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Charles Vane began his piratical career in 1716 under pirate captain Henry Jennings, an ex-privateer who recruited a contingent of over three hundred pirates from his stronghold in New Providence to attack an encampment of Spanish soldiers stationed on Florida's eastern coast. The Spaniards were there on orders of the Viceroy of Havana, attempting to salvage massive treasures lost at sea the year before when twelve Spanish galleons sank in a violent hurricane. Jennings' pirate horde terrified the Spanish guards at the camp, who fled for their lives and abandoned chests filled with 350,000 pieces of eight.

One of the most blatant acts of defiance against the British crown came during the summer of 1718 at the hands of Captain Vane. While Vane was plundering ships using New Providence as his base, King George I sent Woodes Rogers armed with a royal pardon for all pirates who turned themselves in before September 5th and a squadron of four Royal Navy warships to clean up the pirate-infested island. Many of the pirates decided to retire from the Brethren of the Coast, including two of the island's pirate chieftains: Henry Jennings and Benjamin Hornigold.

But not Charles Vane!

Vane had recently plundered a French prize and wasn't about to turn over his rich spoils for a free pass from the gallows. Instead, he defiantly loaded the plundered ship with explosives, set her ablaze, and drifted it directly toward the newly arrived English vessels. The powder magazines ignited, cannons exploded, and the entire fireship blew up like a spectacular fireworks display. In their hasty attempt to avoid the floating fireball, Rogers' warships lost sight of Vanes booty-filled sloop as it disappeared into the night.

Vane returned to Florida to poach off the 1715 wrecks, but his approach was slightly different from Jennings'. Lacking a large army of pirates, he wisely avoided attacking the heavily guarded Spanish camp but instead waited until the silver was hauled aboard a rescuing Spanish ship, which he attacked as it entered the Florida Straits.

While terrorizing and plundering the American eastern shoreline, Vane encountered the notorious Blackbeard and his crew having a raucous party on the beaches of North Carolina's Ocracoke Island. The two pirate crews joined together in revelry for a week-long bacchanal. (Ultimately, this pirate orgy would spell the beginning of the end for Blackbeard.)

Vanes own luck began to turn south when he came upon a French frigate and decided it was too heavily armed to subdue, so he instructed his quartermaster to veer off course. Now headed away from the potential prize, the quartermaster, the young, bold Calico Jack Rackam incited the crew to replace the cowardly Vane with a new captain. Vane was voted out of office and placed unceremoniously onto an unarmed sloop with several of his loyal crew.

Starting over, Vane and his desperate crew armed their ship with stolen ordnance and began plundering vessels until they amassed a small fleet of four ships. While cruising in the Bay of Honduras, a violent hurricane struck and the ships scattered in all directions. Vane's ship eventually was wrecked on a reef, marooning him on an uninhabited island off the coast of Central America with only one other surviving crewmember.

Vane survived on fish, fruit, and aid from the local Mosquito Indians for several weeks when an English ship, commanded by ex-pirate Captain Holford, sailed into the harbor. Holford recognized the shipwrecked survivor and knew Charles Vane would cause mayhem and mutiny on his ship. He clamped Vane in irons and deposited him in the hands of authorities in Port Royal.

In March 1721, Vane and one of his pirate crew were tried, found guilty, and hanged. His body was then tarred, secured in an iron cage, and hung from a gibbet on display on the islet of Gun Cay leading into the harbor of Port Royal.

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Did you know?

  • In 1671, when Henry Morgan sailed from Port Royal, Jamaica to sack and plunder Panama, his fleet consisted of 37 vessel, ranging from 4-gunners to 22-gunners.

  • Captain Kidd received a letter of marquee from King William III to seize any French ships during his search to capture pirates. Instead, he captured an Indianman resulting in the beginning of his pirate career.

  • The cook onboard a pirate ship was usually a disabled pirate who was allowed to stay on the ship if he could make food that didn't kill the pirate crew.

  • In September 1718, following months of successful plundering raids, the pirate crews of Blackbeard and Charles Vane rendezvoused on Ocracoke Island (North Carolina) for a wild, weeklong bacchanal.

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