June 30, 1704: John Quelch dies. He was born in London in 1666 and little is known about his early life. What causes him to be of interest is his death. John became a pirate in 1703 and was quite successful in his endeavors. His worth when captured was £10,000 or about £1.4 million or about $2.36 million today. It is assumed that piracy on the open seas is as old as trade crossing the open seas. The term comes from the Latin term pirata and the Greek word peirates or brigand. The word is related to peril. It is typically used as an act of robbery or criminal violence at sea. The word has been hijacked to mean the stealing of music or other intellectual property.
In July of 1703, Captain Daniel Plowman was given a license to privateer against the French and Spanish ships off the coast of Newfoundland and Arcadia by Joseph Dudley of Boston. John Quelch was Plowman’s lieutenant aboard the Charles. Before leaving Marblehead, Massachusetts the crew mutinied and locked the Captain in his cabin. They elected Quelch as captain and the ship headed south rather than north. Plowman was thrown overboard, but it is unclear whether or not he was dead before being evicted. The crew attacked Portuguese ships off the coast of Brazil even though England and Portugal were not at war. There is a legend stating the crew buried some of the haul on Star Island off the coast of New Hampshire.
When the ship returned to Marblehead ten months later, the crewman scattered after dividing the loot. Within a week, Quelch was in jail for his attack against Portuguese ships. This nation was not in his letter for privateering (legal piracy) and more importantly, Queen Anne and the King of Portugal had just become allies. Quelch and crew were taken to Boston to be tried. This was the first admiralty trial outside England and what one historian has called “the first case of judicial murder in America.” Trial under Admiralty Law is without a jury and was instituted after civil and criminal courts proved unable to stem the tide of increasing piracy.
There were 45 men who were known to be on the ship. There was nothing mentioned about the disposal, either dead or alive of the original Captain, Plowman. The men were tried for piracy and not murder. Five others beside Quelch were hanged on this day. Three men had turned Queen’s evidence and escaped persecution by that means. John Templeton was not even 14 years old yet and found to be a servant and not charged. There is some rumor that Quelch flew a pirate flag referred to as Old Roger by his crew and this is where we get the term Jolly Roger for a pirate flag. However, Quelch flew nothing more than the a privateer’s flag of St. George.
They should take care how they brought Money into New England to be Hanged for it. – John Quelch – last words
There is more treasure in books than in all the pirate’s loot on Treasure Island. – Walt Disney
I don’t really know much about pirates, or pirate culture. I’d be a contrarian pirate. – Todd Barry
There’s very little admirable about being a pirate. There’s very little functional about a pirate. There’s very little real about a pirate. – Will Oldham
Also on this day: What Was That? – In 1908, the Tunguska event occurs.
Tight Rope – In 1859, Charles Blondin crossed the Niagara Falls on a tightrope.
Brilliant – In 1905, Einstein published a paper.
Monkeying Around – In 1860, an Oxford debate on evolution is held.