Infamous Pirates > Capture of the William

Capture of the William

Golden Age of Piracy - Chapter Decoration

Background

The Capture of the William was a naval engagement that saw the capture of 'Calico' Jack Rackham by a British sloop-of-war that was dispatched from Port Royal in British Jamaica. The battle was specifically fought in Dry Harbor Bay and ended with the defeat of the famed Rackham along with his crew including the female pirates Anne Bonny and Mary Read. The William was Calico Jacks flagship, a small but very fast 12-ton sloop that had four cannons and a crew of fourteen.

Compared to many other pirate ships she was very small, but Rackham was not the most successful or prolific pirate either. Rackham had originally been a pirate under the command of Charles Vane but after a series of events the two parted ways and Rackham ventured back to the island of New Providence where the pirate haven of Nassau was located. Here in 1719 he attempted to receive a pardon and Letter of Marque from Governor Woodes Rogers given that the 1718 Kings Pardon was in effect. The Crown was attempting to stop the rampant practice of piracy in the West Indies.

Back in Europe the War of the Quadruple Alliance was underway and the British hoped to make use of their privateer fall behind army to harass Spanish merchant shipping. Jack Rackham was given his pardon but he was not given a commission to attack the Spanish. He settled on the island of New Providence in Nassau where he would meet Anne Bonny. As soon as his money ran out however, the two returned to a life of piracy. On 22 August 1719 Rackham and eight over pirates commandeered the William from the Nassau harbor before setting sail out into the West Indies.

Following this the Governor of British Jamaica named Nicholas Lawes commissioned a pirate hunter named Johnathan Barnet to track down and eliminate Rackham. He was given two sloops, the heavily armed Tyger which had several guns along with a contingent of Royal Navy sailors and British Army troops. The second ship carried about twenty men but did not participate in the capture of the William.

Capture

Around 10:00 pm at night on 20 October 1720 the Tyer found the William at anchor at the Dry Harbor Bay near the shore. At this point most of Rackham's crew was drunk and passed out including Calico Jack himself. Barnet ordered his crew to extinguish all lights and they silently cruised next to the pirates. Before the pirates even knew what was happening the British pirate hunters ordered the William to surrender. The pirates would return a few shots from their swivel guns before the pirate hunters unleashed a broadside and moved in to board the ship.

At this point the pirates unfolded the sails and attempted to flee but most of the crew retreated into the cabin. The William was unable to outrun the Tyger and eventually the boarding process began. Only Mary Read and Anne Bonny would remain on deck fighting with another pirate while the rest of the crew had already surrendered. As one of the pirates was retreating into the cabin Read shot him dead for his cowardly behavior. Soon the drunk pirates were all captured with none of the pirate hunters being killed and only a few injured. The Tyher sustained slight damage to her sails and rigging but the William suffered major damage in the poop and was unable to continue on.

Aftermath

After their capture Jack and the rest of his crew would be taken to Port Royal in British Jamaica where they were tried for piracy on 16 November. They would be hung on 19 November and 20 November of 1720. 'Calico' Jack Rackham was disemboweled and gibbeted on display at the Rackham's Cay as a warning to all pirates of their future fate. The remains of other pirates were also gibbeted throughout the port as a warning against the practice. Mary Read and Anne Bonny would manage to escape the hangman's noose by pleading the belly or telling the authorities they were pregnant.

Mary Read would die in jail of an unknown illness possibly related to childbirth. Bonny would never be heard from again and some believed her father helped her escape and settle in British North America while others claimed she returned to piracy. Based on the cowardice shown during the Capture of the William, Read was known to have said "if he had fought like a man, he need not have been hanged like a dog". Overall the Capture of the William represented a blow against the Flying Gang by the colonial authorities and would foreshadow their eventual complete elimination by the end of the 1720s.

Pirate Battles

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