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Steed Bonnett to Col. William Rhett—27 Nov 1718

Letters – Bonnett to Rhett—27 Nov 1718

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Archaeologist David D. Moore, in “Primary Source Documents Concerning the Notorious Blackbeard,” NCHR, vol. 95, no. 2 (April 2018), 156-160, describes Stede Bonnett’s possible clandestine exit from Barbados circa Mar-May 1717 in a Newport, Rhode Island vessel named Revenge, formerly captained by “Godfrey Malbone” (entered Barbados in December 1716—see below) and he also discovered this transcribed letter in David Ramsay, Ramsay's History of South Carolina, from its First Settlement in 1670 to the Year 1808, 1st ed. Charleston, 1809 (Newberry: W. J. Duffie, 1858), notes on pages 116-117.

Since Ramsay’s “History” was published in 1809, some years before the American fascination with pirates—and their treasure—took hold and many popular stories and variations on a theme appeared in popular literature (and many holes dug on the Eastern seaboard), I find little reason to dispute the authenticity of this letter reference. This original letter appears to no longer be extant. David Ramsay was allegedly the last person (as of this writing) to possess it. If indeed, it is authentic, it may suggest more of a relationship between Hornigold and Thache before Thache “shangai’d” Bonnett and sailed for Martinique in Nov 1717 to take La Concorde, later naming her Queen Anne’s Revenge! Could it be that Bonnett blamed Thache for causing him to become a pirate? Still, had he not already left Barbados in Revenge “Gone without Clearing” and intended to be a pirate before he met Thache?


Ramsay, p. 116-117 reads:

Steed Bonnett, who suffered on this occasion, was said to have been a man of education and property, and to have possessed the manners and accomplishments of a gentleman. He was addressed by the title of Major. He made his escape from prison in women's clothes, but was retaken. After his condemnation he wrote a letter to Colonel Rhett, which has been preserved, and by the politeness of Judge [Thomas] Bee* is in the hands of the author. It was as follows:


November 27th, 1718.

Sir : — My unhappy fate lays me under a necessity of troubling you with this letter, which I humbly beg you will be pleased to excuse, and with a tenderness of heart compassionate the deplorable circumstances I have been inadvertently led into; and though I can't presume to have the least expectations of your friendship for so miserable a man, yet I hope your good dispositon and kind humanity will move you to become an intercessor with his honor the Governor, that I may be indulged with a reprieve to stay execution of the severe sentence I have undergone, till his majesty's pleasure be known conoerning me.

I have the misfortune of suffering, in the opinion of the world for many crimes and injuries done to this government and others in a piratical manner; more than I hope, God the knower of all secrets, will lay to my charge; and must intreat you to consider that I was a prisoner on board Captain Edward Thatch, who, with several of Captain Hornigold's company which he then belonged to, boarded and took my sloop from me at the island of Providence, confining me with him eleven months, in which time I was never concerned in, nor had any benefit or share by his actions, but on the contrarv was a very great loser by him [hard to believe since he willfully pirated afterward]; notwithstanding 'tis unjustly by some believed otherwise and used as an aggravation of my offences; however, I can't but confess my crimes and sins have been too many, for which, I thank my gracious God for the blessing, I have the utmost abhorrence and aversion; and although I am become as it were a monster unto many, yet I intreat your charitable opinion of my great contrition and godly sorrow for the errors of my past life, and am so far from entertaining the least thoughts of being, by any inducement in nature, drawn into the like evil and wicked courses, if I bad the happiness of a longer life granted me in this world, that I shall always retain in mind, and endeavor to follow those excellent precepts of our holy Savior — to love my neighbor as myself; and do unto all men whatsoever I would they should do unto me, living in perfect holy friendship and charity with all mankind. This I do assure you, sir, is the sincerity of my heart upon the word of a penitent Christian, and my only desire of enjoying such a transient being is, that it may for the future be consecrated to the service of my maker, and by along and unfeigned repentance I may beseech Almighty God, of his infinite mercy, to pardon and remit all my sins, and enable me to live a holy religious life, and make satisfaction to all persons whom I have any ways injured.

I don't doubt but the favor of your friendship and interest, in the House of Commons may prevail on his honor to indulge me with a reprieve, if you'll be so charitable as to grant it me; which I presume to hope for, not only in tender regard of so many men having already suflered, and of my hearty and sincere repentance with full purposes of amendment of life; but in consideration of the securities and promises of favor I received from Colonel Rhett, which together with the joy I conceived of having an opportunity safely to disengage myself from all such wicked people and inhumane actions, made me the sole instrument of persuading those people to deliver themselves and arms up, which took me near twenty-four hours time and trouble to do aAer the engagement was over, wben I knew what the two sloops were that Colonel Rhett commanded. By which meant I saved the great effusion of blood which must infallibly have been spilt by these rash people, had they received Colonel Rhett's company on board, and blown us all up as they threatened, which I found much difficulty to persuade them from doing.

This is what Colonel Rhett and many of his officers on board can testify.

I must confess the escape I attempted might justly increase and aggravate his honor and the government against me, for which I ask his and their pardon, and should not in the least have offered it, had not nature, as I believe it will in any man under the same circumstances, prompted me to evade, if possible, so horrid a sentence, by endeavoring to get to some private settlement and continue there till my friends could apply home for his majesty's gracious pardon.

I am fearful I have been too tedious already; therefore, shall not further trouble you than once more to repeat my earnest entreaty for your charitable favor, and to assure you that it will ever heartily devote me to your service, and oblige me always gratefully to acknowledge myself, 

Sir, your most obliged, and unfortunate humble servant,





*Thomas Bee (1739, Charleston, South Carolina – February 18, 1812, Pendleton, South Carolina) was an American planter, lawyer, politician and jurist from Charleston, South Carolina. He served as the sixth Lieutenant Governor of South Carolina (1779–1780) under Governor John Rutledge and was a delegate to the Continental Congress from 1780 to 1782. He later served as a judge in the United States District Court for the District of South Carolina from 1790 until his death.



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