Sunday, July 3, 2016

Pyrates in the Bay of Maryland: Kidnapping on the Patuxent

This post is part of the series "Race, Revolt, and Piracy." Follow this link to find part one of the story "Pyrates in the Bay of Maryland."

The Hopewell's crew of three, two convict servants and an enslaved man, were making their way south. After murdering their captain, the mutineers steered toward the Capes of Virginia and the Atlantic, their only real chance at freedom. If the sloop could make it to the open ocean they might find their way to a more distant colony where word of their crime would have no effect. Perhaps they thought they could make a Spanish, French, or Dutch port in the Caribbean that they could disappear in and begin life anew.

Led by the convict servant and navigator John Wright (alias William Wilson), the trio had a good shot of making it out of the Chesapeake. Two main obstacles stood in their way: time and manpower.

Already an armed boat had been dispatched from Annapolis to bring the pirates to justice. Word was spreading of their bloody mutiny. The longer they spent in the Bay, the more likely it was that they would be caught. It was imperative that they reach the Atlantic as soon as possible.

Detail from drawing of a sloop, John Thomas Serres, 1789, British Museum.

The bigger problem was with the sloop itself. Throughout her career, the Hopewell's compliment of sailors was continually reduced. Her maiden voyage to Barbados was managed with six crew, including captain William Strachan. Now, with the murder of captain Curtis, she was reduced to three. Hopewell might have been manageable on the comparatively sheltered waters of the Chesapeake, but a voyage to the Caribbean required more hands.

The solution to the latter problem was aboard the brig Nancy. Captain William Strachan happened to be sailing the Nancy on the Patuxent River when the Hopewell's crew revolted. The mutineers had succeeded in outpacing word of their crime, and Strachan's crew was entirely unaware of the danger that came with sight of the Hopewell.

Perhaps it was a fond memory of how his former command had weathered a hurricane five years before, or maybe he was merely showing the respect that fellow mariners warranted. Whatever the reason, Strachan was convinced to help the Hopewell on her way. Two sailors, a convict servant owned by Strachan named James Manshore and an enslaved man named George Cook owned by the merchant James Dick, were dispatched in a small boat to carry bread to the pirates.

Detail from "The Press Gang," George Morland, 1790, Wikiart.

After Cook and Manshore climbed aboard, their boat was cut loose, the sails set, and the Hopewell slipped away. Strachan almost certainly pursued them, but with a head start and a swift vessel, the pirates escaped.

Soon the Hopewell had the Chesapeake to her stern, sinking with the horizon. Her three mutineers and two hostages had escaped. Maryland had no chance of recapturing the slaves and convicts, but as luck would have it, it was another colony that would deliver them up for eighteenth century justice.

Next time: The pirates and their victims wind up in a wholly unexpected place.

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