IT WAS about 1680 that the problem of pirates attacking English shipping became a nuisance that had to be addressed. King Charles II tasked his naval leaders with the responsibility to come up with a solution. Since the Caribbean was too far away for the English navy to patrol effectively aside from the occasional fleet sailing there and back to England, another solution had to be determined.
“If I may offer a suggestion?” the first Lord of the Admiralty said.
“Of course, Admiral, what is it?” responded the Secretary of the Navy.
“Why not fight pirates with pirates? Since we don’t trust the French or the Spanish enough to be without the bulk of our fleet at home, let’s use the next best thing,” he suggested.
“Fight pirates with pirates? Are you mad, sir? How are we to trust any pirate that would sign on to fight for England and her colonies in the Americas?”
“We would be able to trust them because they would be our pirates.”
“You mean the Crown would engage the services of pirates for pay?” asked the Secretary with a look of astonishment upon his face.
“More or less, my Lord. We would simply engage the services of privateers with a specific set of orders and set them free. They would be obliged to bring back a majority of any goods taken on the high seas. This would then put a fighting force in the Caribbean without reducing our forces at home,” the Admiral said with a smile.
“Yes, it would also bring in revenue to the Crown that we could use to build more ships for the home fleet. Do you know such a captain that we could trust as an experiment?”
“Yes, my Lord, I do. I know one man: Captain Blain Stillwater. Shall I make contact and lay this all out for him?”
“See to it at once, Admiral. If he agrees with this, we can base him out of North Carolina so that he doesn’t always have to run back to England for everything.”
As the Admiral left the Secretary of the Navy’s office, he had a big smile that only the guards could see. With this new possible source of income, he would be the head of an even larger fleet within two years. War with France or Spain was bound to occur, so a larger fleet was necessary to secure England from invasion. Now he needed to find Stillwater and tell him he was taking the assignment, like it or not!
Captain Blain was drunk as usual on a Saturday night in his favorite pub. He was on his sixth large ale and sitting in a back corner with both a gentleman and a lady for cover. The gentleman was one of the fancy men who caroused around seeking male companionship after the gaming rooms closed. Since the captain hadn’t officially said yes to a permanent type relationship with his usual companion, he was about to give this dandy a night he wouldn’t soon forget!
Before he could make his move, the pub went silent as the door smashed open and men of the King’s Navy entered looking for Stillwater. A naval lieutenant commanding six men shouted out, “Is Captain Blain Stillwater about?”
Stillwater slunk low in his seat as all who knew him turned to see what his response would be. When no answer was forthcoming, the lieutenant followed the gaze of those who were looking to the back of the pub, and he strode to where the captain had just about slid under the table.
“Captain Stillwater, compliments of the First Lord of the Admiralty, sir. You’ll need to come with us, sir, to a meeting where your presence has been requested.”
“Aye, then, if my presence is only requested, I can say thank you, but no, lad,” Stillwater replied.
“In that case, sir, your presence is now required. Will you come like a gentleman, sir, or do my men need to assist you?”
Stillwater sat up at the table, looked at the determined lieutenant, said, “No, I’ll need no assistance,” and then took a long gulp of his remaining ale.
“This way, sir, if you please. Admiral Bancroft is waiting,” the lieutenant said.
Together with his escort, Captain Stillwater left the Crooked Anchor pub and headed to the Admiralty building. As they marched, Stillwater tried to get from the lieutenant why he was summoned to this meeting and what was it all about. He got no reply from his escort.
It had now been over two years since the captain had last spoken with the Admiral. What in the hell could he possibly want after all this time? At their last parting, the Admiral had called him “a man of wanton disposition.” Of course, that was far better than some of the names he had been called by others!
The Admiral had met Stillwater when the captain was but a young lieutenant himself aboard one of his Majesty’s ships in service to the Crown. But Stillwater found that his taste for men ran in direct opposition to the rules of the navy where buggery could be punished most severely. Since Stillwater had no desire to be hanged for enjoying himself, he served his tour and got out of the navy to captain private merchant vessels.
After entering the naval building used as a headquarters by Admiral Bancroft, Stillwater was shown to a waiting area and told to sit. Blain noted that two sailors from the escort stood by to ensure that he didn’t disappear. After a few moments, the lieutenant returned and said, “This way, sir, the Admiral will see you now.”
Blain entered an ornate room where he found the Admiral and two other officers sipping brandy. The Admiral rose and said, “Ah, Stillwater, good to see you. Thank you for agreeing to pay me a visit.”
“Thank you, Admiral, but it isn’t like I had a choice. The lieutenant insinuated that I would be hauled here kicking and screaming if I had refused your kind ‘invitation’.”
“I shall speak to the lieutenant about that. I never ordered him to use force or the threat of force! However, since you’re here, please sit. I have a proposition for you that I’m sure you’ll be interested in.”
Blain sat down with a worried look. If the Admiralty had a “proposition” for him, it couldn’t be good news. “Very well, Admiral, I’m listening.”
“I’ve been ordered by the Secretary of the Navy on behalf of his Majesty to offer you a ship of war to captain, but not as a member of his Majesty’s navy. You would set sail as a privateer, under orders from the Crown, with full immunity for your actions in the Caribbean.”
“And who would be my target, the French?”
“Your primary target would be pirate ships operating in the waters of the Caribbean. Second would be the French, and then the Spanish. You and your crew would be entitled to keep ten percent of any cargo you capture with the rest going to the Crown.”
“And what of my crew? Am I to get them from you?”
“From me? I should say not. Look, Stillwater, if you’re caught by the French or Spanish, you’re on your own! His Majesty’s government will have no knowledge of what you do with your ship. Speaking of your ship, you’re being given a Spanish galleon that we captured two years ago sailing English waters. She’s being outfitted as we speak for service at sea. As for your crew, that’s up to you. If you need help, we’ll press gang them for you, but that’s as far as we go together.”
“Admiral, why would I even consider taking this mandate from the government? It’s nothing but danger and probable death at the end for me and any crew foolish enough to sail with me. What possible motive is there?”
“First, you get a ship again and a mission to sail her. Among your many and sordid reputations is one that says you like action, and there’ll be plenty of that where you’re going. The Crown will fully provision your ship with everything you’ll need but the crew. As for that, you’re on your own. Sweep the gutters and public houses if you must, but a crew is your problem.”
“Might I have a royal writ to go to Newgate prison and search there as well? Many a seaman may be found there, I don’t doubt.”
“Yes, yes, of course. I’ll see that is drawn up at once and sent to your quarters. Do you accept this charge from His Majesty? And when can you put to sea if you do?”
“Aye, I accept, Admiral. The alternative is to die of boredom and drink! As for when? As long as a good crew can be obtained, I can put to sea no later than three weeks from today. Will that suffice, sir?”
“Congratulations, Captain Stillwater, and good hunting!” the Admiral said with a smile, as he slapped Stillwater on the back.
“Oh, one more thing. I’ll need that royal pardon before I sail. It will be kept safely for me on land here in London. I would not want to bother His Majesty for such a thing when I return.”
“Stillwater, I don’t think you trust His Majesty! Nevertheless, it shall be so. You’ll have it before you sail.”
As Blain left the Admiralty, he wondered who to recruit for this mission of piracy. He would need a good first officer, a good bosun, and a damn good cook! He decided to try to find his old mate, Lloyd Hale, an outstanding seaman who loved adventure as much as Stillwater did. The cook was going to be more difficult. While there were dozens of men who could boil water and make a stew, it was a rare one indeed who could make meals that brought smiles to the faces of the men.
Stillwater knew it was very important to have a contented crew on board a pirate ship, and food was one way to help keep them happy. The other was sex in ports of call or on board, if they brought along a mate for that purpose. While it was a hanging offense in the Royal Navy, it was accepted practice on board pirate vessels, a fact that made Stillwater smile. No more lonely, horny voyages in Stillwater’s future!