» Back to Pirates in History
The Down and Dirty on Charles Vane
||American Atlantic Coast; Caribbean Sea
|Date of Birth/Location
||Hanged in 1719/Jamaica
|Claim to Fame
||Prominent pirate in the West Indies
Charles Vane was one of the more successful pirates during the Golden Age of piracy in the West Indies (early 18th century), but his career was eclipsed by some of his more colorful and flamboyant contemporaries—Blackbeard, Bartholomew Roberts, Edward Low, John Rackam, and others.
Unfortunately for Vane, he may be most remembered for one of the more embarrassing events in pirate history (at least for a pirate commander). When confronted by a bigger and more heavily armed French frigate, Vane decided on prudence over foolishness and fled. His crew mutinied, led by John Rackam, accusing him of cowardice. Rackam served as Vane’s quartermaster at the time. The mutineers elected Rackam as their captain, thus launching the career of Calico Jack.
Vane nevertheless holds an important place in pirate history for his other exploits. He pillaged and plundered the Atlantic Coast from Florida to Maine as a member of a loose group of pirates based out of New Providence, Bahamas. About 1,000 pirates lived in Nassau around 1718, and the port was known for its free wheeling and tolerant attitude.
When England dispatched the former privateer Woodes Rogers as the Governor of the West Indies, most pirates fled. Others, including John Rackam and Anne Bonny, took a King’s Pardon and at least attempted to stop their piratical ways.
Not Vane. He held his ground and boldly challenged Rogers’s authority when his squadron of British warships approached Nassau in July 1718. As the HMS Rose and the sloop HMS Shark approached Nassau harbor, Vane sent a captured French prize loaded with explosives toward the British. The floating bomb forced both ships to flee or risk destruction.
Vane knew he could only hold off the inevitable for so long. So, he sailed out of the harbor in his sloop Ranger, sending a broadside toward the British ships in the process.
Vane’s most successful “season” according to historian David Cordingly was likely 1718 when he commanded two vessels—a brig of 12 guns and 90 men, and a large sloop of 8-guns and about sixty men. He captured eight ships in one month off the cost of South Carolina that year.
Things began to go sour shortly after his forced departure from Nassau. John Rackam had re-joined the pirates by November 1718 when he led the mutiny against Vane.
Vane’s pirate career didn’t end there. He secured another ship and continued to plunder the Caribbean Sea. His last ship eventually was shipwrecked in the Bay of Honduras. A passing merchant ship “rescued” him, but he was recognized and hanged in Jamaica in early 1719.