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Stede Bonnet: a pirate and a gentleman

Goran Blazeski

Major Stede Bonnet was one of the most interesting and unique pirates in the Caribbean history, commonly known as the “gentleman pirate.”

He was born to wealthy English parents in Barbados back in 1688. Stede was one of the three children raised by Edward and Sarah Bonnet.

His father died when Stede was only 6 years old and he inherited a 400-acre estate. He was well educated and raised to be a gentleman.

Print engraving of Stede Bonnet in Charles Johnson's A General History of the Pyrates

Print engraving of Stede Bonnet in Charles Johnson’s A General History of the Pyrates

In 1709 he married a local girl, Mary Allamby and they had 4 children but his firstborn son died in infancy.

Bonnet served as a major in the Barbados militia and after his retirement from the army, he lived with his wife on their large estate near Bridgetown, Barbados. He was a very wealthy man who lived a simple and peaceful life.

Who would believe that a gentleman like Bonnet would turn to piracy? That is exactly what Bonnet did in 1717. Without any particular reason, he abandoned his wife, children, land and fortune, deciding to become a pirate.

Traditional depiction of Stede Bonnet's flag. Photo Credit

Traditional depiction of Stede Bonnet’s flag. Photo Credit

He blamed his wife for his decision to embark on a career of piracy but there was also a rumor that he suffered of a possible mental breakdown.

He knew nothing of seamanship and instead of seizing a ship like a true pirate, he purchased his sloop legally. Bonnet named his sloop The Revenge, hired a crew of 70 good seamen and began his “adventure” throughout the Caribbean Sea.

Because of his skillful crew, he managed quickly to capture several ships and burned them, preventing the words on his “success” to reach his homeland.

After his early success, he sighted a mighty Spanish man-of-war and ordered an attack. Bonnet made a capital mistake ordering the attack. His ship was badly beaten, half of his crew was dead and he was badly injured.

After this, he crossed path with “Queen Anne’s Revenge” captained by the most famous and feared pirate of his day: Blackbeard. Eventually, they became companions and set sail together.

Blackbeard the Pirate

Blackbeard the Pirate

When Blackbeard realized how inexperienced and incompetent Bonnet was he lured him into giving up command of the Revenge. Bonnet then became a “guest” on the “Queen’s Anne Revenge”.

Blackbeard sent Bonnet to the town of Bath to try and arrange a pardon for the pirates if they would give up their thievery. When he returned, he found that Blackbeard had double-crossed him, stripped and abandoned the “Revenge” marooning around 25 crew members on a small island. Bonnet rescued the men and swore to punish Blackbeard for what he did to him.

The hanging of Stede Bonnet in Charleston, 10 December 1718

The hanging of Stede Bonnet in Charleston, 10th December,1718

Blackbeard took all the treasure and food and sailed off. As a result of this, Bonnet was forced to return to piracy and risked to lose his pardon.

We have another story about pirates: Ching Shih: a female prostitute becoming the ever most successful pirate captain

Eventually, Bonnet was captured by a patrol of pirate bounty hunters under the command of Colonel William Rhett. He was put on a trial for piracy and on December 10th, 1718, he was hanged.