Monday, December 19, 2011

Stories From The Carolina Coast: Pirate's, Pothole's and Provost Dungeon's

Stede Bonnets Pirate Flag
Stories From The Carolina Coast: Pirate's, Pothole's and Provost Dungeon's:  

     Today I as I headed across the Breach (Breach Inlet to our guest), that narrow band of water that separates Sullivans Island from the Isle of Palms off the South Carolina coast. My mind began to wonder, as it has a habit to,  about the water I was crossing. Usually I look off in awe a the the green-blue sea as it pulled back from the coast at low tide, leaving behind it small islands in the mouth of the outlet and doubling the sandy bands of beach on the ocean side of both island. Gulls flew in to select their dinner in the shallows of the outgoing tide, While lines of surfscoter ducks float by on the water behind the breaking waves,  just outside the second sandbar. Potholes aside it's a pretty nice drive.
Stede Bonnet in Charleston
     Today though, my eyes and thoughts drifted to the other side of the bridge and to the small islands of sand  left by the retreating tide in the large estuary that fills the space between the mainland and the sister islands. Protected from the ocean and hidden from prying eyes, pirates often came to careen their ships. Careening is a process of removing barnacles form the hull of their ships to protect the hull and to increase the speed of a ship. A Vessel would be sailed onto a sandbar at high tide and left on its natural dry dock as the water reversed itself.  It would then be tipped from port to starboard as the parasitic mollusk's were scraped away.  It was here in 1718 that Stede Bonnet brought his ship the "Revenge" for repairs.
     Bonnet, known as the "Gentleman Pirate" was the son of a wealthy Barbados Planter and a retired army major, he's probably the only pirate to actually build his own ship, but he hated his aristocratic life, so off he went a pirating. While cruising the coast of Charles Towne, Capt. Bonnet met the infamous pirate Blackbeard, where he became a " Guest" of  the pirate captain. Together with a fleet of over 100 vessels, they blockaded the Port City, holding several politicians and prominent citizens for a ransom of medical supplies. Lucky to escape from Blackbeard's grasp Bonnet and crew sailed north to affect repairs before returning to the fray. While under repair he decide to forgo ancient maritime traditions that said its bad luck to rename a ship, as he changed it to the "Royal James". A choice he would soon regret.
     The people in Charles Towne, soon sent out a force to take revenge for the embarrassing ordeal , while they didn't find Blackbeard they did locate Bonnet. After a battle at the mouth of Cape Fear inlet in North Carolina, he was captured and brought back to stand trial in Charles Towne. Once here he was thrown into the infamous provost dungeon located on East Bay Blvd. You can tour the building including  it's dungeon where Bonnet pondered the last days of his life, only now you can do it in the comfort of air conditioning. The dungeon then was a hot, overcrowded, festering hole in the ground, where prisoners were left to rot while they awaited their fates. After an unsuccessful escape attempt. Stede Bonnet was found guilty of piracy  and sentenced to death by hanging. On December 10,1718 his head was shaved and he was taken to White Point Gardens on what now is the Battery to the spot where the Bandstand now sits. Here his sentence was carried out.
      Sometimes if you get the chance to cross the breach as you clear the thoughts of the days events from your mind. Look westward as the last strands of daylight sink behind the scrub oaks that form the maritime forest. Think about Bonnet and the pirates like him that plied their trade on the oceans around my hometown. Maybe one day If your be lucky, and if the tide is right, and your quick enough, out of the corner of your eye you just might catch a glimpse of  a great ship hauled over on it's side. Sails furled, cannons pointing to the heavens, black flag flying from her stern, quietly waiting her master's return.  Until then I 'll keep looking,,,,,,, potholes willing.
Stede Bonnet at the Battery

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