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Through the writings of Howard Pyle!
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The following writing by Howard Pyle is public domain, and has been taken from Gutenberg's online project: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/973/973.txt
HOWARD PYLE'S BOOK OF PIRATES
Fiction, Fact & Fancy concerning the Buccaneers & Marooners of the Spanish Main: From the writing & Pictures of Howard Pyle
Chapter I. BUCCANEERS AND MAROONERS OF THE SPANISH MAIN
JUST above the northwestern shore of the old island of Hispaniola--the
Santo Domingo of our day--and separated from it only by a narrow channel
of some five or six miles in width, lies a queer little hunch of an
island, known, because of a distant resemblance to that animal, as
the Tortuga de Mar, or sea turtle. It is not more than twenty miles in
length by perhaps seven or eight in breadth; it is only a little spot of
land, and as you look at it upon the map a pin's head would almost cover
it; yet from that spot, as from a center of inflammation, a burning fire
of human wickedness and ruthlessness and lust overran the world, and
spread terror and death throughout the Spanish West Indies, from St.
Augustine to the island of Trinidad, and from Panama to the coasts of
About the middle of the seventeenth century certain French adventurers
set out from the fortified island of St. Christopher in longboats and
hoys, directing their course to the westward, there to discover new
islands. Sighting Hispaniola "with abundance of joy," they landed, and
went into the country, where they found great quantities of wild cattle,
horses, and swine.
Now vessels on the return voyage to Europe from the West Indies needed
revictualing, and food, especially flesh, was at a premium in the
islands of the Spanish Main; wherefore a great profit was to be turned
in preserving beef and pork, and selling the flesh to homeward-bound
The northwestern shore of Hispaniola, lying as it does at the eastern
outlet of the old Bahama Channel, running between the island of Cuba and
the great Bahama Banks, lay almost in the very main stream of travel.
The pioneer Frenchmen were not slow to discover the double advantage to
be reaped from the wild cattle that cost them nothing to procure, and a
market for the flesh ready found for them. So down upon Hispaniola they
came by boatloads and shiploads, gathering like a swarm of mosquitoes,
and overrunning the whole western end of the island. There they
established themselves, spending the time alternately in hunting the
wild cattle and buccanning(1) the meat, and squandering their hardly
earned gains in wild debauchery, the opportunities for which were never
lacking in the Spanish West Indies.
(1) Buccanning, by which the "buccaneers" gained their name,
was of process of curing thin strips of meat by salting,
smoking, and drying in the sun.
At first the Spaniards thought nothing of the few travel-worn Frenchmen
who dragged their longboats and hoys up on the beach, and shot a wild
bullock or two to keep body and soul together; but when the few grew to
dozens, and the dozens to scores, and the scores to hundreds, it was a
very different matter, and wrathful grumblings and mutterings began to
be heard among the original settlers.
But of this the careless buccaneers thought never a whit, the only thing
that troubled them being the lack of a more convenient shipping point
than the main island afforded them.
This lack was at last filled by a party of hunters who ventured across
the narrow channel that separated the main island from Tortuga. Here
they found exactly what they needed--a good harbor, just at the junction
of the Windward Channel with the old Bahama Channel--a spot where
four-fifths of the Spanish-Indian trade would pass by their very
There were a few Spaniards upon the island, but they were a quiet folk,
and well disposed to make friends with the strangers; but when more
Frenchmen and still more Frenchmen crossed the narrow channel, until
they overran the Tortuga and turned it into one great curing house for
the beef which they shot upon the neighboring island, the Spaniards grew
restive over the matter, just as they had done upon the larger island.
Accordingly, one fine day there came half a dozen great boatloads
of armed Spaniards, who landed upon the Turtle's Back and sent the
Frenchmen flying to the woods and fastnesses of rocks as the chaff flies
before the thunder gust. That night the Spaniards drank themselves
mad and shouted themselves hoarse over their victory, while the beaten
Frenchmen sullenly paddled their canoes back to the main island again,
and the Sea Turtle was Spanish once more.
But the Spaniards were not contented with such a petty triumph as that
of sweeping the island of Tortuga free from the obnoxious strangers,
down upon Hispaniola they came, flushed with their easy victory, and
determined to root out every Frenchman, until not one single buccaneer
remained. For a time they had an easy thing of it, for each French
hunter roamed the woods by himself, with no better company than his
half-wild dogs, so that when two or three Spaniards would meet such a
one, he seldom if ever came out of the woods again, for even his resting
place was lost.
But the very success of the Spaniards brought their ruin along with it,
for the buccaneers began to combine together for self-protection,
and out of that combination arose a strange union of lawless man with
lawless man, so near, so close, that it can scarce be compared to
any other than that of husband and wife. When two entered upon this
comradeship, articles were drawn up and signed by both parties, a common
stock was made of all their possessions, and out into the woods they
went to seek their fortunes; thenceforth they were as one man; they
lived together by day, they slept together by night; what one suffered,
the other suffered; what one gained, the other gained. The only
separation that came betwixt them was death, and then the survivor
inherited all that the other left. And now it was another thing with
Spanish buccaneer hunting, for two buccaneers, reckless of life, quick
of eye, and true of aim, were worth any half dozen of Spanish islanders.
By and by, as the French became more strongly organized for mutual
self-protection, they assumed the offensive. Then down they came upon
Tortuga, and now it was the turn of the Spanish to be hunted off the
island like vermin, and the turn of the French to shout their victory.
Having firmly established themselves, a governor was sent to the French
of Tortuga, one M. le Passeur, from the island of St. Christopher; the
Sea Turtle was fortified, and colonists, consisting of men of doubtful
character and women of whose character there could be no doubt whatever,
began pouring in upon the island, for it was said that the buccaneers
thought no more of a doubloon than of a Lima bean, so that this was the
place for the brothel and the brandy shop to reap their golden harvest,
and the island remained French.
Hitherto the Tortugans had been content to gain as much as possible from
the homeward-bound vessels through the orderly channels of legitimate
trade. It was reserved for Pierre le Grand to introduce piracy as a
quicker and more easy road to wealth than the semi-honest exchange they
had been used to practice.
Gathering together eight-and-twenty other spirits as hardy and reckless
as himself, he put boldly out to sea in a boat hardly large enough to
hold his crew, and running down the Windward Channel and out into the
Caribbean Sea, he lay in wait for such a prize as might be worth the
risks of winning.
For a while their luck was steadily against them; their provisions and
water began to fail, and they saw nothing before them but starvation
or a humiliating return. In this extremity they sighted a Spanish ship
belonging to a "flota" which had become separated from her consorts.
The boat in which the buccaneers sailed might, perhaps, have served for
the great ship's longboat; the Spaniards out-numbered them three to
one, and Pierre and his men were armed only with pistols and cutlasses;
nevertheless this was their one and their only chance, and they
determined to take the Spanish ship or to die in the attempt. Down upon
the Spaniard they bore through the dusk of the night, and giving orders
to the "chirurgeon" to scuttle their craft under them as they were
leaving it, they swarmed up the side of the unsuspecting ship and upon
its decks in a torrent--pistol in one hand and cutlass in the other. A
part of them ran to the gun room and secured the arms and ammunition,
pistoling or cutting down all such as stood in their way or offered
opposition; the other party burst into the great cabin at the heels of
Pierre le Grand, found the captain and a party of his friends at cards,
set a pistol to his breast, and demanded him to deliver up the ship.
Nothing remained for the Spaniard but to yield, for there was no
alternative between surrender and death. And so the great prize was won.
It was not long before the news of this great exploit and of the vast
treasure gained reached the ears of the buccaneers of Tortuga and
Hispaniola. Then what a hubbub and an uproar and a tumult there was!
Hunting wild cattle and buccanning the meat was at a discount, and the
one and only thing to do was to go a-pirating; for where one such prize
had been won, others were to be had.
In a short time freebooting assumed all of the routine of a regular
business. Articles were drawn up betwixt captain and crew, compacts were
sealed, and agreements entered into by the one party and the other.
In all professions there are those who make their mark, those who
succeed only moderately well, and those who fail more or less entirely.
Nor did pirating differ from this general rule, for in it were men who
rose to distinction, men whose names, something tarnished and rusted by
the lapse of years, have come down even to us of the present day.
Pierre Francois, who, with his boatload of six-and-twenty desperadoes,
ran boldly into the midst of the pearl fleet off the coast of
South America, attacked the vice admiral under the very guns of two
men-of-war, captured his ship, though she was armed with eight guns and
manned with threescore men, and would have got her safely away, only
that having to put on sail, their mainmast went by the board, whereupon
the men-of-war came up with them, and the prize was lost.
But even though there were two men-of-war against all that remained of
six-and-twenty buccaneers, the Spaniards were glad enough to make terms
with them for the surrender of the vessel, whereby Pierre Francois and
his men came off scot-free.
Bartholomew Portuguese was a worthy of even more note. In a boat manned
with thirty fellow adventurers he fell upon a great ship off Cape
Corrientes, manned with threescore and ten men, all told.
Her he assaulted again and again, beaten off with the very pressure of
numbers only to renew the assault, until the Spaniards who survived,
some fifty in all, surrendered to twenty living pirates, who poured upon
their decks like a score of blood-stained, powder-grimed devils.
They lost their vessel by recapture, and Bartholomew Portuguese
barely escaped with his life through a series of almost unbelievable
adventures. But no sooner had he fairly escaped from the clutches of the
Spaniards than, gathering together another band of adventurers, he fell
upon the very same vessel in the gloom of the night, recaptured her when
she rode at anchor in the harbor of Campeche under the guns of the fort,
slipped the cable, and was away without the loss of a single man. He
lost her in a hurricane soon afterward, just off the Isle of Pines; but
the deed was none the less daring for all that.
Another notable no less famous than these two worthies was Roch
Braziliano, the truculent Dutchman who came up from the coast of Brazil
to the Spanish Main with a name ready-made for him. Upon the very first
adventure which he undertook he captured a plate ship of fabulous value,
and brought her safely into Jamaica; and when at last captured by the
Spaniards, he fairly frightened them into letting him go by truculent
threats of vengeance from his followers.
Such were three of the pirate buccaneers who infested the Spanish
Main. There were hundreds no less desperate, no less reckless, no less
insatiate in their lust for plunder, than they.
The effects of this freebooting soon became apparent. The risks to be
assumed by the owners of vessels and the shippers of merchandise became
so enormous that Spanish commerce was practically swept away from these
waters. No vessel dared to venture out of port excepting under escort
of powerful men-of-war, and even then they were not always secure from
molestation. Exports from Central and South America were sent to Europe
by way of the Strait of Magellan, and little or none went through the
passes between the Bahamas and the Caribbees.
So at last "buccaneering," as it had come to be generically called,
ceased to pay the vast dividends that it had done at first. The cream
was skimmed off, and only very thin milk was left in the dish. Fabulous
fortunes were no longer earned in a ten days' cruise, but what money
was won hardly paid for the risks of the winning. There must be a new
departure, or buccaneering would cease to exist.
Then arose one who showed the buccaneers a new way to squeeze money out
of the Spaniards. This man was an Englishman--Lewis Scot.
The stoppage of commerce on the Spanish Main had naturally tended to
accumulate all the wealth gathered and produced into the chief fortified
cities and towns of the West Indies. As there no longer existed prizes
upon the sea, they must be gained upon the land, if they were to be
gained at all. Lewis Scot was the first to appreciate this fact.
Gathering together a large and powerful body of men as hungry for
plunder and as desperate as himself, he descended upon the town of
Campeche, which he captured and sacked, stripping it of everything that
could possibly be carried away.
When the town was cleared to the bare walls Scot threatened to set the
torch to every house in the place if it was not ransomed by a large sum
of money which he demanded. With this booty he set sail for Tortuga,
where he arrived safely--and the problem was solved.
After him came one Mansvelt, a buccaneer of lesser note, who first made
a descent upon the isle of Saint Catharine, now Old Providence, which he
took, and, with this as a base, made an unsuccessful descent upon Neuva
Granada and Cartagena. His name might not have been handed down to us
along with others of greater fame had he not been the master of that
most apt of pupils, the great Captain Henry Morgan, most famous of
all the buccaneers, one time governor of Jamaica, and knighted by King
After Mansvelt followed the bold John Davis, native of Jamaica, where he
sucked in the lust of piracy with his mother's milk. With only fourscore
men, he swooped down upon the great city of Nicaragua in the darkness of
the night, silenced the sentry with the thrust of a knife, and then
fell to pillaging the churches and houses "without any respect or
Of course it was but a short time until the whole town was in an uproar
of alarm, and there was nothing left for the little handful of men to do
but to make the best of their way to their boats. They were in the town
but a short time, but in that time they were able to gather together and
to carry away money and jewels to the value of fifty thousand pieces of
eight, besides dragging off with them a dozen or more notable prisoners,
whom they held for ransom.
And now one appeared upon the scene who reached a far greater height
than any had arisen to before. This was Francois l'Olonoise, who
sacked the great city of Maracaibo and the town of Gibraltar. Cold,
unimpassioned, pitiless, his sluggish blood was never moved by one
single pulse of human warmth, his icy heart was never touched by one ray
of mercy or one spark of pity for the hapless wretches who chanced to
fall into his bloody hands.
Against him the governor of Havana sent out a great war vessel, and with
it a negro executioner, so that there might be no inconvenient delays of
law after the pirates had been captured. But l'Olonoise did not wait for
the coming of the war vessel; he went out to meet it, and he found it
where it lay riding at anchor in the mouth of the river Estra. At the
dawn of the morning he made his attack sharp, unexpected, decisive. In a
little while the Spaniards were forced below the hatches, and the vessel
was taken. Then came the end. One by one the poor shrieking wretches
were dragged up from below, and one by one they were butchered in cold
blood, while l'Olonoise stood upon the poop deck and looked coldly down
upon what was being done. Among the rest the negro was dragged upon the
deck. He begged and implored that his life might be spared, promising to
tell all that might be asked of him. L'Olonoise questioned him, and when
he had squeezed him dry, waved his hand coldly, and the poor black went
with the rest. Only one man was spared; him he sent to the governor of
Havana with a message that henceforth he would give no quarter to any
Spaniard whom he might meet in arms--a message which was not an empty
The rise of l'Olonoise was by no means rapid. He worked his way up by
dint of hard labor and through much ill fortune. But by and by, after
many reverses, the tide turned, and carried him with it from one success
to another, without let or stay, to the bitter end.
Cruising off Maracaibo, he captured a rich prize laden with a vast
amount of plate and ready money, and there conceived the design of
descending upon the powerful town of Maracaibo itself. Without loss of
time he gathered together five hundred picked scoundrels from Tortuga,
and taking with him one Michael de Basco as land captain, and two
hundred more buccaneers whom he commanded, down he came into the Gulf of
Venezuela and upon the doomed city like a blast of the plague. Leaving
their vessels, the buccaneers made a land attack upon the fort that
stood at the mouth of the inlet that led into Lake Maracaibo and guarded
The Spaniards held out well, and fought with all the might that
Spaniards possess; but after a fight of three hours all was given up and
the garrison fled, spreading terror and confusion before them. As
many of the inhabitants of the city as could do so escaped in boats to
Gibraltar, which lies to the southward, on the shores of Lake Maracaibo,
at the distance of some forty leagues or more.
Then the pirates marched into the town, and what followed may be
conceived. It was a holocaust of lust, of passion, and of blood such as
even the Spanish West Indies had never seen before. Houses and churches
were sacked until nothing was left but the bare walls; men and women
were tortured to compel them to disclose where more treasure lay hidden.
Then, having wrenched all that they could from Maracaibo, they
entered the lake and descended upon Gibraltar, where the rest of the
panic-stricken inhabitants were huddled together in a blind terror.
The governor of Merida, a brave soldier who had served his king in
Flanders, had gathered together a troop of eight hundred men, had
fortified the town, and now lay in wait for the coming of the pirates.
The pirates came all in good time, and then, in spite of the brave
defense, Gibraltar also fell. Then followed a repetition of the scenes
that had been enacted in Maracaibo for the past fifteen days, only here
they remained for four horrible weeks, extorting money--money! ever
money!--from the poor poverty-stricken, pest-ridden souls crowded into
that fever hole of a town.
Then they left, but before they went they demanded still more money--ten
thousand pieces of eight--as a ransom for the town, which otherwise
should be given to the flames. There was some hesitation on the part of
the Spaniards, some disposition to haggle, but there was no hesitation
on the part of l'Olonoise. The torch WAS set to the town as he had
promised, whereupon the money was promptly paid, and the pirates were
piteously begged to help quench the spreading flames. This they were
pleased to do, but in spite of all their efforts nearly half of the town
After that they returned to Maracaibo again, where they demanded a
ransom of thirty thousand pieces of eight for the city. There was no
haggling here, thanks to the fate of Gibraltar; only it was utterly
impossible to raise that much money in all of the poverty-stricken
region. But at last the matter was compromised, and the town was
redeemed for twenty thousand pieces of eight and five hundred head of
cattle, and tortured Maracaibo was quit of them.
In the Ile de la Vache the buccaneers shared among themselves two
hundred and sixty thousand pieces of eight, besides jewels and bales of
silk and linen and miscellaneous plunder to a vast amount.
Such was the one great deed of l'Olonoise; from that time his star
steadily declined--for even nature seemed fighting against such a
monster--until at last he died a miserable, nameless death at the hands
of an unknown tribe of Indians upon the Isthmus of Darien.
And now we come to the greatest of all the buccaneers, he who stands
pre-eminent among them, and whose name even to this day is a charm
to call up his deeds of daring, his dauntless courage, his truculent
cruelty, and his insatiate and unappeasable lust for gold--Capt. Henry
Morgan, the bold Welshman, who brought buccaneering to the height and
flower of its glory.
Having sold himself, after the manner of the times, for his passage
across the seas, he worked out his time of servitude at the Barbados. As
soon as he had regained his liberty he entered upon the trade of piracy,
wherein he soon reached a position of considerable prominence. He was
associated with Mansvelt at the time of the latter's descent upon
Saint Catharine's Isle, the importance of which spot, as a center of
operations against the neighboring coasts, Morgan never lost sight of.
The first attempt that Capt. Henry Morgan ever made against any town
in the Spanish Indies was the bold descent upon the city of Puerto del
Principe in the island of Cuba, with a mere handful of men. It was
a deed the boldness of which has never been outdone by any of a like
nature--not even the famous attack upon Panama itself. Thence they
returned to their boats in the very face of the whole island of Cuba,
aroused and determined upon their extermination. Not only did they make
good their escape, but they brought away with them a vast amount of
plunder, computed at three hundred thousand pieces of eight, besides
five hundred head of cattle and many prisoners held for ransom.
But when the division of all this wealth came to be made, lo! there were
only fifty thousand pieces of eight to be found. What had become of the
rest no man could tell but Capt. Henry Morgan himself. Honesty among
thieves was never an axiom with him.
Rude, truculent, and dishonest as Captain Morgan was, he seems to have
had a wonderful power of persuading the wild buccaneers under him to
submit everything to his judgment, and to rely entirely upon his word.
In spite of the vast sum of money that he had very evidently made away
with, recruits poured in upon him, until his band was larger and better
equipped than ever.
And now it was determined that the plunder harvest was ripe at Porto
Bello, and that city's doom was sealed. The town was defended by two
strong castles thoroughly manned, and officered by as gallant a soldier
as ever carried Toledo steel at his side. But strong castles and gallant
soldiers weighed not a barleycorn with the buccaneers when their blood
was stirred by the lust of gold.
Landing at Puerto Naso, a town some ten leagues westward of Porto Bello,
they marched to the latter town, and coming before the castle, boldly
demanded its surrender. It was refused, whereupon Morgan threatened that
no quarter should be given. Still surrender was refused; and then the
castle was attacked, and after a bitter struggle was captured. Morgan
was as good as his word: every man in the castle was shut in the guard
room, the match was set to the powder magazine, and soldiers, castle,
and all were blown into the air, while through all the smoke and the
dust the buccaneers poured into the town. Still the governor held out in
the other castle, and might have made good his defense, but that he was
betrayed by the soldiers under him. Into the castle poured the howling
buccaneers. But still the governor fought on, with his wife and daughter
clinging to his knees and beseeching him to surrender, and the blood
from his wounded forehead trickling down over his white collar, until a
merciful bullet put an end to the vain struggle.
Here were enacted the old scenes. Everything plundered that could be
taken, and then a ransom set upon the town itself.
This time an honest, or an apparently honest, division was made of
the spoils, which amounted to two hundred and fifty thousand pieces of
eight, besides merchandise and jewels.
The next towns to suffer were poor Maracaibo and Gibraltar, now just
beginning to recover from the desolation wrought by l'Olonoise. Once
more both towns were plundered of every bale of merchandise and of every
plaster, and once more both were ransomed until everything was squeezed
from the wretched inhabitants.
Here affairs were like to have taken a turn, for when Captain Morgan
came up from Gibraltar he found three great men-of-war lying in the
entrance to the lake awaiting his coming. Seeing that he was hemmed in
in the narrow sheet of water, Captain Morgan was inclined to compromise
matters, even offering to relinquish all the plunder he had gained if he
were allowed to depart in peace. But no; the Spanish admiral would hear
nothing of this. Having the pirates, as he thought, securely in his
grasp, he would relinquish nothing, but would sweep them from the face
of the sea once and forever.
That was an unlucky determination for the Spaniards to reach, for
instead of paralyzing the pirates with fear, as he expected it would do,
it simply turned their mad courage into as mad desperation.
A great vessel that they had taken with the town of Maracaibo was
converted into a fire ship, manned with logs of wood in montera caps and
sailor jackets, and filled with brimstone, pitch, and palm leaves soaked
in oil. Then out of the lake the pirates sailed to meet the Spaniards,
the fire ship leading the way, and bearing down directly upon the
admiral's vessel. At the helm stood volunteers, the most desperate and
the bravest of all the pirate gang, and at the ports stood the logs of
wood in montera caps. So they came up with the admiral, and grappled
with his ship in spite of the thunder of all his great guns, and then
the Spaniard saw, all too late, what his opponent really was.
He tried to swing loose, but clouds of smoke and almost instantly a mass
of roaring flames enveloped both vessels, and the admiral was lost. The
second vessel, not wishing to wait for the coming of the pirates, bore
down upon the fort, under the guns of which the cowardly crew sank
her, and made the best of their way to the shore. The third vessel, not
having an opportunity to escape, was taken by the pirates without the
slightest resistance, and the passage from the lake was cleared. So
the buccaneers sailed away, leaving Maracaibo and Gibraltar prostrate a
And now Captain Morgan determined to undertake another venture, the like
of which had never been equaled in all of the annals of buccaneering.
This was nothing less than the descent upon and the capture of Panama,
which was, next to Cartagena, perhaps, the most powerful and the most
strongly fortified city in the West Indies.
In preparation for this venture he obtained letters of marque from the
governor of Jamaica, by virtue of which elastic commission he began
immediately to gather around him all material necessary for the
When it became known abroad that the great Captain Morgan was about
undertaking an adventure that was to eclipse all that was ever done
before, great numbers came flocking to his standard, until he had
gathered together an army of two thousand or more desperadoes and
pirates wherewith to prosecute his adventure, albeit the venture itself
was kept a total secret from everyone. Port Couillon, in the island of
Hispaniola, over against the Ile de la Vache, was the place of muster,
and thither the motley band gathered from all quarters. Provisions had
been plundered from the mainland wherever they could be obtained, and by
the 24th of October, 1670 (O. S.), everything was in readiness.
The island of Saint Catharine, as it may be remembered, was at one time
captured by Mansvelt, Morgan's master in his trade of piracy. It had
been retaken by the Spaniards, and was now thoroughly fortified by them.
Almost the first attempt that Morgan had made as a master pirate was the
retaking of Saint Catharine's Isle. In that undertaking he had failed;
but now, as there was an absolute need of some such place as a base
of operations, he determined that the place must be taken. And it was
The Spaniards, during the time of their possession, had fortified it
most thoroughly and completely, and had the governor thereof been as
brave as he who met his death in the castle of Porto Bello, there might
have been a different tale to tell. As it was, he surrendered it in a
most cowardly fashion, merely stipulating that there should be a sham
attack by the buccaneers, whereby his credit might be saved. And so
Saint Catharine was won.
The next step to be taken was the capture of the castle of Chagres,
which guarded the mouth of the river of that name, up which river the
buccaneers would be compelled to transport their troops and provisions
for the attack upon the city of Panama. This adventure was undertaken by
four hundred picked men under command of Captain Morgan himself.
The castle of Chagres, known as San Lorenzo by the Spaniards, stood upon
the top of an abrupt rock at the mouth of the river, and was one of
the strongest fortresses for its size in all of the West Indies. This
stronghold Morgan must have if he ever hoped to win Panama.
The attack of the castle and the defense of it were equally fierce,
bloody, and desperate. Again and again the buccaneers assaulted, and
again and again they were beaten back. So the morning came, and it
seemed as though the pirates had been baffled this time. But just at
this juncture the thatch of palm leaves on the roofs of some of the
buildings inside the fortifications took fire, a conflagration followed,
which caused the explosion of one of the magazines, and in the
paralysis of terror that followed, the pirates forced their way into
the fortifications, and the castle was won. Most of the Spaniards
flung themselves from the castle walls into the river or upon the rocks
beneath, preferring death to capture and possible torture; many who
were left were put to the sword, and some few were spared and held as
So fell the castle of Chagres, and nothing now lay between the
buccaneers and the city of Panama but the intervening and trackless
And now the name of the town whose doom was sealed was no secret.
Up the river of Chagres went Capt. Henry Morgan and twelve hundred men,
packed closely in their canoes; they never stopped, saving now and then
to rest their stiffened legs, until they had come to a place known as
Cruz de San Juan Gallego, where they were compelled to leave their boats
on account of the shallowness of the water.
Leaving a guard of one hundred and sixty men to protect their boats as
a place of refuge in case they should be worsted before Panama, they
turned and plunged into the wilderness before them.
There a more powerful foe awaited them than a host of Spaniards
with match, powder, and lead--starvation. They met but little or no
opposition in their progress; but wherever they turned they found every
fiber of meat, every grain of maize, every ounce of bread or meal, swept
away or destroyed utterly before them. Even when the buccaneers had
successfully overcome an ambuscade or an attack, and had sent the
Spaniards flying, the fugitives took the time to strip their dead
comrades of every grain of food in their leathern sacks, leaving nothing
but the empty bags.
Says the narrator of these events, himself one of the expedition, "They
afterward fell to eating those leathern bags, as affording something to
the ferment of their stomachs."
Ten days they struggled through this bitter privation, doggedly forcing
their way onward, faint with hunger and haggard with weakness and fever.
Then, from the high hill and over the tops of the forest trees, they saw
the steeples of Panama, and nothing remained between them and their goal
but the fighting of four Spaniards to every one of them--a simple thing
which they had done over and over again.
Down they poured upon Panama, and out came the Spaniards to meet them;
four hundred horse, two thousand five hundred foot, and two thousand
wild bulls which had been herded together to be driven over the
buccaneers so that their ranks might be disordered and broken. The
buccaneers were only eight hundred strong; the others had either
fallen in battle or had dropped along the dreary pathway through the
wilderness; but in the space of two hours the Spaniards were flying
madly over the plain, minus six hundred who lay dead or dying behind
As for the bulls, as many of them as were shot served as food there and
then for the half-famished pirates, for the buccaneers were never more
at home than in the slaughter of cattle.
Then they marched toward the city. Three hours' more fighting and
they were in the streets, howling, yelling, plundering, gorging,
dram-drinking, and giving full vent to all the vile and nameless lusts
that burned in their hearts like a hell of fire. And now followed the
usual sequence of events--rapine, cruelty, and extortion; only this time
there was no town to ransom, for Morgan had given orders that it should
be destroyed. The torch was set to it, and Panama, one of the greatest
cities in the New World, was swept from the face of the earth. Why the
deed was done, no man but Morgan could tell. Perhaps it was that all
the secret hiding places for treasure might be brought to light; but
whatever the reason was, it lay hidden in the breast of the great
buccaneer himself. For three weeks Morgan and his men abode in this
dreadful place; and they marched away with ONE HUNDRED AND SEVENTY-FIVE
beasts of burden loaded with treasures of gold and silver and jewels,
besides great quantities of merchandise, and six hundred prisoners held
Whatever became of all that vast wealth, and what it amounted to, no
man but Morgan ever knew, for when a division was made it was found that
there was only TWO HUNDRED PIECES OF EIGHT TO EACH MAN.
When this dividend was declared a howl of execration went up, under
which even Capt. Henry Morgan quailed. At night he and four other
commanders slipped their cables and ran out to sea, and it was said that
these divided the greater part of the booty among themselves. But the
wealth plundered at Panama could hardly have fallen short of a million
and a half of dollars. Computing it at this reasonable figure, the
various prizes won by Henry Morgan in the West Indies would stand as
follows: Panama, $1,500,000; Porto Bello, $800,000; Puerto del
Principe, $700,000; Maracaibo and Gibraltar, $400,000; various piracies,
$250,000--making a grand total of $3,650,000 as the vast harvest of
plunder. With this fabulous wealth, wrenched from the Spaniards by
means of the rack and the cord, and pilfered from his companions by the
meanest of thieving, Capt. Henry Morgan retired from business, honored
of all, rendered famous by his deeds, knighted by the good King Charles
II, and finally appointed governor of the rich island of Jamaica.
Other buccaneers followed him. Campeche was taken and sacked, and even
Cartagena itself fell; but with Henry Morgan culminated the glory of
the buccaneers, and from that time they declined in power and wealth and
wickedness until they were finally swept away.
The buccaneers became bolder and bolder. In fact, so daring were their
crimes that the home governments, stirred at last by these outrageous
barbarities, seriously undertook the suppression of the freebooters,
lopping and trimming the main trunk until its members were scattered
hither and thither, and it was thought that the organization was
exterminated. But, so far from being exterminated, the individual
members were merely scattered north, south, east, and west, each forming
a nucleus around which gathered and clustered the very worst of the
offscouring of humanity.
The result was that when the seventeenth century was fairly packed away
with its lavender in the store chest of the past, a score or more
bands of freebooters were cruising along the Atlantic seaboard in armed
vessels, each with a black flag with its skull and crossbones at the
fore, and with a nondescript crew made up of the tags and remnants of
civilized and semicivilized humanity (white, black, red, and yellow),
known generally as marooners, swarming upon the decks below.
Nor did these offshoots from the old buccaneer stem confine their
depredations to the American seas alone; the East Indies and the African
coast also witnessed their doings, and suffered from them, and even the
Bay of Biscay had good cause to remember more than one visit from them.
Worthy sprigs from so worthy a stem improved variously upon the
parent methods; for while the buccaneers were content to prey upon the
Spaniards alone, the marooners reaped the harvest from the commerce of
So up and down the Atlantic seaboard they cruised, and for the fifty
years that marooning was in the flower of its glory it was a sorrowful
time for the coasters of New England, the middle provinces, and the
Virginias, sailing to the West Indies with their cargoes of salt fish,
grain, and tobacco. Trading became almost as dangerous as privateering,
and sea captains were chosen as much for their knowledge of the
flintlock and the cutlass as for their seamanship.
As by far the largest part of the trading in American waters was
conducted by these Yankee coasters, so by far the heaviest blows, and
those most keenly felt, fell upon them. Bulletin after bulletin came
to port with its doleful tale of this vessel burned or that vessel
scuttled, this one held by the pirates for their own use or that one
stripped of its goods and sent into port as empty as an eggshell from
which the yolk had been sucked. Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and
Charleston suffered alike, and worthy ship owners had to leave off
counting their losses upon their fingers and take to the slate to keep
the dismal record.
"Maroon--to put ashore on a desert isle, as a sailor, under pretense of
having committed some great crime." Thus our good Noah Webster gives us
the dry bones, the anatomy, upon which the imagination may construct a
specimen to suit itself.
It is thence that the marooners took their name, for marooning was
one of their most effective instruments of punishment or revenge. If a
pirate broke one of the many rules which governed the particular band
to which he belonged, he was marooned; did a captain defend his ship to
such a degree as to be unpleasant to the pirates attacking it, he
was marooned; even the pirate captain himself, if he displeased his
followers by the severity of his rule, was in danger of having the same
punishment visited upon him which he had perhaps more than once visited
The process of marooning was as simple as terrible. A suitable place was
chosen (generally some desert isle as far removed as possible from the
pathway of commerce), and the condemned man was rowed from the ship to
the beach. Out he was bundled upon the sand spit; a gun, a half dozen
bullets, a few pinches of powder, and a bottle of water were chucked
ashore after him, and away rowed the boat's crew back to the ship,
leaving the poor wretch alone to rave away his life in madness, or to
sit sunken in his gloomy despair till death mercifully released him from
torment. It rarely if ever happened that anything was known of him after
having been marooned. A boat's crew from some vessel, sailing by chance
that way, might perhaps find a few chalky bones bleaching upon the white
sand in the garish glare of the sunlight, but that was all. And such
By far the largest number of pirate captains were Englishmen, for,
from the days of good Queen Bess, English sea captains seemed to have
a natural turn for any species of venture that had a smack of piracy
in it, and from the great Admiral Drake of the old, old days, to the
truculent Morgan of buccaneering times, the Englishman did the boldest
and wickedest deeds, and wrought the most damage.
First of all upon the list of pirates stands the bold Captain Avary, one
of the institutors of marooning. Him we see but dimly, half hidden by
the glamouring mists of legends and tradition. Others who came afterward
outstripped him far enough in their doings, but he stands pre-eminent as
the first of marooners of whom actual history has been handed down to us
of the present day.
When the English, Dutch, and Spanish entered into an alliance to
suppress buccaneering in the West Indies, certain worthies of Bristol,
in old England, fitted out two vessels to assist in this laudable
project; for doubtless Bristol trade suffered smartly from the Morgans
and the l'Olonoises of that old time. One of these vessels was named the
Duke, of which a certain Captain Gibson was the commander and Avary the
Away they sailed to the West Indies, and there Avary became impressed by
the advantages offered by piracy, and by the amount of good things that
were to be gained by very little striving.
One night the captain (who was one of those fellows mightily addicted
to punch), instead of going ashore to saturate himself with rum at the
ordinary, had his drink in his cabin in private. While he lay snoring
away the effects of his rum in the cabin, Avary and a few other
conspirators heaved the anchor very leisurely, and sailed out of the
harbor of Corunna, and through the midst of the allied fleet riding at
anchor in the darkness.
By and by, when the morning came, the captain was awakened by the
pitching and tossing of the vessel, the rattle and clatter of the tackle
overhead, and the noise of footsteps passing and repassing hither and
thither across the deck. Perhaps he lay for a while turning the matter
over and over in his muddled head, but he presently rang the bell, and
Avary and another fellow answered the call.
"What's the matter?" bawls the captain from his berth.
"Nothing," says Avary, coolly.
"Something's the matter with the ship," says the captain. "Does she
drive? What weather is it?"
"Oh no," says Avary; "we are at sea."
"Come, come!" says Avary: "I'll tell you; you must know that I'm the
captain of the ship now, and you must be packing from this here cabin.
We are bound to Madagascar, to make all of our fortunes, and if you're a
mind to ship for the cruise, why, we'll be glad to have you, if you will
be sober and mind your own business; if not, there is a boat alongside,
and I'll have you set ashore."
The poor half-tipsy captain had no relish to go a-pirating under the
command of his backsliding mate, so out of the ship he bundled, and away
he rowed with four or five of the crew, who, like him, refused to join
with their jolly shipmates.
The rest of them sailed away to the East Indies, to try their fortunes
in those waters, for our Captain Avary was of a high spirit, and had
no mind to fritter away his time in the West Indies squeezed dry by
buccaneer Morgan and others of lesser note. No, he would make a bold
stroke for it at once, and make or lose at a single cast.
On his way he picked up a couple of like kind with himself--two sloops
off Madagascar. With these he sailed away to the coast of India, and for
a time his name was lost in the obscurity of uncertain history. But
only for a time, for suddenly it flamed out in a blaze of glory. It was
reported that a vessel belonging to the Great Mogul, laden with treasure
and bearing the monarch's own daughter upon a holy pilgrimage to Mecca
(they being Mohammedans), had fallen in with the pirates, and after a
short resistance had been surrendered, with the damsel, her court, and
all the diamonds, pearls, silk, silver, and gold aboard. It was rumored
that the Great Mogul, raging at the insult offered to him through his
own flesh and blood, had threatened to wipe out of existence the few
English settlements scattered along the coast; whereat the honorable
East India Company was in a pretty state of fuss and feathers. Rumor,
growing with the telling, has it that Avary is going to marry the
Indian princess, willy-nilly, and will turn rajah, and eschew piracy as
indecent. As for the treasure itself, there was no end to the extent to
which it grew as it passed from mouth to mouth.
Cracking the nut of romance and exaggeration, we come to the kernel of
the story--that Avary did fall in with an Indian vessel laden with great
treasure (and possibly with the Mogul's daughter), which he captured,
and thereby gained a vast prize.
Having concluded that he had earned enough money by the trade he had
undertaken, he determined to retire and live decently for the rest of
his life upon what he already had. As a step toward this object, he set
about cheating his Madagascar partners out of their share of what had
been gained. He persuaded them to store all the treasure in his vessel,
it being the largest of the three; and so, having it safely in hand, he
altered the course of his ship one fine night, and when the morning
came the Madagascar sloops found themselves floating upon a wide ocean
without a farthing of the treasure for which they had fought so hard,
and for which they might whistle for all the good it would do them.
At first Avary had a great part of a mind to settle at Boston, in
Massachusetts, and had that little town been one whit less bleak and
forbidding, it might have had the honor of being the home of this famous
man. As it was, he did not like the looks of it, so he sailed away to
the eastward, to Ireland, where he settled himself at Biddeford, in
hopes of an easy life of it for the rest of his days.
Here he found himself the possessor of a plentiful stock of jewels, such
as pearls, diamonds, rubies, etc., but with hardly a score of honest
farthings to jingle in his breeches pocket. He consulted with a certain
merchant of Bristol concerning the disposal of the stones--a fellow
not much more cleanly in his habits of honesty than Avary himself.
This worthy undertook to act as Avary's broker. Off he marched with
the jewels, and that was the last that the pirate saw of his Indian
Perhaps the most famous of all the piratical names to American ears are
those of Capt. Robert Kidd and Capt. Edward Teach, or "Blackbeard."
Nothing will be ventured in regard to Kidd at this time, nor in regard
to the pros and cons as to whether he really was or was not a pirate,
after all. For many years he was the very hero of heroes of piratical
fame, there was hardly a creek or stream or point of land along our
coast, hardly a convenient bit of good sandy beach, or hump of rock, or
water-washed cave, where fabulous treasures were not said to have been
hidden by this worthy marooner. Now we are assured that he never was
a pirate, and never did bury any treasure, excepting a certain chest,
which he was compelled to hide upon Gardiner's Island--and perhaps even
it was mythical.
So poor Kidd must be relegated to the dull ranks of simply respectable
people, or semirespectable people at best.
But with "Blackbeard" it is different, for in him we have a real,
ranting, raging, roaring pirate per se--one who really did bury
treasure, who made more than one captain walk the plank, and who
committed more private murders than he could number on the fingers of
both hands; one who fills, and will continue to fill, the place to which
he has been assigned for generations, and who may be depended upon to
hold his place in the confidence of others for generations to come.
Captain Teach was a Bristol man born, and learned his trade on board of
sundry privateers in the East Indies during the old French war--that of
1702--and a better apprenticeship could no man serve. At last, somewhere
about the latter part of the year 1716, a privateering captain, one
Benjamin Hornigold, raised him from the ranks and put him in command of
a sloop--a lately captured prize and Blackbeard's fortune was made. It
was a very slight step, and but the change of a few letters, to convert
"privateer" into "pirate," and it was a very short time before Teach
made that change. Not only did he make it himself, but he persuaded his
old captain to join with him.
And now fairly began that series of bold and lawless depredations which
have made his name so justly famous, and which placed him among the very
greatest of marooning freebooters.
"Our hero," says the old historian who sings of the arms and bravery of
this great man--"our hero assumed the cognomen of Blackbeard from that
large quantity of hair which, like a frightful meteor, covered his whole
face, and frightened America more than any comet that appeared there
in a long time. He was accustomed to twist it with ribbons into small
tails, after the manner of our Ramillies wig, and turn them about his
ears. In time of action he wore a sling over his shoulders, with three
brace of pistols, hanging in holsters like bandoleers; he stuck lighted
matches under his hat, which, appearing on each side of his face, and
his eyes naturally looking fierce and wild, made him altogether such a
figure that imagination cannot form an idea of a Fury from hell to look
The night before the day of the action in which he was killed he sat up
drinking with some congenial company until broad daylight. One of them
asked him if his poor young wife knew where his treasure was hidden.
"No," says Blackbeard; "nobody but the devil and I knows where it is,
and the longest liver shall have all."
As for that poor young wife of his, the life that he and his rum-crazy
shipmates led her was too terrible to be told.
For a time Blackbeard worked at his trade down on the Spanish Main,
gathering, in the few years he was there, a very neat little fortune in
the booty captured from sundry vessels; but by and by he took it into
his head to try his luck along the coast of the Carolinas; so off
he sailed to the northward, with quite a respectable little fleet,
consisting of his own vessel and two captured sloops. From that time he
was actively engaged in the making of American history in his small way.
He first appeared off the bar of Charleston Harbor, to the no small
excitement of the worthy town of that ilk, and there he lay for five
or six days, blockading the port, and stopping incoming and outgoing
vessels at his pleasure, so that, for the time, the commerce of the
province was entirely paralyzed. All the vessels so stopped he held as
prizes, and all the crews and passengers (among the latter of whom was
more than one provincial worthy of the day) he retained as though they
were prisoners of war.
And it was a mightily awkward thing for the good folk of Charleston to
behold day after day a black flag with its white skull and crossbones
fluttering at the fore of the pirate captain's craft, over across the
level stretch of green salt marshes; and it was mightily unpleasant,
too, to know that this or that prominent citizen was crowded down with
the other prisoners under the hatches.
One morning Captain Blackbeard finds that his stock of medicine is low.
"Tut!" says he, "we'll turn no hair gray for that." So up he calls the
bold Captain Richards, the commander of his consort the Revenge sloop,
and bids him take Mr. Marks (one of his prisoners), and go up to
Charleston and get the medicine. There was no task that suited our
Captain Richards better than that. Up to the town he rowed, as bold as
brass. "Look ye," says he to the governor, rolling his quid of tobacco
from one cheek to another--"look ye, we're after this and that, and if
we don't get it, why, I'll tell you plain, we'll burn them bloody crafts
of yours that we've took over yonder, and cut the weasand of every
clodpoll aboard of 'em."
There was no answering an argument of such force as this, and the
worshipful governor and the good folk of Charleston knew very well
that Blackbeard and his crew were the men to do as they promised. So
Blackbeard got his medicine, and though it cost the colony two thousand
dollars, it was worth that much to the town to be quit of him.
They say that while Captain Richards was conducting his negotiations
with the governor his boat's crew were stumping around the streets of
the town, having a glorious time of it, while the good folk glowered
wrathfully at them, but dared venture nothing in speech or act.
Having gained a booty of between seven and eight thousand dollars from
the prizes captured, the pirates sailed away from Charleston Harbor to
the coast of North Carolina.
And now Blackbeard, following the plan adopted by so many others of his
kind, began to cudgel his brains for means to cheat his fellows out of
their share of the booty.
At Topsail Inlet he ran his own vessel aground, as though by accident.
Hands, the captain of one of the consorts, pretending to come to his
assistance, also grounded HIS sloop. Nothing now remained but for those
who were able to get away in the other craft, which was all that was
now left of the little fleet. This did Blackbeard with some forty of his
favorites. The rest of the pirates were left on the sand spit to await
the return of their companions--which never happened.
As for Blackbeard and those who were with him, they were that much
richer, for there were so many the fewer pockets to fill. But even yet
there were too many to share the booty, in Blackbeard's opinion, and so
he marooned a parcel more of them--some eighteen or twenty--upon a naked
sand bank, from which they were afterward mercifully rescued by another
freebooter who chanced that way--a certain Major Stede Bonnet, of whom
more will presently be said. About that time a royal proclamation had
been issued offering pardon to all pirates in arms who would surrender
to the king's authority before a given date. So up goes Master
Blackbeard to the Governor of North Carolina and makes his neck safe by
surrendering to the proclamation--albeit he kept tight clutch upon what
he had already gained.
And now we find our bold Captain Blackbeard established in the good
province of North Carolina, where he and His Worship the Governor struck
up a vast deal of intimacy, as profitable as it was pleasant. There is
something very pretty in the thought of the bold sea rover giving up his
adventurous life (excepting now and then an excursion against a trader
or two in the neighboring sound, when the need of money was pressing);
settling quietly down into the routine of old colonial life, with a
young wife of sixteen at his side, who made the fourteenth that he had
in various ports here and there in the world.
Becoming tired of an inactive life, Blackbeard afterward resumed his
piratical career. He cruised around in the rivers and inlets and sounds
of North Carolina for a while, ruling the roost and with never a one to
say him nay, until there was no bearing with such a pest any longer. So
they sent a deputation up to the Governor of Virginia asking if he would
be pleased to help them in their trouble.
There were two men-of-war lying at Kicquetan, in the James River, at the
time. To them the Governor of Virginia applies, and plucky Lieutenant
Maynard, of the Pearl, was sent to Ocracoke Inlet to fight this pirate
who ruled it down there so like the cock of a walk. There he found
Blackbeard waiting for him, and as ready for a fight as ever the
lieutenant himself could be. Fight they did, and while it lasted it
was as pretty a piece of business of its kind as one could wish to
see. Blackbeard drained a glass of grog, wishing the lieutenant luck
in getting aboard of him, fired a broadside, blew some twenty of the
lieutenant's men out of existence, and totally crippled one of his
little sloops for the balance of the fight. After that, and under cover
of the smoke, the pirate and his men boarded the other sloop, and then
followed a fine old-fashioned hand-to-hand conflict betwixt him and the
lieutenant. First they fired their pistols, and then they took to it
with cutlasses--right, left, up and down, cut and slash--until the
lieutenant's cutlass broke short off at the hilt. Then Blackbeard would
have finished him off handsomely, only up steps one of the lieutenant's
men and fetches him a great slash over the neck, so that the lieutenant
came off with no more hurt than a cut across the knuckles.
At the very first discharge of their pistols Blackbeard had been shot
through the body, but he was not for giving up for that--not he. As said
before, he was of the true roaring, raging breed of pirates, and stood
up to it until he received twenty more cutlass cuts and five additional
shots, and then fell dead while trying to fire off an empty pistol.
After that the lieutenant cut off the pirate's head, and sailed away in
triumph, with the bloody trophy nailed to the bow of his battered sloop.
Those of Blackbeard's men who were not killed were carried off to
Virginia, and all of them tried and hanged but one or two, their names,
no doubt, still standing in a row in the provincial records.
But did Blackbeard really bury treasures, as tradition says, along the
sandy shores he haunted?
Master Clement Downing, midshipman aboard the Salisbury, wrote a book
after his return from the cruise to Madagascar, whither the Salisbury
had been ordered, to put an end to the piracy with which those waters
were infested. He says:
"At Guzarat I met with a Portuguese named Anthony de Sylvestre; he came
with two other Portuguese and two Dutchmen to take on in the Moor's
service, as many Europeans do. This Anthony told me he had been among
the pirates, and that he belonged to one of the sloops in Virginia when
Blackbeard was taken. He informed me that if it should be my lot ever
to go to York River or Maryland, near an island called Mulberry Island,
provided we went on shore at the watering place, where the shipping used
most commonly to ride, that there the pirates had buried considerable
sums of money in great chests well clamped with iron plates. As to my
part, I never was that way, nor much acquainted with any that ever used
those parts; but I have made inquiry, and am informed that there is such
a place as Mulberry Island. If any person who uses those parts should
think it worth while to dig a little way at the upper end of a small
cove, where it is convenient to land, he would soon find whether the
information I had was well grounded. Fronting the landing place are five
trees, among which, he said, the money was hid. I cannot warrant the
truth of this account; but if I was ever to go there, I should find some
means or other to satisfy myself, as it could not be a great deal out
of my way. If anybody should obtain the benefit of this account, if it
please God that they ever come to England, 'tis hoped they will remember
whence they had this information."
Another worthy was Capt. Edward Low, who learned his trade of
sail-making at good old Boston town, and piracy at Honduras. No one
stood higher in the trade than he, and no one mounted to more lofty
altitudes of bloodthirsty and unscrupulous wickedness. 'Tis strange that
so little has been written and sung of this man of might, for he was as
worthy of story and of song as was Blackbeard.
It was under a Yankee captain that he made his first cruise--down to
Honduras, for a cargo of logwood, which in those times was no better
than stolen from the Spanish folk.
One day, lying off the shore, in the Gulf of Honduras, comes Master Low
and the crew of the whaleboat rowing across from the beach, where they
had been all morning chopping logwood.
"What are you after?" says the captain, for they were coming back with
nothing but themselves in the boat.
"We're after our dinner," says Low, as spokesman of the party.
"You'll have no dinner," says the captain, "until you fetch off another
"Dinner or no dinner, we'll pay for it," says Low, wherewith he up with
a musket, squinted along the barrel, and pulled the trigger.
Luckily the gun hung fire, and the Yankee captain was spared to steal
logwood a while longer.
All the same, that was no place for Ned Low to make a longer stay, so
off he and his messmates rowed in a whaleboat, captured a brig out at
sea, and turned pirates.
He presently fell in with the notorious Captain Lowther, a fellow after
his own kidney, who put the finishing touches to his education and
taught him what wickedness he did not already know.
And so he became a master pirate, and a famous hand at his craft, and
thereafter forever bore an inveterate hatred of all Yankees because of
the dinner he had lost, and never failed to smite whatever one of
them luck put within his reach. Once he fell in with a ship off South
Carolina--the Amsterdam Merchant, Captain Williamson, commander--a
Yankee craft and a Yankee master. He slit the nose and cropped the ears
of the captain, and then sailed merrily away, feeling the better for
having marred a Yankee.
New York and New England had more than one visit from the doughty
captain, each of which visits they had good cause to remember, for he
made them smart for it.
Along in the year 1722 thirteen vessels were riding at anchor in front
of the good town of Marblehead. Into the harbor sailed a strange craft.
"Who is she?" say the townsfolk, for the coming of a new vessel was no
small matter in those days.
Who the strangers were was not long a matter of doubt. Up goes the black
flag, and the skull and crossbones to the fore.
"'Tis the bloody Low," say one and all; and straightway all was flutter
and commotion, as in a duck pond when a hawk pitches and strikes in the
It was a glorious thing for our captain, for here were thirteen Yankee
crafts at one and the same time. So he took what he wanted, and then
sailed away, and it was many a day before Marblehead forgot that visit.
Some time after this he and his consort fell foul of an English sloop
of war, the Greyhound, whereby they were so roughly handled that Low was
glad enough to slip away, leaving his consort and her crew behind him,
as a sop to the powers of law and order. And lucky for them if no worse
fate awaited them than to walk the dreadful plank with a bandage around
the blinded eyes and a rope around the elbows. So the consort was taken,
and the crew tried and hanged in chains, and Low sailed off in as pretty
a bit of rage as ever a pirate fell into.
The end of this worthy is lost in the fogs of the past: some say that he
died of a yellow fever down in New Orleans; it was not at the end of a
hempen cord, more's the pity.
Here fittingly with our strictly American pirates should stand Major
Stede Bonnet along with the rest. But in truth he was only a poor
half-and-half fellow of his kind, and even after his hand was fairly
turned to the business he had undertaken, a qualm of conscience would
now and then come across him, and he would make vast promises to
forswear his evil courses.
However, he jogged along in his course of piracy snugly enough until he
fell foul of the gallant Colonel Rhett, off Charleston Harbor, whereupon
his luck and his courage both were suddenly snuffed out with a puff of
powder smoke and a good rattling broadside. Down came the "Black Roger"
with its skull and crossbones from the fore, and Colonel Rhett had the
glory of fetching back as pretty a cargo of scoundrels and cutthroats as
the town ever saw.
After the next assizes they were strung up, all in a row--evil apples
ready for the roasting.
"Ned" England was a fellow of different blood--only he snapped his whip
across the back of society over in the East Indies and along the hot
shores of Hindustan.
The name of Capt. Howel Davis stands high among his fellows. He was the
Ulysses of pirates, the beloved not only of Mercury, but of Minerva.
He it was who hoodwinked the captain of a French ship of double the size
and strength of his own, and fairly cheated him into the surrender of
his craft without the firing of a single pistol or the striking of a
single blow; he it was who sailed boldly into the port of Gambia, on the
coast of Guinea, and under the guns of the castle, proclaiming himself
as a merchant trading for slaves.
The cheat was kept up until the fruit of mischief was ripe for the
picking; then, when the governor and the guards of the castle were
lulled into entire security, and when Davis's band was scattered about
wherever each man could do the most good, it was out pistol, up cutlass,
and death if a finger moved. They tied the soldiers back to back, and
the governor to his own armchair, and then rifled wherever it pleased
them. After that they sailed away, and though they had not made the
fortune they had hoped to glean, it was a good snug round sum that they
shared among them.
Their courage growing high with success, they determined to attempt the
island of Del Principe--a prosperous Portuguese settlement on the
coast. The plan for taking the place was cleverly laid, and would have
succeeded, only that a Portuguese negro among the pirate crew turned
traitor and carried the news ashore to the governor of the fort.
Accordingly, the next day, when Captain Davis came ashore, he found
there a good strong guard drawn up as though to honor his coming. But
after he and those with him were fairly out of their boat, and well away
from the water side, there was a sudden rattle of musketry, a cloud of
smoke, and a dull groan or two. Only one man ran out from under that
pungent cloud, jumped into the boat, and rowed away; and when it lifted,
there lay Captain Davis and his companions all of a heap, like a pile of
Capt. Bartholomew Roberts was the particular and especial pupil
of Davis, and when that worthy met his death so suddenly and so
unexpectedly in the unfortunate manner above narrated, he was chosen
unanimously as the captain of the fleet, and he was a worthy pupil of
a worthy master. Many were the poor fluttering merchant ducks that this
sea hawk swooped upon and struck; and cleanly and cleverly were they
plucked before his savage clutch loosened its hold upon them.
"He made a gallant figure," says the old narrator, "being dressed in a
rich crimson waistcoat and breeches and red feather in his hat, a gold
chain around his neck, with a diamond cross hanging to it, a sword in
his hand, and two pair of pistols hanging at the end of a silk sling
flung over his shoulders according to the fashion of the pyrates."
Thus he appeared in the last engagement which he fought--that with the
Swallow--a royal sloop of war. A gallant fight they made of it, those
bulldog pirates, for, finding themselves caught in a trap betwixt the
man-of-war and the shore, they determined to bear down upon the king's
vessel, fire a slapping broadside into her, and then try to get away,
trusting to luck in the doing, and hoping that their enemy might be
crippled by their fire.
Captain Roberts himself was the first to fall at the return fire of the
Swallow; a grapeshot struck him in the neck, and he fell forward across
the gun near to which he was standing at the time. A certain fellow
named Stevenson, who was at the helm, saw him fall, and thought he was
wounded. At the lifting of the arm the body rolled over upon the deck,
and the man saw that the captain was dead. "Whereupon," says the old
history, "he" [Stevenson] "gushed into tears, and wished that the next
shot might be his portion." After their captain's death the pirate crew
had no stomach for more fighting; the "Black Roger" was struck, and one
and all surrendered to justice and the gallows.
Such is a brief and bald account of the most famous of these pirates.
But they are only a few of a long list of notables, such as Captain
Martel, Capt. Charles Vane (who led the gallant Colonel Rhett, of South
Carolina, such a wild-goose chase in and out among the sluggish creeks
and inlets along the coast), Capt. John Rackam, and Captain Anstis,
Captain Worley, and Evans, and Philips, and others--a score or more of
wild fellows whose very names made ship captains tremble in their shoes
in those good old times.
And such is that black chapter of history of the past--an evil chapter,
lurid with cruelty and suffering, stained with blood and smoke. Yet
it is a written chapter, and it must be read. He who chooses may
read betwixt the lines of history this great truth: Evil itself is an
instrument toward the shaping of good. Therefore the history of evil as
well as the history of good should be read, considered, and digested.
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