THE FRENCH PIRATE LEWIS GUITTAR was
born during the Golden Age of Piracy in Brittany ca. 1667 and spent 20 years in
Santo Domingo in Hispaniola. Guittar later testified he was living at Pointe au
Gravois, when around December 1699 a sloop of pirates ordered him aboard and
forced him -- told him they wanted him to be their captain. A pirate witness
Pelletier later testified that Guittar had refused to join, but that Pelletier
and the other pirates had made Guittar their captain anyway.
Capt. Guittar sometimes wore a golden toothpick on a golden necklace. Described
by the master of a captured ship, “The Captain was a man of middle stature,
square-shouldered, large jointed, lean, much disfigured with the smallpox,
broad speech, thick-lipped, a blemish or cast in his left eye, but
Capt. Guittar began in the Caribbean and moved on to the Chesapeake Bay, taking
at least nine merchant ships, including the Dutch ship La Paix. The pirates
took many English prisoners, beating and torturing them to force them to turn
pirate. The master of the Friendship of Belfast was killed when the pirates
fired on his ship. The Pennsylvania Merchant was plundered and burned for
resisting the pirates. Capt. Guittar took four ships in the Chesapeake Bay on
28 April 1700.
Alerted, Capt. John Aldred of the HMS Essex Prize in the Chesapeake Bay came
ashore the same day. He told British Governor-General of Virginia Francis
Nicholson that a pirate ship was in Lynnhaven Bay of the Chesapeake. Posting a
reward of 20 pounds for killing or capturing any pirate, Gov. Nicholson went on
board the under-manned 28-gun British guardship HMS Shoreham under Capt.
William Passenger with customs agent Peter Hayman, Esq. They sailed up the
James River and into Lynnhaven Bay.
Early the next morning the Shoreham fired on Capt. Guittar aboard his 84-foot,
28-gun pirate ship La Paix when many pirates were drunk. Capt. Guittar and his
crew fought under the blood red pirate's flag for many hours. After seven hours
of courageous conduct, firing into the pirates' ship, Peter Hayman was slain
with small shot from the pirates while standing next to Gov. Nicholson on the
quarter deck. Maneuvering skillfully back and forth and firing with larger
guns, Capt. Passenger finally obtained the advantage after eight hours. The
pirate ship, unable to steer and with its masts and sails shot away, became
grounded, with 25-30 pirates killed.
The pirates decided to blow up their own ship if they could not go free. Capt.
Guittar ordered a captive passenger to swim to the Shoreham and tell them the
pirates would blow up their own ship with many innocent captives on board in
the hold of the ship if they weren't granted quarter and pardon. (Guittar
himself later testifed he had opposed blowing up the ship, and had set two
sentinels to guard the powder barrels.) Gov. Nicholson granted quarter, but not
pardon, and referred the pirates to the King's mercy. Capt. Guittar then
surrendered, giving up 40-50 English captives, and 124 pirates were taken
Capt. Guittar and his crew were later put on trial. Four pirate crew members
were convicted and hanged on gibbets at various public places around the
Chesapeake Bay as a terrible warning to other pirates. Sensitively, the Judge
ordered the bodies to be left hanging on a good strong chain or rope "till
they rot and fall away." Capt. Guittar and the rest of the crew were
transported to England for trial, with special orders that Capt. Guittar be
transported on a ship with no other pirates.
Capt. Guittar and the entire crew pleaded quarter as a defense plus the
pirate's invariable defense -- "Those other wicked pirates forced me to
serve against my will." But, as usual, the forced-to-serve defense failed
because the defendants couldn't prove it. The quarter defense failed because
quarter was granted only under the illegal threat of murder. Capt. Guittar and
his crew were well and truly hanged in 1700 for Piracy on the High Seas.
To His Excellency the Governour and Council The Humble Petition of William Davis of Bristol Carpenter and Father of the said Thomas Davis, Sheweth, that the said Thomas Davis from his youth up hath been a Dutiful and Obedient son, and his life and Deportm’t has been always Regular and Becoming as well as Peaceable, and your poor Pet’r prays your Excellency and Honours will compassionate him and extend your Favour and Indulgence to his son as far as shall stand with your wisdom and Clemency
Capt. John Gilbert, Mariner, belonging to Bristol, Testifyeth and Saith that he well knew Thomas Davis (son of . . . William Davis) for these seven or eight years last past, and that he has had a good Education in a Religious and Orderly Family, and his Conversation, Carriage and Behaviour all that while was very decent and becoming, and this Depon't has no reason to think but that he always lived a well ordered life, having never heard to the contrary.
“Letter of John Gilbert to the Court of Vice-Admiralty on behalf of Thomas Davis” Suffolk Court Files, fragment 26283, Paper 2.
“Memorial of Thomas Davis” Boston (n.d.) Suffolk Court Files, Frag. 26283, paper 2.
“Petition of William Davis to the Court of Vice-Admiralty on behalf of Thomas Davis” Suffolk Court Files fragment 26283, Paper 2.
I owe a big thank you this week to Jennifer M. Huff, Reference Department Coordinator of the Virginia Historical Society, for providing me with a copy of this act.
Dated during the period of April 1699, it is from The Statutes at Large, being a Collection of all the Laws of Virginia, from the First Session of the Legislature, in the Year 1619, by William Waller Hening.
I tried to preserve as much of the original spelling as I could. I think seeing the original spellings adds to the interest of reading the text. Enjoy!
An Act for restraining and punishing of Pirates and Privateers
WHEREAS nothing can more conduce to the honour of his most sacred majesty then that such articles of peace as are concluded in all treaties should be kept and preserved inviolable by his majestyes subjects in and over all his majestyes territories and dominions and forasmuch as great mischief and depredations are dayly done upon the high seas by pyrates privateers and sea robers in not onely takeing and pillaging severall ships and vessels belonging to his majestyes subjects but also in takeing, destroying and robing severall ships belonging to the subjects of foreigne princes in leage and amity with his majesty-
Be it therefore enacted by the Governour, Counsell and Burgesses of this present Generall assembly, and the authority thereof, and it is hereby enacted, That if any pirates, privateers or sea robers, or any other persons suspected to be such shall land and put on shoar in any port or place in this his majestyes colony and dominon upon notice given or knowledge thereof, all officers civill and military are hereby required and impowered to raise and levy such a number of well armed men as he or they shall judge necessary for the seizing, apprehending and carrying to gal of all and every such person or persons, and in case ofany resistance or rrefusalto yield obedience to his majestyes authority it shall be lawfull to kill or destroy such person or persons and all and every person or persons that shall oppose or resist the said authority by strikeing or fireing upon any person in execution of this act, shall be deemed taken and adjudged as fellons without benefit of clergy, and every such officer that shall omit or neglect his duty therein and being lawfully convicted shall for every such offence forfeit fifty pounds sterling, one moiety to our sovereign Lord the king, his heirs and successors for and towards the better support of the government and the contingent charges thereof, and the other moiety to him that shall sue or informe for the same in any court of record in this his majestyes colony and dominion, in which no essoigne protection or wager of law shall be allowed. And for the better and morespeedy execution of justice upon such who having committed treasons, pirieyes, felloneyes, or other offences upon the sea, and shall be apprehended or brought prisoners to this his majestyes colony and dominion,
Be it further enacted by the authority aforesaid, and it is hereby enacted, That all treassons, fellonyes, piracyes, robberies, murders or other capitall offences that shall be committed upon the high seas or in any river, havens , creek or bay where the admiral hath jurisdiction, shall be enquired, tried, heared, determined, judged and execution awarded and done within this his majestyes colony and dominion in such forme as if such offence had been committed in and upon the land of this his majestyes collony and dominion. And to that end and purpose the governor or commander in chief of this his majestyes colony and dominion for the time being, is hereby desired and impowered to issue out commissions of oyer and terminer under his hand, and his majestyes seal of this his colony and dominion directed to the judge or judges of the admiralty of this his majestyes colony and dominion for the time being and to such other substanciall persons as he shall think fit to nominate and appoint, which said commissioners or such a quorum of them as by such commission shall be thereunto authorized shall have as full ample power and authority to hear and determine, adjudge and punish all and any the crimes and offences aforesaid as any commissioners under the great seale of England by virtue of a statute made in the twenty-eighth year of the reigne of King Henry the eighth might or could do and execute within the kingdom of England, and that such offenders which are or shall be apprehended in or brought prisoners to this his majestyes colony and dominion shall be lyable to such order, process, judgements and execution by virtue of such commission to be grounded upon this act as might be awarded or given against them if they were proceeded against within the realm of England by virtue of any such commission grounded upon the said statute.
And be it further enacted by the authority aforesaid, and it is hereby enacted, That all and every person or persons that shall knowingly or willfully conceal, entertaine, harbor trade or hold any correspondence by letter or otherwise with any person or persons that shall be deemed or adjudged to be pirates, privateers or other offenders within the constructions of this act and shall not readily endeavor to the best of his or their power to apprehend or cause to be apprehended such offender or offenders shall be lyable to be prosecuted as accessaryes to the said offences and confederates with the said offenders and to suffer such pains and penalties as in such cases by law is provided.