Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Pyrates in the Bay of Maryland: Punishment

This post is a continuation of the "Race, Revolt, and Piracy" series. You can find parts one and two here.

For two months there was no sign of the murderous mutineers of the sloop Hopewell, but the pirates' luck wouldn't last.

Somehow, the pirates wound up at Capers' Island, a small bit of land about fifteen miles north of Charleston, South Carolina. Months after her capture, an advertisement was placed in the South Carolina Gazette by the Court of Admiralty, stating that the Hopewell was left "at Anchor, on the High Seas," by her mutinous crew.

South Carolina Gazette, July 4, 1754
According to a report in the New York Mercury, the Hopewell was brought in to the Carolina Bar and abandoned by her crew, who were "soon after taken up and secured"[1] except for the mutineer John Smith, who was captured a short while later. Smith immediately claimed not to have anything to do with the murder.

Did the kidnapped sailors raise an alarm? Were the pirates trying to sell or trade their cargo as smuggled goods? Perhaps they were merely taking on water and provisions for a trip further south before things went awry. Or maybe they had no intention of sailing to the Caribbean and thought they could blend into the Carolinas. There are many unanswered questions.

What can be said is that the three mutineers were arrested and brought before the Court of Admiralty. As mentioned in the advertisement above, the court believed the mutiny, kidnapping, and murder were all committed "on the High Seas, and within the Jurisdiction of the Court of Admiralty."  It is worth noting that George Cook and James Manshore, the kidnapped sailors, were not considered to be a party to the crimes of the mutineers, raising the possibility that it may have been them that turned in or revealed the crime of the pirates.

Silver Admiralty Oar of Massacussets, via
United States District Court for the District of New Hampshire

The record of the trial does not survive, but it is abundantly clear that John Smith turned evidence against his co-conspirators. John Wright, who actually committed the murder and took charge of the Hopewell, and Anthony Lewis, who had by this time shed his persona as a slave and passed as "a Portugese," should easily have been found guilty.

The Court, however, was forced to acquit. Apparently the judges were unfamiliar with the geography of the Chesapeake, perhaps evidenced by their referring to "a place called Choptank in Chesapeak Bay." Powerful though it was, the Admiralty Court had no jurisdiction in the "narrow seas" of Maryland. It would fall to a provincial Admiralty Court in Maryland to decide the fate of the mutineers.

Given the dangerous nature of the criminals, they were confined in irons aboard a Royal Navy frigate, the Shoreham, and transported North. Captain Legg, commander of the Shoreham, does not appear to have been bound for Maryland, but rather to Nova Scotia, and rather than make a long voyage to Annapolis and back out to the Atlantic again, dropped the prisoners off in Virginia. Robert Dinwiddie, governor of Virginia, wrote to Horatio Sharpe, governor of Maryland, to let him know that "I have order'd them into the public Prison in this City [Williamsburg]," until Sharpe could send a boat and guard to pick them up at Yorktown.[2] 

George Cook and James Manshore were returned to servitude in London Town, and the prisoners delivered up to Annapolis. After a brief trial, during which John Smith again testified against Wright and Lewis, the two were convicted and sentenced to hang.

Detail from "A view of the procession of John Swan and Elizabeth Jefferies,"
Bispham Dickinson, c.1752, British Museum.
Just outside the Annapolis City Gate, the two were hanged. Their bodies were then carried to Hackett's Point, at the mouth of Severn River, and displayed on gibbets in irons. Lewis and Wright's earthly remains became a grim reminder to sailors of the fate that awaited pirates in the Chesapeake.[3]

Next Time: What can we learn from the Hopewell mutineers, and what does this case tell us about the nature of race in the maritime Chesapeake of the eighteenth century?

[1] New York Mercury, June 17, 1754, page 2.
[2] The Official Records of Robert Dinwiddie, Virginia Historical Society, 1933, Volume 1, Page 212. An interesting sidenote: that greatly renovated and restored prison still stands.
[3] Maryland Gazette, August 8, 1754.

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