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In The Wake of a Pirate

Exhibits at the N.C. Maritime Museum in Southport include information on Bonnet's life

Editor's Note – In the summer of 2012, Ansley Wegner, a historian with our Research Branch, wrote a series of blog posts highlighting various historical destinations around the state. This is the ninth post in that series. You can see all Wegner's posts on this page. 

Blackbeard is perhaps the best known of the pirates who haunted our coast in the 1700s. But did you know that the bloodiest pirate battle in North Carolina history did not involve him?  Rather, it was at the hands of one of his protégés in the waters off what is now Southport.

Stede Bonnet gave up a life among the planter elite on Barbados to become a pirate in 1717.  He was known as the “Gentleman Pirate,” not so much for the way he behaved, but for his dress and for the way he launched his piratical career. Instead of capturing a vessel, he purchased and armed a ship, naming it the Revenge, and he hired a crew – yes he paid them. I wonder what that job interview was like?

The novice pirate entered the North American shipping lanes and began plundering. Blackbeard, partnering with Bonnet, captured the ship that he would call Queen Anne’s Revenge while commanding Bonnet’s Revenge. The two joined forces a few times; in fact, Bonnet was aboard the Queen Anne’s Revenge during Blackbeard’s weeklong blockade of Charleston. Following Blackbeard’s grounding of the Queen Anne’s Revenge, Bonnet returned to solo pirating, capturing over a dozen ships.

In August, 1718, Bonnet established a base near present-day Southport, since the Cape Fear estuary offered a secluded place to rest and re-outfit. Because of the Charleston incident, South Carolina’s governor sent ships in search of pirates. They found Bonnet on September 27. A fierce battle ensued, ending with the surviving pirates’ surrender after six hours.

Bonnet was hanged in December 1718, effectively ending the “Golden Age of Piracy” in North Carolina. You can see the historical marker about Bonnet, placed near a creek and a neighborhood sporting his name in Southport. The North Carolina Maritime Museum at Southport features a display about him. 

But, one of the coolest ways to spend an evening is with Southport’s Captain Bert Felton, who will take you out in his restored 1938 workboat to where the battle took place. He offers a fantastic, history-filled cruise.

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