Thursday, May 28, 2015

One of the Most Mischievous and Vilest Villains

On 14 July, 1719, Capt. Ellis Brand of HMS Lyme penned a letter to the Lords of Admiralty. In it he referenced William Howard, quartermaster to Blackbeard the Pirate who many believe was the same William Howard who later became colonial owner of Ocracoke Island, as "one of the most mischievous, vilest villains that had infested that coast.” Author Kevin Duffus (Looking Glass Productions) photographed these two pages of the letter at the British Archives at Kew, and graciously offered to allow me to post them here.

Here is my best transcription of the relevant passage:

I having on board my Ship a pyrate that I had some time before taking up which knew this fellow when he was Quartermaster in Tachs Ship of forty guns call’d the Queen Anns Revenge, and he being allow’d to be a good Evidence I did desire of the Governor that this Quartermaster might be brought to Tryal, which he concented to and there being publick Notice of it several appeared against him, and it was made appear to the Court that he was One of the Most Mischevious and Vileist Villians that had infested that coast; he was found guilty and receiv’d sentence of Death Accordingly and his life is only owing to the Ships Arrival that had his Majesties pardon on board, the night before he was to have been exicuted; ....

Ellis Brand 

In the interest of  providing some balance to the legacy of my probable ancestor, Kevin added this comment in his email to me: "I’m sure that William Howard was not so vile. Mischievous maybe, but not vile. At some point I hope to remember where I read that Howard had traveled to the Bahamas to testify on behalf of a physician forced into piracy by Blackbeard."

Our latest Ocracoke Newsletter is Part II of Crystal Canterbury's account of her first visit to Portsmouth Island. You can read it here:


  1. Anonymous9:32 AM

    What lovely handwriting. Was it a scribe that penned this or do you suppose it was indeed Capt. Brand? Now Do you suppose it was a quill dipped into an ink well? In any event I suppose the book page upon which this was written was vellum or sheep skin for it to have survived so many years.....

    1. I have no reason to think the letter was written by anyone but Capt. Ellis Brand, with a quill pen (it was written in 1719).

    2. Kevin Duffus assures me that "the letter was written in Brand’s hand." Kevin says he has copies of "numerous letters written and signed by Brand, composed between 1719 (Anchored on the James River in VA) and 1721 (moored on the Thames) and the handwriting and signatures are the same."

  2. Kevin, but not Kevin Duffus12:21 PM

    Philip, there is a reference to the New Providence trial in a book called _Blackbeard: America's Most Notorious Pirate_, by Angus Konstam. You probably already know it:

    "The quartermaster walked out of Williamsburg a free man. We don't know much about what happened to him after that.although his name appeared as a character witness in a pirate trial held in New Providence in December 1721. Presumably the former pirate knew when to quit and become a respectable Bahamian beach bum."

    There isn't a reference for that in the footnotes.

    1. Kevin, thanks for the reference. I have not read Konstam's book, but Leslie at Books to be Red has ordered a copy for me. I will do some research, and see if I can locate the source of the "character witness" comment.