Of the origins of Charles Vane, the rashest member of
the Flying Gang, we know very little. Prior to going pirate
in 1715 or 1716, he was living in Port Royal, Jamaica,
although records of his trial indicate he was not from
there. He joined the crew of the privateer Henry
Jennings prior to his epic assault on the camp from
which the Spanish were attempting to salvage the
wrecks of the 1715 treasure fleet, and later became one
of the denizens of Nassau, where the Flying Gang
created its pirate republic.
Charles Vane, in an early 18th century engraving
made by an artist who had never seen him.
Vane was in Nassau when Vincent Pearse of HMS
Phoenix first confronted the pirates in February 1718,
and subsequently slipped out of the harbor with his own
band of pirates, first operating out of open boats. From
then on, Vane remained a thorn in the side of British
authorities attempting to subdue the Bahamas,
capturing their trading vessels and regularly returning to
Nassau to taunt them with his prizes.
By July, 1718, Vane had become the de facto leader of Nassau’s die-hard faction, the pirates who
did not wish to accept the king’s pardon and who wished to resist the arrival of would-be-governor
Woodes Rogers. Vane’s most infamous act came on the night of July 26, 1718, when he nearly
destroyed two of the naval frigates escorting Rogers into Nassau harbor. His pirate gang escaped
Nassau in a swift sloop and did their best to disrupt Rogers’ tenuous rule by raiding Bahamian
shipping while attempting to organize an invasion of the island. On August 30 he blockaded the port
of Charleston, South Carolina, capturing several vessels.
According to A General History of the Pirates, Vane tracked down Blackbeard, then living in
“retirement” in North Carolina, probably in an effort to convince him to join an assault on Nassau.
Their crews were said to have partied on Ocracoke Island – part of the Outer Banks – before
separating to face their respective destinies. The meeting is sometimes dismissed as a legend, but
period documents found while researching The Republic of Pirates suggest the meeting probably
did in fact take place in September or October of 1718.
Vane, like the fictional Jack Sparrow, was ultimately deposed by his own men, after he declined to
attack a French warship in November of 1718; command of his brigantine to Calico Jack Rackham.
Vane and 15 followers were left with a captured sloop, with which they tried to rebuild their fortunes,
brazenly attacking vessels around Jamaica, headquarters of the Royal Navy’s West Indies squadron.
While Vane avoided the authorities, he could not outrun the powerful hurricane that wrecked him on
an island off the coast of what is now Honduras or Southern Belize in February 1719. He was
ultimately captured there, when a merchant captain recognized him and turned him over to authorities
in Jamaica. For reasons that are unclear he remained incarcerated for more than a year before
being hung at Gallows Point, Port Royal, on March 29, 1721.
|The Republic of Pirates: Being the True and Surprising Story of the Caribbean Pirates and the Man who Brought
them Down by Colin Woodard. The Official Homepage. (c) 2008 Colin Woodard.