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The Pirates Who Threatened Charles Towne

    Charleston, SC is located on a peninsula. On one side flows the Ashley river, on the other flows the Cooper river. The locals claim that they join together to form the Atlantic Ocean.

 Being a storyteller, I like to believe that is true. I can't help but wonder what stories these rivers might tell if we just take the time to listen. Stories of Native Americans (the Kiawah Indians) who fished in these waters and hunted the shorelines and who watched as the first settlers to the area came over from England and settled at Albermarle Point, the sight that is now Charlestowne landing. The settlement was eventually moved across the Ashley River to oyster point where a walled city was constructed to provide protection from pirates, and other threats. On these rivers were constructed plantations which grew rice and cotton and indigo. Raw materials were grown and produced in colonies such as Charles Towne and were exported to England where they were processed and turned into finished products which in turn were shipped back to the colonies along with other necessities of life. The economic development of the colonies in America was dependent upon the ability to freely ship goods into and out of ports such as Charles Towne.

  Piracy threatened the very existence of the colonies. Pirates such as Stede Bonnet and Blackbeard. Stede Bonnet and Blackbeard joined forces and blockaded the port of Charles Towne in May 1718. Blackbeard used this armada of four ships and 400 men to blockade the port of Charles Towne seizing nine ships and a number of prominent Charlestonian's, including Samuel Wragg, a member of the colonial Council. He sent some of his pirates along with some of the captives to demand ransom for their release. The ransom was delivered barely in time to save the hostages and Blackbeard and Bonnet headed for Cape Lookout NC. Both Bonnet and Blackbeard went to Bathtown NC and applied for a King's pardon. Giving a pardon and giving them permission to pirate Spanish ships was King George I plan to take care of piracy. Since Bonnet and Blackbeard took different routes to Bathtown, they arrived back at different times. Bonnet arrived back to find that Blackbeard had absconded with most of the booty, the men and the better ships. Bonnet and some of the remaining men were so angered that they took Bonnet's ship, which Blackbeard had left and were in hot pursuit of him. Their supplies were low and they immediately returned to pirating British ships, violating the terms of the pardon. Bonnet never caught up with Blackbeard, but was now a well-seasoned pirate having learned much from his experiences with Blackbeard. Before the end of the year, Blackbeard was captured in a fierce battle by forces sent out by Governor Spotsworth of Virginia. He was said to be firing his gun and fighting ardently even though mortally wounded. His head was severed and placed on a ship's mast to remind others of a pirate's fate.

 Stede Bonnet, the gentleman pirate, was not your usual pirate. He had served as a Major in the army of Barbados. He was the wealthy owner of a plantation there. He was married, had two children. It is a great mystery what made him give up a life in the gentry to become a pirate. But he had cast his lot with the dregs of society. News arrived in Charles Towne that Bonnet's pirates were at Cape Fear NC. Colonel William Rhett set forth to capture him. In the persuit, both Bonnet's ship and Rhett's ship hit ground side by side which allowed them to fire point blank at each other. Rhett's ships freed first as the tide came in allowing him to board Bonnet's ship and capture him. Eighteen Carolinians and nine pirates were killed in the battle. Bonnet and his men were brought back to Charles Towne for trial. Bonnet, being a gentleman, was held in the city Marshall's house instead of being held in prison at the guard house at what is now the old exchange building with his men. He and his accomplice, David Heriot who had turned King's evidence, managed to escape. Bonnet was dressed in women's clothes. They attempted their escape in a small boat and in the darkness of night headed out to sea. Rhett once again was called on to go after Bonnet and after fourteen days located him on Folly Island. After a brief skirmish, Heriot was killed and Bonnet captured and held under close guard. Bonnet plead not guilty saying he had been forced to come along with the others, but was a gentleman and had never stooped to piracy. Bonnet was proven a liar and soon hanged with twenty nine of his men. He was buried in the marsh beyond the low water mark, returned to the waters he ravaged. His death, along with that of Blackbeard and several others at that time broke the back of piracy and made the waterways free once again for trading, insuring the existence and prosperity of the colonies.



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