Stede Bonnet, the “Gentleman Pirate,” was an unlikely buccaneer. He was born in 1688 in Barbados. Orphaned at a young age, Bonnet inherited property, including a sizable plantation, held by a guardian until he reached majority. In 1709 Bonnet married Mary Allamby, daughter of a wealthy planter. By 1715 the couple was living in the Parish of St. Michael, where Bonnet held the rank of major in the militia. In 1717 Major Bonnet gave up his life among the Barbadian planter elite, deserting his family to become a pirate.
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Instead of capturing a vessel, Bonnet launched his pirating career in the way in which he was accustomed to doing business—he purchased and armed a ship and hired a crew, offering wages. The novice pirate and his crew sailed the Revenge to the shipping lanes off of the North American coast and began plundering vessels. Blackbeard, in league with Bonnet for a time, captured the ship that he would name Queen Anne’s Revenge while commanding Bonnet’s Revenge. The two pirates joined forces again in March 1718, and 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 went to Bath to secure a pardon from Gov. Charles Eden after which he renamed his ship the Royal James. Bonnet, however, immediately returned to piracy, taking over a dozen prices along the east coast that summer.
Bonnet, like many pirates of the age, knew that the Cape Fear estuary offered safe places in which to rest and to careen and repair ships. In August 1718, expecting lengthy repairs, Bonnet established a base near modern Southport. Responding to piratical threat to his colony, South Carolina Gov. Robert Johnson, knowing of Eden’s liberal pardoning of pirates, sent Col. William Rhett to the region in search of pirates. He spotted Bonnet’s vessels at dusk on September 26 and a fierce battle ensued at daybreak. Bonnet and his surviving crew surrendered after about six hours. The fight was the largest and bloodiest of pirate conflicts in the colony’s waters. All but three of the captured crew were executed in South Carolina on November 8. Bonnet, who escaped, was recaptured, and tried. He was hanged in Charleston on December 10, 1718, ending the “Golden Age of Piracy” in North Carolina.
Lindley Butler, Pirates, Privateers, and Rebel Raiders of the Carolina Coast (2000)
Walter Edgar, ed., South Carolina Encyclopedia (2006)—sketch by Lindley Butler
Angus Konstam, Blackbeard (2006)
Norman C. Pendered, Stede Bonnet (1977)
Hugh Rankin, Pirates of Colonial North Carolina (1960)
William S. Powell, ed., Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, I, 192—sketch by Hugh Rankin
Captain Charles Johnson, A General History of the Robberies & Murders of the Most Notorious Pirates (1724)
Stede Bonnet in an early 18th century engraving by an artist who had never seen the pirate.