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Biographies of Famous Pirates

Captain Charles Vane


    There is little documentation of Charles Vane's early career. He arrived in Port Royal sometime during the War of Spanish Succession (17011714). In 1716, he began serving under the infamous pirate Henry Jennings. In late July of 1715, a Spanish treasure fleet was hit by a hurricane off the coast of Florida, dumping tons of Spanish gold and silver not far from shore. As the surviving Spanish sailors salvaged what they could, pirates were quick to try and take advantage of the wreck site. Jennings (with Vane on board) was one of the first to reach the site, and his buccaneers raided the Spanish camp on shore, making off with some 87,000 in recovered gold and silver. In 1718, the King of England issued a blanket pardon for all pirates who wished to return to an honest life. Many accepted, including Jennings. Vane, however, scoffed at the notion of retirement from piracy and soon became the leader of those who refused the pardon. Vane and a handful of pirates outfitted a small sloop "the Lark" for service as a pirate vessel. Soon he had recruited forty of Nassau's worst cuthroats, including seasoned buccaneer Edward England and "Calico Jack" Rackham, who would himself become a notorious pirate captain. Vane was infamous for his cruelty toward the crews of captured vessels. He also showed scant respect for the pirate code, cheating his own crews out of their fair share of plunder and killing surrendered sailors after promising them mercy. By April of 1718, Vane had captured twelve merchant ships. Vane and his men treated the sailors and merchants cruelly in spite of the fact that they had surrendered instead of fought.

    Vane was able to traded up ships by first capturing a Barbados sloop and then a large 12-gun brigantine, each of which he named the Ranger in turn. Vane knew that Woodes Rogers, the new governor, would be arriving soon. Vane decided that his position in Nassau was too weak, so he set out to capture a proper pirate ship. He soon took a 20-gun French ship and made it his flagship. In June and July of 1718, he seized many more small merchant vessels, more than enough to keep his men happy. Vane triumphantly re-entered Nassau, essentially taking over the town. In August 1718, two men-of-war along with Woodes Rogers, arrived in Nassau to oversee the King's pardon. While most pirates accepted the enforced pardon, Vane resisted it and any who attempted to honestly reform. Vane controlled the harbor and the small fort, which flew a pirate flag from its flagpole. He made an impression by firing on the Royal Navy immediately, and sent a letter to Rogers demanding to be allowed to dispose of his plundered goods before accepting the pardon. As night fell, Vane knew his situation was impossible, so he set fire to his flagship and sent it towards the Navy ships, hoping to destroy them in a massive explosion. The Navy ships were able to hurriedly cut their anchor lines to get away. Vane then left Nassau in his fast six-gun sloop full of plunder, the Ranger, evading the few Royal Navy vessels in the area and sailed north.

    Resuming his terror on the high seas, Vane amassing three ships and a large crew of cuthroats. He became so successful that Governor Rogers decided to send out Colonel William Rhett to hunt him down. Vane gave command of one of his ships to a fellow pirate by the name of Yeats, and the two pillaged and looted vessels that were entering and leaving the port at Charleston, looking to emulate Blackbeard's success. However, Vane had created division among his crew by refusing to capture several promising vessels, leading Yeats to abandon Vane and sail away in one of the captured brigs in the dead of night. Yeats eventually arrived in Charleston where they surrendered and accepted the British pardon. Vane continued along with some success, and headed to North Carolina where met up with Edward "Blackbeard" Teach. One of the most notorious events of Vane's career is when these two pirate crews partied for a week in October 1718 on the shores of Ocracoke Island. Vane hoped to convince his old friend to join him in an attack on Nassau, but Blackbeard declined. Vane and his crew continued to roam north as far as Long Island. On Novenber 23, off the coast of New Jersey, Vane's small fleet ran into a French warship and being out-gunned and a prudent leader Vane decided to retreat. His men, led by the reckless quartmaster Calico Jack Rackham, had wanted to stay and fight and take the French ship. The next day, the crew voted Vane out as captain, electing Rackham instead. Vane and a small contingent loyal to him were given a small sloop and the two pirate crews went their separate ways. Undaunted, Vane sailing south again taking prizes and rebuilding his fleet of ships and fame to a greater height over the next three months.

    Not long afterward a hurricane in the Bay of Honduras stranded him, as the sole survivor of his ship on a tiny island. Eventually a ship arrived, but unfortunately for Vane it was commanded by an old acquaintance and former buccaneer Captain Holford. Now reformed, and knowing his past friend too well, Holiford refuses to take Vane on board for fear of having him turn his crew against him and taking his ship. Not long after another ship picked up Vane, not knowing his reputation, but before Vane could return to pirating he was recognized and taken to Port Royal, where he was turned over to the authorities. On March 29, 1721, Vane a pirate who had twice risen to the heights of piracy was hanged at Gallows Point. He died without expressing the least remorse for his crimes. After death, his body was hung from a gibbet at the entrance of the harbor at Port Royal, as a warning to others against piracy.




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