Stede the hero pirate
“In Barbadian history, people have not talked about how the grandchild of a pirate was able to marry into such prestigious families in Barbados.”
– Noted historian Robert “Bobby” Morris on the legacy of the ‘Gentleman Pirate’ Stede Bonnet.
BARBADOS WAS IN THE GRIP of post-war depression.
(below) gives the names of the men who were hanged along with Stede
Bonnet for piracy. (GP)
There had been conflict between the United Kingdom and France over the colonies in the United States and the Caribbean, and ‘Little England’ had been drawn into the hostilities.
Between 1702 and 1713 had been costly to the island, said eminent historian Robert “Bobby” Morris. It had lost £380 000 in those war years, he told Heather-Lynn’s Habitat as he referred to historian John Oldmixon’s (1673-1742) account of that time.
In 1704, 27 ships out of a fleet of 33 were taken and then in a subsequent year, the majority of 40 ships were lost to the French.
Between 1713 and 1739, smuggling became almost a national pastime. And it was against this backdrop that plantation owner Stede Bonnet began his foray in piracy.
Attacking any ship
In 1715, at 27, a Justice of the Peace, a major in the army and married with four children, he bought a sloop, outfitted it with ten cannon, a crew of 70 and called it Revenge.
Morris said Bonnet’s beef with his thieving stepfather Robert Gibbes would have been well known to all his family connections and most likely behind his decision to become a pirate. “Quite frankly, it is very basic to say the man became a pirate because of a wife,” he noted.
“Bonnet had gone out there [as] Barbados had lost a lot of vessels and money, and an opportunity had come up for him to join as a pirate to attack French ships and other ships, Spanish, any ship at all, that you would get money from.
“And he could not be coming back in here through the harbour without these men that he had dealings with, knowing about it,” Morris suggested.
Add the fact that those of the day had a different outlook on piracy and “he would be seen as national hero”,
with HEATHER-LYNN EVANSON
Bonnet also had the backing, or at least the blind eye, of the most influential man on the island at the time – the Governor.
“Governor Robert Lowther (Lowther’s Hill, Christ Church) came down here on a mission to make money, lots and lots of money, and Lowther would have turned a blind eye to what was happening once Stede was bringing money into the country and into his pocket, because Lowther was close to all of these people. He was close to all of these families,” Morris explained.
Free entry at port
The historian also said it was no accident that Stede would have bought the Revenge, instead of doing the pirate-like thing and stealing a vessel.
He had married into the Charnock family (as in Charnocks, Christ Church), one of the biggest ship-building and boat-owning families on the island.
“That was his natural environment and, in addition to that, they were people who controlled the customs of Barbados. They were the men in control of the taxation system.
“So,” Morris elaborated, “he [Bonnet] had free entry and exit at the port.
“He may have started out as a privateer and then he became a pirate. He would have been bringing great wealth to his family and it is clear to me that his family did not suffer, not in the marriages they had and not the property they held.
“His son Colonel Edward Bonnet was MP for Christ Church between 1748 and 1751. This is the pirate’s son – an MP and owning properties.”
HISTORIAN ROBERT “BOBBY” MORRIS said Stede Bonnet would have been seen as a hero at the time.
Stede Bonnet. (FP)
AN ARTIST’S IMPRESSION of pirate