Gentleman Pirate: Stede Bonnet

There have been many pirates who left a lasting impression that intrigues pirate fanatics even today. One such pirate was Stede Bonnet, a gentleman pirate of noble birth who was born to a wealthy English family in the mid-1680’s. Well educated and debonaire,  Bonnet was rumored to have served as a major in the King’s Guards during the war with Spain. Later, he married and became the owner of a large sugar plantation in the Barbados. However, Bonnet soon grew tired of the slow paced plantation life and suddenly decided on a whim to leave his family behind. He bought a sloop, ten cannons and organized a crew of men and set sail as a novice pirate captain seeking adventure and treasure.  

Gentleman Pirate

In the Barbados, Bonnet was well-known and respected among island society, although he had dreams of living the hodrum life behind. As a result, the family man decided he wanted to live a pirate life although he knew nothing of sailing or navigation. In the spring of 1717, he abruptly organized a crew and set sail on a ship named ‘Revenge’. Dressed his gentleman’s attire, Bonnet did not fit in with typical pirates of the day. In fact, hee loved books so much that he even brought his library with him on board which helped earned him the nickname “Gentleman Pirate”.

Escapades in Carolinas and Virginia

Initially, Bonnet headed north from Barbados along the Carolina coast and Virginia where he successfully took several ships hostage along the way.  Bonnet burned the captured ships in order to prevent news of spreading to the mainland as he preferred to keep his affairs to himself. He travelled north up the coast past Virginia and quickly realized that New York was an ideal port for selling his accumulated loot. He was also able to restock at port with fresh provisions, then headed south again in hopes of continued success as a pirate.

Meeting With Pirate Blackbeard

Bonnet enjoyed small successes along the way until he reached Charles Town, which is known as Charleston, South Carolina today. Despite some successes, Bonnet’s crew had a growing sense of unease about their captain’s abilities. In early 1718, professional pirate Blackbeard came upon Bonnett’s ship, and Bonnet was subsequently coerced into stepping down from his position.  Bonnet essentially became a prisoner on the ‘Queen Anne’s Revenge,’ and spent time reading books and dealing with feelings of frustrations about his thwarted pirate dreams. Bonnet was even swindled out of his share of the ship’s loot when Blackbeard convinced him to leave ship to request a pardon from Governor Eden in Bath Town. Once Bonnet left ship, Blackbeard took advantage of his departure and promptly sailed away with all the goods.

A Second Chance

Feeling taken advantage of, Bonnet decided to change his name to Captain Edwards and found a new sloop called ‘Royal James’. After receiving his official pardon, Bonnet’s intention was to sail to the Virgin Islands in the Caribbean and become a privateer. However, he was pursued by Blackbeard once again and fell back into his pirate ways. Working as a pirate apprentice under Blackbeard’s direction, Bonnet is rumored to have captured as many as ten vessels off the Virginia coast before returning to Cape Fear to repair his ship in September 1718. He then made a crucial mistake by releasing the crew of a captured ship. The released crew quickly went to Charles Town and shared tales of Bonnet and Blackbeard’s escapades which ignited a sense of public outcry and fear over pirates in the area.

Final Moments

Due to this, Governor Johnson and local authorities sent Colonel William Rhett in the ‘Henry’ and the ‘Sea Nymph’ to capture any pirates they could find. Bonnet was captured and surrendered after a long battle. Bonnet’s crew was caught and taken to the prison in Charles Town. Bonnet was placed in better quarter’s in the Marshall’s house since he was a gentleman. As he awaited trial, he sent letters begging for the governor forgiveness and promising that he would repent and give up his pirate ways. However, he escaped dressed as a woman only to be recaptured two weeks later.  

The end for Bonnet came when he was eventually hung for piracy on December 10th, 1718, and buried next to his crew.