On this date in 1718, the Barbados buccaneer Stede Bonnet was hanged for piracy in Charleston, S.C.
Bonnet had few of the typical swashbuckler’s resume-builders during this Golden Age of Piracy: he was neither a mariner by trade nor a desperate outlaw by circumstance, but a wealthy English landowner in Bermuda.
“He had the least Temptation of any Man to follow such a Course of Life, from the Condition of his Circumstances,” wrote the pseudonymous author (alleged to be Daniel Defoe) of A General History of the Pyrates. But as age thirty hove into view and the seven-year itch demanded scratching, Bonnet undertook an abrupt career change “said to have been occasioned by some Discomforts he found in a married State.”
Bonnet’s version of a cherry-red convertible was a six-gun sloop named Revenge,* which he tricked out from his ample inherited fortune and took cruising for action on the North American coast.
He raided from New England to the Carolinas, fell in with Blackbeard (which more credible cutthroat charismatic promptly appropriated Bonnet’s hireling** crew), lost his ship, got it back, turned himself in, got a pardon … the rich guy packed plenty of adventure into little more than a year of raiding, but he never seems to have advanced his freebooting skills past the “gentleman hobbyist” level.
South Carolina ships captured Bonnet near Cape Fear, which is actually North Carolina, but never mind: South Carolinians well remembered this character from his involvement with Blackbeard’s recent blockade of Charleston.
Bonnet got gentleman’s quarters upon detention, and his elite education enabled him to favor the colony’s governor with a simpering plea for clemency.
I have presumed, on the Confidence of your eminent Goodness, to throw my self, after this manner, at your Feet, to implore you’ll graciously be pleased to look upon me with tender Bowels of Pity and Compassion; and believe me to be the most miserable Man this Day breathing: That the Tears proceeding from my most sorrowful Soul may soften your Heart, and encline you to consider my dismal State …
if I had the Happiness of a longer life in this World … I’ll voluntarily put [wickedness] ever out of my Power, by separating all my Limbs from my Body, only reserving the Use of my Tongue, to call continually on, and pray to the Lord, my God, and mourn all my Days in Sackcloth and Ashes to work out confident Hopes of my Salvation …
All of which pathos was unwisely belied by an escape attempt which made pardon completely untenable.
Most of Bonnet’s captured crew was hanged en masse on Nov. 8; Bonnet managed to drag on several stays of execution before he followed them from his comfortable digs to the common gallows. A stone monument marks the spot.
** Bonnet paid his crew out of his own pocket, a practice at odds with the more egalitarian pirate norm of crews taking like shares and choosing (or demoting) their own captains.