Monday, November 30, 2009

Pathetic Pirates: Voted Off His Own Ship

On this last day of November, I decided to end the month here at Triple P the way it started - with a pathetic pirate. The two men in question plied the sweet trade during the same years and in the same waters so who knows, they may very well have known one another.

Charles Vane, pictured here in a woodcut from Charles Johnson's A General History of Pirates, appeared on the Caribbean scene in 1716. What he was doing prior to that is not documented but it is probably safe to say that, like most men we discuss, he was a lifetime seaman. Vane is first documented sailing with the pirate Henry Jennings. Jennings made his mark plundering the salvage ships that worked the Caribbean in the wracking trade, retrieving treasure lost in shipwrecks. Jennings used Nassau port on New Providence in the Bahamas as his base and when, by the summer of 1718, Vane took control of his own ship he did the same.

Vane was at first successful, taking a few Spanish and French merchants, but his timing was bad. New Providence welcomed an English Governor later in 1718 and his first order of business was to boot the pirates from their den at Nassau. Vane sailed away with an attitude, burning his French prize at anchor and firing on the Governor's ship. He set a course for the Carolinas, the outer banks of which were quickly becoming popular as piratical hideaways.

Off Charleston - probably at Ocracoke Island, Vane and his crew met up with Edward Teach and his fellows. The two pirate captains hit it off, evidently, and after a short but successful cruise together they put in at the island and set to a week long party. There was plenty of wine, women and song, so much so in fact that although the fiesta started in September of 1718, neither crew managed to get back to work until October.

It was over the winter that things started to go sour for Captain Vane. First, he put one of his men - probably a Lieutenant - in charge of a captured prize. The man, whose name was Yeats, almost immediately abandoned Vane for greener pastures, taking the prize and at least some of its cargo with him. Vane then ran afoul of the rest of his crew when he chose to flee a French frigate rather then try and take her as prize. This incident so infuriated his men that they voted him off his own ship, electing "Calico Jack" Rackham as their new Captain. Harsh treatment indeed.

Rackham gave Vane a captured sloop and allowed those who wanted to stay with their former Captain to join him. Vane ended up with fifteen men, including new First Lieutenant Robert Deal. The sloop set course for the Yucatan and by early 1719 Vane and his little crew were plundering small, local boats in the Gulf of Honduras. Deal was given command of a prize sloop in the spring and the two Captains decided to try their luck in the waters around Cuba.

They never made their destination. The ships were separated in a hurricane and Vane's sloop was wrecked off a small, uninhabited island. Only Vane and one other man survived and they spent several months on the island without much in the way of supplies. They were at last rescued by a merchant ship who most probably put in at the island for fresh water. Both men seem to have signed on aboard their rescuer as crew members.

Vane's luck went from bad to worse when a chance meeting with another ship spelled his downfall. The other ship was captained by a former pirate named Holiford who knew Vane personally. Holiford had accepted a pardon from the Governor of New Providence and was now in the business of pirate hunting. When he was invited aboard the merchant he spotted Vane and arrested him. The final blow came when Vane was told that Holiford had previously captured Robert Deal who was executed at Kingston, Jamaica.

Vane was taken to Jamaica as well. Within three months he was tried and hanged in November of 1720. A short career with very little to show for it, except maybe that party. That must have been something!


Timmy! said...

Ahoy, Pauline! Boy, Vane really must have shot his wad at that party. It was all downhill from there. You'd think it couldn't get any worse than being marooned for months... and then it did. It's tough to be compared with Edward Teach, but being given the boot by your own crew for Jack Rackham... Ouch! That's gotta hurt. He really was pathetic. Good call.

Pauline said...

Ahoy, Timmy! That's how I see it too but some will surely disagree. To my way of thinking, the history of piracy is littered with guys who just barely scraped by but whose names many people know. Meanwhile truly great men like Dominique Youx and Renato Beluche get a head scratch and a shrug... Well, not today!