Captain Woodes Rogers

As the life of this famous navigator and privateer is, very justly, treated fully in the "Dictionary of National Biography" it is unnecessary to mention more than a few incidents in his adventurous career. Woodes Rogers was not only a good navigator, for on many occasions he showed a remarkable gift for commanding mutinous crews in spite of having many officers on whom he could place little reliance.

On leaving Cork in 1708, after an incompetent pilot had almost run his ship on two rocks off Kinsale called "The Sovereigne's Bollacks," Rogers describes his crew thus: "A third were foreigners, while of Her Majestie's subjects many were taylors, tinkers, pedlars, fiddlers, and hay-makers, with ten boys and one negro." It was with crews such as these that many of the boldest and most remarkable early voyages were made, and they required a man of Woodes Rogers stamp to knock them into sailors. Rogers had a gift for inspiring friendship wherever he went. On arriving at the coast of Brazil, his boat was fired on when trying to land at Angre de Reys. This settlement had but lately received several hostile visitors in the way of French pirates. But before a week was passed Woodes Rogers had so won the hearts of the Portuguese Governor and the settlers that he and his "musick" were invited to take part in an important religious function, or "entertainment," as Rogers calls it, "where," he says, "we waited on the Governour, Signior Raphael de Silva Lagos, in a body, being ten of us, with two trumpets and a hautboy, which he desir'd might play us to church, where our musick did the office of an organ, but separate from the singing, which was by the fathers well perform'd. Our musick played 'Hey, boys, up go we!' and all manner of noisy paltry tunes. And after service, our musicians, who were by that time more than half drunk, march'd at the head of the company; next to them an old father and two fryars carrying lamps of incense, then an image dressed with flowers and wax candles, then about forty priests, fryars, etc., followed by the Governor of the town, myself, and Capt. Courtney, with each of us a long wax candle lighted. The ceremony held about two hours; after which we were splendidly entertained by the fathers of the Convent, and then by the Governour. They unanimously told us they expected nothing from us but our Company, and they had no more but our musick."

What a delightful picture this calls to the mind - the little Brazilian town, the tropical foliage, the Holy Procession, "wax figure" and priests, followed by the Governor with an English buccaneer on either side, and headed by a crew of drunken Protestant English sailors playing "Hey, boys, up go we!"

Rogers, not to be outdone in hospitality, next day entertained the Governor and fathers on board the Duke, "when," he says, "they were very merry, and in their cups propos'd the Pope's health to us. But we were quits with 'em by toasting the Archbishop of Canterbury; and to keep up the humour, we also proposed William Pen's health, and they liked the liquor so well, that they refused neither." Alas! the good Governor and the fathers were not in a fit state to leave the ship when the end came to the entertainment, so slept on board, being put ashore in the morning, "when we saluted 'em with a huzza from each ship, because," as Rogers says, "we were not overstocked with powder."

It was in March, 1710, that Rogers brought his little fleet into the harbour of Guam, one of the Ladrone Islands. Although at war with Spain, the captain soon became on his usual friendly terms with the Governor of this Spanish colony, and gave an entertainment on board his ship to him and four other Spanish gentlemen, making them "as welcome as time and place would afford, with musick and our sailors dancing." The Governor gave a return party on shore, to which Rogers and all his brother officers were invited, partaking of "sixty dishes of various sorts." After this feast Rogers gave his host a present, consisting of "two negro boys dress'd in liveries." One other instance of Woodes Rogers adaptability must suffice. In the year 1717 he was appointed Governor to the Bahama Islands, at New Providence, now called Nassau. His chief duty was to stamp out the West India pirates who had made this island their headquarters for many years, and were in complete power there, and numbered more than 2,000 desperadoes, including such famous men as Vane and Teach. Rogers's only weapon, besides the man-of-war he arrived in, was a royal proclamation from King George offering free pardon to all pirates or buccaneers who would surrender at once to the new Governor. At first the pirates were inclined to resist his landing, but in the end the tactful Rogers got his own way, and not only landed, but was received by an armed guard of honour, and passed between two lines of pirates who fired salutes with their muskets.

Most of the pirates surrendered and received their pardons, but some, who reverted shortly afterwards to piracy and were captured and brought back to New Providence, were tried and actually hanged by Rogers's late buccaneer subjects.

Woodes Rogers eventually died in Nassau in the year 1729.

He was the author of a delightful book entitled "A Cruising Voyage Round the World, begun in 1708 and finish'd in 1711, by Captain Woodes Rogers, Commander-in-Chief on this Expedition, with the ships Duke and Duchess of Bristol." This was published in London in 1712.

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.

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