Stede Bonnet, Gentleman Pirate

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Interesting Facts-
- known as the 'Gentleman Pirate' - loved books so much he brought his library on board - Stede Bonnet's escape from prison was while dressed as a woman. -The only known pirate to have bought his flagship outright..

New! Buy Stede Bonnet's flag here.

In this article: Going Pirate / Meeting Blackbeard / Big Mistake

Stede Bonnet was born to a wealthy English family perhaps around the mid-1680's. He grew up well educated and may have served as a major in the King's Guards during the war with Spain before retiring to Barbados as the owner of a sugar plantation.

Bonnet was a well-known and respected family man and member of the highest ranks of the island's society, yet he knew nothing of sailing or navigation. One day, he decided to become a pirate.

Whether it was his wife's nagging, the boredom of plantation living, a mental disorder, or all three, Stede Bonnet was driven to buy a sloop, ten cannon, and a crew without his family's knowledge. He then set out on the 'Revenge' one night in the spring of 1717 to go 'on the account'.... dressed in gentleman's clothes.

Bonnet cruised the coast off the Carolinas and Virginia, managing to take several vessels in spite of himself. From the beginning, he would burn any captured ship from Barbados to keep the news from returning home, something a true pirate would care little about. He learned while heading north that New York was a great place to sell his loot without trouble; he later bought provisions and returned south to what he considered more profitable waters.

During the next few weeks of taking prizes as far south as Charles Town (now Charleston), South Carolina, the crew's initial bemusement with their captain had grown to an uneasiness. There may soon have been a mutiny, had not the amateur crossed paths with the professional pirate Blackbeard sometime in late 1717 or early 1718.

Occuring somewhere between the Carolinas and the Bay of Honduras, the meeting was one of amusement for Blackbeard, who might have merely had plans to increase the size of his flotilla. They set off together from the Bahamas toward the Carolinas, and Blackbeard soon realized he needed one of his own to sail Stede Bonnet's 'Revenge'. Bonnet agreed under duress and became somewhat of a prisoner on the 'Queen Anne's Revenge', reading his books and felling frustrated that he let his pirate fantasy be hijacked. The cruise itself was successful, with Blackbeard adding to his fleet from among the dozen or so captures.

Charles Town

By most accounts, Stede Bonnet was with Blackbeard during his famous siege of Charles Town in May of 1718 and the return to Ocracoke, North Carolina. In June, He was then swindled out of his share of any loot when Blackbeard convinced him to go receive a pardon from Governor Eden in Bath Town; Blackbeard meanwhile sailed from Ocracoke inlet with the goods.

Bonnet changed his name to Captain Edwards (and then Captain Thomas) and his sloop to the 'Royal James', as he apparently intended to sail to the Virgin Islands in the Caribbean and become a privateer after his pardon. He was sidetracked by a short pursuit of Blackbeard, and once again chose piracy. Some would say that he paid attention while under Blackbeard's care, for he captured as many as ten vessels off the coast of Virginia before returning to the Cape Fear Inlet for repairs in September 1718.

Stede Bonnet's next big mistake was to release the crew of a ship that he took for its wood; the released went to Charles Town and fed the furor over pirates in the area. From then on, Bonnet-Edwards-Thomas was swallowed up in the storm caused by pirates like Charles Vane and Blackbeard. Blackbeard in the Carolinas

In Charles Town, Governor Johnson and the local authorities sent Colonel William Rhett in the 'Henry' and the 'Sea Nymph' to capture Charles Vane and others like him. Rhett arrived in the Cape Fear River inlet after chasing a rabbit trail south that Vane had created, and on September 27, 1718, Bonnet surrendered after a protracted time of maneuvering and battle.

Bonnet HangsEveryone aboard the 'Royal James' were caught and taken to Charles Town to be placed under guard except for Bonnet. As a gentleman, he was placed in better quarters in the Marshall's house, joined later by two officers who turned state's evidence. While awaiting trial, he sent letters to the governor begging for forgiveness and pledging reform, but all hopes for a pardon were dashed after he escaped and had to be retaken 14 days later.

The trial of his crew yielded an unsurprising conviction, and they were hanged on November 8, 1718, to be later buried at the low water mark according to Admiralty tradition. Stede Bonnet lost his desperate appeals and was hung on December 10. He was buried next to his crew.