Pirate Pete's

History of Pirates

From Bristol to America

In 1796, after the Revolution, the first United States Consulate in Britain was established in Bristol, in Queen's Square.

Notwithstanding the political pleads of London, the newly independent colonies of the new continent decided they would benefit more by establishing their representatives in Bristol. The trade that existed before the War of Independence was suspended for over ten years, but this was causing such a hardship on both sides of the Atlantic, and especially in Bristol.

Newfoundland, Nova Scotia and Maine

John Cabot, who discovered North America in 1497, sailed from Bristol. Richard Ameryk, the man after whom America was named, was a Bristol politician and merchant. His daughter is buried in St Mary Redcliffe church.

In 1497, John Cabot, on the ship “Matthew” landed at a beach on North America, probably in Maine. He mapped 900 miles of coastline in Nova Scotia on his way back to and past Newfoundland.

Bristol seafarers had actually been there before. They had been sailing to Iceland since the 1440s and to the New Found Land fishing banks since about 1480, catching or even purchasing fish, perhaps from Basque fishermen.

John Cabot and Christopher Columbus were both trying to reach China. Both knew about the voyages that Bristol fishermen were making to Newfoundland in the 1480s and both Italians thought that the Bristol ships had in fact already reached China.

Cabot went to Bristol in 1494 and asked to be taken there on a Bristol ship. The merchants took him on the “Matthew” and on 24 June 1497 they landed at a beach on North America, probably in Maine. Cabot was an explorer who wrote about his voyage and it is he who gets the credit for being the first European to stand on North American soil. Richard Ameryk was the King's customs officer for the port of Bristol who paid Cabot’s yearly pension of £10, and he was probably financially involved in the venture. He almost certainly gave his name to some geographical feature on Cabot’s map, which within ten years was used prominently on Waldseemuller’s famous “World Map” to describe part of the continent. The name “America” would soon be used for the entire landmass. Just as Italians, Columbus and Cabot, got credit for discovering America, instead of the Bristol merchant fishermen who got there first, another Italian, Amerigo Vespucci is supposed to have given his name to the continent, and not the Bristolian Richard Ameryk.


Martin Pring, who mapped and opened up New England is buried in St. Stephen’s Church, Bristol. Martin Pring (approx 1580-1626) is credited with exploring, mapping and opening up New England to settlement. He was placed in command of a voyage to New England, or northern Virginia as it was then known, by a group of Bristol merchants in 1603. Captain Gosnold had made a similar cursory unauthorised voyage in 1602. This group of Bristol merchants underwrote this voyage to discover and exploit commercial opportunities along the coast. Pring’s backers focused primarily on the valuable sassafras Gosnold had discovered, but unlike Gosnold, they first secured Sir Walter Raleigh’s permission prior to undertaking their venture.

They left Bristol on April 10, 1603 in two ships, and reached Maine and New Hampshire in the late spring. Pring on the flagship Speedwell, and the bark, Discoverer, explored the islands, rivers, and harbors of New England, including the Piscataqua, Saco, Kennebunk, and York Rivers. They sailed south to present-day Plymouth Harbor and to the Elizabeth Islands south of Cape Cod. The Discoverer sailed home first with a boatload of sassafras. Pring and his men had an encounter with the local Indians who tried to attack their ship. The Speedwell departed in August and reached Bristol seven weeks later, on October 2, 1603. In 1606 Pring returned to New England as master of Captain Hanham’s ship and mapped the coast. From 1613 to 1621 he was employed by the Dutch East India Company and rose to commander of naval forces for the entire Company. He returned to England in 1621, was made a freeman of the Virginia Company and given two hundred acres. Martin Pring died in 1626 and is buried in St. Stephen’s Church, Bristol.

Rhode Island

BRISTOL COUNTY, Massachusetts and Rhode Island

Many of the original settlers in the area south of Boston were from Bristol and Somerset and many of the place names are taken from “home”. This area was originally part of the Plymouth Colony and was incorporated in 1685. Bristol, Rhode Island was the county seat originally. The county was split when Rhode Island was formed and Taunton has been the county seat of the Massachusetts part of the county since 1746.

During Colonial Times, the county was prominent in shipbuilding, metalsmithing, pottery making and they developed some of the nation's earliest textile mills. Bristol, Rhode Island, was a major seaport, rum and sugar importer, and slave centre. This was very similar to Bristol, England, and there was a lot of shipping traffic between the two ports.

Connecticut, New York and New Jersey

New Rochelle

The French Hugenots who left from St.Augustines Quay to set up the colony. They worked as weavers at the Baptist Mills site but King William III kicked them out. They were previously under protection of Bristol Cathedral who let them settle in Denmark Street and they leased the Lord Mayors Chapel to pray in.

They owned the largest slave fleet of 31 ships, peloquin/casamajor/le roche families stayed here and set up the virginia tobacco exports using snuff mills to make a cosumer product along comes wills from salisbury and the first factory/shop is on redcliffe hill. Captain kidd was hanged in the tower of london He married a Dutch widow and inherited estates in Manhattan. He was involved with the Earl of Bellamont.

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Admiral William Penn, after who Pennsylvania is named, is buried in St Mary Redcliffe church. Philadelphia, of course, was founded by his son, William Penn. But there are many connections with Bristol in the area.

Bristol Borough, Pennsylvania, is the state’s oldest borough, as the first formal settlement, founded in 1681.

Bristol, Bucks County, Pennsylvania is located some thirty miles north of Philadelphia, on the Delaware River.

The first Europeans to settle in this part of Pennsylvania were the Swedes and Dutch, from 1625. However, the English took possession with William Penn’s land grant from the King in payment of a debt to Penn’s father. Bucks County is named for Penn’s home in England - Buckinghamshire. Bristol Township was incorporated in 1692 as Buckingham Township. The name was later changed to Bristol in 1702. There is also a town called Bath, the site of a hot springs. Opened in 1720, Bath attracted the wealthy from Philadelphia to its water and the resort of Bath was developed.

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania was formed by a Proprietorship, as were most of the settlements south of New York. Bristol businessmen were in the vanguard of these endeavours. Apart from the Penn family, the Markham’s from Bristol were very prominent. Governor Markham was Pennsylvania’s first governor. Blackbeard the pirate, another Bristolian, otherwise known as Edward Teach, was another frequent visitor. He was an acquaintance of Gov. Markham and he had a lady friend, Margaret, who lived at Second and Vine, and a favourite tavern in that area, now known as Penn’s Landing.

Baltimore, Maryland

Talbot County Maryland Baltimore. The Tred Avon River takes its name from Bristol’s River Avon that empties into the Bristol Channel. Eastons is now in Bristol. Easton, Talbot's county seat, is just one mile from the headwaters of the Tred Avon River, and is supposed to have been named for this English town. In colonial days there were many merchant vessels trading between Oxford, Maryland, and Bristol, England, near which Easton, England, and is from where many of the early settlers of Talbot County emigrated.


In 1686 nineteen tobacco ships arrived in Bristol in one convoy from Virginia loaded with tobacco. Bristol has been a major market for Virginia and North Carolina tobacco. Regrettably, Bristol slave ships supplied half the slaves to Virginia in the first half of the 1700s. Roanoke Island Colony, Virginia

North Carolina

Okracoke Island and Bath. After blockading Charles Town, South Carolina, Blackbeard headed north to North Carolina, specifically the town of Bath, on Pamlico Sound, where he knew the governor, Gov. Eden. On June 10, 1718, his ship, the “Queen Anne's Revenge”, ran aground entering Pamlico Sound and was abandoned near Beaufort, North Carolina. He decided to stay the summer in Bath. From July - October 1718 Blackbeard settled briefly in Bath, and married his 14th wife. However he was soon attacking ships again off the Chesapeake. On November 22, 1718, Blackbeard was killed by a British Navy force at Okracoke Island, North Carolina. He was ambushed by the Royal Navy and decapitated.

The “Queen Anne's Revenge" is currently being salvaged near Morehead City, North Carolina, where it ran aground. Cape Fear Colony, Wilmington, North Carolina - Sir John Yeamans, who later founded Charleston, South Carolina, established a colony at Cape Fear in 1664. However it failed after about 3 years. Yeamans was christened in St Mary Redcliffe church and his father owned the largest brewery in the city. His brother, Sir Robert Yeamans was Mayor of Bristol in 1669.

South Carolina

Carolina was settled by the Carolina proprietorship. Two of the eight Proprietors were the brothers Lord John Berkeley and Sir William Berkeley, who was Governor of Virginia. The Berkeley estate is just 25 miles north of Bristol and they had strong business interests in the city.

John Yeamans was appointed by the Proprietors to settle a colony and he founded Charleston, South Carolina in 1671. He was christened in St Mary Redcliffe church and his father owned the largest brewery in the city. His brother, Sir Robert Yeamans was Mayor of Bristol in 1669.

Sir John Yeamans (as he later became) was one of the early settlers on the Caribbean island of Barbados in the 1630s where he owned a sugar plantation. In 1671 he established the Proprietorship colony in Charles Towne, Carolina. He has the dubious distinction of importing 200 slaves and introducing slavery on a large scale to North America.

He became the Colony’s 3rd Governor only because he did not actually arrive with the original settlers having returned to Barbados to take care of other business. When he arrived several months later the 80 yr old governor he appointed in his absence had died and he then had to remove his replacement. He established a plantation in Charles Towne but died of disease there in 1674.

The Wraggs, another prominent Charles Town family, originated in Bristol.

Blackbeard, the Bristol pirate, made his infamous mark on Charles Town, South Carolina. At the end of May 1718, he began a week long blockade of Charles Town, robbing at least nine ships entering or leaving the harbour. Regrettably, Bristol slave ships also supplied half the slaves to Charles Town in the first half of the 1700s.


The body of water from Seattle north to the Straits of Juan de Fuca is known as Puget Sound. It is named after Peter Puget who is buried some 12 miles from Bristol. Our Second Lieutenant Peter Puget was the second officer on board the HMS Discovery, commanded by Captain George Vancouver from 1757-1798. He was enrolled as a Captain’s Servant in 1778 at the age of twelve, serving in the West Indies, Gibraltar and the English Channel before being appointed as a lieutenant on the sloop Discovery. In May of 1792, while on a four-year voyage around the word, they sailed through the Straits of Juan de Fuca to discover a "sea in the Forest." Lieutenant Puget was assigned to job of exploring and surveying the shorelines of this inland sea. Subsequently, Captain Vancouver named this sea "Puget's Sound" to commemorate Puget's dedication to duty and outstanding service. Captain Vancouver died at the age of 42 in England and failed to publish his account of this world tour. Captain Puget assisted Captain's Vancouver's brother in completion the three volume record of the HMS Discovery's four-year voyage.

On his retirement from the Navy and return from India the Puget family moved first to London, and then Bath, where Sir Peter could get treatment for his gout. He died there in 1822. Admiral Puget is buried in a small a country churchyard in Woolley, near Bath about 12 miles from Bristol.


The Golden Age of Piracy and the introduction of the Slave Trade to Bristol occurred roughly at the same time. This is not a coincidence. Many, if not most, of the pirates served as seamen on slave ships, and robbing slavers was a lucrative source of income.

Below is a chronological listing of some of the significant events that tied Bristol to the slave trade.

  • 1640s Some Bristol planters on Barbados purchase slaves from Dutch ships
  • 1670 A London company "Royal African Company" is given the right to trade in slaves
  • 1671 Bristolian, Sir John Yeamans, a Barbados planter, introduces slavery to North America when he takes a ship with 200 slaves on board to Charles Towne, Carolina
  • 1686 Bristol ship "Society" fined for trying to import slaves into Virginia
  • 1698 Bristol is legally allowed to enter the Slave Trade. The "Beginning" is Bristol's first slave ship
  • 1700 Edmund Saunders begins his career. He will be responsible for over 30 slave voyages
  • 1704 There are about 4 slaver sailings a year from Bristol
  • 1705 The "Berkeley Galley" is launched, Bristol's largest slaver with a capacity of 350 slaves
  • 1740 Last Voyage of the "Berkeley Galley". Edmund Saunders is bankrupt
  • 1746 Saunders dies


Sir John Yeamans

The founding of Charleston South Carolina. The largest brewery in Bristol in the 1640s was owned by John Yeamans.One of his sons founded Charleston, South Carolina, and another was Mayor of Bristol.

In the early 1600s John Yeamans owned Bristol's largest brewery. It was much later sold to the Saunders family, who ran it for a hundred years. It eventually became the Georges' and then the Courage Brewery. Yeamans had 13 children, John was the eldest (born in 1610) and Robert was born in 1616. Sir John Yeamans (as he later became) was one of the early settlers to prosper on the Caribbean island of Barbados. He owned a sugar plantation in Barbados. He married his second wife in 1650 in very despicable circumstances. He poisoned her husband, Col Berringer, married Margaret, and acquired their estate.

In 1663 along with several residents of Barbados he purchased from the Indians a tract of land thirty-two miles square on the Cape Fear river, North Carolina. Sir John was appointed their governor and in the autumn of 1665 he arrived from Barbadoes with a band of emigrants and founded a town. However in 3 years it failed and was abandoned. Yeamans returned to the West Indies. In 1670 with three ship-loads of emigrants that had arrived from England Yeamans founded a settlement further south at Charles Town on the Ashley river for the 8 Proprietors that the King had bestowed the land rights upon. John Lock, Sir John Yeamans, and James Carteret were created landgraves. Yeamans would have become Governor, but he is listed as the 3rd Governor only because he did not arrive with the original settlers. He arrived several months later, and the 80 yr old governor Sayles he appointed in his absence had died. He then had to remove Sayles' replacement and he then took over.

In 1671 Dutch emigrants arrived from New York and others from Holland, and Sir John arrived from Barbadoes with 200 African slaves, the first that were landed in any numbers on the North American continent. He imported the slaves to grab the largest plantation, qualifying for an additional 100 acres for each slave. Sir John Yeamans was not a good governor. He proved to be "a sordid calculator," bent only on acquiring a fortune. He only enriched himself, exporting food during a shortage. In 1674 Yeamans was removed from office.

He died of disease in Charles Towne in August 1674. His descendents (the Moores) became very prominent in the following half century and his son and his descendents became slave dealers. Yeamans’ brother Robert was the Sheriff, Mayor (in 1669) and Chief Magistrate of Bristol, as well as a ship owner and a merchant, who had an early involvement in the Caribbean trade. Redland Court was owned by Sir Robert Yeamans in the 1680s. He died childless. Sir John’s grandson, Colonel Robert Yeamans of Barbados, eventually inherited Redland Court.

Edmund Saunders

GUINEA STREET was named after the Gold Guinea Coast it was a main area of piratical activity in the 1700s and comprised of a squalid area of narrow lanes. Bristol's busiest slave Captain lived in 12 Guinea Street. Captain Edmund Saunders lived in Guinea Street, in Number 12.He personally was responsible for over 10,000 slaves being transported to Jamaica and America, and he was a warden in St Mary Redcliffe church

Berkeley Galley and Captain Saunders looted by pirates. The Berkeley Galley with Captain Edmund Saunders left Bristol on January 10, 1716. They bought over 200 slaves which were delivered to Jamaica in August 1716. They loaded up with Jamaican sugar and rum and enough provisions for the six week voyage back to Bristol and left in mid-September. A few days out they were attacked by the notoriously brutal James Martel and 80 pirates. Martel took £1,000 in cash, some valuables and all the ship’s provisions.

Slave Ships

In June 1708 the slavers William and Berkeley Galley sailed together from Bristol, bound for Africa. The Berkeley Galley, Master Peter Skinner, and Edmund Saunders probably as supercargo. French privateers attacked and captured the William, but the Berkeley Galley got away, later bought 340 slaves and delivered them to Jamaica.

The Amelia Galley sailed in August and the Stonedge Galley left in December, both to be taken by French privateers.

The slavers Happy Return and Joseph and Thomas were both captured by the French off Africa at Christmas 1709, but the Joseph and Thomas was later retaken in the Caribbean by an English ship. Half of the twenty Bristol slavers that sailed in 1710 were lost.

Davis - Cadogan Snow

Captain Skinner murdered by pirates In late 1718 a small Bristol slaver, the Cadogan Snow left, with Captain Skinner in command and Chief Mate Howel Davis, a Welshman from Milford Haven in Pembrokeshire. They were attacked and captured in port on the African coast at Sierra Leone by the pirate Edward England.

One of the pirates was Skinner’s ex-boatswain, probably a Bristolian, and he recognized Skinner. He was with Skinner on the previous voyage and had been removed. He started to taunt Skinner and the situation turned decidedly nasty. Some of the pirates started to torture Skinner. They tied him to the windless and pelted him with bottles and broken glass. They then untied him, whipping him around the deck until he collapsed. They mocked him and finally told Skinner that because he had been such a good captain to his men he would die an easy death.

Where upon they executed him, with a bullet to the brain. Howel Davis joined the pirates and was given the Cadogan Snow. They went to Brazil and then Barbados where they surrendered the vessel. The merchants in Barbados received their cargo and the owners got their ship back when most of the crew returned with the ship to Bristol.

Anstis - Morning Star

The Morning Star, a Bristol slaver left Bristol in February 1721 with Captain James Cochett and 16 crew members, for Africa and Charles Town, South Carolina. One of Bartholemew Roberts’ lieutenants, Thomas Anstis, had broken away from Roberts’ gang in Africa and had returned to the Caribbean.

In late 1721 he attacked and captured the Morning Star. He kept the ship, complete with its Bristol crew, and he sailed the Caribbean waters looting ships for a year.

By accident they wrecked it on a reef on the Grand Cayman Islands. Everybody got off the ship and onto the shore, including forty pirates and the members of the Morning Star’s original crew. They were all rounded up but not charged with piracy as it was determined that they were all coerced into participating. Anstis and a few men escaped on another ship but he was killed on land.

Anstis and a few men escaped on another ship but he was killed on land. Just a few of the pirates managed to hide on an island and eventually stole a sloop that visited into the harbor. They sailed this sloop all the way to England and sank it near Bristol, and then quietly returned to their homes.

England - Peterborough

In February 1719 the Bensworth sailed from Bristol, with Nicholas Gardner as the master, headed to Africa for slaves and Virginia for tobacco. The Peterborough, with John Owen as the Master followed on 23 May 1719, both as they did almost every year.

In May the Bensworth was moored at Cape Corso, Africa buying slaves with 6 other ships. Edward England attacked and looted the ship and burned it to the water line. Twelve members of the thirty man crew joined England’s gang as pirates. 12 more Bristol pirates.

Three months later, Edward England attacked the Peterborough near Cape Corso in August. He decided to keep the large slaver and make it his own war-ship.

He soon decided that it was too dangerous for him to spend any more time in African waters and they sailed south, to the Indian Ocean and the island of Madagascar, where he lived until his death.

Roberts - Royal Fortune

Bartholomew Roberts was born in Pembrokeshire, Wales, in 1682.

He was third mate on a Bristol slaver in 1719 off the coast of Africa, when fellow Welshman, Howell Davis, attacked. Roberts joined Davis, who was killed a few weeks later on Sao Tome. Roberts led the pirates to safety & was elected to replace their dead captain.

They then sailed across the Atlantic to South America. A few weeks later they came upon a fleet of forty-two Portuguese treasure galleons & two warships anchored off the coast of Brazil. The pirates sailed alongside the heaviest laden ship & fired a full broadside. They boarded the ship, captured it & headed for the open sea, outrunning the pursuing warships. They acquired the cargo including jewels & 40,000 gold moidores ($130,000) & a diamond studded gold cross, intended for King of Portugal.

They raided north through the West Indies and up as far as Newfoundland. They sailed into Trepassey in Newfoundland, in a sloop with only ten guns & sixty men. With 'colors flying, drums beating & trumpets sounding.' The crews of the twenty-two ships at anchor in the harbor, immediately withdrew & fled to safety on shore.

Roberts had several ships; his original ships, the Ranger & then other vessels he captured, all three he renamed Royal Fortune. One (the second) was a Bristol ship, the third French.

Some time later, Roberts & his men were back in the West Indies. They escaped warships from the islands of Martinique and Barbados, that were out to get him.

Roberts ranged back to Africa. Captain Chaloner Ogle, commander of the warship Swallow, had been sent to capture him. On Feburary 5, 1722, Ogle found Roberts & his three ships anchored in Cape Lopez, West Africa. Believing that the Swallow was a merchantman, Roberts sent the Ranger out after her. She headed for open seas. Out of sight of the harbor, Ogle ordered his men to attack. Ten pirates were killed & twenty wounded before surrendering. Ogle swiftly returned to Cape Lopez for the remaining pirates. Roberts, seeing that the Swallow was a warship, ordered the Royal Fortune to sail for the open seas. The Swallow heading straight for the Royal Fortune and fired a broadside which toppled the Royal Fortunes mizzenmast. When the smoke cleared, Roberts was slumped over a cannon, dead. Bartholomew Roberts, was a strict disciplinarian. He never drank liquor, only tea. He held religious services aboard ship & in the four years that he raged upon the seas he & his men had captured & plundered more than 400 ships.

Stede Bonnet and 2 ships

Stede Bonnet left Blackbeard in June 1718 with a gang of pirates that Blackbeard cut loose. They robbed some ships including 2 Bristol Snows in July 1718 near Philadelphia, en route to Bristol. The take was some goods and 150 pounds.

They headed south with their vessels. They took shelter in the River Fear at Cape Fear, North Carolina.

By happenchance they were attacked and captured by a detachment from Charles Town, South Carolina, who were looking for Charles Vane.

In the battle, 7 pirates were killed and 35 captured. About half of Bonnet's crew were from America or Jamaica, and half from Great Britain. At least 9 were English, 5 Scottish, 1 Irishman and there was a Dutchman, and a Portuguese.

On Saturday November 8 1718 23 of them were hanged at White Point, Charles Town, including Thomas Price and Henry Virgin, both from Bristol.

Horrors of Slavery

17th century Brass manillas and copper cooking vessels found in an excavation of the cellars of the Llandoger Trow tavern in King street recently. They were used for barter with the African tribal Kings and manufactured upstream on the banks of the River Froome by the Quaker families.

Caravans of slaves, with foot shackles and neck linkage, were marched from many hundreds of miles to the Guinea coastline Forts by the African Kings, who looted their outposts to provide labour, which they could sell for $9 worth of goods, usually bottles of spirits and cooking utensils, which were all made in Bristol.

The glass from the sandstone & kilns of Redcliffe , locations nos 10 to 12 on the pirate walk. Branding with a red hot silver iron the initials of the plantation owner ,on all new arrivals in the Colony. The slaves that had survived the crossing of the ocean were shackled together in the slave markets of the coastal ports. They had been fattened up, cleaned & polished to obtain the best prices at auction.

Tread mills were used on the Sugar islands which lacked running water to turn the grinding mills. the unfortunate slaves were tied to a rail along the top, if they slackened they were cut down whipped and their hair cut off. there was only a 20 minute period to break up the sugar cane stalks before the sap crytallised after being cut, so everyone worked fast.

It needed Edward Colston of Bristol to seal the cane into hogsheads immediately after being reaped and transport them to the River Avon, where he set up the first sugar refinery, and so made his fortune from the growing demand to sweeten tea by the middle classes in England. Life below decks was vile, over one third did not survive the journey from Africa where they had never seen the open sea before. The unpleasant cramped conditions allowed infections to spread rapidly. The dead were thrown over the side to the waiting sharks..You could always tell a slaver by the number of sharks that followed it and the bad smell, downwind.

Bristol sailors had to be Press Ganged to serve on these ships as they could also be dumped overboard as they reached the destination port by the Captain, who could then have a larger share of the profits.