spanish Succession though there is no record stating he participated in the battle. Bonnet retired as a major from the King's Guard.
Owner of a large sugar plantation in Barbados, Major Stede Bonnet was a respected family man, well liked and kept company with the islands high society.
Bonnet's odd way of acquiring a pirate ship
Instead of stealing a ship like most pirates, Bonnet bought a sloop on the sly in 1717 outfitted her with 10 cannons and named her Revenge. He acquired a crew of 70 destitute seamen from grogshops and taverns and paid them with his own money.
Bonnet leaves his privileged life behind
One night, dressed in gentlemen's clothes, Bonnet quietly boarded the Revenge without anyone's knowledge and sailed out of the Barbados harbor, heading north off the coast of Virginia and the Carolinas.
It is unclear why Bonnet left his comfortable life in Barbados, some say it was to escape the nagging of his wife, while others believe he suffered a breakdown and still others believe to escape boredom.
Though well-educated, Bonnet knew nothing of seamanship and relied heavily on his quartermaster and officer for their skills in handling the Revenge. At sea, Bonnet kept up his refined appearance, earning the nickname “Gentleman Pirate”. For a short time luck was on their side, and they managed to plunder several ships, burning the Barbadian ship Turbet to keep news from returning home. The Revenge’s crew quickly tired of their captain’s lack of pirating skills, knowing they would miss greater opportunities because of it.
The Gentleman Pirate meets Blackbeard
In September 1717, Bonnet was en route for Nassau, a thriving pirates den on the island of New Providence in the Bahamas when he encountered a Spanish man-of-war and was seriously wounded.
Escaping, Bonnet met up with Edward Teach, better known as Blackbeard somewhere between the Bay of Honduras and the Carolinas. Amused by Bonnet's well groomed and cultured ways, Blackbeard added the Revenge to his flotilla.
On November 1717, Teach captured the La Concorde, making her his flagship and renamed her Queen Anne's Revenge.
Bonnet loses command of his ship
Soon Teach noted Bonnet's poor seamanship skills and talked him into letting one of his own lieutenants take control of the Revenge while he joined him as a guest on the Queen Anne's Revenge. Before long the “Gentleman Pirate” was little more than a prisoner on the Queen Anne’s Revenge.
From the blockade of Charleston to the loss of Queen Anne's Revenge
Bonnet was with Blackbeard in the spring of 1718 when they blockaded Charleston, South Carolina, stripping the trapped vessels in the harbor of their valuables, and receiving a chest of medicine for their ransom.
Not more than a week later, Blackbeard ran the Queen Anne's Revenge aground along with the Adventure at Beaufort Inlet. Teach convinced Bonnet to sail a smaller vessel to Bath to accept the King's extended pardon from North Carolina's Governor Charles Eden.
Hoodwinked by Blackbeard
Gullible, Bonnet trusted Blackbeard and sailed to Bath. After receiving his pardon, Bonnet returned to get the Revenge and take on a career as privateer against the Spanish. Upon his return, he realized Blackbeard double-crossed him, stripping the ships clean of their treasure and provisions while he was away. Furious the "Gentleman Pirate" vowed revenge, but never met up with Blackbeard again.
Stede Bonnet soon abandoned his plans of privateer, and returned to piracy once again plundering several ships. His time spent with Blackbeard honed his skills and pirating became easier. He changed his name to Captain Edward and then to Captain Thomas in hopes to reserve his pardon and renamed the Revenge to the Royal James. After taking the goods from several ships, Bonnet decided to keep control of the last two vessels: the Fortune and the Francis.
The capture of Stede Bonnet
Fate managed to catch up with Bonnet in late August and September 1718 when Colonel William Rhett was authorized by the governor of South Carolina, Robert Johnson to lead a naval expedition against pirates.
Bonnet was moored in the Cape Fear River and though it was in North Carolina's jurisdiction, Colonel William Rhett went in search and found the three ships anchored there.
September 27, 1718 a battle ensued and both Bonnet and Rhett ran their ship aground on the shallow shoals. The Cape Fear's tide decided their fate, loosing Rhett's sloops while the Royal James remained paralyzed. Rhett expected the pirate to be the notorious Charles Vane and was surprised to find it was Bonnet.
Bonnet's gentleman status earns him a comfortable imprisonment
With their surrender, Rhett brought Stede Bonnet and his crew to Charleston. Upon arrival Bonnet was separated from the others; his gentleman rank earning him the comfort in the marshal's house along with two other officers who turned state's evidence.
While imprisoned in the marshal’s house, Bonnet escaped briefly disguised as a woman and was recaptured on Sullivan's Island 14 days later.
Execution of Stede Bonnet
November 10, 1718 Bonnet was brought before Judge Nicholas Trott and tried for two acts of piracy. Judge Trott criticized that a cultured man like Bonnet shouldn’t have turned to piracy and ignore his Christian duties. The jury delivered a guilty verdict and two days later Trott sentenced Stede Bonnet to death.
Bonnet launched a desperate appeal to the governor begging for clemency. After several delays in his execution, the "Gentleman Pirate" Stede Bonnet was hanged at White Point in Charleston, South Carolina on December 10, 1718.
Although his career as pirate was short-lived, the “Gentleman Pirate” fired ones imagination as to why the change in lifestyle and how he maintained his dandified ways at sea. Whatever his reason, the colorful character forever left his mark in history.