The Truth About Stede Bonnet's Friendship With Blackbeard - Grunge (2024)


ByJosh Sippie/

Blackbeard already boasts some of the deepest lore of the golden age of pirates, but thanks to the HBO Max show "Our Flag Means Death," another, lesser known chapter of Blackbeard's history has a new stage — his complicated relationship with the most unlikely of pirates, Stede Bonnet. In "Our Flag Means Death," Blackbeard and Bonnet fall into an unlikely friendship that blossoms into a romantic relationship.

While there are very few definites in the history of their possible friendship, there is definitely a shared history, as well as a narrative that is ripe with potential given the principles of piracy. Despite the lack of historical proof out there that Blackbeard and Bonnet ended up as they did on HBO Max, the possibilities are near endless.

But what actually happened between Blackbeard and Bonnet? Here is the truth about their friendship.

The origin of Stede Bonnet

Stede Bonnet may well be the least likely person to become a pirate. According to the Smithsonian, Bonnet was born into wealth and became an army major before retiring to a plantation in Barbados. He married young, had some kids, and had a pleasant life ahead of him. According to "A General History of Pyrates," written by Capt. Charles Johnson in 1724, Bonnet was considered a "Gentleman of good Reputation."

That's when he had something of a midlife crisis and decided it was time to become a pirate and give up his cushy home life. He paid a local dockyard to build him his first ship — which is very un-pirate-like, by the way. Most pirates claim their first ship on the high seas, through combat.

Bonnet was not like other pirates. According to the North Carolina History Project, he also paid his crewmen a wage. Most pirate captains simply shared the spoils of piracy, but Bonnet saw a better way.

He also didn't skimp on crew. He hired a batch of seasoned seaman, seeing as how he had no sailing acumen himself. And while they doubted his abilities, he found moderate successes on the high seas.

The origin of Blackbeard

Everything that Stede Bonnet didn't have, Blackbeard did, and vice versa. But in terms of getting into pirating, Blackbeard, born Edward Teach, had every reason to. Very little is known about his childhood, according to Britannica, but he found his way out of England and to Jamaica in the midst of the golden age of piracy. He fell in withCapt. Benjamin Hornigold, as per "AGeneral History of Pyrates," and became hisprotégé.

According to World History Encyclopedia, Hornigold was already a notorious pirate when he took Blackbeard under his wing, having established himself in the pirate's den of the Caribbean, as well as giving numerous other famous pirates their start in his crew.

It didn't take long for Blackbeard to become a pirate himself and seize his destiny.Blackbeard, unlike Bonnet, acquired his first ship by capturing it while serving with Hornigold, and Hornigold in turn granted Blackbeard captaincy of this new sloop. "A General History of Pyrates"called Blackbeard "a most cruel hardened Villain, bold and daring to the last Degree, and would not stick at the perpetrating the most abominable Wickedness imaginable."

When Bonnet met Blackbeard

It's no secret that Blackbeard and Stede Bonnet, just from their origins alone, have very little in common other than their goal of being successful pirates. But fate apparently saw fit to drive them together. After a streak of successful raids, as seen in "A General History of Pyrates," Bonnet fell into a spot of trouble. Off the coast of North Carolina, he stumbled into battle with a Spanish man-of-war and suffered serious wounds during combat, as well as losing nearly half his crew and sustaining severe damage to his ship (via theQueen Anne's Revenge Project).

Having nowhere else to go, Bonnet took his ship to New Providence in Nassau for repairs. And that's where he first met Blackbeard, still a member of the crew of Benjamin Hornigold. And while it's unclear how exactly these two fell into a partnership, and what exactly that partnership entailed, there is no doubting the fact that this is where their partnership began, according to "A General History of Pyrates,"with Bonnet severely injured and Blackbeard raring to go.

Blackbeard took care of Bonnet while he was injured

One thing in particular that's interesting from when Blackbeard and Stede Bonnet met is the fact that Bonnet was so injured he really couldn't have captained his ship himself and therefore agreed to let Blackbeard take command, as perNorth Carolina History Project. As Smithsonian mentions, his excitement on meeting Blackbeard is not surprising, and it allowed Bonnet to work with one of the most capable pirates in history.

So did Bonnet willingly give Blackbeard command, or did Blackbeard take iteither by force or by dishonesty? The debate still rages — prisoner or guest. But another thing to keep in mind is that Blackbeard could have just as easily left Bonnet in any number of places to be rid of him, but he didn't. Both the North Carolina History Project and Smithsonian note Blackbeard was all to aware of Bonnet's lack of experience (at the time) and respect from his crew, thus potentially triggering Blackbeard's plan to take control.

No matter how you look at it, Bonnet was allowed to heal while quite literally under the care of Blackbeard. Even if Blackbeard intended to dupe Bonnet down the road, protecting someone while they recover from an injury soundsawfully friendly, doesn't it?

Pirate alliances usually looked different

Pirate alliances were pretty interesting in nature but generally took one of two forms. The first form was an apprenticeship kind of thing, like what theQueen Anne's Revenge Project showsBlackbeard having with Capt. Benjamin Hornigold. An experienced captain takes an aspiring young pirate under his wing and shows him the ropes before letting him leave the nest with his own ship. These weren't always as clean as Hornigold andBlackbeard, though. There were plenty of mutinies.

The other kind of pirate alliance was the shared objective. History details this kind-of partnership withHenry Every and Thomas Tewteaming up to take on the Mughal Empire. To increase manpower, the two joined together to take down some of the empire's fleet, while there still being an every man for himself kind of vibe. After all, Every left Tew and others behind to hunt down the Mughal's flagship.

The alliance between Blackbeard and Stede Bonnet doesn't neatly fit into either of these forms. They weren't really master and apprentice, and they didn't share much of a venturebecause Blackbeard had little to gain from taking Bonnet along.

The possibility of romance

It's not the most outlandish idea out there that there was something more between the two pirate captains. According to Barry Richard Burg in his book "Sodomy and the Pirate Tradition: English Sea Rovers in the Seventeenth Century Caribbean,"pirates fairly regularly engaged in same-sex relationships. And there was also this pirate practice of the day called matelotage, which is the base for the now common pirate term, "matey" (via All Things Interesting). Matelotage was the same-sex union between two pirates. According to Burg, these unions were very often strictly financial, but oftentimes they pushed into the romantic as well.

All That Is Interesting names Robert Culliford as the most famous pirate to have a pretty clearly defined matelotage relationshipwith another pirate — John Swann.

Unfortunately, there just aren't many written records documenting matelotage relationships, but knowing that this was a common practice among pirates, a career path that generally didn't allow women, it's not outlandish at all to think that Blackbeard and Stede Bonnet could have had something similar.

Blackbeard's history with friends

Let's just get this out there — Blackbeard didn't have the best track record with friends. Which is why it's so curious that he would take along Stede Bonnet at all, when he could very well have just done away with him as he had done away with countless others. He was, after all, a villain who was quite cruel, as related in "A General History of Pyrates."

Take for instance his relationship with Israel Hands, his first mate. The book highlights the story ofBlackbeard shooting Hands in the knee just to remind everyone who he was. A man capable of doing that to his own crew doesn't seem like the kind of man who would take care of a somewhat underwhelming pirate captain.

As another example, one of Blackbeard's closest friends was Black Caesar, a pirate of whom there is very little record. But the Virginian-Pilot speculatesthat Black Caesar may actually have been Blackbeard's slave. And Blackbeard had quite a history, as documented in The Daily Express, with the slave trade in general. While The History Press notes that he did liberate a lot of slaves, he also sold them too. Not exactly a friendly notion. And yet with Bonnet there was something keeping them together.

They shared ships and crews

Another unique aspect of the Blackbeard/Bonnet partnership is that they shared their ships and crews, although willingly or unwillingly is not known. But to the point of highlighting why it was different — that's exactly why. When Thomas Tew joined the legion of pirates who raided the Grand Mughal vessels, he didn't hop on Henry Every's ship, and they didn't swap crew members (via History).

Blackbeard by all accounts had his own ship at this time, but Smithsonian emphasizes that he took command of Stede Bonnet's while still keeping Bonnet aboard, to resume his pirating activities in the area and likely split the spoils with the crew as well.

There was also a lot of crossover with Bonnet's and Blackbeard's respective crews. Bonnet's crew was a bit leery of their captain, according to Smithsonian, but they served under Blackbeard, then served under Bonnet again when things got messy in the end.

Stede Bonnet was not helpless

While this all may sound like a cut and dry case of Blackbeard taking advantage of Stede Bonnet's deficiencies and nothing more, it's important to remember that Bonnet was not a helpless pirate. A bit lacking in experience, sure. Relying on his crew in the early stages, definitely.

But he had a healthy collection of successful raids under his belt as well. TheBarbados and the Carolinas Legacy Foundation lays out the full successes of Bonnet before and after Blackbeard, and it serves as a reminder that this was a capable pirate, all things considered. When he first set out, he took a handful of vessels, all of which he burned to cover his tracks.That wasn't because of Blackbeard; it was because of his own merits.

When Blackbeard had duped him out of his spoils, Bonnet captured two more sloops with practically no supplies, having been left stranded.And while it was these two captures that led to the capture, trials, and death sentences for Bonnet and the majority of his crew, it also shows that Bonnet had some capabilities as a pirate captain that he doesn't often get credit for.

It ended bitterly

Whatever did or didn't happen between Stede Bonnet and Blackbeard, it ended on a sour note. One that separated them for good and led to Bonnet's eventual hanging. According to Smithsonian Magazine, Blackbeard docked off the coast of North Carolina, having agreed with Bonnet that they'd both accept amnesty from the king (via Barbados and the Carolinas Legacy Foundation). When Bonnet went to shore to accept his amnesty, he came back and found his ship stripped and Blackbeard gone.

There was no reunion in store for the two. And as far as bad breakups go, being left ashore at the mercy of the king, then having to chase down your ex for revenge before getting caught and convicted and hanged for piracy (as can be seen in the actual trial transcript from the Library of Congress)certainly ranks pretty high up there.

It's a shame that more isn't known about what happened between these two, but what did happen was something truly unique — even if it was short-lived.

The Truth About Stede Bonnet's Friendship With Blackbeard - Grunge (2024)
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