July 26, 2012
As our leaders work feverishly to transform our country into an impoverished socialist parody of America, and the smartest people in the land—politicians, judges, educators, homosexuals, newsies, liberal churchmen, movie stars—turn themselves inside-out trying to convince us that it’s all for our own good (We’ll be amazed how much we like it, once they’re finished with it), I have decided to take a little break from writing about it. Instead, I’m going to take you back some 300 years and let you meet someone who, with no help from anyone at all, took control of his life and, in an incredibly short period of time, turned it into an unmitigated disaster.
Introducing Steve Bonnet, 28, of Barbados: married, with four children; rich, with his own sugar plantation; well-educated; and socially prominent, having been appointed a justice of the peace and elected a major in the colony’s militia. He has a nice house, too. In fact, he has just about everything a man could want and hope to have in the year 1718.
I know this because, years ago, I did a great deal of research on Major Stede Bonnet, meaning to write a novel about his life. He isn’t as famous now as he used to be, but he’s still remembered in Barbados.
Stede Bonnet bought a ship. Although he’d never been to sea before, he said it was his intention to expand his business interests by trading up and down the American coast. That was a lie.
Bonnet bought a ship and hired a crew for the express purpose of becoming a pirate. He is the only pirate that we know of who bought a ship instead of stealing it.
Once on the high seas, and although he had no clear idea of what to do, Bonnet enjoyed a run of beginner’s luck. He captured several ships and filled his hold with merchandise—rope, hardware, molasses, cloth. He was disappointed, having expected treasure-chests full of pearls and jewels and pieces of eight; but the stuff he took was easily to be resold at any American port. All he had to do was cash in.
Instead, he fell in with a real pirate who had very clear, if somewhat unconventional, ideas—Ned Teach, better known as Blackbeard. Blackbeard advertised Bonnet as an ally—someone to share the blame—while making him a virtual prisoner aboard his own ship.
The highlight of this faux partnership was when Blackbeard sailed his and Bonnet’s ships into Charleston harbor and threatened to bombard the city unless he was paid a ransom. For good measure, he took civilian hostages. After terrorizing the city, he settled for a paltry ransom—a chest of medicines—and sailed away, leaving behind a few thousand angry and humiliated Charlestonians. And soon he sailed away from Bonnet, too, along with all the loot they had.
Bonnet took advantage of a pardon offered by the British government in the West Indies. Here he could have simply gone home. He toyed with the idea of becoming a privateer, but quickly dropped it and resumed his career of piracy. It was his dream to hunt down Blackbeard and kill him.
Ignoring the advice of old hands among his crew, Bonnet anchored to make repairs. There was no way out of this particular inlet; and here, a shipful of Charleston volunteers trapped him.
In 1718 piracy was not a capital offense. Bonnet could have surrendered and gotten off with little or no punishment. Again making the worst possible choice, he decided to fight. The Charlestonians won the fight and took him prisoner; but not until Bonnet and his crew killed 20 of the volunteers. Thus the charge against him was not piracy, but murder.
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Bonnet received the fairest trial anyone could get in 1718. I’ve read the transcript. Held in very easy custody on account of his standing as a gentleman, he escaped. He made a hash of that and was recaptured. He made an even bigger hash of his defense, and was hanged.
Why did he do it? Why did he take a comfortable, orderly life, family and riches and status and all, and cast it away like trash? Why did he pass up every chance he had to save himself?
I left the novel unfinished because I couldn’t answer those questions. I still can’t—no more than I can explain what America is doing to herself, right before our eyes.
But as the life and career of Stede Bonnet so abundantly shows, there comes a time when a man—or a nation—just runs out of chances.
© 2012 Lee Duigon - All Rights Reserved
Lee Duigon, a contributing editor with the Chalcedon Foundation, is a former newspaper reporter and editor, small businessman, teacher, and horror novelist. He has been married to his wife, Patricia, for 34 years. See his new fantasy/adventure novels, Bell Mountain and The Cellar Beneath the Cellar, available on www.amazon.com