A Pirate’s Life Was His, Stede Bonnet’s

An engraving of Stede Bonnet from Charles Johnson’s A General History of the Pyrates.On September 27, 1718, Colonel William Rhett captured the so-called “Gentleman Pirate” Stede Bonnet, after a six-hour battle near the headland of the Cape Fear River.

Born into a well-off British family and educated in England, Bonnet advanced in the army to major before leaving the service and moving to Barbados. There he and his wife established a prosperous sugar plantation, the image of wealthy respectability to neighbors.

In 1717, with no apparent explanation, he bought a sloop, named it the Revenge and took up piracy, even though he’d never been a sailor.

Bonnet enjoyed early success as a pirate. He plundered ships up and down the coasts of Virginia and New England, torching all those from Barbados. However, his crew, far more seasoned sailors than Bonnet, grew agitated under his command. He suffered his first major setback when he met Blackbeard, who made Bonnet a virtual prisoner and put another man in charge of the Revenge.

Blackbeard and Bonnet parted company near Bath, and Bonnet sought clemency from then royal Governor Charles Eden. Eden granted Bonnet permission to try and secure commission as a privateer.

While attempting to become a privateer, Bonnet discovered that Blackbeard had abandoned the Revenge. He renamed the ship and returned to piracy before being cornered by Rhett.

He was executed several months after his capture.

Visit: The North Carolina Maritime Museum in Southport tells the story of Bonnet and other pirates that operated in the Lower Cape Fear.

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