Wrecking in the Bahamas in the Eighteenth Century

With so many reefs and shallow waters surrounding the passageways through the Bahamas, many merchant ships were lost there as trade became established between Europe, the West Indies and the American Colonies.  Sailors who encountered a shipwreck would salvage the contents in an activity known as wrecking.  From the time that the Bahamas was first settled in 1648 wrecking was an important activity, growing so much that by 1660 when New Providence was settled many captains had dedicated their vessels to it.  Rather than a passive, opportunistic activity, however, these seamen pursued wrecking aggressively, regarding all salvage as their property, and they were rumored to kill people who inconveniently survived the shipwrecks. They drove Spanish sailors away from Spanish wrecks, and even took goods that the Spanish had already salvaged. Understandably, the Spanish considered these Bahamian wreckers to be pirates, and retaliated by attacking the wreckers’ ships.  The Spanish also made repeated attacks on New Providence to retrieve salvaged property and burned the capital, Charles Town, in 1684.  Charles Town was rebuilt and named Nassau in 1695.

After piracy was eliminated from the Bahamas in the early 1720s the Bahamian government established controls over the wreckers, requiring them to carry salvaged goods to Nassau, where they were auctioned. They also required wreckers to have a government license to do so. However, goods which would be useful on a ship or in a wrecker’s home were often diverted with the government officials turning a blind eye to it.  The wreckers usually received 40% to 60% of the value of the salvaged goods, and many former pirates turned to wrecking as a legal, and very profitable, profession.

Wrecking continued to be a mainstay of the Bahamian economy through most of the 19th century until improved navigation and the building of lighthouses saw the number of wrecks diminish.  In its heyday there were 302 ships and 2,679 men (out of a total population of 27,000) licensed as wreckers in the Bahamas.   Salvaged cargo brought into Nassau in 1856 was valued at £96,304, more than half of all imports to the Bahamas, and more than two-thirds of the exports from the Bahamas were salvaged goods.

Wrecking is featured prominently in the novel I am currently working on, Rum & Wrecks, which will be the second book in the Pirates of the Bahamas series now that I am finished writing the prequel, Love, Lust & Passion, and it has been published.

Love, Lust & Passion: The Real Story of the Pirate Anne Bonny

My latest historical novel, Love, Lust & Passion:  The Real Story of the Pirate Anne Bonny, will be available in print in September, 2016 and as an e-book in August, 2016.  Here’s the blurb:

Learn about the real life of Anne Bonny, a teenager who runs away from the confining life of colonial Carolina to Nassau in New Providence, Bahamas hoping to enjoy the lust filled, idealized life of freedom as a pirate, but ends up learning about the costs of that freedom.
While in the Bahamas Anne meets and becomes intimate with Mary Read, whom Anne considers to be the epitome of a woman pirate, and serves with her under the command of Calico Jack Rackham, the last of the golden age pirate captains.  Jack Rackham is a man driven to have all of the adventure, love and lust he can.  To Anne, Jack is the perfect man, and she happily becomes his mistress.

Numerous versions of the pirate life of Anne Bonny have been told over the past three centuries, but few of these stories have considered her from a historical perspective.  Most of them simply re-visit the sensational and titillating tales of a woman serving aboard an eighteenth century pirate ship and take what is generally accepted about her at face value. 
When one considers the historical chronology, however, many of the stories about Anne Bonny do not make sense.  After researching, it is the opinion of this author that much of what has been accepted as fact about Anne Bonny was more likely to have been about another woman pirate, Mary Read.   Anne’s actual story, however, not only makes for a great read, but also makes a lot more sense when one considers the fact that her entire time aboard a pirate ship was only two months.

Researched historical chronology was used as the basis in writing this novel, with license taken by the author to determine the motivations of the characters since they were inferred by him from the facts, and the story line was then created to both fit and explain those facts.   While interesting from a historical perspective, this book also contains both heterosexual and bisexual situations and is therefore not suitable for minors.

The pages in this book tell the real story (truth being defined as the most logical interpretation of the facts) of the pirate life of Anne Bonny.

Please let me know if you would like to review this book and I’ll send you a downloadable e-book free.  I’m hoping to get at least 10-20 five-star reviews.

Additional information about the history is available at www.annebonnyandmaryread.com


Pirate Anne Bonny was never on The Ranger with Jack Rackham

There exists a well accepted story of a fierce woman pirate, Anne Bonny, sailing aboard The Ranger, a 12 gun brigantine with a crew of 90 and which was captained by Jack Rackham.  The Ranger was a mighty pirate ship that struck fear throughout the Caribbean.  This is a wonderful story, but it isn’t accurate.  The component parts in the story are true, however.

The Ranger was, indeed, a feared pirate ship, but for most of the time the captain was Charles Vane.  Jack Rackham was the quartermaster until November 26, 1718 when he lead a successful mutiny against Vane and took command.  They then sailed south and captured a large merchant vessel, The Kingston, outside Jamaica on December 11, 1718 and took their prize to Isla de la Pinos, an island south of Cuba which served as Rackham’s pirate base.  However, angry merchants in Jamaica hired mercenaries who took the ship back shortly after, although the pirates were able to take a good deal of the booty ashore prior.  Then, on February 19, 1719, a Spanish warship on patrol sighted The Ranger and destroyed it the next day.  Anne Bonny never even saw The Ranger.

There was a woman on board with Jack Rackham, but it was not Anne Bonny.  It was Mary Read, whom Rackham has recruited from a ship they attacked in May of 1718.  At the time it was thought Mary was a man, she was dressed as a soldier and was good with a sword, but her sex was soon discovered and she became attached to Jack, such that when he took command she became the captain’s woman.

Anne Bonny at this time had just arrived in Nassau with James Bonny, her new husband, who would later become a government informer on the pirates, which would end up causing a rift in their marriage.   Anne would meet Jack Rackham in 1720 and would later go to sea with him, and Mary Read, but it would be on a four gun sloop, The William, with a crew of 12.

More about this in the upcoming novel, Love Lust and Passion:  The Real Story of Anne Bonny and Mary Read.

On location, llp chapter 9

It’s fun to be in the location I am writing about, so I made a short video to share with my readers.

I’m now halfway through writing my newest novel, the prequel to Pirates of the Bahamas, and have finished writing a scene where Anne Bonny and Chris Condent escape along a trail to the beach:

….there was an overgrown footpath which led them through the forest of thatch palms and sea grape until they could see the ocean ahead. “Shh,” Chris put his finger to his lips.  “Stay here,” he whispered, then crouched down and made his way into the tall grass which formed a border separating the trees from the beach.  He made a whistling sound….

This is the trail, so you can see what it is really like.  I also show a close-up of the leaf of the sea grape plant, which were used as plates by the indigenous Lucayan Indians of this island.

Pirate Rum Drinks in the 18th Century

My research into pirates and people in colonial times in general has shown, not surprisingly, that as a whole they consumed a lot of alcohol, considering it to be a healthy alternative to water.  While we associate pirates with drinking rum straight, they actually enjoyed it in a variety of mixed drinks.  Here are a few of the more interesting ones I’ve come across:


Why bother with separate mugs for beer and rum when you can just mix it up together?  Rattle-Skull did just that.  Half a cup of rum was blended with a pint of porter and the juice of half a lime, then served with shaved nutmeg on top.  My research described it as “a dangerously smooth and stultifying concoction.”


Flip was a blend of ale, rum, molasses and eggs.  The eggs and molasses were beaten together in a ceramic jug, then rum was blended in, then the jug was topped off with ale and all the ingredients mixed together.  Before serving, a hot poker was inserted into the jug and after it frothed up it was poured into mugs and served.


Bumbo was a mixture of rum, water, sugar and nutmeg which was enjoyed by sailors in the West Indies in the early 1700s, and it eventually became a very popular drink throughout the English Colonies too.

coconut005 I suspect that coconut water was likely used in the Caribbean, and I can personally vouch for this one as an excellent drink when made that way.

Bumbo even played a role in the course of American history.  Political campaigning in colonial times included providing generous amount of drink, presumably in exchange for votes.  George Washington’s papers state that he used “160 gallons of rum to treat 391 voters to bumbo” during his campaign for the Virginia House in 1758.  He won.



Also working on the Sequel to Pirates of the Bahamas

It is 1754, almost two years have passed since Pirates of the Bahamas ended.  The resumption of peace between the European nations has meant England now allows Spanish and French ships to use the North West Providence passage, a deep channel through the Bahama Islands, as a short cut from Cuba and the Eastern Caribbean islands to pick up the gulf stream in the Florida straits.  The free use of this passage is key to Rum and Wrecks, the next Historical Novel in the series that I am in the process of writing (in addition to the prequel, mentioned in an earlier post).

Peace brought an end to privateering as a livelihood, but opened up a new source of revenue to the former pirates who had remained in The Bahamas: licensed wrecking, or the salvaging of shipwrecks.  Rum and Wrecks begins with the wreck of a Spanish ship, and I’ve given a short excerpt from it, below the video:

Jack was easy to spot, standing high on the beach looking out to sea.  Mary walked up behind him, wrapped her arms around his waist and snuggled the left side of her face against the soft silk shirt covering his back.  “It’s getting windy out here,” she murmured.

“Indeed it is,” Jack responded without turning around.  “It looks like there’s quite a storm blowing in.”  He focused his spyglass back and forth.

“What do you see?” Mary whispered into his right ear as she peered over his shoulder.  The setting sun was brightly illuminating something on the southern horizon.  Sails?

“It looks like a brig,” Jack answered.  “But if she’s a merchant then she’s way north out of the shipping channel.”  He handed Mary the spyglass.   “Here, take a look.”

“They can’t be more than a couple of miles away from the reef,” Mary gasped. “I’m sure they can see it from there.”  She handed the glass back.  “Why aren’t they turning back?”

“They can’t; if they come about and run with the wind they’ll be facing shallows and reefs.  The only way out of this for them is south, but with this wind that isn’t an option for a square rigger.  Only a sloop can sail that close.  Now that he realizes where he is, that captain’s going to be desperate for a way to get close to shore so he can anchor in shelter and wait the storm out.  They’re pointing as hard west as they can while hoping to come across a cut through the fringe reef before they’re driven onto it.”

“But there are no cuts in that part of the reef.”  Mary’s head vibrated from side to side.

“That’s right.”  Jack folded the spyglass onto itself as the rain began. “And that means we’re looking at a doomed ship; they’ll be a wreck on Dead Man’s Reef before morning.”

When Characters Take Over The Story

I’m up to chapter 6 of my next novel, about 16,000 words written so far, and writing is picking up momentum nicely.  Now that the characters have taken over the story I’m just typing it in, downloading from the brain rather than have to think about what happens next.  Sometimes they add an unexpected twist.  This is the fun part of writing for me; the main story line has been developed and a main character, in this case Anne Bonny, just runs with it.  It’s a historical piece so the significant events of course have stay true to what actually happened, but it’s great to see how the characters handle it once their personality has been well developed.  Here’s an excerpt from Chapter 5:

…Still hugging Anne, James Bonny eased down onto the davenport and slid her sideways on his lap.   “I just had a meeting with the governor,” he said proudly.  “A soldier sought me out while we were loading the boat for tomorrow’s run and told me that Governor Rogers wanted an immediate audience with me.”  He brushed a lock of hair behind Anne’s right ear while smiling obliviously into her expressionless face.  “Imagine that.  The governor, himself, wanted a meeting with me!”

“What did he want?”  Anne’s voice was gruff and she stiffened her body.

“He told me that England has issued a bulletin to all the governors to be alert to growing Jacobite sympathies throughout the colonies and to arrest anyone who might be complicit and send them to London.  He also told me that he’s concerned about rumors of unrest with the former pirates here in New Providence, so he’s hired me as an informant to keep him appraised of the goings on.  As long and I can fill him in on the who’s and the what’s, there’s going to be a lot of money coming our way.”  He looked quizzically at his wife.  “Money, Anne.  For us.” He enunciated slowly, confused by her lack of excitement at his spectacular news.  “Lots of money for all of the things we want.”

Anne placed her hands on James’ shoulders and pushed him away as she rose to her feet.  “You mean to tell me that you’ve agreed to be a spy for the very man who’s responsible for shattering our dreams?”  She was incredulous.  “And that you now want to rat out your friends?”

“It’s my civic responsibility, Anne.”  James stood up.  “Yours too, you could feed me a lot of intelligence from the pub.”

He reached out for her, but Anne swung her right elbow towards him.  “Don’t you ‘civic responsibility’ me,” she snarled.  “We came here to be free of all that.  Damn it, James, we came here to be pirates.  What about that life you promised me, eh?” She dug her trembling fingers into her fiery hair.

“The world has changed, Anne, and those days are no more.”  His voice remained infuriatingly calm. “It’s time for us to be a part of the new way of things and start to enjoy a civilized life.”

“Are you listening to yourself?”  Anne’s Irish ire was up and she released her inner banshee.  “You’re a traitor to everything we ever wanted.”

“You talk like there’s actually a choice to be had.”  James held the palms of his hands out towards his wife and slowly shook his head.  “Nobody’s going to be able to have that life anymore.”

“There’s always going to be adventurers out there, you coward.  Real men who aren’t going to cow to anybody’s rules.” Anne blurted out, then immediately wished she hadn’t.

“That’s right,” James nodded.  “And the governor is going to pay me handsomely for their names.”

“Well you’re not getting any names from me.  Look,” Anne rapier flung her right index finger at him. “You go back and tell your new boss that you don’t want to be his mole.”

“I can’t do that.  What would I say?”

“I don’t care what you tell him. Tell him you had a surge of conscience.  Tell him that your wife threatened to divorce you if you did.”  Anne suddenly bit her lower lip; those were unplanned words, but they felt true.  She looked down, gulped, and fell silent… 


That last piece of dialogue certainly wasn’t something I’d planned for, and it has provided a nice additional twist as the story proceeds.


When I read in various historical references about the turbulent period between the 1720s and the American Revolution, I was fascinated to find out that the colonists were relying on smugglers to avoid taxation.  It turns out that many of these smugglers were ‘former’ pirates, some still were and others were hired as privateers, who also had a beef with English authority following the death of Queen Anne and the ascension of the German King George 1st.  As things heated up rum became the currency of America and blockade runners to get both the rum and molasses from islands whom England was at war with…they were trading with the enemy…was a very dangerous thing to be caught doing.  It became clear that these ‘pirates’ had been instrumental to America gaining its independence.

I decided to write a series of historical novels about this.  It made sense that at least some of these pirates would be based in the Bahamas; we know for a fact that government authorized wreckers were there, helping themselves to the cargo of ships who foundered coming through the Bahamas channel for a large take of the prize.

Looking at pirate history, two very colorful characters active in the Bahamas at the end of what is called the golden age of piracy were Anne Bonny and Mary Read.  While most pirates died violent deaths, history tells us that these women both had children, presumably by Jack Rackham.  The numerous stories about Anne Bonny and Mary Read told over the past 300 years for the most part agree with each other, and so for the purpose of my story having the next generation of pirates be from be fierce, swashbuckling pirate mothers, they fit very nicely.

The first of my book series, then, Pirates of the Bahamas, was published just over a year ago.  It begins the history of the pirate influences leading up to the America revolution as experienced by these two children.  In the first book of the series we are introduced to them when they are in their 20’s, and this book is also considered a historical romance as well as historical adventure.

After Pirates of the Bahamas was published I tossed around the idea of a prequel, to tell the story of how these two women became pirates in the first place.  From the earliest part of my research I learned that just about everything we hear about them was based on A General History of the Pyrates, a book printed in 1724, and the re-telling and elaborations of those stories has given us what is generally accepted as fact today.

I, however, decided to read the original document.  It’s an excellent source material for all of the other pirates, but the parts about Anne Bonny and Mary Read seem to have been just stuck in at the end of the chapter about Jack Rackham.  Unlike the rest of the book, the Bonny and Read parts don’t seem to follow any chronology and are really just a series of anecdotal tales that the author picked up from the witnesses at their trial, some of which even he considered suspect.  The more I read and compared to what is generally accepted, the more I realized that much (in the case of Mary) or most (in the case of Anne) of what we ‘know’ about these women is incorrect.  This new information definitely made the reason for a prequel even more important to me.  I collected stories and as many original documents as I could find and cross referenced them.  Even the most outlandish tale generally has a basis in fact somewhere, so I also dug into those.

What I can tell you right away is that of the two of them, Mary Read was the actual pirate and much of what has been since attributed to Anne Bonny were things Mary actually did.  Anne Bonny was an 18 year of girl who had been drawn to a romanticized ideal, spent no more than 3 months as a pirate, and probably only experienced the horrific aspects of pirate life on the day she was captured.  It does seem to be quite factual, however, that they both enjoyed the company of pirate captain Calico Jack Rackham.

I’ve collected much material on this subject and have been sorting it out against known chronology over the past year.  A wonderful story has emerged, which I am now in the process of writing as a historical adventure novel.  Since this will be giving a historically accurate account of these women pirates, it may also end up being an important work.