Pirate. Bonnet was christened in Christ Church Parish, Barbados, on July 29, 1688, the son of Edward Bonnet, a planter, and Sarah Whetstone. Establishing his residence in St. Michael’s Parish, Bonnet married Mary Allamby on November 21, 1709, and they had three children. A major in the local militia, Bonnet was a member of the island’s planter elite until 1717, when he purchased and armed the sloop Revenge and left his family to pursue a career as a pirate.
Bonnet sailed north to prey upon the crowded sea-lanes of the North American coastline, plundering ships from Chesapeake Bay to New York and then off Charleston, South Carolina. After refitting at the remote Cape Fear Inlet, Bonnet headed toward the Caribbean, where a clash with a Spanish man-of-war left him wounded and the Revenge badly damaged. Bonnet met Blackbeard at New Providence Island, Bahamas, and brought him aboard to command the Revenge while Bonnet recuperated. In October, on a foray north to Delaware Bay, the pirates despoiled eleven vessels. After Blackbeard seized the powerfully armed ship that he named Queen Anne’s Revenge, the pirate captains separated until a chance rendezvous in March 1718 off the central American Spanish Main. Having suffered a recent defeat, Bonnet relinquished his command of Revenge and joined Blackbeard aboard Queen Anne’s Revenge. Augmenting their flotilla with two sloops, Blackbeard and Bonnet returned to the Carolinas, arriving off Charleston in mid-May 1718.
During a weeklong blockade of the important colonial port, numerous vessels were looted and hostages seized and held for a ransom of valuable medicines. The pirates then sailed to refit off the isolated coast of North Carolina, where Revenge and a small sloop safely entered Beaufort Inlet but Queen Anne’s Revenge and Adventure wrecked.
Bonnet received a royal pardon from North Carolina governor Charles Eden at Bath, resumed command of Revenge, and went to sea with a crew gathered at Beaufort from men marooned by Blackbeard. Bonnet returned to piracy, using aliases and renaming his sloop Royal James. Off Virginia and Delaware Bay, he reaped a rich harvest of thirteen prizes in two months. By mid-August, Bonnet had sailed his four-vessel flotilla to his Cape Fear lair for lengthy repairs. Escaped prisoners raised the alarm at Charleston, which had recently suffered another humiliating blockade by the infamous pirate Charles Vane. An aroused Governor Robert Johnson responded with a provincial naval force of the armed sloops Henry and Sea Nymph, commanded by the capable Colonel William Rhett. Rhett entered the Cape Fear River at dusk on September 26. The next morning a fierce six-hour battle was fought with cannons and small arms, ending with the surrender of Bonnet and his remaining men. Rhett returned to Charleston with thirty-six prisoners, “to the great Joy of the whole Province of Carolina.”
While awaiting trial, Bonnet escaped on October 24 and hid on Sullivan’s Island until he was recaptured on November 6 by Colonel Rhett and returned to Charleston. Meanwhile, on October 28 Bonnet’s crew were tried before Chief Justice Nicholas Trott, and all but three were found guilty. On November 8 most of Bonnet’s condemned crew were executed. Bonnet’s trial opened on November 10. He was convicted and was hanged on December 10, 1718, at White Point (now the Battery, Charleston).
Butler, Lindley S. Pirates, Privateers, and Rebel Raiders of the Carolina Coast. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2000.
Leland, John G. Stede Bonnet: “Gentleman Pirate” of the Carolina Coast. Charleston, S.C.: Charleston Reproductions, 1972.
Rankin, Hugh F. The Golden Age of Piracy. Williamsburg, Va.: Colonial Williamsburg, 1969.