Stede Bonnet Breaking Pirate Tradition
Born in Barbados about 1688 or 1689, Stede Bonnet wasn’t a normal pirate. Bonnet acquired his family’s land as a child from a wealthy English plantation. He became Barbados’ military major, educated and wealthy.
With a wife and four children, Bonnet may have had it all in his early 20s. However, privilege seemed insufficient. Bonnet became a pirate in 1717, the closing years of the golden age, gaining the nickname “Gentleman Pirate.”
Bonnet left family and money for piracy for unknown reasons. Some suspect family, financial, or midlife concerns.
Bonnet commissioned a sloop, named “Revenge,” outfitted it with ten cannons, and hired 70 crew men, choosing a legitimate route to piracy. His ship couldn’t match his maritime ignorance.
Bonnet paid his crew while others shared loot. The unusual technique didn’t make him a traditional pirate captain. Bonnet relied solely on his experienced crew for navigation and raiding.
In collaboration with Blackbeard
Bonnet sailed to pirate-haven Nassau in 1717. En route, Revenge was heavily damaged, Bonnet was injured, and half the crew was killed or wounded fighting a Spanish warship. Bonnet met Flying Gang pirate Blackbeard in Nassau while recovering. The two allied, with Blackbeard leading Revenge.
They raided France and captured La Concorde, which Blackbeard turned into Queen Anne’s Revenge. Bonnet and Blackbeard split in 1717. He sailed west in the Caribbean, while Blackbeard went to Grenadines.
Bonnet may gain his crew’s respect by seizing a treasure-laden ship without a captain. Protestant Caesar, the 400-ton prize, eluded them. The crew’s dismay strained relations.
Later, Bonnet and his crew saw Blackbeard again. Blackbeard sent an emissary to captain Revenge after most of Bonnet’s crew left. He returned to Queen Anne’s Revenge as a guest or prisoner.
Bonnet and Blackbeard travelled to Bath, North Carolina, to seek pardons after hearing of King George I’s Acts of Grace. He returned after his parole to find most of his crew gone and Revenge pillaged by Blackbeard. And then, Bonnet rescued crew members, strengthened his ship, and resumed piracy instead of sailing as a privateer.
After that, Bonnet wanted to find and avenge Blackbeard.
End on Gallows
Warships were sent to find Bonnet and Blackbeard as colonial authorities tried to punish pirates who rejected cooperation or breached pardon terms. Bonnet renamed his ship Royal James and became Captain Thomas to trick officials.
Bonnet was caught following a Cape Fear River skirmish despite these efforts. His crew convicted of piracy, and 20 executed in November 1718.
Bonnet failed in his trial to bargain his punishment based on his upper class upbringing. His trip ended when he executed at Charleston on December 10, 1718.
Bonnet’s crew was known for their jolly roger, a skull between a heart and crossed daggers on horizontal bones on a black flag. Some versions mention the Gentleman Pirate’s blood-red flag. However, these details are unverified.
Modern romanticised stories honour Stede Bonnet, who died before 30. His brief career may have suited him. Finally, if he died as a gentleman, he could have forgotten.