Historical tour of pirates, Cayman

With Pirates Week in full swing, the Caymanian Compass decided to take an historical account of piracy, pirates and privateers in the Cayman Islands. This is the fourth of a four-part series

Cayman pirates

Cayman pirates

In 1722 Captain Antis controlled the 16-gun sloop the Good Fortune with a pirate force of ’60 whites and 19 negroes.’

Earlier, he and his group had fallen in with the notorious pirate Bartholomew Roberts and had seized two vessels, the Morning Star and the Hamilton.

Antis was now holed up in amongst the Cays on the South Coast of Cuba trying to seek a pardon. They petitioned the Governor of Jamaica claiming Bartholomew Roberts had forced them into piracy.

For nine months the crew waited, apparently staging mock trials and showing contempt for the justice system, with the pirates taking turns being the accused and the accuser.

In August 1722 the pirates left the Cays to try to find out if their petition to the Governor had been accepted, however ‘by intolerable neglect, they ran the Morning Star aground at Grand Cayman and wrecked her.’ Captain Antis was in the Good Fortune and he managed to haul off away for the reefs in time.

The next day he anchored his vessel near the wreck site and determined that most of the crew had safely made it to shore.

However shortly thereafter he sighted two British Man-O-Wars on the horizon. He managed to get five of the Morning Star crew aboard his vessel including Captain Fenn and the Phillips the carpenter and he hastily sailed off to escape the navy ships. HMS Hector landed her men on Grand Cayman and rounded up 40 of the pirates. Some of the pirates hid in the woods and were apparently not discovered and another four, including the master George Bradley, later surrendered themselves to the crew of a Bermuda Sloop that visited Cayman.

In September 1722 John Evans and few others rode out in a canoe at night from Port Royal and stole off with a sloop belonging to a group from Bermuda. They mounted four guns on the vessel and re-named her the Scourer and set off looking for booty. Off Hispaniola they took a richly laden Spanish vessel and later they seized two other merchant ships, including the Dove which was heading to Jamaica from New England.

The pirates headed to Grand Cayman to careen their sloop, but on the way Captain Evans had a quarrel with his boatswain and they agreed to fight a duel. On arrival at Grand Cayman the men squared off and the boatswain shot Captain Evans in the head and killed him. According to the Historian Captain Johnson who was writing about the event just two years after it happened, the boatswain immediately jumped overboard after shooting the captain and swam ashore. It is strongly suspected that Boatswain Bay in West Bay is named after this man. The remaining pirates on board the vessel decided to break up and they went ashore in Grand Cayman and they divided up 9,000 pounds sterling between the 30 crew members.

It is believed that at least four of them, who said they were not voluntary pirates but forced into it, decided to settle in Cayman. Their names were William Porter, Joseph Hyndes, James Moore and Robert Saunders.

In 1723, Colonel Hope, the Lieutenant Governor of Bermuda was able to report that ‘a number of pirates had been captured from Camanos.’

In May, 1723, the Governor of Bermuda acknowledged there was ‘correspondence betwixt the pyrates and those people that go from hence (Bermuda) to those Islands’ (Cayman).

In 1731, the richly laden merchant ship the Genoesa wrecked on the Pedro Shoals, south of Jamaica. Neal Walker was hired by the ship’s agent to go looking for the Governor of Panama and other important dignatories who were on board the vessel when it wrecked and were believed to have survived, but were adrift somewhere on a raft. Contrary to his instructions Neal Walker ‘stopt at the wrack, fish’d up as considerable quantity of treasure which he carry’d with him and has not been heard of since.’

Some months later another vessel, the St. Michael wrecked in Little Cayman and Walker was again reportedly plundering away at this ship as well, taking away the cargo of wine brandy and silver and gold.

The agents for the appealed to the Colonial Administrators saying ‘we apprehend he conceals himself in some place near this island (Cayman) and probably if His Majesty’s most gracious pardon could be obtain’d for the said Neal Walker and his crew, upon their coming into port and delivering to your Petitioners for the benefit of His Catholick Majesty all the gold and silver plundered from the said wreck St. Michael, the said Neal Walker would readily embrace the said most gracious pardon, and thereby His Catholick Majesty might recover a considerable sum and this Island be free from the danger of the said Neal Walker if he should be driven to pursue his evil courses.’

Walker did send in a letter to the Jamaican Authorities and in it he admitted plundering the Genovesa. He confessed that he took more than 60,000 pieces of eight and then divided it equally between himself and his crew. He now ‘pray’d a pardon at Jamaica for their lives and would return to the King of Spain his Master everything that they had carry’d from the wreck of the said ship.’

In the Minutes of Council Governor Hunter responded that although the Spanish were anxious to recover their property, ‘he ought not be pardon’d because if his offence be piracy it must be of very ill consequence to pardon him, and not sufficiently deter others from committing the like crimes, and tend only to encourage pirates.’

In 1798 the Spanish Captain Don Juan Tirri forwarded an account about the Cayman Islands to the Governor of Cuba. He described Cayman as a ‘pirates nest’ and recommended that ‘Spain should seek its destruction.’

In 1812, Thomson’s updated version of Alcedo’s Geographical Dictionary described Cayman as ‘Inhabited by 160 people, who are descendants of the Old Buccaniers.’

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