Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The Swamp Fox and the Gentleman Pirate

From the Smithsonian Magazine:

The Swamp Fox

With the American army in retreat, things looked bad in South Carolina. Marion took command of a militia and had his first military success that August, when he led 50 men in a raid against the British. Hiding in dense foliage, the unit attacked an enemy encampment from behind and rescued 150 American prisoners. Though often outnumbered, Marion's militia would continue to use guerrilla tactics to surprise enemy regiments, with great success. Because the British never knew where Marion was or where he might strike, they had to divide their forces, weakening them. By needling the enemy and inspiring patriotism among the locals, Busick says, Marion "helped make South Carolina an inhospitable place for the British. Marion and his followers played the role of David to the British Goliath."

The Gentleman Pirate

Stede Bonnet's career as the "Gentleman Pirate" may represent the worst midlife crisis on record. In 1717, Bonnet, a retired British army major with a large sugar plantation in Barbados, abandoned his wife, children, land and fortune; bought a ship; and turned to piracy on the high seas. Though his crew and fellow pirates judged him to be an inept captain, Bonnet's adventures earned him the nickname "the Gentleman Pirate," and today his legend lingers in the annals of pirate history. But why did a man who seemed to have everything give it all up for a life of crime?
Stede Bonnet had no knowledge of seafaring, having sailed only as a passenger. Moreover, he had no apparent reason to rage against the establishment. Bonnet was born in the 1680s in Barbados and, according to the transcript of his 1718 trial, had "the advantage of liberal education." After retiring from the army with a rank of major, Bonnet bought an estate and settled in as a member of respectable society, where he spent a decade raising a family until he suffered some kind of mental break. A contemporary account of Bonnet's career suggested that "some Discomforts he found in the married state" led to "this Humour of going a-pyrating," but it seems unlikely that a nagging wife alone could be enough to drive a law-abiding gentleman to piracy.

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