Sometimes fearlessness and determination are all that are needed to succeed in a dangerous world. Stede Bonnet is a timeless example of determination and drive overcoming lack of experience and knowledge. Known as “The Gentleman Pirate” Bonnet grew up in a somewhat wealthy English family living on Barbados in the Caribbean. In 1717 at the age of 29, with no maritime experience, Bonnet decided that he was destined to be a pirate. He used his inherited fortune to commission a sloop and hire a crew. Bonnet named the sloop “Revenge” (revenge for what, we may never know) and hired his crew with promised wages rather than the normal percentage of loot. While he commanded little respect from his crew due to his lack of seafaring knowledge, he certainly impressed his foes with his manners, aggression and the abilities of his officer cadre.
While in Nassau, Bonnet met Captain Edward Teach – better known as Blackbeard. Bonnet was still recovering from his serious injuries and turned control of his small armada over to Teach. Bonnet and Teach sailed together for the next several months pillaging and capturing vessels in the Eastern Caribbean all the way up to Philadelphia. After Bonnet recovered from his injuries he parted ways with Teach for a time, and headed west into the Caribbean looking for loot. He quickly made his way back to the Southeastern seaboard, and after linking up with Teach again, helped blockade Charleston harbor. After some negotiation both Bonnet and Teach were presented with pardons by the governor of Charleston. Teach used the breathing room granted in the pardon to assemble a small crew and return to piracy with much of the loot he and Bonnet had collected. Bonnet sought permission from the governor to seek a letter of marque so that he could serve as a privateer against Spanish shipping. When Bonnet departed to seek his letter of marque he realized the betrayal by Teach and abandoned his plan to become a privateer.
Bonnet quickly returned to piracy but attempted to hide his identity by using the name Captain Richards, and renaming his ship Royal James. Bonnet again tried to track down Teach, but could not locate him. His crew did manage to plunder or capture 11 more vessels before taking refuge in Cape Fear River to wait out the Atlantic hurricane season. While moored in the river Bonnet was located by a naval expedition from Charleston. After a 6 hour battle in the mouth of the river Bonnet’s crew was surrounded, immobilized and out numbered. He and his crew were captured and brought to Charleston. Bonnet was charged, tried, and eventually hanged on Dec 10, 1718 – a little over a year and a half after leaving his comfortable life as a wealthy plantation owner on Barbados for a life of piracy.
Join me in pulling up a chair, grabbing a glass and toasting Stede Bonnet for his drive to succeed. Sometimes all that is needed to make your mark are brass balls, determination and good looking pirate flag.