The History of the Pyrates, by Daniel Defoe

Of Captain William Fly, And his Crew.

AS to the Birth of this Pyrate, we can discover nothing by the Enquiries we have hitherto made; and, indeed, had we succeeded in our Search, could it have been of any great Consequence? For, its certain, by the Behaviour of the Man, he must have been of very obscure Parents; and, by his Education, (as he was no Artist) very unfit, in all Respects, except that of Cruelty, for the villainous Business he was in. We have been inform'd, that he had been a Pyrate in a private Capacity, and having escaped Justice, had an Opportunity of repenting his former Crimes, and, as a foremast Man, or petty Officer, of getting his Bread in a warrantable Way: But no; ignorant as he was of Letters, he was ambitious of Power, and capable of the most barbarous Actions to acquire it.

Captain Green of Bristol, in April 1726, shipp'd this Fly as Boatswain, at Jamaica, being bound, in the Elizabeth Snow of Bristol, for the Coast of

Guinea. Fly, who had insinuated himself with some of the Men, whom he found ripe for any Villainy, resolved to seize the said Snow, and murder the Captain and Mate, and, taking the Command on himself, turn Pyrate. He proposed this his Design to his Brothers in Iniquity, who approving it, he, having the Watch at one o’ Clock in the Morning, on the 27th Day of May, went up to one Morrice Cundon, then at the Helm, accompanied by Alexander Mitchel, Henry Hill, Samuel Cole, Thomas Winthrop, and other Conspirators, and swore damn him, if he spoke one Word, or stirr'd either Hand or Foot, he would blow his Brains out; and, tucking up his Shirt above his Elbow, with a Cutlass in his Hand, he, with Mitchel, went into the Captain's Cabbin, and told him, he must turn out. The Captain asking what was the Matter, was answered, by Mitchel, they had no Time to answer impertinent Questions; that if he would turn out, and go upon Deck quietly, it would save ’em the Trouble of scraping the Cabbin; if he would not, a few Buckets of Water and a Scraper would take his Blood out of the Decks. That they had chosen Captain Fly for Commander, and damn his Blood, they would allow of no other, and would not waste their Provisions to feed useless Men.

The Captain reply'd, that since they had so resolved he should make no Resistance; but begged they would not murder him, since his living could be no Obstacle to their Designs; that he had never been harsh to either of them, and therefore they could not kill him out of revenge; and if it was only for their Security, he desired, if they would not take his Word to do nothing to obstruct the Measures they had resolved on, they would secure him in Irons till he might be put somewhere on Shore. Ay, G— d d — mn ye, says Fly, to live and hang us, if we are ever taken: No, no, walk up and be damn'd, that Bite won't take, it has hanged many an honest Fellow already. Mitchel and Fly then laying hold of him, pulled him out of his Bed. The poor Captain intreating to spare his Life, for his Soul's sake, told ’em he would bind himself down by the most solemn Oaths, never to appear against them; that he was unfit to appear before the Judgment-Seat of a just and pure God; that he was loaded with Sins, and to take him off before he had washed those Stains which sullied his Soul by the Tears of Repentance, would be a Cruelty beyond Comparison greater than that of depriving him of Life, were he prepared for Death, since it would be, without any Offence committed against them, dooming him to eternal Misery; however, if they would not be perswaded that his Life was consistent with their Safety, he begg'd they would allow him some Time to prepare himself for the great Change. That he begg'd no other Mercy than what the Justice and Compassion of the Laws would allow them, should they hereafter be taken. D— n your Blood, said Mitchel, no Preaching. Be damn'd an you will, what's that to us? Let him look out who has the Watch. Upon Deck, you Dog, for me shall lose no more Time about you.

They hawl'd him into the Steerage, and forc'd him upon Deck, where one of the Hell-Hounds asked if he had rather take a Leap like a brave Fellow, or be to toss'd over like a sneaking Rascal. The Captain, addressing himself to Fly, said, Boatswain, for God's sake don't throw me overboard, if you do, I am for ever lost; Hell's the Portion of my Crimes. — Damn him answer'd Fly, since he's so devilish godly, we'll give him Time to say his Prayers, and I'll be Parson. Say after me. Lord, have Mercy on me. Short Prayers are best, so no more Words, and over with him, my Lads.

The Captain still cry'd for Mercy, and begg'd an Hour's respite only, but all in vain; he was seized by the Villains, and thrown over Board; catch'd however, and hung by the Main-Sheet, which Winthorp seeing, fetch'd the Cooper's broad Ax, and chopping off the unhappy Master's Hand, he was swallowed up by the Sea.

The Captain being thus dispatched, Thomas Jenkins, the Mate, was secured and brought upon Deck, to share the same cruel Fate. His Intreaties were as useless as the Captain's; the Sentence they had passed upon him was not to be reversed; they were deaf to his Prayers and Remonstrances, Strangers to Humanity and Compassion. He was of the Captain's Mess, they said, and they should e'en drink together; it was Pity to part good Company.

Thus they jested with his Agonies; he, however, made some Struggle, which irritating his Murderers, one of them snatched up the Ax, with which Winthorp had lopped off the Captain's Hand, and gave him a great Cut on the Shoulder, by missing his Head, where the Blow was aimed, and he was thrown into the Sea. He swam notwithstanding, and called out to the Doctor to throw him a Rope, who, poor Man, could not hear him, being secured, and laid in Irons in his own Cabin; and had he heard, and been able to have thrown the Rope required, could it be expcted that these harden'd Wretches would have relented, and shewn him Mercy? But the sinking Man will catch at a Straw, and Hope, they say, is the last that deserts us. While we have Life we are apt to flatter our selves, some lucky Accident may favour us.

It was next debated what should be done with the Doctor. Some were for sending him to look after the Captain and Mate, but the Majority, as he was a useful Man, thought it better to keep him. All obstacles being removed, Mitchel saluted Fly Captain, and, with the rest of the Crew who had been in the Conspiracy, with some Ceremony, gave him Possession of the great Cabin.

Here a Bowl of Punch being made, Morice Cundon was called down, and one John Fitzherbert set to the Helm in his Place. At the same Time the Carpenter and Thomas Streaton were brought before the Captain, who told them they were three Rascals, and richly deserved to be sent after the Captain and Mate, but that they were willing to to shew them Mercy, and not put them to Death in cold Blood, and he would therefore only put them in Irons, for the Security of the Ship's Crew; they were accordingly ordered out, and iron'd. Fly then told his Comrades it was convenient to resolve on some Course, when Word was brought them, that a Ship was very near them. The Council broke up, and made a clear Ship, when, in a very little while after, they found it was the Pompey, which had left Jamaica in Company with the Snow; the Pompey standing for the Snow, which did not make from her, soon haled, and asked how Captain Green did, and was answered by Fly, that he was very well. They did not think fit to attack this Ship, but returning to hold their Consultation, it was resolved to steer for North Carolina.

Upon their Arrival on that Coast they spied a Sloop at Anchor within the Bar; she was call'd the John and Hannah, and commanded by Captain Fulker, who thinking the Snow might want a Pilot stepp'd into his Boat with his Mate, Mr. Atkinson, and Mr. Roan, two Passengers, and a young

Lad, in order to bring her in. When they came on board, they were told, that the Snow was come with a Cargoe from Jamaica; Captain Fulker and Mr. Roan were desired to walk down to the Captain, who was in the Cabbin; Fly received them very civilly, ordered a Bowl of Punch, and hearing Captain Fulker had brought another Passenger on Board, Mr. Atkinson was also invited down.

The Punch being brought in, Captain Fly told his Guest, that he was no Man to mince Matters; that he and his Comrades were Gentlemen of Fortune, and should make bold to try if Captain Fulker's Sloop was a better Sailor than the Snow, if she was, she would prove much fitter for their Business, and they must have her: The Snow came to an Anchor about a League off the Sloop, and Fly ordered Fulker, with six of his own Hands, into the Boat, to bring her alongside of the Snow; but the Wind proving contrary, their Endeavours proved also vain, and they returned again in the Boat, bringing Captain Fulker back with them.

As soon as they came on board the Snow, Fly fell into a violent Passion, cursing and damning Fulker for not bringing off the Sloop; he gave him his Reason, and said, it was impossible. Damn ye, replied the Pyrate, you lie you Dog, but d — n my B— d, your Hide shall pay for your Roguery, and if I can't bring her off I'll burn her her where she lies. He then order'd Captain Fulker to the Geers; no Reason, no Arguments, could prevail; he was stripp'd and lash'd after a very inhuman Manner: And the Boat's Crew being sent again, with much ado carried her off as far as the Barr, where she bilged and sunk. The pyrates then endeavoured to set what remained of her out of Water on Fire, but they could not burn her.

The Snow getting under Sail to look out for some Booty, Fulker and the others desired they might be set at Liberty, but it was denied them for the present, tho’ not without a Promise that they should be released the first Vessel they took.

The fifth of June they left Carolina, and the next Day they spied a Sail, which prov'd the John and Betty, commanded by Capt. Gale, bound from Barbadoes to Guiney. Fly gave Chase, but finding the Ship wronged him, he made a Signal of Distress, hoisting his Jack at the main Top-Mast Head; but this Decoy did not hinder the Ship making the best of her Way. Fly continued the Chace all Night, and the Wind slackening, he came within Shot of the Ship, and fir'd several Guns at her under his black Ensign; the Ship being of no Force, and the pyrates ready to board, the Captain struck; and Fly manning his Long-Boat, which carried a Pateraro in the Bow, the Crew being well armed with Pistols and Cutlashes went on Board the Prize, and sent Capt. Gale, after having secured his Men, Prisoner on board the Snow.

This Prize was of little Value to the pyrates, who took nothing but some ‘Sail-Cloaths and small Arms, and after two Days let her go, but took away six of his Men,’ setting on board Capt. Fulker and a Passenger (Mr. Atkinson was detained) and Capt. Green's Surgeon; they kept this Gentleman, Mr. Atkinson, knowing he was a good Artist, and lately Master of the Boneta Brigantine, as a Pilot for the Coast of New England, which they were satisfied he was well acquainted with.

Upon Mr. Atkinson's desiring to have his Liberty with the others, Captain Fly made him the following Speech: Look ye, Captain Atkinson, it is

not that we care a T— d for your Company, G— d d — n ye; G— d d — n my Soul, not a T— d by G— d, and that's fair; but G— d d — n ye, and G— d's B— d and W— ds, if you don't act like an honest Man G— d d — n ye, and offer to play us any Rogues Tricks by G— d, and G— d sink me, but I'll blow your Brains out; G— d d — n me, if I don't. Now, Capt. Atkinson, you may do as you please, you may be a Son of a Whore and pilot us wrong, which, G— d d — n ye, would be a rascally Trick by G— d, because you would betray Men who trust in you; but, by the eternal J— s, you shan't live to see us hang'd. I don't love many Words, G— d d — n ye, if you have a Mind to be well used you shall, G— d's B— d; but if you will be a Villain and betray your Trust, may G— d strike me dead, and may I drink a Bowl of Brimstone and Fire with the D— l, if I don't send you head-long to H— ll, G— d d — n me; and so there needs no more Arguments by G— d, for I've told you my Mind, and here's all the Ships Crew for Witnesses, that if I do blow your Brains out, you may blame no Body but your self, G— d d — n ye.

Mr. Atkinson answered, it was very hard he should be forced to take upon him the Pilotage, when he did not pretend to know the Coast, and that his Life should answer for any Mistake his Ignorance of the Coast might make him guilty of, and therefore begg'd he might be set on board Capt. Gale; and that they would trust to their own Knowledge, since he did not doubt there being better Artists on Board. No, No, replied Fly, that won't do by G— d, your palavring won't save your Bacon. Muchas palabras no valen nada, as the Spaniards say; so either discharge your Trust like an honest Man, for go you shan't by G— d, or I'll send you with my Service to the D— l; so no more Words, G— d d — n ye.

There was no Reply made, and they stood for the Coast of New England; off Delaware's Bay they made a Sloop, commanded by one Harris, bound from New York to Pensilvania: She had on Board about fifty Passengers; Fly gave Chase, and coming up with her, hoisted his black Ensign, and ordered her to strike, which she immediately did; and Fly sent Capt. Atkinson on Board with three of his Hands, to sail her, tho’ he would not allow him, (Atkinson) any Arms: They, the pyrates, ransack'd this Prize, but not finding her of any Use to them, after a Detention of 24 Hours, they let her go, with her Men, excepting only a well made young Fellow, whose Name was James Benbrooke, whom they kept.

Fly, after having releas'd the Prize, ordered Captain Atkinson to carry the Snow into Martha's Vineyard, but, he willfully miss'd this Place. Fly finding himself beyond Nantuckets, and that his Design was baulk'd, called to Atkinson, and told him, he was a rascally Son of an envenom'd Bitch, and d — n his Blood it was a Piece of Cruelty to let such a Son of a Whore live, who design'd the Death of so many honest Fellows. Atkinson, in his Defence said, he never pretended to know the Coast, and that it was very hard he should die for being thought an abler Man than he really was; had he pretended to be their Pilot, and did not know his Business, he deserved Punishment; but when he was forc'd upon a Business which he before declared he did not understand, it would be certainly cruel to make him suffer for their Mistake. — G— d d — n ye, replied Fly, you are an obstinate Villain, and your Design is to hang us; but, B— d and W— ds you Dog, you shan't live to see it, and saying this, he ran into his Cabbin and fetch'd a Pistol with Design to shoot Atkinson; but by the Interposition of Mitchell, who thought him innocent of any Design, he escaped.

Atkinson, who perceived his Life every Minute in Danger, began to ingratiate himself with the pyrates, and gave them Hopes, that with good and gentle Usage, he might be brought to join them; this he did not say in express Terms, but by Words he now and then let drop, as by Accident: They were not a little rejoiced at the View of having so good an Artist to join them; nay, some of them hinted to him, that if he would take upon him the Command, they were ready to dispossess Capt. Fly, who carried his Command too high, and was known to all the Crew to be no Artist, and to understand nothing beyond the Business of a Boatswain. Atkinson thought it his Interest to keep them in the Opinion that he would join; but always declined hearing any Thing as to the Command.

This made him less severely us'd, and protected him from the Insults of Fly, who imagined he would betray them the first Opportunity, and therefore more than once proposed his being thrown over Board, which was never approved by the Snow's Company.

From Nantuket they stood to the Eastward, and off Brown's Bank made a Fishing Schooner. Fly coming up with her fired a Gun, and hoisting his black Ensign, swore, d — n his Blood, if they did not instantly bring to, and send their Boat on Board, he would sink her: The Schooner obeyed, and sent away her Boat on Board the Snow; he examined the Captain what Vessels were to be met with, and promised, if he could put him in the Way of meeting with a good Sailor, to let him go, and give him his Vessel, or he should otherwise keep her: The poor Man told him, he had a Companion which would soon be in Sight, and was a much better Vessel; accordingly about 12 at Noon the same Day, which was the 23d of June, the other Schooner hove in Sight; upon which, Fly mann'd this Prize with six pyrates, and a Prisoner nam'd George Tasker, and sent her in Chase, having himself on Board the Snow, no more than three pyrates, Captain Atkinson, (who had work'd himself into some Favour with him) and fifteen forced Men; but he took Care to have his Arms upon Deck by him.

The Men who had not taken on with Fly, were, Atkinson, Capt. Fulker's Mate, and two Youths belonging to him; the Carpenter and Gunner belonging formerly to Captain Green; six of Captain Gate's Men, and the aforesaid Benbrooke, who belonged to Captain Harris, with three of the Men out of the Schooner. Atkinson seeing the Prisoners and forced Men were five to one of the pyrates, thought of delivering himself from the Bondage he was in; and, as by good Luck, several other Fishing Vessels hove in Sight, right a-head of the Snow, he call'd to Captain Fly, and told him, he spied several other Vessels a-head, desiring, he would come forward and bring his Glass; Fly did so, and leaving his Arms on the Quarter-Deck, sat him on the Windlass to see if he could make what they were. Atkinson, who had concerted his Measures, with one Walker and the above-mention'd Benbrook, secured the Arms on the Quarter-Deck, and gave them a Signal to seize Fly, which they did, with very little Trouble, and after made themselves Masters of the other three pyrates and the Snow; the rest of the Prisoners, not knowing any Thing of, or what the Design might be, remaining altogether inactive, and brought the Snow and pyrates to Great Brewster, where a Guard was puton Board June 28, 1726.

Soon after, the said pyrates were brought to their Trial, that is, on the fourth of July following, before the Honourable William Dummer, Esq; Lieutenant Governor and Commander in chief, of the Province of Massachuset's Bay, President of the special Court of Admiralty, held at the Court-house of Boston, assisted by 18 Gentlemen of the Council, before whom they were found guilty of Murder and Pyracy, condemn'd to be executed, and accordingly were executed the 12th of July; Fly was order'd to be hang'd in Chains at the Entrance of the Harbour of Boston. Thus ended the short Reign of an obdurate Wretch, who only wanted Skill and Power to be as infamous as any who had scoured the Seas; the Names of the three pyrates, executed with him, were Samuel Cole, George Condick and Henry Greenvill.

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Last updated Friday, March 14, 2014 at 21:29