Bonnet set sail for Nassau, Bahamas, to the haven for pirates known as the "pirates' republic", but he was seriously wounded en route during an encounter with a Spanish warship. After arriving in Nassau, Bonnet met Edward Teach, the infamous pirate Blackbeard. Incapable of leading his crew, Bonnet temporarily ceded his ship's command to Blackbeard. Before separating in December 1717, Blackbeard and Bonnet plundered and captured merchant ships along the East Coast. After Bonnet failed to capture the Protestant Caesar, his crew abandoned him to join Blackbeard aboard the Queen Anne's Revenge. Bonnet stayed on Blackbeard's ship as a guest, and did not command a crew again until summer 1718, when he was pardoned by North Carolina governor Charles Eden and received clearance to go privateering against Spanish shipping. Bonnet was tempted to resume his piracy, but did not want to lose his pardon, so he adopted the alias "Captain Thomas" and changed his ship's name to Royal James. He had returned to piracy by July 1718.
In August 1718, Bonnet anchored the Royal James on an estuary of the Cape Fear River to careen and repair the ship. In late August and September, Colonel William Rhett, with the authorization of South Carolina governor Robert Johnson, led a naval expedition against pirates on the river. Rhett and Bonnet's men fought each other for hours, but the outnumbered pirates ultimately surrendered. Rhett arrested the pirates and brought them to Charles Town in early October. Bonnet escaped on 24 October, but was recaptured on Sullivan's Island. On 10 November, Bonnet was brought to trial and charged with two acts of piracy. Judge Nicholas Trott sentenced Bonnet to death. Bonnet wrote to Governor Johnson to ask for clemency, but Johnson endorsed the judge's decision, and Bonnet was hanged in Charles Town on 10 December 1718.
The actual degree of authority any pirate captain exercised over his crew was questionable, as he had no access to the procedures and sanctions of admiralty law that supported government captains. Many pirate captains were elected by their crews and could be deposed in the same manner. Because of his ignorance of nautical matters, Bonnet was in an even weaker position than other pirate captains, as is demonstrated by the utter domination Blackbeard exercised over him during their collaboration. During Bonnet's early career, his crew seems to have been less than loyal to him and to have greatly preferred the more charismatic and experienced Blackbeard.
At his trial, Bonnet downplayed his own authority over his pirate crew. He told the court that his crew engaged in piracy against his will, and said he had warned them that he would leave the crew unless they stopped robbing vessels. He further stated that he had been asleep during the capture of the sloop Francis. The court did not accept these protestations. Boatswain Ignatius Pell testified that Bonnet's quartermaster, Robert Tucker, had more power than Bonnet. A powerful quartermaster appears to have been a common feature of pirate crews in the early modern era.
Nevertheless, Bonnet's crew represented him as being a leader, and it appears likely that, after his rescue of Blackbeard's marooned crewmen, he became at least a co-equal commander aboard the Royal James. He appears to have been entrusted with the company's treasure, and made most major command decisions such as the direction of the ship and what vessels to attack. Most significantly, at Delaware Bay he ordered two of his crew to be flogged for breaches of discipline. Pirates did not lightly submit to flogging, as they resented the frequent use of this punishment in the naval and merchant services from which most of them came, and thus only a leader who commanded the obedience of his crew could successfully order such penalties.
Bonnet's Pirate FlagEditBonnet's flag is traditionally represented as a white skull above a horizontal long bone between a heart and a dagger, all on a black field. Despite the frequent appearance of this flag in modern pirate literature, no known early-Georgian period source describes any such device, much less attributes it to Bonnet. This version of Bonnet's flag is probably one of a number of pirate flags appearing on an undated manuscript with unknown provenance in Britain's National Maritime Museum, which was donated by Dr. Philip Gosse in 1939. Bonnet's crew and contemporaries generally referred to him flying a "bloody flag", which likely means a dark red flag. There is also a report from the 1718 Boston News-Letterof Bonnet flying a death's-head flag during his pursuit of the Protestant Caesar, with no mention of color or of any long bone, heart, or dagger.
Walking the PlankEdit
Bonnet is alleged to have been one of the few pirates to make his prisoners walk the plank. No contemporary source makes any mention of Bonnet forcing prisoners to walk the plank, and modern scholars such as Marcus Rediker, Professor of History at the University of Pittsburgh, generally agree that the whole concept of pirates forcing prisoners to walk the plank belongs to a later age than Bonnet's.
Popular CultureEditBonnet has been portrayed several times in literature. He is a major character in Tim Powers' On Stranger Tides, along with other famous piratical characters, particularly Blackbeard. In this novel, Bonnet takes up piracy after having been framed by Blackbeard, who has used Bonnet's hatred for his wife (only married two years in the novel) against him. Kate Bonnet: The Romance of a Pirate's Daughter, by 19th century author Frank Stockton, is a satirical novel relating the adventures of a fictional daughter of Bonnet named Kate. Portrayals of Bonnet also extend to video games, such as Sid Meier's Pirates! and Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag. A plaque commemorating Bonnet stands near Bonnet's Creek in Southport, North Carolina, on the Cape Fear River. The Yacht Basin Provision Company also holds an annual Stede Bonnet Regatta near Southport, commemorating the infamous pirate's dash for the ocean.