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JOHN QUELCH, THE PIRATE, AND HIS EXECUTION IN BOSTON
The privateer “Charles” owned by merchants of Boston lay in Marblehead Harbour with her commanding officer, Captain David Plowman, too ill to venture to put to sea. He sent word to the owners that he could not trust his crew and suggested that they come on board and consult as to future plans, but before they could get to the ship, the crew mutinied, with John Quelch at the head, took command of the vessel, and turned her prow toward the track of the Spanish trade. Quelch threw Captain Plowman overboard when he was well out to sea and hoisted a pirate’s flag with the figure of a skeleton on it. He and his treacherous crew in a short time succeeded in capturing many Portuguese vessels, and with them much valuable booty.
Dudley was Governor of Massachusetts at the time, and he did all in his power to discover the “Charles,” but failed to find any trace of her. Not long afterwards Quelch sailed back to Marblehead and reported that Plowman had died at sea, and that he had been obliged to take command of the privateer, assuring the authorities that his treasures had been collected from the wreck of a Spanish galleon. It was thought wise, however, to search the ship, and a different story came out. Quelch and those of his crew who had not escaped were promptly arrested. Governor Dudley ordered those who had reached shore to be captured if possible. Many of them were found scattered in different parts of New England. The trial was held in the Star Tavern on Hanover Street and was the first proceeding under the Pirate law in the Colonies. Quelch and nineteen of his crew were found guilty and sentenced to death. Two, however, were let off, one on account of illness and the other because of extreme youth.
EXECUTION OF PIRATES ON BOSTON NECK.
There are two copies of a broadside published in Boston which portrays the efforts made to save the souls of the condemned men. Many sermons were also preached in their presence every day. The broadside began as follows: “An account of the Behaviour and Last Dying Speeches of the Six Pirates that were Executed on Charles River, Boston Side, on Fryday, June 30, 1704.” All were pardoned except Quelch and five others, nine being impressed into the Navy. These six condemned pirates, under a guard of forty musketeers, town constables, and two ministers, marched through the streets of the town, which were thronged with spectators, it being considered a great treat to witness the hanging of so many persons. The last part of the way they proceeded by water. The ministers then addressed to them a long sermon. As Quelch stepped on the stage, he took off his hat and bowed to the spectators, apparently quite unconcerned, and advised the onlookers to take care “how they brought money into New England, to be hanged for it.” He died bravely.
A Salem writer composed the following lines:—
“Ye pirates, who against
God’s laws did fight,
Part of the treasure was successfully smuggled away, but there was still enough left to afford a large division of spoils among various officials of the Colony, even Governor Dudley himself coming in for his share. The owner of the Star Tavern “for entertainment of the Commissioners during Court proceedings” was generously remembered, as well as the Lieutenant Governor, the sheriff of New Hampshire, prisoners’ counsel, marshal, constables, queen’s counsel, prison-keeper and captains of the militia. The amount of the booty given to Governor Dudley is not made known. Cotton Mather, who had a quarrel with him, asserted that he “extorted the sum of 30 pounds from some of the crew for liberty to walk at certain times in the prison yard.”
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