Evangelizing Pirates



From Captain Charles Johnson’s

“A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pirates.” London, 1724.

On the 28th of October, 1718, a court of Vice Admiralty was held at Charleston, in South Carolina, and by several adjournments continued until Wednesday, the 12th of November following, for the trial of the Pirates taken in a sloop formerly called the Revenge, but afterwards the Royal James, before Nicholas Trot, Esq., Judge of the Vice Admiralty, and chief Justice of the said Province of South Carolina, and other assistant judges.

Here be the Lord Chief Justice’s Speech, upon his Pronouncing Sentence on Major Stede Bonnet.

“Major Stede Bonnet, you stand here convicted upon two indictments of piracy; one by the verdict of the jury, and the other by your own confession.

Although you were indicted but for two facts, yet you know that at your trial it was fully proved, even by an unwilling witness, that you piratically took and rifled no less than thirteen vessels since you sailed from North Carolina.

So that you might have been indicted and convicted on eleven more acts of piracy since you took the benefit of the King’s Act of Grace, and pretended to leave that wicked course of life.

Not to mention the many acts of piracy you committed before; for which, if your pardon from man was never so authentic, yet you must expect to answer for them before God.

You know that the crimes you have committed are evil in themselves, and contrary to the light and law of nature, as well as the law of God, by which you are commanded that you shall not steal (Exo. 20.15). And the Apostle St. Paul expressly affirms that thieves shall not inherit the Kingdom of God (I Cor. 6.10).

But to theft you have added a greater sin, which is murder. How many you may have killed of those that resisted you in the committing of your former piracies, I know not, but this we all know, that besides the wounded you killed no less than eighteen persons out of those that were sent by lawful authority to suppress you, and put a stop to those rapines that you daily acted.

And, however you might fancy that that was killing men fairly in open fight, yet this know, that the power of the sword not being committed into your hands by any lawful authority, you were not empowered to use any force, or fight anyone; and therefore those persons that fell in that action, in doing their duty to their King and Country, were murdered, and their blood now cries out for vengeance and justice against you. For it is the voice of Nature confirmed by the Law of God, that whosoever sheddeth man’s blood by man shall his blood be shed (Gen. 9.6).

And consider that Death is not the only punishment due to Murderers; for they are threatened to have their part in the lake witch burneth with fire and brimstone, which is the second Death (Rev. 21. 8 See Chap. 22. 15). Words which carry that terror with them that considering your circumstances and your guilt, surely the sound of them must make you tremble, for who can dwell with everlasting burnings? (Isaiah 33.14).

As the testimony of your conscience must convince you of the great and many evils you have committed, by which you have highly offended God, and provoked most justly His wrath and indignation against you, so I suppose I need not tell you that the only way of obtaining pardon and remission of your sins from God is by a true and unfeigned repentance and faith in Christ, by whose meritorious Death and Passion you can only hope for salvation.

You being a gentleman that have had the advantage of a liberal education, and being generally esteemed a man of letters, I believe it will be needless for me to explain to you the nature of repentance and faith in Christ, they being so fully and often mentioned in the Scriptures that you cannot but know them. And therefore, perhaps, for that reason it might be thought by some improper for me to have said so much to you, as I have already upon this occasion. Neither should I have done it, but that considering the course of your life and actions, I have just reason to fear that the principles of religion that had been instilled into you by your education have been at least corrupted, if not entirely defaced, by the Scepticism and Infidelity of this wicked age; and that what time you allowed for study was rather applied to the Polite Literature and the vain philosophy of the times, than a serious search after the Law and Will of God, as revealed unto us in the Holy Scriptures. For had your delight been in the Law of the Lord and that you had meditated therein day and night (Psalm 1.2) you would have then found that God’s Word was a lamp unto your feet, and a light to your path (Psalm 119.105) and that you would account all other knowledge but loss in comparison of the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus (Phil. 3.8) who to them that are called is the power of God and the wisdom of God (I Cor. 1.24) even the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the world (Chap. 2.7).

You would then have esteemed the Scriptures as the Great charter of Heaven, and which delivered to us not only the most perfect laws and rules of life, but also discovered to us the Acts of Pardon from God, wherein they have offended those righteous laws. For in them only is to be found the great mystery of fallen man’s Redemption which the angels desire to look into (I Pet. 1.12).

And they would have taught you that Sin is the debasing of human nature as being a deviation from that Purity, Rectitude and Holiness in which God created us, and that Virtue and Religion and walking by the laws of God were altogether preferable to the ways of Sin and Satan, for that the ways of Virtue are ways of pleasantness, and all their paths are peace (Prov. 3.17).

But what you could not learn from God’s Word, by reason of your carelessly or but superficially considering the same, I hope the course of His Providence and the present afflictions that He hath laid upon you, hath now convinced you of the same. For however in your seeming prosperity you might make a mock at your sins (Prov. 14.9) yet know that you see God’s hand hath reached you, and brought you to public justice, I hope your present unhappy circumstances hath made you seriously reflect upon your past actions and course of life; and that you are now sensible of the greatness of your sins, and that you find the burden of them is intolerable.

And that therefore being thus labouring and heavy laden with sin (Matt. 11.28) you will esteem that as the most valuable knowledge, that can show you how you can be reconciled to that supreme God that you have so highly offended; and that can reveal to you Him who is not only the powerful Advocate with the Father for you (I John 2.1) but also who hath paid that debt that is due for your sins by His own Death upon the Cross for you; and thereby made full satisfaction for the justice of God. And this is to be found nowhere but in God’s Word, which discovers to us that Lamb of God which takes away the sins of the world (John 1. 29) which is Christ the Son of God; for this know and be assured, that there is none other name under heaven given among men whereby they must be saved (Acts 4.12) but only by the name of the Lord Jesus.

But then consider how He invites all sinners to come unto Him and that he will give them rest (Matt. 11.28) for He assure us that he came to seek and to save that which was lost (Luke 19.10; Matt. 18.11) and hath promised that he that cometh to him, he will in no wise cast out (John 6.37).

So that if you will now sincerely turn to Him, though late, even at the eleventh hour (Matt. 20.6, 9) He will receive you.

But surely I need not tell you that the terms of His mercy is Faith and Repentance.

And do not mistake the nature of repentance to be only a bare sorrow for your sins, arising from the consideration of the evil and punishment they have now brought upon you; but your sorrow must arise from the consideration of your having offended a gracious and merciful God.

But I shall not pretend to give you any particular directions as to the nature of repentance. I consider that I speak to a person whose offences have proceeded not so much from his not knowing, as to his slighting and neglecting his duty. Neither is it proper for me to give advice, out of the way of my own profession.

You may have that better delivered to you by those who have made Divinity their particular study and who, by their knowledge as well as their office, as being ambassadors of Christ (II Cor 5.20) are best qualified to give you instruction therein.

I only heartily wish that what, in compassion to your soul, I have now said to you upon this sad and solemn occasion, by exhorting you in general to faith and repentance, may have that due effect upon you that thereby you may become a true penitent.

And therefore, having now discharged my duty to you as a Christian by giving you the best council I can, with respect to the salvation of your soul, I must now do my office as a judge.

The sentence that the Law hath appointed to pass on you for your offences, and which this court doth therefore award is;

That you, the said Stede Bonnet, shall go from hence to the place from whence you came, and from thence to the place of execution, where you shall be hanged by the neck till you are dead.

And the God of Infinite Mercy be merciful to your soul.”

Near the end of November, 1718, The Pirate Major Stede Bonnet was executed between the tides at the White Point near Charleston, pursuant to his sentence.

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