A General History of the Pyrates, by Daniel Defoe

Chap. IX.

Of Captain Howel Davis, And his Crew.

THE Original of Davis. Is taken by the Pyrate England. England's Generosity to him. Is cast into Prison at Barbadoes, and why. Goes to Providence. Employ'd in a trading Vessel, seizes the Ship. An Instance of his great Courage and good Conduct. Goes to Cape de Verd Islands. Take several Prizes. Take the Fort of St. Jago by Storm. A Council call'd. Sail for Gambia. Takes Gambia Castle by Stratagem. Meets La Bouche, a French Pyrate. His Adventures with Cocklyn the Pyrate, at Sierraleone. The Fort attack d and taken, by theee Consederate Pyrates. The Pyrates quarrel and part. The laconick Speech of Davis to them. His fierce Engagement with a large Dutch Ship. An Account of several Prizes taken by him. A Description of the Island of St. Thome, Del Principe, and Annobono. The Dutch Governor of Acra taken by Davis. Davis well received by the Governor of Princes. His Stratagem to come at the Wealth of the Island. Is counterplotted and kill'd, by an Ambuscade.

CAptain Howel Davis was born at Milford, in Monmouthshire, and was from a Boy brought up to the Sea. The last Voyage he made from England, was in the Cadogan Snow of Bristol, Captain Skinner Commander, bound for the Coast of Guiney, of which Snow Davis was chief Mate: They were no sooner arrived at Sierraleon on the aforesaid Coast, but they were taken by the PyrateEngland, who plunder'd them, and Skinner was barbarously murdered, as has been related before in the Story of Captain England.

After the Death of Captain Skinner, Davis pretended that he was mightily sollicited by England to engage with him; but that he resolutely answered, he would sooner be shot to Death than sign the Pyrates Articles. Upon which, England, pleased with his Bravery, sent him and the rest of the Men again on Board the Snow, appointing him Captain of her, in the Room of Skinner, commanding him to pursue his Voyage. He also gave him a written Paper sealed up, with Orders to open it when he should come into a certain Latitude, and at the Peril of his Life follow the Orders therein set down. This was an Air of Grandeur like what Princes practice to their Admirals and Generals. — It was punctually complied with by Davis, who read it to the Ship's Company; it contained no less than a generous Deed of Gift of the Ship and Cargoe, to Davis and the Crew, ordering him to go to Brasil and dispose of the Lading to the best Advantage, and to make a fair and equal Dividend with the rest.

Davis proposed to the Crew, whether they were willing to follow their Directions, but to his great Surprize, found the Majority of them altogether averse to it, wherefore in a Rage, he bad them be damn'd, and go where they would. They knew that Part of their Cargoe was consigned to certain Merchants at Barbadoes, wherefore they steered for that Island. When they arrived, they related to these Merchants the unfortunate Death of Skinner, and the Proposal which had been made to them by Davis; upon which Davis was seized and committed to Prison, where he was kept three Months; however, as he had been in no Act of Pyracy, he was discharged without being brought to any Tryal, yet he could not expect any Employment there; wherefore knowing that the Island of Providence was a kind of Rendevouz of Pyrates, he was resolved to make one amongst them, if possible, and to that Purpose, found Means of shipping himself for that Island; but he was again disappointed, for when he arrived there, the Pyrates had newly surrendered to Captain Woods Rogers, and accepted of the Act of Grace, which he had just brought from England.

However, Davis was not long out of Business, for Captain Rogers having fitted out two Sloops for Trade, one called the Buck, the other the Mumvil Trader; Davis found an Employment on Board of one of them; the Lading of these Sloops was of considerable Value, consisting of European Goods, in order to be exchanged with the French and Spaniards; and many of the Hands on Board of them, were the Pyrates lately come in upon the late Act of Grace. The first Place they touched at, was the Island of Martinico, belonging to the French, where Davis having conspired with some others, rise in the Night, secured the Master and seized the Sloop; as soon as this was done, they called to the other Sloop, which lay a little Way from them, among whom they knew there were a great many Hands ripe for Rebellion, and ordered them to come on Board of them; they did so, and the greatest Part of them agreed to join with Davis; those who were otherwise inclined, were sent back on Board the Mumvil Sloop, to go where they pleased, Davis having first taken out of her, every Thing which he thought might be of Use.

After this, a Counsel of War was called over a large Bowl of Punch, at which it was proposed to chuse a Commander; the Election was soon over, for it fell upon Davis by a great Majority of legal Pollers, there was no Scrutiny demanded, for all acquiesced in the Choice: As soon as he was possess'd of his Command, he drew up Articles, which were signed and sworn to by himself and the rest, then he made a short Speech, the sum of which, was, a Declaration of War against the whole World.

After this they consulted about a proper Place where they might clean their Sloop, a light Pair of Heels being of great Use either to take, or escape being taken; for this purpose they made Choice of Coxon's Hole, at the East End of the Island of Cuba, a Place where they might secure themselves from Surprize, the Entrance being so narrow, that one Ship might keep out a hundred.

Here they cleaned with much Difficulty, for they had no Carpenter in their Company, a Person of great Use upon such Exigencies; from hence they put to Sea, making to the North-Side of the Island of Hispaniola. The first Sail which fell in their Way, was a French Ship of twelve Guns; it must be observed, that Davis had but thirty five Hands, yet Provisions began to grow short with him; wherefore he attacked this Ship, the soon struck, and he sent twelve of his Hands on Board of her, in order to plunder: This was no sooner done, but a Sail was spied a great Way to Windward of them; they enquired of the French Man what she might be, he answered, that he had spoke with a Ship, the Day before, of 24 Guns and 60 Men, and he took this to be the same.

Davis then proposed to his Men to attack her, telling them, she would be a rare Ship for their Use, but they looked upon it to be an extravagant Attempt, and discovered no Fondness for it, but he assured them he had a Stratagem in his Head would make all safe; wherefore he gave Chace, and ordered his Prize to do the same. The Prize being a slow Sailor, Davis first came up with the Enemy, and standing along Side of them, shewed his pyratical Colours: They, much surpriz'd, called to Davis, telling him, they wondered at his Impudence in venturing to come so near them, and ordered him to strike; but he answered, that he intended to keep them in Play, till his Consort came up, who was able to deal with them, and that if they did not strike to him, they should have but bad Quarters; whereupon he gave them a Broad-Side, which they returned.

In the mean Time the Prize drew near, who obliged all the Prisoners to come upon Deck in white Shirts, to make a Shew of Force, as they had been directed by Davis; they also hoisted a dirty Tarpawlin, by Way of black Flag, they having no other, and fir'd a Gun: The French Men were so intimidated by this Appearance of Force, that they struck. Davis called out to the Captain to come on Board of him, with twenty of his Hands; he did so, and they were all for the greater Security clapt into Irons, the Captain excepted: Then he sent four of his own Men on Board the first Prize, and in order still to carry on the Cheat, spoke aloud, that they should give his Service to the Captain, and desire him to send some Hands on Board the Prize, to see what they had got; but at the same Time gave them a written Paper, with Instructions what to do. Here he ordered them to nail up the Guns in the little Prize, to take out all the small Arms and Powder, and to go every Man of them on Board the second Prize; when this was done, he ordered that more of the Prisoners should be removed out of the great Prize, into the little one, by which he secured himself from any Attempt which might be feared from their Numbers; for those on Board of him were fast in Irons, and those in the little Prize had neither Arms nor Ammunition.

Thus the three Ships kept Company for 2 Days, when finding the great Prize to be a very dull Sailor, he thought she would not be fit for his Purpose, wherefore he resolved to restore her to the Captain, with all his Hands; but first, he took Care to take out all her Ammunition, and every Thing else which he might possibly want. The French Captain was in such a Rage, at being so outwitted, that when he got on Board his own Ship, he was going to throw himself over-board, but was prevented by his Men.

Having let go both his Prizes, he steered Northward, in which Course he took a small Spanish Sloop; after this, he made towards the Western Islands, but met with no Booty thereabouts; then he steered for the Cape de Verde Islands, they cast Anchor at St. Nicholas, hoisting English Colours; the Portuguese inhabiting there, took him for an English Privateer, and Davis going ashore, they both treated him very civilly, and also traded with him. Here he remained five Weeks, in which Time, he and half his Crew, for their Pleasure, took a Journey to the chief Town of the Island, which was 19 Miles up the Country: Davis making a good Appearance, was caressed by the Governor and the Inhabitants, and no Diversion was wanting which the Portuguese could shew, or Money could purchase; after about a Week's Stay, he came back to the Ship, and the rest of the Crew went to take their Pleasure up to the Town, in their Turn.

At their Return they clean'd their Ship, and put to Sea, but not with their whole Company; for five of them, like Hannibal's Men, were so charm'd with the Luxuries of the Place, and the free Conversation of some Women, that they staid behind; and one of them, whose Name was Charles Franklin, a Monmouthshire Man, married and settled himself, and lives there to this Day.

From hence they sailed to Bonevista, and looked into that Harbour, but finding nothing, they steer'd for the Isle of May: When they arrived here, they met with a great many Ships and Vessels in the Road, all which they plundered, taking out of them whatever they wanted; and also strengthen'd themselves with a great many fresh Hands, who most of them enter'd voluntarily. One of the Ships they took to their own Use, mounted her with twenty six Guns, and call'd her the King James. There being no fresh Water hereabouts, they made towards St. Jago, belonging to the Portuguese, in order to lay in a Store; Davis, with a few Hands, going ashore to find the most commodious Place to water at, the Governor, with some Attendants, came himself and examined who they were, and whence they came? And not liking Davis's Account of himself, the Governor was so plain to tell them, he suspected them to be Pyrates. Davis seemed mightily affronted, standing much upon his Honour, replying to the Governor, he scorn'd his Words; however, as soon as his Back was turn'd, for fear of Accidents, he got on Board again as fast as he could. Davis related what had happened, and his Men seemed to resent the Affront which had been offered him. Davis, upon this, told them, he was confident he could sur prize the Fort in the Night; they agreed with him to attempt it, and accordingly, when it grew late, they went ashore well arm'd; and the Guard which was kept, was so negligent, that they got within the Fort before any Alarm was given: When it was too late there was some little Resistance made, and three Men killed on Davis's Side. Those in the Fort, in their Hurry, run into the Governor's House to save themselves, which they barricadoed so strongly, that Davis's Party could not enter it; however, they threw in Granadoe-Shells, which not only ruin'd all the Furniture, but kill'd several Men within.

When it was Day the whole Country was alarm'd, and came to attack the Pyrates; wherefore it not being their Business to stand a Siege, they made the best of their Way on Board their Ship again, after having dismounted the Guns of the Fort. By this Enterprize they did a great Deal of Mischief to the Portuguese, and but very little Good to themselves.

Having put to Sea they muster'd their Hands, and found themselves near seventy strong; then it was proposed what Course they should steer, and differing in their Opinions, they divided, and by a Majority it was carried for Gambia on the Coast of Guiney; of this Opinion was Davis, he having been employ'd in that Trade, was acquainted with the Coast: He told them, that there was a great deal of Money always kept in Gambia Castle, and that it would be worth their while to make an Attempt upon it. They ask'd him how it was possible, since it was garrisoned? He desired they would leave the Management of it to him, and he would undertake to make them Masters of it. They began now to conceive so high an Opinion of his Conduct, as well as Courage, that they thought nothing impossible to him, therefore they agreed to obey him, without enquiring further into his Design.

Having come within Sight of the Place, he ordered all his Men under Deck, except as many as were absolutely necessary for working the Ship, that those from the Fort seeing a Ship with so few Hands, might have no Suspicion of her being any other than a trading Vessel; then he ran close under the Fort, and there cast Anchor; and having ordered out the Boat, he commanded six Men in her, in old ordinary Jackets, while he himself, with the Master and Doctor, dressed themselves like Gentlemen; his Design being, that the Men should look like common Sailors, and they like Merchants. In rowing ashore he gave his Men Instructions what to say in Case any Questions should be asked them.

Being come to the landing Place, he was received by a File of Musqueteers, and conducted into the Fort, where the Governor accosting them civilly, ask'd them who they were, and whence they came? They answered they were of Liverpool, bound for the River of Sinnegal, to trade for Gum and Elephants Teeth, but that they were chaced on that Coast by two French Men of War, and narrowly escaped being taken, having a little the Heels of them; but now they were resolved to make the best of a bad Market, and would Trade here for Slaves; then the Governor ask'd them, what was the chief of their Cargo? They answered, Iron and Plate, which were good Things there; the Governor told them he would Slave them to the full Value of their Cargoe, and asked them, if they had any European Liquor on Board? they answered, a little for their own Use; however, a Hamper should be at his Service. The Governor then very civilly invited them all to stay and dine with him; Davis told him, that being Commander of the Ship, he must go on Board to see her well moored, and give some other Orders, but those two Gentlemen might stay, and that he himself would also return before Dinner, and bring the Hamper of Liquor with him.

While he was in the Fort, his Eyes were very busy in observing how Things lay; he took Notice there was a Centry at the Entrance, and a Guard-House just by it, where the Soldiers upon Duty commonly waited, their Arms standing in a Corner, in a Heap; he saw also a great many small Arms in the Governor's Hall; now when he came on Board, he assured his Men of Success, defiring them not to get drunk, and that as soon as they saw the Flag upon the Castle struck, they might conclude he was Master, and send twenty Hands immediately ashore; in the mean Time, there being a Sloop at Anchor near them, he sent some Hands in a Boat, to secure the Master and all the Men, and bring them on Board of him, least they observing any Bustle or arming in his Ship, might send ashore and give Intelligence.

These Precautions being taken, he ordered his Men, who were to go in the Boat with him, to put two Pair of Pistols each under their Cloaths, he doing the like himself, and gave them Directions to go into the Guard-Room, and to enter into Conversation with the Soldiers, and observe when he should fire a Pistol thro’ the Governor's Window, to start up at once and secure the Arms in the Guard-Room.

When Davis arrived, Dinner not being ready, the Governor proposed that they should pass their Time in making a Bowl of Punch till Dinner-Time: It must be observed, that Davis's Coxen waited upon them, who had an Opportunity of going about all Parts of the House, to see what Strength they had, he whispered Davis, there being no Person then in the Room, but he, (Davis) the Master, the Doctor, the Coxen and Governor; Davis on a sudden drew out a Pistol, clapt it to the Governor's Breast, telling him, he must surrender the Fort and all the Riches in it, or he was a dead Man. The Governor being no Ways prepared for such an Attack, promised to be very Passive, and do all they desired, therefore they shut the Door, took down all the Arms that hung in the Hall, and loaded them. Davis fires his Pistol thro’ the Window, upon which his Men, without, executed their Part of the Scheme, like Heroes, in an Instant; getting betwixt the Soldiers and their Arms, all with their Pistols cock'd in their Hands, while one of them carried the Arms out. When this was done, they locked the Soldiers into the Guard-Room, and kept Guard without.

In the mean Time one of them struck the Union Flag on the Top of the Castle, at which Signal those on Board sent on Shore a Reinforcement of Hands, and they got Possession of the Fort without the least Hurry or Confusion, or so much as a Man lost of either Side.

Davis harangued the Soldiers, upon which a great many of them took on with him, those who refused, he sent on Board the little Sloop, and because he would not be at the Trouble of a Guard for them, he ordered all the Sails and Cables out of her, which might hinder them from attempting to get away.

This Day was spent in a kind of Rejoycing, the Castle firing her Guns to salute the Ship, and the Ship the Castle; but the next Day they minded their Business, that is, they fell to plundering, but they sound Things fall vastly short of their Expectation; for they discovered, that a great deal of Money had been lately sent away; however, they met with the Value of about two thousand Pounds Sterling in Bar Gold, and a great many other rich Effects: Every Thing they liked, which was portable, they brought aboard their Ship; some Things which they had no Use for, they were so generous to make a Present of, to the Master and Crew of the little Sloop, to whom they also returned his Vessel again, and then they fell to work in dismounting the Guns, and demolishing the Fortifications.

After they had done as much Mischief as they could, and were weighing Anchor to be gone, they spy'd a Ship bearing down upon them in full Sail; they soon got their Anchor's up, and were in a Readiness to receive her. This Ship prov'd to be a FrenchPyrate of fourteen Guns and sixty four Hands, half French, half Negroes; the Captain's Name was La Bouse; he expected no less than a rich Prize, which made him so eager in the Chace; but when he came near enough to see their Guns, and the Number of their Hands upon Deck, he began to think he should catch a Tartar, and supposed her to be a small English Man of War; however, since there was no escaping, he resolved to do a bold and desperate Action, which was to board Davis. As he was making towards her, for this Purpose, he fired a Gun, and hoisted his black Colours; Davis returned the Salute, and hoisted his black Colours also. The French Man was not a little pleased at this happy Mistake; they both hoisted out their Boats, and the Captains went to meet and congratulate one another with a Flag of Truce in their Sterns; a great many Civilities passed between them, and La Bouse desired Davis, that they might sail down the Coast together, that he (La Bouse) might get a better Ship: Davis agreed to it, and very courteously promised him the first Ship he took, fit for his Use, he would give him, as being willing to encourage a willing Brother.

The first Place they touch'd at, was Sierraleon, where at first going in, they spied a tall Ship at Anchor; Davis being the best Sailor first came up with her, and wondering that she did not try to make off, suspected her to be a Ship of Force. As soon as he came along Side of her, she brought a Spring upon her Cable, and fired a whole Broadside upon Davis, at the same Time hoisted a black Flag; Davis hoisted his black Flag in like Manner, and fired one Gun to Leeward.

In fine, she proved to be a Pyrate Ship of twenty four Guns, commanded by one Cocklyn, who expecting these two would prove Prizes, let them come in, least his getting under Sail might frighten them away.

This Satisfaction was great on all Sides, at this Junction of Confederates and Brethren in Iniquity; two Days they spent in improving their Acquaintance and Friendship, the third Day Davis and Cocklyn, agreed to go in La Bouse's Brigantine and attack the Fort; they contrived it so, as to get up thither by high Water; those in the Fort suspected them to be what they really were, and therefore stood upon their Detence; when the Brigantine came within Musket-Shot, the Fort fired all their Guns upon her, the Brigantine did the like upon the Fort, and so held each other in Play for several Hours, when the two confederate Ships were come up to the Assistance of the Brigantine; those who defended the Fort, seeing such a Number of Hands on Board these Ships, had not the Courage to stand it any longer, but abandoning the Fort, left it to the Mercy of the Pyrates.

They took Possession of it, and continued there near seven Weeks, in which Time they all cleaned their Ships. We should have observed, that a Galley came into the Road while they were there, which Davis insisted should be yielded to La Bouse, according to his Word of Honour before given; Cocklyn did not oppose it, so La Bouse went into her, with his Crew, and cutting away her half Deck, mounted her with twenty four Guns.

Having called a Counsel of War, they agreed to sail down the Coast together, and for the greater Grandeur, appointed a Commadore, which was Davis; but they had not kept Company long, when drinking together on Board of Davis, they had like to have fallen together by the Ears, the strong Liquor stirring up a Spirit of Discord among them, and they quarrelled, but Davis put an End to it, by this short Speech:—— Heark ye, you Cocklin and La Bouse, I find by strengthening you, I have put a Rod into your Hands to whip my self, but I'm still able to deal with you both; but since we met in Love, let us part in Love, for I find, that three of a Trade can never agree. —— Upon which the other two went on Board their respective Ships, and immediately parted, each steering a different Course.

Davis held on his Way down the Coast, and making Cape Appollonia, he met with two Scotch and one English Vessel, which he plundered, and then let go. About five Days after he fell in with a Dutch Interloper of thirty Guns and ninety Men, (half being English,) off Cape Three Points Bay; Davis coming up along Side of her, the Dutch Man gave the first Fire, and pouring in a broad-Side upon Davis, killed nine of his Men, Davis returned it, and a very hot Engagement followed, which lasted from one a Clock at Noon, till nine next Morning, when the Dutch Man struck, and yielded her self their Prize.

Davis fitted up the Dutch Ship for his own Use, and called her the Rover, aboard of which he mounted thirty two Guns, and twenty seven Swivels, and proceeded with her and the King James, to Anamaboe; he entered the Bay betwixt the Hours of twelve and one at Noon, and found there three Ships lying at Anchor, who were trading for Negroes, Gold and Teeth: The Names of these Ships were the Hink Pink, Captain Hall Commander, the Princess, Captain Plumb, of which Roberts, who will make a considerable Figure in the sequel of this History, was second Mate, and the Morrice Sloop, Captain Fin; he takes these Ships without any Resistance, and having plundered them, he makes a Present of one of them, viz. the Morrice Sloop, to the Dutch Men, on Board of which alone were found a hundred and forty Negroes, besides dry Goods, and a considerable Quantity of Gold-Dust.

It happened there were several Canoes along Side of this last, when Davis came in, who saved themselves and got ashore; these gave Notice at the Fort, that these Ships were Pyrates, upon which the Fort fired upon them, but without any Execution, for their Mettle was not of Weight enough to reach them; Davis therefore, by Way of Defiance, hoisted his black Flag and returned their Compliment.

The same Day he sail'd with his three Ships, making his Way down the Coast towards Princes, a Portuguese Colony: But, before we proceed any farther in Davis's Story, we shall give our Reader an Account of the Portuguese Settlements on this Coast, with other curious Remarks, as they were communicated to me by an ingenious Gentleman, lately arved from those Parts.


Last updated Friday, March 14, 2014 at 21:28