Stede Bonnet

Story by Lois Carol Wheatley

Bonnet represents another complete and total failure to read the pirate rulebook. He didn't come from the requisite hardscrabble background and he actually laid out handsome sums of money to buy a ship and hire a crew—hardly behavior befitting any self-respecting scoundrel.

Known as "the Gentleman Pirate," Bonnet was educated, moderately wealthy, and had been a major in the British army during the war with Spain. He retired to a sugar plantation in Barbados, where he apparently got bored, went crazy, or as some suggest, felt the need to get away from a shrewish wife with a voice "that could peel paint."

He'd been a soldier, not a sailor, and knew nothing of running a ship. Still a gentleman despite some modest pirating victories, he was a portly man in a powdered wig and wearing a satin coat when he met up with Blackbeard off the Carolina coast in 1718. With a shrewd smile Blackbeard suggested that the two of them team up, and sent one of his men over to run the Revenge while Bonnet made himself comfortable in his cabin. In short order Bonnet discovered that he was scarcely allowed out of that cabin.

Eventually Blackbeard took advantage of one of the occasional pardons from the King of England in exchange for a promise not to pirate anymore, and this brief interval in an otherwise uninterrupted career put Bonnet back in charge of his ship. To escape ridicule he changed his own name to Captain Thomas and his ship's name to Royal James.

He'd learned a few things during his time in the cabin, and captured as many as ten ships along the Carolina coast, thus realizing his dream of becoming a pirate while at the same time attracting the attention of law enforcement personnel. At the mouth of the Cape Fear River he stopped off for a few needed repairs to his ship, on the banks of a creek near what is now Southport. That creek is now called Bonnet's Creek.

The king's hired gun was a man named Colonel William Rhett, and he was dispatched to the area pursuant to an anonymous tip received by Governor Johnson in Charles Town. Bonnet was back on board and hoisting the sails when Rhett arrived with two sloops, guns blazing, and he returned fire while trying to escape to the ocean. The tide was receding and all three ships ran aground near what is now Bald Head Island. They traded gunfire while they waited for the tide to come back in, and one of Colonel Rhett's ships was the first to float again.

Bonnet and his crew were tried in Charles Town and most of the men were hanged immediately. Bonnet pleaded for clemency and actually escaped very briefly, recaptured by Rhett in a few days among the marshes around Sullivan's Island. On December 10, 1718, Bonnet was hanged and then buried below the high-tide mark.

Terms: North Carolina Pirates, Stede Bonnet

Information on North Carolina Pirate Stede Bonnet.

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