[Richard Worley‘s] Reign was but short, but his Beginning somewhat particular, setting out in a small open Boat, with eight others, from New-York. This was as resolute a Crew as ever went upon this Account: They took with them a few Biscuits, and a dry’d Tongue or two, a little Cag of Water, half a dozen old Muskets and Ammunition accordingly. Thus provided, they left New-York the latter End of September 1718, but it cannot be supposed that such a Man of War as this, could undertake any considerable Voyage, or attempt any extraordinary Enterprize; so they stood down the Coast, till they came to Delaware River, which is about 150 Miles distant, and not meeting with any Thing in their Way, they turn’d up the same River as high as Newcastle, near which Place they fell upon a Shallop belonging to George Grant, who was bringing Houshold Goods, Plate, &c. from Oppoquenimi to Philadelphia; they made Prize of the most valuable Part of them, and let the Shallop go. This Fact could not come under the Article of Pyracy, it not being committed super altum Mare, upon the High-Sea, therefore was a simple Robbery only; but they did not stand for a Point of Law in the Case, but easing the Shallop Man of his Lading, the bold Adventurers went down the River again.
The Shallop came straight to Philadelphia, and brought the ill News thither, which so alarm’d the Government, as if War had been declared against them; Expresses were sent to New-York, and other Places, and several Vessels fitted out against this powerful Rover, but to no manner of Purpose; for after several Days Cruize, they all return’d, without so much as hearing what became of the Robbers.
Worley and his Crew, in going down the River, met with a Sloop of Philadelphia, belonging to a Mulatto, whom they call’d Black Robbin; they quitted their Boat for this Sloop, taking one of Black Robin’s Men along with them, as they had also done from George Grant, besides two Negroes, which encreased the Company one Third. A Day or two after, they took another Sloop belonging to Hull, homeward bound, which was somewhat fitter for their Purpose; they found aboard her, Provisions and Necessaries, which they stood in need of, and enabled them to prosecute their Design, in a manner more suitable to their Wishes.
Upon the Success of these Rovers, the Governor issued out a Proclamation, for the apprehending and taking all Pyrates, who had refused or neglected to surrender themselves, by the Time limited in his Majesty’s Proclamation of Pardon; and thereupon, ordered his Majesty’s Ship Phoenix, of 20 Guns, which lay at Sandy Hook, to Sea, to cruize upon this Pyrate, and secure the Trade to that, and the adjoining Colonies.
In all probability, the taking this Sloop sav’d their Bacons, for this Time, tho’ they fell into the Trap presently afterwards; for they finding themselves in tolerable good Condition, having a Vessel newly cleaned, with Provisions, &c. they stood off to Sea, and so missed the Phoenix, who expected them to be still on the Coast.
About six Weeks afterwards they returned, having taken both a Sloop and a Brigantine, among the Bahama Islands; the former they sunk, and the other they let go: The Sloop belonged to New-York, and they thought the sinking of her good Policy, to prevent her returning to tell Tales at Home.
Worley had by this Time encreased his Company to about five and twenty Men, had six Guns mounted, and small Arms as many as were necessary for them, and seem’d to be in a good thriving sort of a Way. He made a black Ensign, with a white Death’s Head in the Middle of it, and other Colours suitable to it.* They all signed Articles, and bound themselves under a solemn Oath, to take no Quarters, but to stand by one another to the last Man, which was rashly fulfill’d a little afterwards.
For going into an Inlet in North-Carolina, to clean, the Governor received Information of it, and sitted out two Sloops, one of eight Guns, and the other with six, and about seventy Men between them. Worley had clean’d his Sloop, and sail’d before the Carolina Sloops reached the Place, and steered to the Northward; but the Sloops just mentioned, pursuing the same Course, came in sight of Worley, as he was cruising off the Capes of Virginia, and being in the Offin, he stood in as soon as he saw the Sloops, intending thereby to have cut them off from James River; for he verily believed they had been bound thither, not imagining, in the least, they were in Pursuit of him.
The two Sloops standing towards the Capes at the same Time, and Worley hoisting of his black Flag, the Inhabitants of James Town were in the utmost Consternation, thinking that all three had been Pyrates, and that their Design had been upon them; so that all the Ships and Vessels that were in the Road, or in the Rivers up the Bay, had Orders immediately to hale in to the Shore, for their Security, or else to prepare for their Defence, if they thought themselves in a Condition to fight. Soon after two Boats, which were sent out to get Intelligence, came crowding in, and brought an Account, that one of the Pyrates was in the Bay, being a small Sloop of six Guns. The Governor expecting the rest would have followed, and altogether make some Attempt to land, for the sake of Plunder, beat to Arms, and collected all the Force that could be got together, to oppose them; he ordered all the Guns out of the Ships, to make a Platform, and, in short, put the whole Colony in a warlike Posture; but was very much surprised at last, to see all the supposed Pyrates fighting with one another.
The Truth of the Matter is, Worley gained the Bay, thinking to make sure of his two Prizes, by keeping them from coming in; but by the hoisting of the King’s Colours, and firing a Gun, he quickly was sensible of his Mistake, and too soon perceived that the Tables were turned upon him; that instead of keeping them out, he found himself, by a superiour Force kept in. When the Pyrates saw how Things went, they resolutely prepar’d themselves for a desperate Defence; and tho’ three to one odds, Worley and his Crew determined to fight to the last Gasp, and receive no Quarters, agreeably to what they had before sworn; so that they must either Dye or Conquer upon the Spot.
The Carolina Men gave the Pyrate a Broadside, and then Boarded him, one Sloop getting upon his Quarter, and the other on his Bow; Worley and the Crew, drew up upon the Deck, and fought very obstinately, Hand to Hand, so that in a few Minutes, abundance of Men lay weltering in their Gore; the Pyrates proved as good as their Words, not a Man of them cry’d out for Quarter, nor would accept of such, when offered, but were all killed except the Captain and another Man, and those very much wounded, whom they reserved for the Gallows. They were brought ashore in Irons, and the next Day, which was the 17th of February 1718-19, they were both hanged up, for fear they should dye, and evade the Punishment as was thought due to their Crimes.
* The origin of the skull-and-crossbones design we commonly associate with pirates is murky, but Worley is often credited as one of the earliest to sail under it. -ed.
that he had frequently stoln [sic] Sheep, and done many ill things … He acknowledg’d he had been a grievous Sinner, a great Swearer and Drinker, an Adulterer, a Prophane and Lewd Wretch, and a sworn Enemy of those who were employ’d in the Reformation of Manners; and that for some years past he had made it his great Business to Fight for Prizes; an Exercise which the Pride of his Heart carry’d him to, which he now looks upon as most Heathenish and Barbarous, and which, with all other the wicked Practices of his Life, especially his slight of Religion, he does detest and abhor … and in the Words of a Dying-Man (who by the just Providence of God, came to suffer a shameful and untimely Death, in the primer of his years) he exhorts all those of his Acquaintance, and others that live loosely and particularly that follow this Wicked Sport of Prize playing, to reform betimes, and apply themselves to that which is virtuous and laudable, lest if they cdo continue any longer in their ill way, the Wrath of God fall upon them, and they come to the same, or worse Punishment thatn himself.
But still, he didn’t kill the cop, he said. (This, actually, was a common enough dodge among the Ordinary’s patients: it enabled them to satisfy the confessor, and the weight of social conventions he pressed on them, while also persisting with a denial of this crime one might be invested in maintaining. Whether true or no, Cook must have been unusually persuasive to pass off a story that would ordinarily be held to characterize an “obstinate” prisoner.)
Paul Lorrain, who held the Ordinary of Newgate office from 1700 to 1719, absolutely adored a good conversion story; his profession after all was ministering to prisoners. Lorrain ate all this reform-themselves-betimes stuff right up.
Two days after Cook’s execution, Lorrain compared the hanged pugilist to the Biblical patriarch Enoch at an overwrought funeral sermon (titled “Walking With God”): proof positive that even the most wretched sinner could taste God’s redemption. Cook’s “Soul is now enjoying an honourable and happy Life in God’s Glorious Kingdom,” Lorrain averred.
This was mainstream theology, but not a universal opinion.
Cook’s fellow convicts in Newgate regarded the repentant condemned as an unctuous hypocrite and didn’t share the Ordinary’s susceptibility to the actual-innocence claim Cook smuggled into his big confession of general lifelong sin.**
One of those fellow convicts in 1703 was Daniel Defoe, who met Lorrain while incarcerated and took a violent personal dislike to the prelate.
Defoe (who would later put a dismissal of the Ordinary in the mouth of his great heroine Moll Flanders) retorted to Lorrain’s published sermon with a scathing pamphlet titled “A Hymn to the Funeral Sermon”. In it, he mocks Lorrain’s racket peddling the public† broadsheets which almost invariably celebrate the gallow’s-foot conversions of his innumerable malefactors. After all, when
Men of Infamy should rise,
By Ladders to Ascend the Skys …
What need we Mortifie and Pray If Gibbets are the Shortest Way?
In what disguise Religion may be drest,
The crooked Paths of Priest-craft Paint?
Where lies the Secret, let us know,
To make a Sheep-stealer a Saint?
Or bid me tell them that ’tis all a Jest;
What need they point out other ways,
Since Earthly Rogues can Merrit Holy Praise?
If this Wise Precedent the World receives,
Newgate shall ne’re be call’d a Den of Thieves.
Not related to Cook or to Defoe, this 1882 Puck cartoon (via the Library of Congress) makes Defoe’s same discomfiting point graphically: the soul of the hanged murderer ascends into angelic choirs, his crimes literally wiped away by his confessor — while that of his victim, slain unawares while unpurged sin weighs his conscience, wallows in hell. “The Murderer’s Straight Route to Heaven — Bringing Religion into Disrepute,” runs the caption.
* Cook had had a last-minute reprieve from joining a July 21 hanging date; in his account for that date, Paul Lorrain called out Cook by name to take “a happy Warning” from the right conduct of those gallows-birds.
** In 1706, two other men coming up for hanging made a point of insisting to Lorrain that the fighter who “with such an Air of seeming Repentance to his last breath deny’d his crime” did commit the murder.
† According to Lincoln Faller (“In Contrast to Defoe: The Rev. Paul Lorrain, Historian of Crime”, Huntington Library Quarterly, Nov. 1976), Lorrain left an estate of £5,000 at his death in 1719. His salary as Ordinary was something in the neighborhood of £35 per annum. Defoe overtly accuses Lorrain in “Hymn” not merely of profiteering but of taking payola to frame a gratifying obituary for a hanged criminal: “Pulpit praises may be had / According as the Man of God is paid.”
The three unlucky ones order’d for Execution on December 22, 1711, were these:
Phebe Ward was a young woman who had lately moved to London from Yorkshire … but not alone, as it turned out. She was pregnant by a Yorkshire lad whose marriage proposal she nonetheless spurned.
Ward got a maidservant gig in a London home, but vigorously denied her condition. Pregnant servants were liable to firing, though the Ordinary of Newgate says that Ward’s tried to offer hers good treatment and care for the little bastard. Ward stuck to her “I’m not pregnant” story, delivered the child, suffocated it, and threw it down a well.
Thomas Pritchet was a mere 16 years old but already had seven years service in the royal navy. A native son of the London proletariat, Pritchet had robbed two men (one upon the highway, another by burgling his house) not five weeks before his execution; at the gallows he insisted that these were his first forays into crime.
John Matthews was “born of good Parents” and “formerly liv’d like a Gentleman” in Wales, but having no profession the exhaustion of his revenues caused him to become a professional thief … specializing in the increasingly valuable 18th century status symbol, the wig.
He’d been pardoned for his crimes twice before, so this indictment for stealing 24 ounces of hair and two perukes sealed his fate.
We noticed yesterday the voice of the Newgate Ordinary. A generation on here, the former Ordinary Samuel Smith was long in the ground. His successor, Paul Lorrain had really figured out Smith’s profitable racket.
Lorrain banked a healthy £200 annually selling his Ordinary’s Accounts, which he standardized and padded out from Smith’s versions into six-page pamphlets.
The celebrated sincerity of every culprit’s dying conversion led a later wag to call the hanged “Lorrain’s Saints.” In Moll Flanders, published two years after Lorrain’s 1719 death, Defoe has an unnamed character of his office who seems clearly based on the late divine. Moll, like Defoe himself,* finds the Ordinary repulsive.
THE Ordinary of Newgate came to me, and talk’d a little in his way, but all his Divinity run upon Confessing my Crime, as he call’d it, (tho’ he knew not what I was in for) making a full Discovery, and the like, without which he told me God would never forgive me; and he said so little to the purpose, that I had no manner of Consolati|on from him; and then to observe the poor Creature preaching Confession and Repentance to me in the Morning, and find him drunk with Brandy and Spirits by Noon; this had something in it so shocking, that I began to Nauseate the Man more, than his Work, and his Work too by degrees for the sake of the Man; so that I desir’d him to trouble me no more.
It’s less certain that Lorrain’s ministrations were unwelcome to all of Newgate’s denizens, or that they were hypocritical or cynical on their own terms.
He preached a theology (surely requisite for one in his position) of a saving grace capable of overcoming the most dissolute life and appears every ounce in earnest in exerting himself for what he took to be the redemption of his charges. He reports preaching to this date’s trio that they ought “to implore it of that good and merciful God, who is always more ready to give, than Men can be to ask; and who (as he has declar’d) desires not the Death of Sinners, but that they should turn from their wicked ways, and live: i.e. that they would return to God by sincere Repentance, and Amendment of Life here, and so obtain (thro’ a lively Faith in Christ) an Eternal Life of Bliss and Glory hereafter.”
In the last prior hanging date before this one, Lorrain had found one seasoned burglar “obstinate” and plainly irritated by his ministrations.
“But I told him,” Lorrain related, “that I must not flatter him to the destruction of his Soul, and thereby bring Guilt upon my own. And therefore, I would not give over pressing him to make such a sincere Acknowledgment of his Faults, and give such Proof of his Repentance, as might rejoyce my Heart from the Satisfaction I should have, that this would procure Peace to his Conscience.
“Though you exclaim never so much against what I offer you, I am fully resolv’d to endeavour the Salvation of your Soul.”
Lorrain got his man. He did more times than not.
He plied even ready confessors for “Particulars” to ferret out their crimes — and sometimes, their accomplices. (Recall that London had no police force at this time.) Those who bent themselves to Lorrain’s appeals would expunge all their wrongdoing, embrace the ceremony of their own mortal expiation, purging themselves of their sins, supplicating heaven, announcing the justice of their fate and warning the onlookers against it. They would, so the Ordinary thought, be fit for divine salvation no matter how bloody their former deeds.
One other point on which we can’t help but feel some kinship to this industrious priest: in the best tradition of death-bloggers everywhere, this content so piously wrung from wicked hearts Lorrain did not scruple to monetize:
ROBERT WHITLEDGE, who formerly lived at the Bible in Creed-Lane, is removed to the Bible and Ball in Ave-Mary-Lane near Ludgate, where all Booksellers and others may be furnisht with Bibles and Common-Prayers of all Sorts, with Cuts or without, Ruled or Unruled, Bound in Turky Leather or Plain. Mr. Sturt’s Cuts Curiously Engrav’d; also other fine Cuts fitted for all Sizes and Common-Prayers. The Welsh Bible, Welsh Common-Prayer, and Welsh Almanack. The Duty of Man’s Works of all Sizes. The Duty of Man in Latin. Latin and French Common-Prayers. Tate and Brady’s New Version of Psalms, with the New Supplement. Dr. Gibson on the Sacrament. The Statutes at large, in Three Volumes. Washington and Wingate’s Abridgment of them. The Lord Clarendon’s History of the Rebellion, in Folio and Octavo. The New Translation of Æsops Fables. Also Bp. Beveridge’s Works, in 5 vol. And Dean Stanhope on the Epistles and Gospels, in 4 vol. All which Books and Cuts are likewise sold by J. Baker in Mercers-Chapel
Lately publish’d for the Use of Schools,
Vocabularium Latiale; or, a Latin Vocabulary in two parts. The First being a Collection of the most usual and easie Latin words, whether primitive or derivative; with their signification in English, after the order of the Eight parts of Speech, giving a Specimen of each, and most naturally shewing the gender, increase, declension and motion of Nouns and Pronouns, with the Conjugation-Preterperfect Tense and Supine of Verbs both Simple and Compound. The Second, shewing the variation and declining of all the declinable parts, both regular an irregular. By Tho. Dyche, School-Master in London, Author of a new Spelling-book, entitul’d, A Guide to the English Tongue. Printed for S. Butler, at Bernard’s-Inn-Gate, in Holbourn, J. Holland, near St. Paul’s Church-yard, and A. Collins, at the Black-Boy in Fleet-street. Price 1 s.
London printed, and are to be Sold by J. Morphew, near Stationers Hall.
* For more about Paul Lorrain (and Defoe’s loathing of him), see:
Robert Singleton, “Defoe, Moll Flanders, and the Ordinary of Newgate,” Harvard Library Bulletin, Oct. 1976.
Lincoln Faller, “In Contrast to Defoe: The Rev. Paul Lorrain, Historian of Crime,” Huntington Library Quarterly, Nov. 1976.
On this date in 1705, another century’s supposed terrorist was hanged on Leith Sands with two of his “pirate” crew by a Scottish court “drunk with patriotic prejudice.”*
This execution took place in the feverish run-up to England and Scotland’s Acts of Union welding the neighboring realms into Great Britain in 1707.
Arising as it did from the same causes that animated that national marriage of convenience, Green’s execution also endangered it: Daniel Defoe, who was at this time a pro-Unionist mole (and prolific pamphleteer) for English pol Robert Harley, described this hanging as one of the six crises that had to be overcome en route to the Union.
A Man, A Plan, A Calamity
That’s where it all started, for Green and Union alike.
Mired in economic backwardness as neighboring European states carved up the world, Scotland made a bold, doomed bid for a chit in the empire game: the Darien scheme. One part visionary and (at least) two parts daft, this venture attempted to establish a Scottish colony on the Isthmus of Panama (aka the Isthmus of Darien) with a view to porting freight across the narrow strip of land separating Atlantic and Pacific, and dominating the dramatically more efficient east-west trade route that would result.
Students of the Panama Canal project will be aware that this malarial tropic would not be described as especially hospitable; to the natural disadvantages of the climate were added the political interpositions of England herself, whose hostility to the advent of her Caledonian neighbor as a New World rival was expressed in legislation choking the Darien adventure of foreign aid.
(Also a problem: Spain. The colony was abandoned at last under Spanish siege.)
So Scotland went it intrepidly, injudiciously alone in this last bid for real independent muscle in Europe. The hyperbole of the Isthmus’s publicists eventually sucked in 20 percent or more of the capital circulating in Scotland. And when Darien-dot-com went bust by 1700 at the cost of a couple thousand lives, it cratered the Scottish economy too. That set the stage for Edinburgh’s partnership in a different scheme: Great Britain.
Green with Envy
In the years following the Darien catastrophe, the Scottish corporation chartered to undertake it was still throwing stuff against the wall in the world trade game, trying to get something to stick to at least take the edge off the losses.
This company (theoretically a potential rival of England’s own East India Company) had suffered the further national indignity of having one of its ships, the Annandale, seized in the Thames for infringing the East India Company’s royal monopoly. Its appeals for redress falling on deaf ears, the Darien company apparently induced Scottish authorities to undertake the retaliatory seizure of an English merchant ship, the Worcester, that had the ill luck to weather a storm at the Firth of Forth.
Rumor soon connected this ship to another vanished Darien company vessel overdue from its return trip from the East Indies … and, as it quickly became understood by all right-thinking Scots, overtaken in the Indian Ocean by this same Worcester and its crew butchered.
Captain Thomas Green and his English crew were hailed before an Admiralty court** on piracy charges on this extremely fantastical connection in a virtual mob atmosphere.
It never was clearly established that an act of piracy had been committed as a distinct fact, but by putting certain circumstances together it was inferred that Green was guilty of piracy. The very shape in which the accusation is set forth, shows that the accusers could not point to the specific act of piracy which had been committed …
[There] was no specification as to the vessel taken, which might enable the accused to prove that it had not been taken; no names of parties murdered, who might be shown still to be alive; no ownership of cargo, which might admit of proof that the owner’s goods had arrived safe. As Green himself is made justly to say in the document published as his dying speech, “We are condemned as pirates and murderers on a coast far distant from this place — is there any of you who wants either a friend whom we have murdered, or whose goods we have taken?”
The Worcester‘s Malabari cook provided a highly dubious charge — dubious, for he was not yet among the crew when it last called at the location he claimed the crime took place — of Green and crew hatchet-murdering approximately ten English-speaking mariners on an unnamed vessel off the Indian coast.
Upon this evidence, 14 or more members (the ready sources are a little loose on the total number) of the Worcester crew were condemned for piracy, and initially slated for three batches of hangings. Queen Anne‘s personal intervention managed a stay,
The Scottish Privy Council unto the very last hours debated what to do with the diplomatic appeals, with evidence forwarded from London to the effect that the crew these Worcester men had supposedly slaughtered were alive, their vessel having been hijacked in another place, by another man.
But a surging Scottish mob aggrieved by the preceding years’ misadventures and the impending shotgun marriage to Westminster rather than anything Green himself had really done was already engorged on the blood of the supposed English corsairs. Most of the Council thought better than to deny them their sacrifice.†
The Streets fill’d with Incredible Numbers of Men, Women and Children, calling for Justice upon those ENGLISH Murtherers. The Lord Chancellor Seafield‘s Coach happening to pass by, they stop’d it, broket he Sashes, haul’d him out, and oblig’d him to promise Execution should speedily be done before he could get from ‘em … According to the Chancellors promise, soon after, on the same Day, being Wednesday, Captain Green, Madder [the mate], and Sympson [the gunner] were brought out, and convey’d to Execution, which was at Leith Road upon the Sands, and all the way was Huzza’d in Triumph as it were, and insulted with the sharpest and most bitter Invectives. Being come to the place of Execution, Good God! what a moving sight was it to see those Men stand upon the very Varge of Life, just launching in to Eternity, and at the same time see the whole Multitudet ransported with Joy!”
-From an anonymous Letter From Scotland To a Friend in London, quoted by James Kelly, “The Worcester Affair,” The Review of English Studies, Feb. 2000
In the event, these three were the only ones actually hanged; passions cooled enough for the other “pirates” to be quietly released.
But the wider, national passions unleashed by this date’s executions would long provide fodder for intemperate patriotic recrimination, and specifically anti-Unionist propaganda — on both sides of the border.
Competing propagandisticbroadsides framed and re-framed the events, as the affair of unscrupulous English buccaneers or perfidious highland barbarians. (Defoe, maneuvering for Union, wrote to chill such bad-for-business hostility: “Nothing could be more horrid, than that the Scots should Execute these Men on a meer Pique at the English Nation. Nothing can be more like it, than to conclude rashly, that it is so, and improve it on purpose to Exasperate our People against the Scots.” (Kelly))
And that, of course, is precisely the viewpoint that prevailed.
While the hemp neckties issued to Green et al this date threatened to (ahem) scotch the Union project, that very danger might have ultimately hastened its completion — as elites recognized, in Defoe’s words, that Union represented “the only way to preserve the publick Tranquillity, and prevent the certain Mischiefs that threatened the whole Body,” (Kelly, again) and rammed it through with dispatch.‡
‡ The ebb and flow of national resentment continued long after the Acts of Union, of course; continuing Scottish support for the restoration of the Stuart monarchy was one expression of Scottish nationalism and anti-Union sentiment.
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.
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.
On this date in 1673 ended the adventures of “German princess” and early modern celebrity Mary Carleton.
Mary vaulted into the ranks of famous-for-being-famous in 1663, when the pamphleteering forerunners of Perez Hilton caught wind of a bigamy scandal wherein Mary, presenting herself as a mysterious German noble, had hitched with 18-year-old law student John Carleton and run through his money.
Once the public made her acquaintance … well, there was just something about Mary.
Over two dozen pamphlets are known sensationalizing her subsequent trial and acquittal for hubby-hopping, including post-acquittal volleys by both John and Mary.
Actually the daughter of a Canterbury fiddler, Moll Carleton was accused of having ditched her first spouse (a shoemaker) for a surgeon, then ditched the surgeon for John Carleton.
Having adroitly beat that rap in a court of law (if not exactly in the court of public opinion) “the German Princess” went into show business; that ubiquitous diarist Samuel Pepys caught her on stage, playing herself, remarking
I’ve passed one trial, but it is my fear
I shall receive a rigid sentence here:
You think me a bold cheat, put case ’twere so,
Which of you are not? Now you’d swear I know.
But do not, lest that you deserve to be
Censur’d worse than you can censure me:,
The world’s a cheat, and we that move in it,
In our degrees, do exercise our wit;
And better ’tis to get a glorious name,
However got, than live by common fame.
Well, why not?
In a time with scant social mobility for women, Carleton — which is the name by which she’s been remembered although she was born “Mary Moders” — carved it out with the tools at her disposal, which makes her an irresistible academic subject.*
Carleton/Moders is nearly the anti-Martin Guerre: whereas the male Arnaud du Tilh subsumed his own identity to insinuate himself into the existing social part of “Martin Guerre”, Mary Carleton’s shifty identity excised her from the social circumstances that would otherwise define her. (She was even reported to have taking to masculine cross-dressing.) Paradoxically, her fictitious biography enabled her to be taken for her own self, which explains why she stuck with her blank-slate “German origins” backstory after it had been publicly discredited.
And after the stage gig had run its course and her identity become disposable once again, she easily resumed her marital perambulations.
After a few years below the Restoration radar, Carleton was caught up for petty larceny and given a death sentence commuted to penal transportation to Jamaica. (England had just seized it from Spain during Cromwell‘s Protectorate.)
Two years later, she returned to England — not the only one to prefer the danger of Tyburn to the rigors (and obscurity) of the colonies.
She could only live as herself at the peril of her life. And on this day, she clinched her lasting fame at the end of a rope.
* e.g., Mihoko Suzuki, “The Case of Mary Carleton: Representing the Female Subject, 1663-73,” Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature, Vol. 12, No. 1 (Spring, 1993).
Immortalized by Daniel Defoe in his pseudonymous A General History of the Pyrates, Bonny and Read came to piracy by different paths but were both every bit the part and leaders aboard their ship — “very profligate, cursing, and swearing much, and very ready and willing to do any Thing on board.” Bonny, at least, was Rackham’s lover — having eloped with him from her husband.
Upon capture, both women “pleaded their bellies” to escape the gallows, and though it’s unclear whether either really was pregnant, it seems the gambit spared both from execution.
Read died in prison shortly after, while Bonny vanished from history — prompting speculation that she had escaped, secured a pardon, been ransomed by her wealthy father, and/or returned again to piracy under a different guise. Reportedly, she castigated Rackham at their last meeting in prison for lying drunk below decks while only the women resisted the capture of their ship: “I am sorry to see you here Jack, but if you had fought like a man, you need not be hanged like a dog.”
As the world’s best-known women pirates, Bonny and Read are recalled as anything from sexualized historical curios to action heroines to proto-feminists.
They feature in Disneyland’s “Pirates of the Caribbean” ride, the Witchblade comic book series, utopian theorizing, popular history … and the occasional action figure.
Update: A much more detailed foray into the lives of these daring women is at Scandalous Women.
Also, I posted this under the wrong date: it should be Nov. 18. Balls.