Stede Bonnet - The Gentleman Pirate

Contemporary Woodcut of Stede Bonnet
Much has been written locally about Edward “Blackbeard” Teach and his “Queen Anne’s Revenge,” but less regarding Stede Bonnet—a fellow pirate. All accounts and stories target Beaufort and the protected area of Cape Lookout as one of their favorite places of respite.

“Unusual, unlikely and unprepared best describe Stede Bonnet, who was an educated, affluent and respected plantation owner until he decided to become a pirate.

Major Bonnet, as he was known for his affiliation with the island militia, was a wealthy sugar plantation owner from a respected English family. He lived in Bridgetown, Barbados, where he mingled with the island’s elite. In 1717, in his middle age, he abruptly abandoned his comfortable life for a career as a pirate. It was a career in which he had no experience. His decision scandalized the polite society of Barbados and Bonnet’s acquaintances thought him emotionally disturbed. Others speculated he turned to piracy to escape his nagging wife.
Rather than stealing or capturing a ship, Bonnet bought one—something unheard of for a pirate. The ship [probably similar to the sloop below] had a single gun deck with 10 pieces of artillery. Bonnet named it “The Revenge.” Bonnet recruited his gang from local taverns and organized a band of about 70 men. Rather than drawing up a contract for the men to sign, as was customary, Bonnet paid his crew a salary from his own pocket. This, too, was unusual for a pirate, but it helped him retain command over his men.
Bonnet kept his ship in the harbor for several days before leaving one night with no word to his family. Though inexperienced, he was moderately successful, taking ships off the coasts of Virginia and Carolina. He merely plundered the first few ships, but after burning one, The Turbes, he burned every one he took. By this time his men realized his inexperience and hostility began to brew. 

While anchored at the Bay of Honduras or possibly while he cruised the Carolinas, Bonnet met Edward “Blackbeard” Teach. Teach invited Bonnet onto his ship, the Queen Anne’s Revenge, and then took Bonnet’s ship. Bonnet was essentially a prisoner on Teach’s ship, although, by some accounts, he contentedly spent his time there reading and walking the decks.

After being pardoned and getting his ship back, Bonnet set sail for St. Thomas—armed with a letter of marque to capture Spanish ships. To disguise himself, he renamed his ship the “Royal James,” and took on the name of Capt. Thomas. While en route to the islands he was rumored to have gone searching for Blackbeard but didn’t find him and returned to piracy—again faring well. Bonnet was eventually captured by Col. William Rhett who had been sent after pirates operating near Charleston. Bonnet escaped but was recaptured and brought to trial in a Court of Vice-Admiralty in Charleston. Despite a moving letter he reportedly wrote begging the governor for clemency, Bonnet, along with 29 of his men, was sentenced to death by hanging. During his sentencing, Judge Trot was said to have made a great speech, reporting that Bonnet has killed no less than 18 men sent to capture him, and that was no way for a “man of letters,” to behave. Nicknamed “The Gentleman Pirate,” Bonnet’s education hurt him in the end. He was hanged for piracy on December 10, 1718 and his body was left hanging for four days as a warning to other pirates.”
The above text is from The Age of Pirates.
Online Encyclopedia time line notes: MAY 1718 The Queen Anne's Revenge and Adventure are both lost in Beaufort Inlet, NC one week later. Blackbeard allows Stede Bonnet to once again command the Revenge, which is renamed the Royal James. Bonnet rescues 25 sailors abandoned by Blackbeard on a sandbar and continues his life of piracy.