Professional Research & Maritime Historian, Author, & Conservator

James Wills, Samuel Liddell, Charles Vane, and James Carnegie

Pirate Biographies– Wills, Liddell, Vane, & Carnegie


Returning from Spanish Wrecks in January 1716, Bathsheba, master Henry Jennings again dropped anchor in Port Royal and Jennings enjoyed his autonomy. He walked free in the town there; the governor did not have him arrested for his illegal raid of La Florida and plunder of Spanish property.  Hamilton later said that he did not take his part of Jennings’ prize money, but still signed another commission and departure papers for his next foray. This time, Jasper’s brother, Leigh Ashworth took command of the Mary, Samuel Liddell of the Cocoa Nut, and James Carnegie of the Discovery.  Charles Vane then joined as part of Jennings’ crew.

See Deposition of Allen Bernard, Quartermaster of Bersheba on Laura Nelson’s blog


There appears to be a family connection between the Vanes and Liddells. Samuel Liddell, in December 1713, was listed as the master of the Hannah, recently released from quarantine in England along with the Rose, Marlborough, Britain, and Benjamin. He appeared to be transient, like many merchants; he did not own an estate on Jamaica and his family had not settled there.  James Carnegie, of probable Scottish extraction, is similarly elusive.  Johnson mentioned neither of these merchants in his book and they seemed to have worked only briefly with Jennings while privateers.


One Samuel Liddell was born in Scotland in 1694 and could be this early merchant. Still, he would be quite young. More likely, this merchant Samuel Liddell hailed from Gateshead, Durham in England. He was born 1681, the son of James Liddell, cousin of Sir Thomas Liddell. Thomas came from a long line of coal-works proprietors of Ravensworth Castle, Durham. Curiously, another family of nearby Raby Castle in Durham and Hadlow in Kent had lofty connections to English government and many were also knighted. These were the Vanes. Sir Henry Vane of Raby Castle, Durham had six sons, but one daughter Anne who married Sir Thomas Liddell, Baronet, also of Raby Castle and cousin of James, father of Samuel. One of Sir Thomas Liddell’s daughters, Frances, married Sir Thomas Vane, cousin of Sir Henry and brother to Lord Barnard.

See Deposition of Samuel Liddell on Laura Nelson’s blog


Still, most curious was the youngest son of Sir Henry Vane – Charles. Charles Vane served as “Deputy-Lieutenant of the County of Duresme” in 1645 and, in three years, became Member of Parliament for Durham with his bother Sir George Vane and others.  In January 1650, during the Interregnum, he was appointed agent to Portugal for the House of Commons. After arriving in Lisbon, Charles Vane wrote a letter to the king of Portugal concerning English ships and their cargos:


That your majesty will be pleased to give way, that the goods and ships properly belonging to any English merchants, and violently taken from them by the revolted ships under command of P[rince] Rupert, may be restored to the right owners; or that your majesty will suffer your courts of justice to be free and open, that so they may recover them by law; and that the goods of merchants, that have been thus taken and brought into your majesty's custom-house, may no more of them be dispatched and carried away, unless it be for the use of the right proprietors.


This earlier Charles Vane died without issue in 1672 and his will mentions several sisters, including Mrs. Liddell and even a “Lady Pellham.”  Although he had no stated children, there remains a possibility that he might have had illegitimate children, perhaps with a slave, like Cox Thache on Jamaica. Any of his brothers may have done the same and honored their brother Charles with a namesake, again, as Cox Thache who named his mulatto daughter Lucretia, after his mother. The family connections in Durham with the Liddell’s and the simultaneous appearance of the pirates Charles Vane and Samuel Liddell at Jamaica in early 1716 make their coincident appearances seem less coincidental. Vane also first appeared as merely a crew member in Jamaica, perhaps recently arrived in Liddell’s ship from England, not himself a ship captain. He may have been of lower class than Liddell, Carnegie, and Jennings. While Carnegie and Liddell grabbed some Spanish gold and made their exits early, Vane remained and became quite notorious, perhaps an attempt to assert a measure of preeminence of which he had long felt deprived.

While the preceding passage appears in Quest for Blackbeard, the genealogies of various pirates will be explored in similar depth in Brooks’ Dictionary of Pyrate Biography, currently in the planning stages.

Brooks has over 35 years of experience in genealogical research, has worked as a professional genealogist, and lately studied in the Maritime Studies Program at East Carolina University as a professional historian.

His upcoming peer-reviewed article, “ ‘Born in Jamaica of Very Creditable Parents’ or ‘A Bristol Man Born’? Excavating the Real Edward Thache, ‘Blackbeard the Pirate’ “ in the July issue of North Carolina Historical Review includes the genealogy of the most famous pirate of them all!

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