24 April 2012

A College founded on Pirate Loot? Surely Not? (Part Three Tuesday Talk )

The Williamsburg, Virginia, College of 
William & Mary was founded on PIRATE LOOT – aaarrrgh!
              Buccaneers Davis, Wafer, Hingson 
& Dampier
& the Ship Bachelor's Delight

By John Fitzhugh Millar, 2010

Link here to Part One
Link here to Part Two :

19th century view of the Wren Building 
The judge at Jamestown was worried that if he tried the men as pirates and found them guilty other pirates might sail up the James River and destroy Jamestown. He therefore ignored the English constitution’s guarantee of a speedy trial, and left the men in jail for about three years. Eventually, their lawyer, a man named Perry, assisted by Virginia’s new Governor Francis Nicholson (in his first term), got them sprung from jail on a writ of habeas corpus (thank you, Charles II!). He was able to make a deal with the judge that they should be sent to London for trial. This was actually against the English Bill of Rights of 1689, which guaranteed trial in the closest courthouse to the arrest, but constitutional law was not a prominent field at that time.
   Captain Rowe and Admiral Holmes tried to gain possession of the loot, but managed only to confiscate a portion of it. Meanwhile, Cloise, who was the principal witness against them, had died. The three men sailed without escort or restraint to London aboard the merchant ship Effingham late in 1690, their good behaviour ensured by their loot being aboard a different ship. Once in London, the men were free on bail, but they still had to wait an unconscionably long time for their trial in 1692.
   The judge in London summed up at the end of the trial. He told the three men that he was convinced in his heart that they really were guilty as pirates, but he felt the prosecution had not made a proper case. He therefore offered them a plea bargain. If they were to offer King William and Queen Mary a large portion of their loot to be used for some charitable purpose, the court would exonerate them. The court’s offer was not far-fetched, since the crown had recently offered pardon to all English pirates who fulfilled certain conditions. The three men readily complied. The monarchs therefore issued this order: It is this day ordered in council that the money, plate, jewels and other goods belonging to said petitioners and seized by Captain Rowe, now lying in their Majesties’ warehouse or wherever, the same may be forthwith restored to the petitioners.

Mary and William
   The monarchs observed that these alleged pirates had been arrested in Virginia. A delegation from Virginia had recently petitioned the crown for financial assistance to establish a college there. Therefore, William and Mary concluded that the money should go to that college. The college was duly established in 1693, with a combination of the former pirate loot (the College’s portion came to about 1000 pounds, with a purchasing power of several million dollars in today’s money) and some of the Virginia quitrents collected by the crown.
   The college building was constructed of brick, supposedly to designs donated by Sir Christopher Wren, at the village of Middle Plantation, about six miles from Jamestown, and was named after the royal benefactors: the College of William & Mary. It was the second permanent college established in English America. Six years later, the village of Middle Plantation was greatly enlarged to make it into the new capital of Virginia, so they renamed it after King William: Williamsburg.    
   Governor Francis Nicholson, an amateur architect, devised the street plan and designed the Capitol building and the Governor’s Palace, and then redesigned the College after it had been destroyed by fire in 1705.
1702 - The earliest known drawing of the
Wren Building
 by Franz Ludwig Michel a Swiss traveller
   Unfortunately, no building at the College has ever been named in tribute to Davis, Wafer or Hingson, who had contributed (however reluctantly) a large proportion of the money used to found the College, nor is there any memorial (such as a social club) to the Batchelor's Delight [sic. Helen: It is worth mentioning here that the spelling sometimes differed - Bachelor's Delight / Batchelor's Delight, 18c scribes did not have modern dictionaries or spellcheckers!This oversight should surely be addressed. The only other American college with such an unusual source of original funding was Brown University at Providence, Rhode Island, founded in the 1760s entirely on the proceeds of rum-smuggling, but that is another story.
   Wafer, who was immune from further prosecution for his piratical voyage, wrote a book about some of his exploits and his observations of the Cuna Indians, A New Voyage & Description of the Isthmus of America, published in 1695. The rare book section of the College of William & Mary’s Earl Gregg Swem Library contains a first-edition copy. Anthropologists and naturalists today still find Wafer’s observations useful.
    Meanwhile, Dampier had finally returned from his harrowing voyage in 1691, so Wafer encouraged him to incorporate the story of the Bachelor's Delight into his new book, A New Voyage Round the World, published in 1697. The College of William & Mary also owns an early edition of that work. A miniature portrait of the ship Batchelor's Delight has been identified on an early eighteenth-century French map of the Americas, and another miniature portrait is on a period map of the Galapagos. Accurate depictions of specific pirate ships are extremely rare, which makes these two engravings all the more important.
   Wafer next stirred up enthusiasm in Scotland for founding a colony at Darien, Panama. The colony was not a success, but its very existence was a major cause of the parliaments of England and Scotland voting to merge into a single British parliament in 1707.

    Dampier made another voyage to Australia and New Guinea in 1699-1701 in command of the Royal Navy frigate Roebuck, and he returned with copious charts and information on the flora and fauna of the region. He went back to the West Coast of Latin America in 1703-1707 in command of the Royal Navy 26-gun frigate Saint George, accompanied by the 16-gun privateer Cinque Ports. This time, it was all legal, since England and Spain were officially at war – the same war in which England gained Gibraltar from Spain. During this voyage, the captain of Cinque Ports marooned crewman Alexander Selkirk on the island of Juan Fernandez off the coast of Chile, shortly before Cinque Ports sank with the loss of all hands; the pirates left there by the Bachelor's Delight in 1687 had meanwhile disappeared. Selkirk’s experience served as the model for Daniel Defoe’s The Life & Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, published in 1719. Dampier sailed around the world a fourth time in 1708-9 as navigator under the command of Woodes Rogers, on two privateer ships, Duke and Duchess, and Dampier managed to talk Rogers into picking up Selkirk to bring him back to England. Dampier introduced Selkirk to an excited Defoe. Woodes Rogers became Governor of Nassau in the Bahamas and was responsible for putting an end to piracy in that area of the Caribbean by enforcing an amnesty - and no quarter given to any pirate who did not accept it.

Woodes Rogers
   As for Davis, he returned to Jamaica shortly after Port Royal had been destroyed by a devastating earthquake in 1692, and fell into piracy again. Jamaica was no longer a haven for pirates, so he sailed into the Indian Ocean. While there, he encountered former shipmate James Kelley, who had rediscovered the Bachelor's Delight and been elected her new captain; Kelley had moved from Jamaica to Rhode Island, before sailing with a Rhode Island privateering commission to Madagascar. The Bachelor's Delight, under the command of George Raynor of New York, had previously arrived at Saint Mary’s Island (a pirate base just northeast of Madagascar, commanded by New Yorker “King” Adam Baldridge), after capturing a rich prize on the Red Sea that netted each man 1,100 pounds. She had presumably spent many of the intervening years based at Saint Mary’s (now called Ambodifotatra) and Fort Dauphin (now variously called Faradofay and Taolagnaro) at the southeast corner of Madagascar, and cruised among the Comoros Islands, the Seychelles, Reunion and Mauritius. Kelley and his crew, who were down to only twenty men by this time, were apprehended by Muslim thugs near present-day Mumbai, India. The torture they had to endure caused the death of several of them. The ship was confiscated, and disappeared from history at this point. A full-sized copy of the ship Bachelor's Delight is shortly going to be constructed in Canada for a sail-training operation (www.colonialnavy.org) based in Hampton Roads.
   Davis and Kelley therefore thought themselves lucky finally to fall in with Captain William Kidd in 1698 at Saint Mary’s Island. Kidd and his followers had decided to retire from piracy and return to normal life in Britain, but their luck had run out. Davis and Kelley would have been far better off if they had dropped in on Captain Giles Shelley of the 30-gun Nassau from New York, who returned home safely. Kidd and his men sailed the large ship San Antonio back to Lewes, Delaware and then on to Boston, where they were all arrested, shipped to England aboard the 48-gun Royal Navy cruiser Advice in 1700, tried and hanged. Kelley had enough time before his execution to write a memoir of his activities, which was published as A Full & True Discovery of all the Robberies, Pyracies & other Notorious Actions of that Famous English Pyrate, Captain James Kelley. In it, he revealed that he had used many aliases, including James Gilliam/Guillaume (apparently no relation to the Boston Captain Benjamin Gillam/Guillaume mentioned above), Sampson Marshall, and Gilliam/Guillaume Gabriel Loffe or Lawes. For some reason, Kelley’s entire piratical fortune ended in the hands of Rhode Island’s Governor Samuel Cranston, who was in the habit of passing out privateering commissions to any generous, would-be pirate who asked him.


John F Miller runs a superb B & B Newport House in Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia - worth a visit!
John and wife, Cathy
John is also connected with the building of a couple of replica ships - Rose, now known as HMS Surprise (yes, the one in the Master & Commander movie) and the Lady Washington - known to Jack Sparrow fans as Interceptor... 

Lady Washington

Interested in Nautical matter, especially nautical fiction? Why not come along to the London2012 Historical  Novel  Conference - and join us at The Captain's Table - our special Workshop group on All Things Nautical

Woodes Rogers and William Dampier both appear as characters in the first of my Sea Witch Voyages - details of the books here www.helenhollick.net

Fancy a trip to Colonial Williamsburg?
 I pop across quite often - via their webcam
 Don't forget UK people, Virginia is about 6 hours behind GMT 
at the time of writing this (10.30 a.m.)
 it is still night over there!

update addendum in comments below!


  1. John Millar has sent me an update on the story:-

    "Dear Helen,
    It now turns out that Davis was acquitted at the trial in London at which Kelley was found guilty. Davis returned to Hampton, Virginia. However, as soon as war was declared between England and Spain, he rushed down to the Caribbean, crossed over the Isthmus of Panama with a few friends, stole a ship, and sailed to Isla Coco, where he dug up the portion of the Batchelors Delight treasure he had buried several years earlier, and then returned to Hampton. After that, all records of him disappear, but I venture to suggest that the 1705 destruction of the College of William & Mary by fire would have caused the College authorities (there was no fire insurance in those days) to ask Davis to kick in a sum of money for the rebuilding, and I suspect that he did. The governor would naturally have also found a sum to add, and some of the local wealthy tobacco growers would also have added some to the pot."

    Thank you John!

  2. I have been researching Captain George Raynor and tbe Red Sea Pirates for 15 years. I know many of the crew of the Bachelor's Delight were scattered all along the coast of Colonial America where they settled as planters and merchants an d such. Captain Raynor settled at Johns Island SC and Charleston. He married Dorcas Davis. His daughter Mary wed King Roger Moore who along with his brothers relocated to the Cape Fear area of NC along witb brothers Maurice and Nathaniel. I am a Raynor and can trace my roots to NC only. How do you know Captain Raynor was from New York? My information shows he relocated to SC from Jamaica and brought many settlers. I have wondered if Our southern Raynors connect to the Raynors who originally settled Long Island. Could you provide me any information to sustantiate George Raynors NY origins. Many thanks. Betty Raynor-Davis siberianhuskies@ymail.com

    1. Thank you Betty for leaving a comment. I didn't write the piece, John F Millar did, so I can't answer your question, however, you can contact him via his website :


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