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Bahamas Gov. Woodes Rogers to Board—31 Oct 1718

Letters – Rogers to Board—31 Oct 1718

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"America and West Indies: October 1718," in Calendar of State Papers Colonial, America and West Indies: Volume 30, 1717-1718, ed. Cecil Headlam (London: His Majesty's Stationery Office, 1930), 359-381. British History Online, accessed January 23, 2019,

Oct. 31. [1718]

Nassau on Providence.     737. Governor Woodes Rogers to the Council of Trade and Plantations. Pursuant to my Instructions I take leave to acquaint your Lordships, I arriv'd in this port 26th July in company with the men of warr ordered to assist me. I met with little opposition in coming in, but found a French ship.(that was taken by the pirates of 22 guns) burning in the harbour, which we were told was set on fire to drive out H.M.S. the Rose who got in too eagerly the evening before me, and cut here cables and run out in the night for fear of being burnt, by one Charles Vane who command'd the pirates and at ours and H.M.S. the Milford's near approach the next morning they finding it impossible to escape us, he with about 90 men fled away in a sloop wearing the black flag, and fir'd guns of defiance when they perceiv'd their sloop out sayl'd the two that I sent to chase them hence. On the 27th I landed and took possession of the fort, where I read H.M. Commission in the presence of my officers, soldiers and about 300 of the people found here, who received me under armes and readily surrendered, shewing then many tokens of joy for the re-introduction of Governmt. I sent officers ashoar at first coming in, but by means of our ship and H.M. ship the Milford running aground I delayed my landing till this day. After I had made the necessary enquirys after the characters of the inhabitants who had not been pirates, I got information of a few that were the least encouragers of trading with them, six of whom I nominated and sworn with the six I chose out of those brought with me to compleat H.M. Council here. Their names, vizt. These came wth. me:—Robert Beauchamp, William Salter, William Fairfax, William Walker, Wingate Gale, George Hooper. These are inhabitants:—Nathaniel Taylor, Richd. Thompson Edwd. Holmes, Thos Barnard, Thos Spencer, Saml. Watkins. But since their election Messrs. Salter and Watkin are dead into whose places Christopher Gale and Thos. Walker have been chosen. I have occation to recommend in a particular manner Messrs. Beauchamp and Fairfax, Colo. Gale, Capt. Gale and Mr. Hooper yt. came here with me their firm adhearance to H.M. interest and diligence here deserve all the regard I can now shew them and hope H.M. will please to confirm them of his Council here. Those six I found here are men of the best morals amongst the people, and I believe are capeable to advise us of anything relating to lands on the Bahamas, till more fit persons arrive to settle here. I have appointed by my Commission Robt. Beauchamp Esq. first Lieut. of my Independant Company under my command to be Secretary General of these Islands and I do earnestly sollicit your Lordships to interceed with H.M. that he may have a patent for that place, because he is very capable and the long fatigues he has and may yet endure render him deserving of the greatest rewards I can procure him here. Christopher Gale Esq. I have made Chief Justice, because he maintain'd an honest and genteel character during the 13 years he was in that office at No. Carolina by favour of my Lord Carteret, but being very willing to change his living on that Colony, beleiving he could do more good in this, I hope your Lordship will be pleased to offer him to H.M. pleasure for that office. I have added in the Commission to be Assistant Justices Wm. Fairfax and Thomas Walker Esqrs. whom I beleive will do justice and act honourable. Mr. Fairfax is by Patent Judge of the Admiralty but without an annual salary, the office is but barely honble. for want of support, I did indeed receive an order from the Lords of the Treasury to appoint him Deputy to Mr. Graves Collector in case of that old man's inability to act, wch. he has not been able to do otherwise then in his chamber or bed, but is of so petulant a temper that I have been unwilling to interfere, and Mr. Fairfax not pressing to serve under such a peevish gentleman without the manner of his acting and pay, or fees, was settled for wch. I have no direction how to divide it, and Mr. Graves having no other support but this employ wch. he has been several years possess'd of. I am very unwilling to meddle in this affair without its first being settled in England. But beg leave to propose for H.M. approbation that Mr. Graves may enjoy his annual sallary of £70, and the fees of Collector will content Mr. Fairfax during Mr. Graves's life etc. Capt. Gale is Commander of the ship Delicia which I came in and being one that I can rely on have taken him into the Council. Mr Hooper is his chief mate and by the former reasons chose him, and by my Commission made him Naval Officer, but how long these two last gentm. will continue here, I know not. The satisfaction that I proposed at home to myself after my arrival here has been very much taken away by the mortality of many of my soldiers, passengers, and seamen. There had been a sickness upon the Island about a fortnight before we came in imputed to a number of raw hides put on shoar near the towne, wch. putrified the air, but as if only fresh European blood could only draw the infection, the inhabitants and people quickly became free and our poor attendants on every hand seized so violently that I have had above 100 sick at one time and not a healthfull officer, till now we begin to recover. The air being purged I trust in God shall not see such another season; this last being such an extraordinary fatality unknown before to persons who have lived here these forty years past. But they all agree yt. people when they become sickley in most of the other American Plantations find releif when they come here. The Island of Providence is at present overgrown with wood but affords an agreeable view of what industry may make, and I hope for the honour, and good fortune, to see the Bahamas equall if not exceed the characters given you in my several Memorials etc. Here we found the ruins of the former fort which we are employ'd in rebuilding, one bastion fronting the sea last week fell down having only a crazy crack'd wall in its foundation. The wages of hired workmen are extravagantly dear, and I have buried most of those I brought with me. If H.M. would please to contribute towards the fortifications necessary to be erected in two more places in the harbour of Nassau when I have workmen here, the charge would be much less then at any other place in the West Indies, and I presume not of less consequence, another Independant Company with one years provision more would be sufficient to garrison it, and I dare be confident that in little time after our Assembly shall be called, I could find an expedient to raise a fund for supporting the garrison on their bare pay. Here is the best stone, lime and timber, everywhere on this Island, but at present the excessive laziness of the people and sickly season has been the only cause, I have not put the place by this time in a better posture of defence. I shall continue doing all I can for fear of a sudden rupture wth. either France or Spain, it lying so advantageous to annoy their trade that they would dread the consequence of this place more then any other English settlement in America. In dependance that I shall have numbers of new inhabitants by that time I can have H.M. Orders, I beg in the next place to recommend the settlement of an Assembly for these Islands wch. with submission may consist of 15 persons for Providence two for Elutheria two for Harbour Island one for Abacoa the number may be encreased for each Island as they shall be settled, for I cannot forme a Council and Assembly out of those that are now here except I take such as are not to be rely'd on, and most of them are poor and so addicted to idleness that they would chuse rathar almost to starve then work. We have scarce half of those who have been pirates left, for they soon became weary of living under restraint and are either gone to several parts of North America, or engaged themselves on services at sea, wch. I was willing to promote, for they are not the people I ought to think will make any land improvements, and I wish they may be faithfull at sea. I shall depend on those I have invited from several Collonys accustomed to plantations, particularly the whole inhabitants of Anguilla, who readily accepted my offer when I called there in my way hither. Anguilla is a defenceless barren Island amongst the Caribes that has as they themselves informe me about 1800 whites and blacks on it. The people are very poor but industrious. I have sent a vessel to give notice of my being in security here, on which I expect many of their familys and slaves will come in their own vessels. I am more covetous of those people because I observed and was told that they all live in perfect friendship with each other, and are of modest behaviour, whose conversations will very much reform the contrary manners of the men and women now with us, which cannot be suddenly changed. Many others have sent me word from Bermudas that the inhabitants are too numerous, and at Carolina where I hear they dread a worse Indian warr then the last, and dont beleive themselves secure under the Proprietors. Numbers of those people I depend will be here from the knowledge they have of the soil being so very productive, that with little labour almost every root, plant or grain will in small time ripen to perfection. We may soon expect to rake salt enough, from the several ponds amongst the windward Bahama Islands, to supply Newfoundland and all North America, and were it worth while vast quantitys for Europe, so that we hope to have the same vessels as now do use Salturtuga come here for salt, as being much nearer all North America. Here might be very good whale fisherys promoted. We expect experienc'd men from Bermudas to begin on it this year. Ambergrease is found in large quantitys amongst these Islands etc. I have erected a small fort of eight guns at the eastermost entrance into the harbour where we keep watch, and have formed the inhabitants and all the rest of the men on this Island into three companys of Militia, under their own officers, who by turns keep a guard in the town every night. I don't fear but they'l all stand by me in case of any attempt except pirates, but should their old friends have strength enough to designe to attack me, I much doubt whether I should find one half to joyn me. This made me keep not only the guardship according to my proposals to protect the place, but till now two ships more belonging to the gentm. that has so generously adventured to make this settlement. I haveing been very ill almost ever since my arrival here and my Independt. Compa. and those that came wth. me reduced so low, that sometimes, I had scarce men to mount the necessary guards this has been extreamly fateaguing to us here and very expensive to the above Gentlemen adventurers beyond wt. could be imagined at home. I have commissioned Edwd. Holmes Esq. one of the Council, to be Deputy Governour of Elutheria where there is about 50 familys and 70 men formed into a Militia Company and Richard Thompson Esq. another of the Council Deputy Governour of Harbour Island where are about 60 familys, and 80 men wch. are also in another Company of Militia they have fortified themselves and secured the harbour wch. is very narrow at the enterance but a ship of 18 foot water may go in and ride very securely, a draught of this harbour and all ye Bahama Islands are indifferently well done by one Capt. Cockram and I have sent it home by the Samuel that brings this, there are severall good men there that may be relyed on. I have supplyed them wth. powder and shot, for they have two small forts, one of eight six-pounders and the other of four nine-pounders that commands the entrance and harbour. I prevailed wth. Comadore Chamberlain to stay till the 16th Aug. and wth. some difficulty procured his order to Capt. Whitney to stay three weeks longer in which time I was in hopes my men and the fortification would be in a better state for I wanted to depend on my own strenght without the men of war if possible, since they often told me they had no orders, and was very much against staying wth. me when the three weeks was expired I was yet in a worse posture of defence and sick myself yet I could not prevaile with Capt. Whitney to stay longer then the 14th Sept. tho' we depended every minute to hear of Vaine wch. Capt. Whitney and I knew was expected at Abacco every minute, for on 1st Sepr. three men that came in a boat from Vaine who was then on the coast of Cuba confess'd they promised to meet him again about this time there; And the very day after Capt. Whitney sailed, I had an express sent me that three vessels supposed to be Vaine and his prizes were at Green Turtle Key near Abacoa and since I had no strenght to do better, I got a sloop fitted under the command of Capt. Hornygold to send and view them and bring me an accot. what they were, in the mean time I keep a very strick't watch for fear of any surprize, and not hearing from Capt. Hornigold I was afraid he was either taken by Vaine or begun his old practice of pirating again, wch. was the general opinion here in his absence, but to my great satisfaction he return'd in about three weeks having lain most of that time concealed and viewing of Vaine the Pirate in order to surprize him or some of his men that they expected would be near them in their boats, but tho they failed in this Capt. Hornygold brought wth. him a sloop of this place, that got leave from me to go out a turtling but had been trading wth. Vaine who had then wth. him two ships and a brigantine, his sloop that he escaped hence in being run away with by another set of new pirates, the two ships he took coming out of Carolina one of 400 and the other of 200 tons loaded wth. rice, pitch and tarr and skins bound for London the Neptune Capt. King being the largest he sunk and the Emperour Capt. Arnold Gowers he left without doing her any damage except taking away their provisions. I have secured the mercht. that traded wth. Vaine and having not yet a power to make an example of them here he remains in irons to be sent home to England by the next ship. For want of Capt. Whitney's staying to assist me we have once more missed taking this Pirate. I beg your Lordships (if H.M. signifies his pleasure of stationing any ships of war here) that they may be under the direction of the Governour and Council whilst here or at least one of them, otherwise we expect little benifit by their assistance if the Shark sloop that came wth. us was appointed or any other such small cruzier we then could joyne a sloop or two and men from the guarrison with the best of the people here and soon be out after any pirate for we may expect to be alarmed by them whilst there are any in America. This Vaine had the impudence to send me word that he design's to burn my guardship and visit me very soon to return the affront, I gave him on my arrival in sending two sloops after him instead of answering the letter he sent me. He expects soon to joyne Majr. Bonnet or some other pirate, and then I am to be attack'd by them. But being now got to the 20th of Octr., the heat abates very much and our people all begin to be pretty well and our fort will be soon in a tollerable posture of defence, and the guardship is well provided wch. makes me now not concern'd at his threats. Capt. Hornygold having proved honest, and disobliged his old friends by seazing this vessel it devides the people here and makes me stronger then I expected. The 6th of Sepr. I wrot Governour Hunter at New York of the mallancholly state of our settlement and at that time beg'd that he would send me 40 of his guarrison and an officer for then I was afraid that the distemper would run further then it has, and make me too weak to hold this place. On the 15th Sepr. fearing my letter to Governour Hunter should miscarry I wrot the same to Sr. Nichs. Lawes Governour of Jamaica and beg'd 20 or 30 men from him. But on the 6th of Oct. our people being somewt. recovered and ye pirates many of them gone hence, I acquainted the Governour of New York yt. if his men were not on their way hither, I desired the lent but of 25 men till he had more inhabitants and yt. I would pay the transportation. I again wrote the Governour of Jamaica yt. I did hope I could do without any of his soldiers, and desired he'd keep them if not come away thence, because my people began to be more healthfull. I can now muster in armes of our own people belonging to the Independant Company, 112; of passengers and new inhabitants that I can rely on, 30. And at our last muster of ye merooners and the inhabitants we have at home to appear in armes, 152. There are about 150 more that has been pirates who has gone hence since my arrival and keeps near this place moving out and home mostly amongst these Islands and coast of Cuba if they all return I will endeavour to keep them employed, I expect not less then 150 of these sort of people at home continually, till new inhabitants of better principalls come to make us stronger. Nov. 4th. Whilst I was concluding this letter there came in some of those men before mentioned, but with ye unwelcome news of all our vessels designing to trade on Cuba being seized on and run away with by the very sailors that came in on the Act of Grace, and entered here to navigate them, they still retaining the itching desire to return to their former vile course of life, made use of the first oppertunity and finding themselves stronger then the honest side on a signal given made the other prisoners. But before they had prepar'd their vessels for piracy they turn'd four of their men which I recommend'd on shoar by themselves on a desart island ye Spaniards soon after attack't them in a small haven amongst these islands and whilst they were preparing their vessels took advantage of their cowardice and surprized them. The English renegadoes flying out of their sloops on shoar, and would not accept of the offer the prisoners made to assist them against the Spaniards whom they might have taken being superior in number and strength. This attempt of the Spaniards tho ill intended had two good consequences to us the one in breaking the measures concerted by these new villains who intended to joyne Vaine and attempt this place, and the other in preventing the Spaniards' design on Elutheria or Harbour Island as they declared they intended to surprize one of these places in the night. The French also cast their eyes on these Islands and I beleive whenever they have an oppertunity they'l not scruple it for want of title for. A sloop belonging to these Islands conveyed a letter from me to ye French General of Hispaniola about a brigantine the pirates has left here ye person that deliver'd the letter to the General informes me he stampt wth. his foot and said in a passion that the French king his Master had right to these Islands and that they would settle here very soon such are the sentiments of these two Nations and as we find they think, that they are worth contending for it is ye greater reason for us to value ye possession for if we loose these Islands, we shall better judge of the consequence had we kept them by finding how much they are capable of annoying ye neighbourhood. I have yet had no tryal of the men I now most depend on but I hope I have about 200 including my Independant Company, that may be relyed on against all attacks, and because here are several amongst them that seems ambitious to convince me, of their integrity to serve this Settlemt. and as I do not know how to hold this place without their assistance, I beg your Lordships would interceed wth. H.M. to procure them the same favours as Governour Bennet procur'd for those that surrendred to him at Bermudas wch. will very much endear the reform'd here, and be their security when they have occation to visit any other Settlement, some of them were amongst others that comitted acts of piracy since the 5th of Janry. last but seem to be reform'd, this has been one great reason why I gave them all their certificates in ye manner I did (copy inclosed) neither have I exerted my power as Vice Admiral to seize many things that I might have laid my hands on because I would not quarrel at the time of my mens great sickness when they might have sent us all back again. My not then taking an advantage of them has stopt several here that would have been out a pirating afresh this I hope will redound to the publick service wch. I have and shall regard before my own interest. What wth. the pirates robbing us and ye inclination of many of our people to joyn them, and the Spaniards threatning to attempt these Islands we are continually obliged to keep on our guard and our trading vessels in our harbour above 100 men that accepted H.M. Act of Grace in this place are now out pirating again and except effectual measures are taken the whole trade of America must be soon ruin'd etc. Signed, Woodes Rogers. Endorsed, Recd., Read 17th Dec., 1718. 25 pp.


Original to follow… BCB 23 Jan 2019

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