British Empire > Province of North Carolina

Province of North Carolina

Golden Age of Piracy - Chapter Decoration

Background

The provinces of North Carolina and South Carolina could not have been more different during the early colonial period of British North America from other colonies. Much like their neighbors in the Bahamas and prior to that British Jamaica during the Buccaneering Era the early colonial governors relied heavily on pirates for both the economy but for security as well.

The success of the pirates in plundering the Trans-Atlantic Triangular Trade meant they could offload the gold and silver with local merchants which overall boosted the colony. While the practice was tolerated during the War of the Spanish Succession the trade came under great scrutiny during the later part of the Post Spanish Succession Period.

Edward 'Blackbeard' Teach - Bath Map (1737)

Bath, North Carolina Map (1737)

The practice was so rampant that one of the early colonial Governors named Robert Quarry was removed from office after only two months due to his blatant support of pirates. The Province of North Carolina was one of the last to openly display its support of pirates under Governor Charles Eden and Tobias Knight who shared an unproven relation with the infamous pirate named Edward 'Blackbeard' Teach who would be killed off the coast of North Carolina in November of 1718 during the Battle of Ocracoke Inlet.

Origins

Piracy is at the heart of the development of the Province of North Carolina just like it is at the Bahamas and most of the rest of the British colonies in the New World. However, they were not alone in this and piracy was the only reason for any real European presence in the New World, including the mass plunder of the Aztec and Inca Empires. However, those empires too had previously plundered and sacrificed humans on their way to power so who really is morally right in all of this.

The reason piracy was one of the staple components in the development of the colony because there had not developed a real plantation economy in the early years. The first major settlement of Bath would only be built in 1705 about ten years before the establishment of the Republic of Pirates at Nassau. Costly conflicts with Amerindians such as the Tuscarora War, local insurrections over religion and politics such as Cary's Rebellion, drought and an outbreak of yellow fever all weakened the fledgling colony of North Carolina and inhibited its early growth.

Another reason for the need for pirates was the lack of colonial military presence in the New World during this time. It would not be for several more decades until the colonial empires ramped up their presence in the New World. So during this time it was up to the Governor to raise a militia and defend the colony while also abiding by the rules of the Crown; sometimes survival came first.

Infamous Pirates

Only a few pirates were known to have plied their trade off the coast of British North America and most of them belonged to the Post Spanish Succession Period group of pirates known as the Flying Gang. Two of the most famous and influential pirates to grace the coasts of North Carolina were Edward 'Blackbeard' Teach and Stede Bonnet. Overall they helped influence the early colonial development of the town of Bath and the colony as a whole during their short period.

Edward 'Blackbeard' Teach

Edward 'Blackbeard' Teach was famous for establishing his pirate haven several miles off the coast of North Carolina at Ocracoke Island. Here he would steal goods from merchant ships that were traveling along the coast and then sell the goods back to the townspeople at reduced prices on the black market. Blackbeard's merchant operations were responsible for financial crippling businesses back in England and in the colonies and being a boon to others who were willing to become pirate merchants.

Edward 'Blackbeard' Teach - Blackbeard and Vanes Crews

Vane & Blackbeard's Crews - The Pirates Own Book (1837)

One major pirate event that occurred in North Carolina at Ocracoke was the massive get together of pirates belonging to the crews of both Blackbeard and Charles Vane. During a two week party Vane attempted to recruit Blackbeard to take back the Republic of Pirates located on Nassau following the Blockade of Nassau by Governor Woodes Rogers. Blackbeard refused, and had he accepted the fate of the pirate republic and the rest of the pirates may have been much different.

Stede Bonnet

Stede Bonnet was the other major pirate to operate off the coast of North Carolina. Bonnet was a wealthy plantation owner from Barbados who left his family and life behind to become a pirate. He would loot ships off the coast of the Carolinas until an encounter with a Spanish warship wounded him dearly. From here he fled to the port of Nassau where he relinquished control over his vessel to Blackbeard. From here the two would pirate together until Blackbeard abandoned Bonnet in Beaufort Island in North Carolina.

Edward 'Blackbeard' Teach - Stede Bonnet and Blackbeard

Stede Bonnet and Blackbeard - A General History of Pyrates (1725)

From here Bonnet traveled to Bath and received his pardon from Governor Charles Eden. However, Bonnet would return to piracy in 1718 and would eventually be caught off the coast of Province of South Carolina and hung in the city of Charles Town along with the rest of his crew.

Governor Charles Eden

Charles Eden would be elected as Governor of North Carolina in 1713. Eden was an idealistic man who wanted to develop and improve the colony. He would divide North Carolina into two separate provinces known as Currituck and Roanoke and then began on a campaign to end piracy. He would give the 1718 King's Pardon to the two infamous pirates Edward 'Blackbeard' Teach and Stede Bonnet and hoped they would settle down and assume legal lives.

While both men gave up piracy for a short while, it was not long before they were back at it off the coast of North Carolina. Blackbeard would use a base known as Ocracoke Island as his base of operations which was only fifty miles from the main port of Bath. This caused the governor of the Colony and Dominion of Virginia named Alexander Spotswood to dispatch pirate hunters to eliminate Blackbeard and his crew. Also at the same time the Governor of the Province of South Carolina would dispatch pirate hunters under colonel William Rhett to take down Bonnet and his crew.

Battle of Ocracoke Inlet

Eventually in November of 1718 the pirate hunters under the command of Robert Maynard entered the channel leading towards Blackbeard and engaged the famous pirate. The two would engage in what became known as the Battle of Ocracoke Inlet during which Blackbeard would die valiantly in battle. Following the incident Maynard would find a letter addressed to Blackbeard from a local government official named Tobias Knight who would later be brought up on charges of piracy in relation to Blackbeard.

Eventually Eden figured out what happened and realized they suspected him of being involved and soon Knight and Eden found themselves under the scrutiny of the Crown authorities.

The corruption in early North Carolina’s government did not stop when it came to making deals with pirates. In some cases officials and friends of pirates would try to defend them in court. During the trial of Blackbeard’s crew, efforts were “made by the North Carolina friends of the pirates to establish their innocence” (Hughson 79). These people protested that Spotswood had no right to send Lieutenant Maynard and his company of men without their permission (Hughson 79). Friends of the pirates attempted to delay or even stop the trials, but Spotswood found them guilty and hung them. Even after this series of events North Carolina officials continued to accept money from pirates and continued to collaborate with them. Pirates had entrenched themselves in the laws of the colony, effectively making it so they were protected from the law as long as no outside influence interfered. It would be a long time before this “lawlessness” corrected itself.

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Sources

Primary Sources

Secondary Sources

Hughson, Shirley C. The Carolina Pirates and Colonial Commerce. Baltimore: John Hopkins, 1894. Print. 12th.