Captain Howel Davis.
This Welsh pirate was born at Milford in Monmouthshire. He went to sea as a boy, and eventually sailed as chief mate in the Cadogan snow, of Bristol, to the Guinea Coast. His ship was taken off Sierra Leone by the pirate England, and the captain murdered. Davis turned pirate, and was given command of this old vessel, the Cadogan, in which to go "on the account." But the crew refused to turn pirate, and sailed the ship to Barbadoes, and there handed Davis over to the Governor, who imprisoned him for three months and then liberated him. As no one on the island would offer him employment, Davis went to New Providence Island, the stronghold of the West India pirates.
Arrived there, he found that Captain Woodes Rogers had only lately come from England with an offer of a royal pardon, which most of the pirates had availed themselves of. Davis got employment under the Governor, on board the sloop, the Buck, to trade goods with the French and Spanish settlements. The crew was composed of the very recently reformed pirates, and no sooner was the sloop out of sight of land than they mutinied and seized the vessel, Davis being voted captain, on which occasion, over a bowl of punch in the great cabin, the new captain made an eloquent speech, finishing by declaring war against the whole world. Davis proved himself an enterprising and successful pirate chief, but preferred, whenever possible, to use strategy and cunning rather than force to gain his ends. His first prize was a big French ship, which, although Davis had only a small sloop and a crew of but thirty-five men, he managed to take by a bold and clever trick. After taking a few more ships in the West Indies, Davies sailed across the Atlantic to the Island of St. Nicholas in the Cape Verde Islands. Here he and his crew were a great social success, spending weeks on shore as the guests of the Governor and chief inhabitants. When Davis reluctantly left this delightful spot, five of his crew were missing, "being so charmed with the Luxuries of the Place, and the Conversation of some Women, that they stayed behind."
Davis now went cruising and took a number of vessels, and arrived eventually at St. Jago. The Portuguese Governor of this island did not take at all kindly to his bold visitor, and was blunt enough to say he suspected Davis of being a pirate. This suspicion his crew took exception to, and they decided they could not let such an insult pass, so that very night they made a sudden attack on the fort, taking and plundering it.
Davis sailed away next morning to the coast and anchored off the Castle of Gambia, which was strongly held for the African Company by the Governor and a garrison of English soldiers. Davis, nothing daunted, proposed to his merry men a bold and ingenious stratagem by which they could take the castle, and, the crew agreeing, it was carried out with so much success that they soon had the castle, Governor, and soldiers in their possession, as well as a rich spoil of bars of gold; and all these without a solitary casualty on either side. After this brilliant coup, many of the soldiers joined the pirates. The pirates were attacked shortly afterwards by a French ship commanded by Captain La Bouse, but on both ships hoisting their colours, the Jolly Roger, they understood each other and fraternized, and then sailed together to Sierra Leone, where they attacked a tall ship they found lying there at anchor. This ship also proved to be a pirate, commanded by one Captain Cocklyn, so the three joined forces and assaulted the fort, which, after a sharp bombardment, surrendered. Davis was then elected commander of the pirate fleet, but one night, when entertaining the other captains in his cabin, all having drunk freely of punch, they started to quarrel, and blows were threatened, when Davis, with true Celtic eloquence, hiccupped out the following speech:
"Hearke ye, you Cocklyn and La Bouse. I find by strengthening you I have put a rod into your Hands to whip myself, but I'm still able to deal with you both; but since we met in Love, let us part in Love, for I find that three of a Trade can never agree." Alone once more, Davis had prodigious success, taking prize after prize, amongst others the Princess, the second mate in which was one Roberts, soon to become a most famous pirate. Off Anamaboe he took a very rich prize, a Hollander ship, on board of which was the Governor of Accra and his retinue, as well as £15,000 sterling and rich merchandise. Arriving next at the Portuguese Island of Princes, Davis posed as an English man-of-war in search of pirates, and was most warmly welcomed by the Governor, who received him in person with a guard of honour and entertained him most hospitably. Davis heard that the Governor and the chief persons of the island had sent their wives to a village a few miles away, so the pirate and a few chosen spirits decided to pay a surprise visit on these ladies. However, the ladies, on perceiving their gallant callers, shrieked and ran into the woods and, in fact, made such a hullabaloo that the English Don Juans were glad to slink away, and "the Thing made some noise, but not being known was passed over."
Davis, ever a cunning rogue, now formed a pretty scheme to take the Governor and chief inhabitants prisoners and to hold them for a big ransom. This plan was spoilt by a Portuguese slave swimming to shore and telling the Governor all about it, and worse, telling him about the little affair of Davis and his visit to the ladies in the wood. The Governor now laid his plans, and with such success that Davis walked unsuspecting into the trap, and was "shot in the bowels," but it is some consolation to know that he "dyed like a game Cock," as he shot two of the Portuguese with his pistols as he fell.
Thus died a man noted during his lifetime by his contemporaries for his "affability and good nature," which only goes to show how one's point of view is apt to be influenced by circumstances.
Taken from The Pirates' Who's Who:Giving Particulars Of The Lives and Deaths Of The Pirates And Buccaneers by Philip Gosse. Originally published by Burt Franklin of 235 East 44th St., New York 10017 in 1924 and in the public domain.