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Pirate Gold Recovered at Isles of Shoals

 

Traitor or trader?

Things did not go well for Captain Quelch. With only a portion of his gold recovered, Gov. Dudley and his son Paul, the attorney general of Massachusetts Colony, instantly put the accused pirate on trial. They did not see fit to indict the five prominent owners who employed Quelch.

quelch_book_linkWorking from the original transcripts, author Beal recounts Quelch’s trial like a modern courtroom drama. Quelch was convicted of piracy by the Massachusetts court and sentenced to be hanged. He did did not hang alone. Twenty of his crewmen were caught and convicted and six were selected to die.

The seven condemned men stood together on a wobbly plank at a gallows constructed between the high and low tide marks in a mud flat outside Boston Harbor. Quelch was unrepentant. He bowed to the enormous cheering crowd that gathered on land in hundreds of small boats to watch the execution.

"They should also take care," Quelch shouted in warning to those gathered, "how they brought money into New-England, to be hanged for it!"

The plank was withdrawn and the twisting men slowly strangled under their own weight. Their bodies were left, by custom, to rise and fall with three high tides before they could be cut down and deposited in unhallowed ground.

The hangings, without benefit of a jury trial, were considered illegal by many, both in England and in the Colonies. Author Clifford Beal even suggests that the public reaction to this act of judicial homicide helped kindle the spark that became the American Revolution. Although the Dudleys were native-born New Englanders, their actions represented the Crown, and thus angered the citizens of Boston. British lawmakers were also displeased and saw Joseph Dudley, who was also royal governor of New Hampshire at the time, as taking too much power into his own hands.

Even the wealthy Boston syndicate that blew the whistle on their own Captain Quelch was unhappy, since the Dudley’s court confiscated their gold, the brigantine Charles and all its cargo. Then the Dudleys used the gold to pay themselves handsomely for one of the most expensive trials in early American history.

And what about the rest of the stolen gold? No one even considered returning it to its Portuguese owners. It was shipped, instead, to England where it was melted down and cast into currency by the master of the British mint, Sir Isaac Newton, the same man who discovered the Theory of Gravity. Quelch’s Gold by Clifford Beal is both good history and a thrilling pirate story. The bizarre plot twists and turns like a Hollywood movie -- except this one is true.

 

Copyright © 2010 by J. Dennis Robinson, all rights reserved. History Matters also appears biweekly in the Portsmouth Herald. Robinson is the editor and owner of the popular history Web site SeacoastNH.com where this article can be found online. Robinson is currently completing two books on privateering including a text for children due in 2011.

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