Inspired by Our Flag Means Death, I thought I’d see what piracy was reported on in the 18thC newspapers. I wasn’t disappointed. I’ve chosen a small selection that had some interesting details, all from the Stamford Mercury 1716-17.
I’ve included a glossary after each snippet for anyone not familiar with the terminology or variant spellings, and some notes on the cargo and money where amounts are mentioned.
If you are enjoying the series and want to show your appreciation, you can buy me an eldritch item if you’d like! Better than coffee, twice as wriggly, all the delicious.
CW: some description of severe injuries, threats to life, slave trade.
They write from Cork in Ireland, That the Berkley Gally, Captain Saunders, arrived there from Jamaica, was in her Passage in the Gulph of Florida, set upon by three Pirates ; One of 8 Guns, and 90 Men, who boarded him and plunder’d him to the Value of above 1000 l. and one of the Pirate’s Crew, an English Man, who had formerly sail’d with the above mention’d Captain Saunders, said that he remember’d some ill Treatment from the said Captain, and now he had an Opportunity to revenge it ; upon which he fired a Musquet, and shot off one of his Arms.
Notes & Glossary:
Gally : variant spelling of Galley, a ship propelled mainly by oars as opposed to sails.
Gulph of Florida: variant spelling of Gulf of Florida
three Pirates: three pirate ships
1000 l. : 1000 livres, or £1000 – The National Archives Currency Converter is a tool that helps you understand the comparative buying power of amounts of money based on the inflation rate in 2017 (UK). According to this tool, the buying power of £1000 in 1720 was roughly the equivalent of £116K in 2017.
Musquet : spelling variation of musket
The Grey-hound Galley of London, Capt. Evans, from Guniey, is arrived at Jamaica, having been plunder’d by a Pyrate of all her Gold Dust, Teeth, and 40 Slaves. The Pyrates have plunder’d several Ships near that Island.
Notes & Glossary:
Grey-Hound Galley: Not to be confused with the HMS Greyhound (there were a lot of ships called this) launched in 1712 and was mainly on trade protection duties in the Mediterranean and in Home waters. She was captured by the Spanish in 1718 off the coast of Morocco and burned in 1719, whereas this Greyhound was in active service later than 1719.
Capt. J. Evans of the Greyhound Galley described the pirate flag of Walter Kennedy pictured left. Evans was succeeded by Capt. Peter Solgard who had command of the Greyhound the following year.
There is an extended report from Capt. Peter Solgard of the Greyhound in 1723 in the British Journal, detailing his encounter with pirates on a sloop called the Ranger. The British Journal reported that pirates caught by Capt. Solgard were hanged with the Black flag, ‘affix’d to one corner of the gallows’. The report reads, ‘This Flag they called Old Roger, and us’d to say, They would live and die under it.‘ Saturday, Oct. 19, 1723 Publication: British Journal (London, England) Issue: 57, p. 19.
Guniey : Guinea, West Africa
Teeth : Some false teeth were made of ivory (also human teeth pulled from donors or the dead, and porcelain), so it’s likely that ivory dentures are what’s being referred to here, given that the ship is coming from Guinea, West Africa.
They write from St. Christophers of the 12th of February, that His Majesty’s Ship Scarborow, after taking on board 40 Soldiers at Antegoa [Antigua], Nevis and St Christopher’s, sail’d the 11th of January in pursuit of several Pyrates which had molested the Colonies for some time and plunder’d divers Vessels ; that on the 16th in the Morning, the Scarborow discover’d them behind an Island call’d Bassain, fell to Cannonading them, and about 4 in the Afternoon sunk one of ’em of 8 Guns, the other 24 running a Gronnd [sic] on one of the Reefs, the Men quitted their Ship and set her on fire. Nineteen of the Pyrates made their Escape in a small Sloop, the rest betook themselves to the Woods, where ’twas thought they must be starved. The Scarborow, after releasing the Prisoners with a Ship, and a Sloop they had taken, went in quest of 2 other Pyrate Sloops of 12 Guns each, and hoped to destroy them likewise.
Notes & Glossary:
The Scarborow: HMS Scarborough, named after the town in England, launched in 1711. She was the second smallest class of warship (known as a “fifth rate” ship) and in Feb 1717 (a month after this reported event took place) was in the vicinity of Blackbeard and his crew near Nevis.
molested : here in the sense of plagued, bothered, made repeated attacks/raids on, etc
divers : variant spelling of ‘diverse’, in sense of various, many
Cannonading : shooting at them with cannons
Sloop : type of sailing boat with a single mast and one headsail; it should not be confused with a sloop-of-war, which in the British navy was a warship with a single gun deck.
The Dover Galley from Jamaica for Bristol, met one Romicell, Commander of a Pirate of 12 Guns, and 120 Men, who took him, and demanded money ; but the Captain denying he had any, the Pyrate took out an Hour-Glass, and told him, Thar [sic] if he did not confess, his Life should expire with the Glass ; therefore bid him to make the best Use of his Time by Prayer, &c But before the Glass was out, he ingenuously confess’d where his Money was, which they took from him, and let him go. Then they boarded the Union, Captain Winter in the same Fleet ; but he complaining that he had lain a long Time at Jamaica for Loading ; they took Pity of him, and only plunder’d him of a Foresail. Captain Mackett of the same Fleet, Commander of the Drake, in company of a Man of War, gave Chase, and fir’d several Guns at the Pyrate ; but the Man of War being but an indifferend [sic] Sailor, oblig’d them to give over the Chase.
Hour-Glass : variant spelling of hourglass, or sand timer
ingenuously : the old (now obsolete) meaning is noble, honourable ; it also means showing innocent or childlike simplicity and candidness, lacking craft or subtlety. The older meaning is implied here, possibly, since the framing of the report does not seem to paint the Captain of the Dover in a negative light.
Foresail : the principle sail of the foremast.
Man of War: Not a specific kind of ship but a general Royal Navy term for any heavily armed warship or frigate from the 16-19thCs. Propelled by sails as opposed to a Galley, propelled mainly by oars. It ALSO refers to a heavily armed man or soldier, and a ship full of Men of War became known as a Man of War Ship. Unclear whether this is a man of war that’s not fast enough at sea to keep up with the pirate ship and was outrun, or whether Capt. Mackett was in company with an individual soldier (a man of war) who was not a good sailor and so obliged them to give up the chase on account of being too seasick to be any use/some other mishap occurred on account of his poor sailing ability.
indifferend : variant or misspelling of indifferent ; the usual meaning is ‘mediocre’ but in this context means ‘not very good’/’not up to the task’.
give over : an expression meaning ‘give up’ ; colloquially, “Give over!” is an expression meaning a range of things, but mostly along the lines of, “Stop teasing me/I don’t believe you” and used to express mild annoyance, surprise or joking good humour.