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The Brief Career of Pirate John Quelch

Joyy roger

Legends of pirates at the Isles of Shoals persist, despite a lack of historical evidence. One band of pirates, however, were captured with their loot at Star Island. Author Clifford Beal tells the story in his revealing and highly readable new book "Quelch’s Gold".






SEE ALSO: Seeking Blackbeard's Treasure

The historical pirate is dead. He was stabbed in the back in the 1880s by a romantic novel called Treasure Island and the operetta Pirates of Penzance. He was keelhauled by the comic Captain Hook in the early 20th century production of Peter Pan. What remained of the truth was fed to the sharks by actor Johnny Depp who plays the quirky conflict-averse Captain Jack Sparrow in three recent Disney films.

Quelch's GoldYes, Virginia, there once were real pirates on real wooden ships. There have been pirates since the days of ancient Greece. There are modern pirates with machine guns and machetes who pray on yachts and sailboats today. But the pirates we most romanticize plundered these waters in the 17th and early 18th centuries. They did not sport beards made from live snakes, but there might have been the occasional hooked arm, peg leg, striped shirt, eye patch and shoulder-parrot. They were, by in large, violent and desperate men living under wretched conditions.

Lucky for the real pirates, there are historians like Clifford Beal who know how to wield a pen and dig for facts. Beal cuts to the heart of one authentic pirate in his new book Quelch’s Gold. John Quelch is not as famous as Captain Kidd and Edmund "Blackbeard" Teach, who also sailed these waters, but his story reveals much about how pirates actually lived. Like criminals of any era, we know the most about those pirates who got caught and went to trial. Quelch was hanged in Boston in 1704 after a single year of looting on the high seas. Legend says Quelch’s men deposited their treasure at the Isles of Shoals in New Hampshire. .

Beal’s adventure begins in August of 1703 as the 80-ton brigantine Charles slipped out of Marblehead harbor. Owned by a syndicate of five influential Bostonians, the Charles was on a mission to attack French privateers, government sanctioned pirates, that were harassing British merchant ships in the North Atlantic. The owners did not know, however, that their captain, Daniel Plowman, lay dying in his bunk. Forty hours after the Charles cleared the harbor, Plowman was dead, presumably of natural causes. John Quelch, the ship’s lieutenant, took command.



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