24 April 2018

P is for PIRATE...starting an occasional series about... pirates

Tuesday Talk with Helen Hollick 


(Spoiler alert.) When the TV drama series Black Sails killed Charles Vane off (played by New York born actor Zach McGowan) there was an outcry from the show’s fans. Which is a little baffling as the real Charles Vane (played by himself) was hanged in  1720 or 1721, so his death was not exactly a secret or a surprise.

Born between 1680 – 1690, Vane was an English pirate who terrorised the Caribbean from 1716 to 1719. He had a notoriously violent career and reputation.

With no documented evidence for his early life it can only be speculated that Vane served somewhere as a seaman where he gained knowledge and experience. He is first recorded as sailing with Henry Jennings and Samuel Bellamy. These men had amassed a fortune and Nassau was, then, a safe harbour for ne’er-do-wells so Vane and his colleagues probably lived a relative life of luxury with money enough to spend on wine, women and song (perhaps not the song?)

engraving of Charles Vane
Vane plundered ships throughout the West Indies bringing trade almost to its knees. By April 1718 he had a small fleet under his command with men such as Edward England and Jack Rackham (better known as Calico Jack) serving as crew. In that April he took twelve vessels as Prize, treating the captured crews with horrific cruelty. Vane brutally tortured his victims, making them tell where the valuable cargo was hidden. He worked to his own rules, stole from his crew and committed acts of violence towards them.

When he captured a ship he would often abandon the previous vessel and exchange it for the new one, calling most of them Ranger. In July 1718 he took a twenty-gun French sloop and returned to Nassau, took possession of the town and hoisted his colours above the dilapidated fort. His ruling authority was short lived. Enter Governor Woodes Rogers who had sailed heavily armed from England with a Royal Navy escort to put an end to pirates like Vane by offering an amnesty to all who agreed to give up the piratical life, although it is doubtful that he expected the likes of Vane and Edward Teach (Blackbeard) to surrender to a life of peace. Charles Vane certainly had no intention of doing so - he fled Nassau. But he seems to have had a plan to retake what had, before Rogers' arrival been a pirate haven, for in October he met with Blackbeard on the Ocracoke Island off the coast of North Carolina where they held a week-long highly inebriated party with Vane attempting to persuade Blackbeard to join his retaliatory enterprise. Blackbeard refused, and within a month he was dead, attacked by a Navy crew sent at the express orders of Governor Spotswood of Virginia.

By February 1719, Vane was hunting in the waters around the coastline of New York, where he and the crew encountered what turned out to be a French warship which Vane considered to outgun and outmatch his own vessel, so he called off the Chase. Much to the annoyance of his crew. Led by Rackham, they deposed Vane and sent him off in one of the smaller boats with the fifteen men who remained loyal to him.

With his luck running out, in March 1719 his ship was wrecked and with only one other survivor, Vane found himself marooned on an uninhabited island in the Bay of Honduras. They were to be there for several months. When a ship did come by, under the command of  Captain Holford, he recognised Vane and chose to leave him where he was. A second ship came by and this time, not being recognised, Vane and his fellow maroonee were taken aboard as foremast jacks. Vane’s cache of luck had completely emptied though, for this captain met up with Holford who spotted Vane and spilt the beans. Vane was instantly arrested.

Holford handed Vane over to the British authorities at Port Royal, Jamaica where he was tried, found guilty, and sentenced to hang. He was executed at Gallows Point in Port Royal not expressing any remorse or regret.

The dates for his death vary between March 1720 and March 1721, whatever the correct date, his corpse was left to rot in an iron gibbet next to Jack Rackham’s remains, who was hanged in November 1720. Given that the area quickly came to be known as ‘Rackham’s Cay’ I would hazard a guess that Rackham was executed first, and Vane followed in 1721, whatever the date, I do not feel sorry for the man.

* * * 
Charles Vane appears as a member of Henry Jennings crew in my novella 
When the Mermaid Sings - a prequel story to my Sea Witch Voyages.

Purchase from Amazon
Jesamiah Acorne is still a young lad in his late teens, serving as crew aboard Mermaid, He has been asleep after a night of celebration...

A sound woke Jesamiah. He opened his eyes, narrowed them as a wave of outrage swept through him and he scrambled to his feet.
“Oi! You! Piss over the side, not on our deck. Or do it aboard your own bloody ship!”
The man, continuing to stream his urine onto Mermaid’s deck, glowered over his shoulder, his features contorted in contempt. “I’ll piss where I want t’piss, boy.” The insult stung, for the culprit was only about three years Jesamiah’s senior.
“Not on this vessel you won’t, boy,” Jesamiah retorted, his fists bunching at his sides.
Finished, Charles Vane buttoned his ragged and stained breeches and turned towards Jesamiah. Folding his arms, his head on one side, his sneer was as nasty as a murderer’s grin.
“So what are you goin’ t’do about it?”
Jesamiah moved fast. Taking Vane completely by surprise, he cannoned into him, shoulder first, knocking him off balance and to one knee. Vane twisted around, a knife coming into his hand, a snarl leaving his lips, but Jesamiah had anticipated the move, kicked out and caught Vane’s jaw, sending him sprawling into the puddle of urine. Not giving ground, Jesamiah knelt on him, pinning him down, riding out Vane’s anger and his attempts to buck his opponent off. They were evenly matched; similar age, height and build, but there the likeness ended. Vane enjoyed brutality. He delighted in the power he held over others and in delivering pain and terror to those who could not fight back. Jesamiah knew his sort. He had lived with the cruelties of his half-brother for just under fifteen years. 
“You are a guest here,” Jesamiah hissed as, one-handed, he tugged his blue ribbon free from his hair and, releasing the grasp he had on Vane’s collar, looped it around the man’s neck. “Add to that, I am no ‘boy’, and you will…adhere…to…our…rules.”
The ends of the ribbon held tight in each hand, Jesamiah crossed his arms at the elbow and steadily tightened the improvised garrotte with each enunciated word. Vane’s face was going puce-red, his eyes were bulging, his tongue was poking from between lips that were starting to bear a blue tinge. Jesamiah pressed his knee further into Vane’s spine, tightened his grip on the ribbon. A few more tugs would strangle the bastard, or one quick downward thrust with his knee could break the man’s back.
“Alright, lad, you’ve made your point. Let him go.” Henry Jennings’ voice from behind.
Jesamiah ignored him.
“I do not have so many skilled topmen that I can afford to lose one to your sense of justice, Acorne. Let him go. Or are you as callous a killer as is he?”

Does Jesamiah let Vane go.... read the book and find out!

purchase from Amazon
Charles Vane - A Reign of Terror is from Pirates: Truth and Tales
published by Amberley Press - available now

< my previous article .... 


  1. I love these true pirate tales - thank you for bringing these characters into life and reality

  2. Thank you Richard: Charles Vane will be returning to menace seafarers in the sixth voyage, Gallows Wake.


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