A General History of the Pyrates, by Daniel Defoe

Chap. VII.

Of Captain John Rackam, And his Crew.

RACKAM's beginning as a Pyrate. An Account of Prizes taken by him. Is attack'd by a Spanish Guard Ship. His Stratagem to escape. More Prizes taken by him. Is taken, and how. Tried, condemned, and executed at Jamaica. The Names of his Crew condemn'd with him. An extraordinary Case of nine taken with him. Some Account of the Proceedings against them.

THIS John Rackam, as has been mentioned in the last Chapter, was Quarter-Master to Vane's Company, till they were divided, and Vane turned out for refusing to board and fight the French Man of War; then Rackam was voted Captain of that Division that remained in the Brigantine. The 24th of November 1718, was the first Day of his Command, and his first Cruize was among the Caribbee Islands, where he took and plunder'd several Vessels.

We have already taken Notice, that when Captain Woodes Rogers went to the Island of Providence, with the King's Pardon to such as should surrender, this Brigantine, which Rackam now commanded, made its Escape, thro’ another Passage, bidding Defiance to Mercy.

To Windward of Jamaica, a Madera Man fell into the Pyrates Way, which they detained two or three Days, till they had made their Market out of her, and then gave her back to the Master, and permitted one Hosea Tisdell, a Tavern-Keeper at Jamaica, who had been pick'd up in one of their Prizes, to depart in her, she being then bound for that Island.

After this Cruize, they went into a small Island and cleaned, and spent their Christmas ashore, drinking and carousing as long as they had any Liquor left, and then went to Sea again for more, where they succeeded but too well, though they took no extraordinary Prize, for above two Months, except a Ship laden with Thieves from Newgate, bound for the Plantations, which, in a few Days, was retaken with all her Cargo, by an English Man of War.

Rackam stood off towards the Island of Burmudas, and took a Ship bound to England from Carolina, and a small Pink from New-England, and brought them to the Bahama Islands, where with the Pitch, Tar, and Stores, they clean'd again, and refitted their own Vessel; but staying too long in that Neighbourhood, Captain Rogers, who was Governor of Providence, hearing of these Ships being taken, sent out a Sloop well mann'd and arm'd, which retook both the Prizes, and in the mean while the Pyrate had the good Fortune to escape.

From hence they sailed to the Back of Cuba, where Rackam kept a little kind of a Family, at which Place, they staid a considerable Time, living ashore with their Dalilahs, till their Money and Provision were expended, and then they concluded it Time to look out: They repaired to their Vessel, and was making ready to put Sea, when a Guarda del Costa came in with a small English Sloop, which she had taken as an Interloper on the Coast. The Spanish Guardship attack'd the Pyrate, but Rackam being close in behind a little Island, she could do but little Execution where she lay, therefore the Spaniard warps into the Channel that Evening, in order to make sure of her the next Morning.

Rackam finding his Case desperate, and hardly any Possibility of escaping, resolved to attempt the following Enterprize: The Spanish Prize lying for better Security close into the Land, between the little Island and the Main; Rackam takes his Crew into the Boat, with their Pistols and Cutlashes, rounds the little Island, and falls aboard their Prize silently in the dead of the Night, without being discovered, telling the Spaniards that were aboard of her, that if they spoke a Word, or made the least Noise, they were dead Men, and so became Master of her; when this was done, he slipt her Cable, and drove out to Sea: The Spanish Man of War, was so intent upon their expected Prize, that they minded nothing else, and assoon as Day broke, made a furious Fire upon the empty Sloop, but it was not long before they were rightly apprized of the Matter, and cursed themselves for Fools, to be bit out of a good rich Prize, as she prov'd to be, and to have nothing but an old crazy Hull in the room of her.

Rackam and his Crew had no Occasion to be displeased at the Exchange, that enabled them to continue some Time longer in a Way of Life that suited their depraved Tempers: In August 1720, we find him at Sea again, scouring the Harbours and Inlets of the North and West Parts of Jamaica, where he took several small Crast, which proved no great Booty to the Rovers, but they had but few Men, and therefore they were obliged to run at low Game, till they could encrease their Company.

In the Beginning of September, they took seven or eight Fishing-Boats in Harbour Island, stole their Nets and other Tackle, and then went off the French Part of Hispaniola, and landed, and took Cattle away, with two or three French Men they found near the Water-Side, hunting of wild Hogs in the Evening: The French Men came on Board, whether by Consent or Compulsion, I can't say. They afterwards plundered two Sloops, and returned to Jamaica, on the North Coast of which Island, near Porto Maria Bay, they took a Scooner, Thomas Spenlow Master; it was then the 19th of October. The next Day, Rackam seeing a Sloop in Dry Harbour Bay, he stood in and fired a Gun; the Men all run ashore, and he took the Sloop and Lading, but when those ashore found them to be Pyrates, they hailed the Sloop, and let them know they were all willing to come aboard of them.

Rackam's coasting the Island in this Manner, proved fatal to him, for Intelligence came to the Governor, of his Expedition, by a Canoa which he had surprized ashore, in Ocho Bay; upon which a Sloop was immediately fitted out, and sent round the Island in quest of him, commanded by Captain Barnet, with a good Number of Hands. Rackam rounding the Island, and drawing near the Westermost Point, called Point Negril, saw a small Pettiauger, which at sight of the Sloop, run ashore and landed her Men; when one of them hailed her, Answer was made, They were English Men, and desired the Pettiauger's Men to come on Board, and drink a Bowl of Punch, which they were prevailed upon to do; accordingly the Company came all aboard of the Pyrate, consisting of nine Persons, in an ill Hour; they were armed with Muskets and Cutlashes, but, what was their real Design by so doing, I shall not take upon me to say; but they had no sooner laid down their Arms, and taken up their Pipes, but Barnet's Sloop, which was in Pursuit of Rackam's, came in Sight.

The Pyrates finding she stood directly towards her, fear'd the Event, and weighed their Anchor, which they but lately let go, and stood off: Captain Barnet gave them Chace, and having the Advantage of little Breezes of Wind, which blew off the Land, came up with her, and, after a very small Dispute, took her, and brought her into Port Royal, in Jamaica.

In about a Fortnight after the Prisoners were brought ashore, viz. November 16, 1720, a Court of Admiralty was held at St. Jago de la Vega, before which the following Persons were convicted, and Sentence of Death passed upon them, by the President, Sir Nicholas Laws, viz. John Rackam Captain, George Fetherston Master, Richard Corner Quarter-Master, John Davis, John Howell, Patrick Carty, Thomas Earl, James Dobbin and Noah Harwood. The five first were executed the next Day at Gallows Point, at the Town of Port Royal, and the rest, the Day after, at Kingston; Rackam, Feverston and Corner, were afterwards taken down and hang'd up in Chains, one at Plumb Point, one at Bush Key, and the other at Gun Key.

But what was very surprizing, was, the Conviction of the nine Men that came aboard the Sloop the same Day she was taken. They were try'd at an Adjournment of the Court, on the 24th of January, waiting all that Time, it is supposed, for Evidence, to prove the pyratical Intention of going aboard the said Sloop; for it seems there was no Act of Pyracy committed by them, after their coming on Board, as appeared by the Witnesses against them, who were two French Men taken by Rackam, off from the Island of Hispaniola, and deposed in the following Manner.

‘That the Prisoners at the Bar, viz. John Eaton, Edward Warner, Thomas Baker, Thomas Quick, John Cole, Benjamin Palmer, Walter Rouse, John Hanson, and John Howard, came aboard the Pyrate's Sloop at Negril Point, Rackam sending his Canoe ashore for that Purpose: That they brought Guns and Cutlashes on Board with them: That when Captain Barnet chased them, some were drinking, and others walking the Deck: That there was a great Gun and a small Arm fired by the Pyrate Sloop, at Captain Barnet's Sloop, when he chased her; and that when Captain Barnet's Sloop fired at Rackam's Sloop, the Prisoners at the Bar went down under Deck. That during the Time Captain Barnet chased them, some of the Prisoners at the Bar (but which of them he could not tell) helped to row the Sloop, in order to escape from Barnet: That they all seemed to be consorted together.

This was the Substance of all that was evidenced against them, the Prisoners answered in their Defence, ‘That they had no Witnesses: That they had bought a Pettiauger in order to go a Turtleing; and being at Negril Point, and just got ashore, they saw a Sloop with a white Pendant coming towards them, upon which they took their Arms, and hid themselves in the Bushes: That one of them hail'd the Sloop, who answer'd, They were English Men, and desired them to come aboard and drink a Bowl of Punch; which they at first refused, but afterwards with much perswasion, they went on Board, in the Sloop's Canoe, and left their own Pettiauger at Anchor: That they had been but a short Time on Board, when Captain Barnet's Sloop heaved in Sight: That Rackam ordered them to help to weigh the Sloop's Anchor immediately, which they all refused: That Rackam used violent Means to oblige them; and that when Captain Barnet came up with them, they all readily and willingly submitted.

When the Prisoners were taken from the Bar, and the Persons present being withdrawn, the Court considered the Prisoners Cases, and the Majority of the Commissioners being of Opinion, that they were all Guilty of the Pyracy and Felonly they were charged with, which was, the going over with a pyratical and felonious Intent to John Rackam, &c. then notorious Pyrates, and by them known to be so, they all received Sentence of Death; which every Body must allow proved somewhat unlucky to the poor Fellows.

On the 17th of February, John Eaton, Thomas Quick and Thomas Baker, were executed at Gallows Point, at Port Royal, and the next Day John Cole, John Howard and Benjamin Palmer, were executed at Kingston; whether the other three were executed afterwards, or not, I never heard.

Two other Pyrates were try'd that belonged to Rackam's Crew, and being convicted, were brought up, and asked if either of them had any Thing to say why Sentence of Death should not pass upon them, in like Manner as had been done to all the rest; and both of them pleaded their Bellies, being quick with Child, and pray'd that Execution might be stay'd, whereupon the Court passed Sentence, as in Cases of Pyracy, but ordered them back, till a proper Jury should be appointed to enquire into the Matter.


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