Maritime Cork: Leaving Cork for the pirate life 

Maritime Cork: Leaving Cork for the pirate life 
A model of the Whydah vessel.

Wales has always had strong shipping links with Cork. There are records from the 15th century of extensive shipping trade from Cork, Youghal and Kinsale to Bristol. 

Swansea connected with Cork until that service closed in 2012.

Amongst these connections is the amazing story of a young man from Carmarthen in Wales who first set eyes on Cork aboard the sailing cargo ship, St.Michael, in September of 1716. 

Thomas Davis was the ship’s carpenter, a vital role on wooden vessels. The ship called to Cork from Bristol where Davis set foot before his ship set sail for Jamaica.

The voyage put him in the dock of an American Court where a prosecutor called for him to be hanged as a pirate.

The St. Michael voyage was uneventful until she was attacked by pirates on December 19 when nearing Jamaica. They were led by ‘Black Sam Bellamy’. 

They discovered that Davis was the carpenter. In fear and terror, he was forced aboard their ship, conscripted to the pirate ranks. 

Despite his notoriety, Bellamy would release a ship after looting it. As the St. Michael sailed away, Davis pleaded to be let go. He later claimed that Bellamy promised to release him after helping to repair damage to their ship. 

But the pirate crew overturned their leader’s decision and told Davis: “We’ll shoot or whip you to death at the mast before we’ll let you go.” Such was the importance of a carpenter! 

On a pirate ship, he would also be used to inspect captured ships to determine their value, as well as repairing and maintaining their own vessels. 

Surgeons were scarce and a carpenter would carry out amputations after a hostile engagement - simply because he had good saws.

Davis was with the pirates when they captured and looted several ships. One was the Whydah, a fast English vessel which Davis had to work on converting to their ‘flagship.’ 

On April 26, 1717, she was wrecked in a gale at Cape Cod, with 150 men aboard and booty that included 400,000 Spanish coins, African gold and other looted cargo. A square-rigged ship was difficult to handle in high winds and, lying low in the water with all that weight, a strong gale drove her ashore, with all killed except Davis.

Found at the door of a local house, washed ashore, wet, exhausted, nearly dead, begging for help, he was arrested by soldiers hunting for pirates. They had already captured six. Davis, who thought his life had been saved, was regarded as another.

After capturing a ship from Dublin, the Mary Anne, which was heading for New York, Bellamy put men aboard to sail her to their base for looting. She didn’t break up and the six were found amongst the vessel’s crew that got safely ashore.

Put in chains with them in a Boston jail, Davis claimed to the USA Court that he was a “forced man,” compelled to join the pirates and told all he knew about them, desperate to avoid hanging. Bellamy had drowned in the Whydah. Davis was tried separately.

Witnesses from the St. Michael confirmed he had been forced off that ship. The Court believed his claim and found him “Not Guilty”.

The six pirates from the Mary Anne weren’t so fortunate, though claiming they were, like Davis, “forced into piracy.” They were hanged on November 15, 1717.

There is no record of what happened to Davis after his trial.

The wreck of the Whydah was found in 1984.

Email: tommacsweeneymarine@gmail.com

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