In the 1670’s Stede Bonnett’s grandfather, Thomas Bonnett, owned 179 acres in the parish of St. Michael in Barbados.
In 1674 Thomas Bonnett Junior married Mrs. Bridgett Trowell in Christ Church. In his will he asked to be buried with his father. He also gave one of his slaves, Cuffy, his freedom.
Stede Bonnett was his son. His father died when he was six years old, and he inherited the family estates. He married Mrs. Mary Allamby (some sources have it as Allumbey) on the 21st November 1709 at a church in St. Michael. They had four children but only three survived to adulthood.
Rycroft was a 226 acre plantation between Small Ridge, Newton and Balls in Christ Church and was owned by the Rycroft family. One of Bonnett men married one of their daughters.
Stede was a Major in the Barbados Militia, a position he most likely got because of his influence in the island.
In 1717 he took the unusual step to leave Barbados and become a pirate. He bought a sloop, fitted it with 10 guns, and named it “Revenge”. His crew was recruited from the taverns around Bridgetown.
It was normal for aspiring pirates to steal a ship and get a like-minded crew by any means. Instead of wages they agreed to share the prize money among themselves. The crew voted to elect the captain and he could be changed at any time by a majority vote. This was often done if the crew were dissatisfied with his performance. This was democracy in its purest form. Something we should get back to! Stede did things a bit differently. He paid his crew a salary and kept all the gains for himself.
When he set sail from Carlisle Bay on his adventure some thought it was because he was unhappy in his marriage. Others said he had “disorder of the mind”.
He had some success as he captured a few ships off the East Coast of the USA. Things went wrong when he decided to attack a Spanish Man-O-War. Badly out gunned he had to retreat with some of his crew dead and he himself injured.
He soon met up with Blackbeard who relived him of his command and made one of his own captain of the Revenge. The two ships now operated as a team in the Bay of Honduras.
In January 1718 while in Nassau enjoying a bit of shore leave and resupply they heard that Woodes Rogers was coming with a militia and with the backing of the Royal Navy. They sailed north and continued pirating along the North Carolina coast.
Most of the towns along the coast did not welcome pirates. However Governor Charles Eden of Bath knew that his town needed the business that would be derived by allowing Pirate ships safe passage. He gave the men a pardon for the crimes they committed and along with the secretary of the colony and chief customs officer, Tobias Knight, allowed the pirates to sell their now legal cargo to the merchants of Bath. The profits were spent in the taverns and stores in Bath. They also took the opportunity to careen their ships and make any repairs needed. A win–win situation for everyone.
After a few weeks Bonnett and Blackbeard headed back to the Bay of Honduras where they captured a number of vessels and added them to their rapidly growing fleet.
By May 1718 the team was off Charles Town where they captured many ships. Blackbeard took Samuel Wragg as a hostage and demanded medicine to cure the syphilis which was affecting the crew. He got this and the hostages were returned.
In June 1718 Bonnett and Blackbeard were back in friendly waters of North Carolina, with even more cargo to sell. The fleet was by now too large for Blackbeard to command and he decided to go on his own. This gave Bonnett a chance to be reinstated as captain of the Revenge.
Bonnett was sent with a handful of men to the town of Bath to try and arrange a pardon for the pirates if they would give up their thievery. He was successful, but when he returned he found that Blackbeard had double-crossed him, sailing off with some of the men and all of the loot. He had marooned the remainder of the men nearby, but Bonnett rescued them. Bonnett swore revenge, but never again saw Blackbeard.
He still did not know how to sail a ship so he appointed Robert Tucker as sailing captain and was successful in taking a few prizes off the American Coast. In an effort to preserve his pardon he changed the name of the Revenge to the Royal James and referred to himself as Captain Thomas. Maybe after his father and grandfather?
On September 27th 1718 his luck ran out when he was cornered in the Cape Fear River and captured. He and the crew were taken to Charles Town for trial. Bonnett escaped but was soon recaptured. .
After a trial 22 of his crew were hanged on November 8th and the rest on November 13th. Bonnet appealed to the governor for clemency and there was some discussion of sending him to England, but he was hanged on December 10th 1718.
Pirates like “Calico” Jack Rackam, Blackbeard, Anne Bonny, Mary Read and Charles Vain were all operating at the same time and Stede Bonnett would have met all of them.
Many books and movies, have been made of their adventures. Another example of “Todays thief is tomorrow’s legend”.
There is an area called Bonnetts in St. Michael which is the only reminder of the family.