In many pirate stories, the pirates score points with cutlasses or by burying stolen treasure, but Captain Jedediah Spinnet and his four stout sons effectively showed a ship of pirates the wrong side of the plank and the wrong side of the treasure.
Captain Jedediah Spinnet And His Sons Go Cod fishing Off The Grand Banks of Newfoundland
Captain Jedediah Spinnet and his sons Seth, John, Andrew, and Sam, lived on the eastern shores of Mt. Desert Island, a large island off the coast of Maine. Captain Spinnet owned a schooner, the Betsey Jenkins, of about one hundred tons burthen, and local fishermen often heard him say that he possessed only five things that he loved to brag about. He loved to brag about his four sons and the Betsey Jenkins.
Once a year, Captain Jedediah Spinnet and Seth, John, Andrew, and Sam went fishing off the Grand Banks to catch a schooner load of codfish. One morning in the spring of 1851, Captain Spinnet and his sons were fishing to load the Betsey Jenkins with tasty and profitable cargo when a stranger came aboard the Betsey Jenkins. The stranger told Captain Jedediah Spinnet that he had some iron machinery that belonged to steam engines for sugar plantations in Havana, Cuba, and he asked the Captain to transport the machinery to Havana. They agreed upon a price and Captain Spinnet and his sons loaded the machinery on board the Betsey Jenkins and immediately set sail for Havana, Cuba.
On The Way To Cuba, The Betsey Jenkins Meets A Pirate Ship
For several days the wind blew mild and the Betsey Jenkins rippled along on the Atlantic Ocean as calmly as the wind. Then one morning, Captain Jedediah Spinnet saw a ship off the starboard quarters and after some studying and squinting, he decided that the ship was a pirate ship. The Captain and his sons didn’t have much time to discuss, much less argue about the nature of the ship, because it swiftly bore down on the Betsey Jenkins and then whizzed an eighteen pound shot just under her stern.
Captain Jedediah Spinnet guessed that he had better heave to with the Betsey Jenkins and his sons agreed so he brought up the Betsey Jenkins into the wind and hauled her main boom over to windward. Next, Jedediah counseled his sons. He told them that since there was no way to escape the pirate ship they needed to remain calm, assuring them that if the pirates were civil they would take what they wanted and let the sailors on the Betsey Jenkins go free. He told his sons to get their pistols, make sure they were loaded, and have their knives ready. As his last two admonitions, he cautioned his sons to hide their weapons so the pirates wouldn’t see any signs of resistance and to watch every move he made so they could be ready to jump as soon as he gave the signal
Cocking his pistol for emphasis, the pirate captain told Captain Spinnet he would not live ten minutes longer unless he revealed the location of the treasure.
Captain Spinnet gave in to the gun and in a resigned tone he muttered that he had nailed up forty thousand silver dollars in boxes and stowed some of the boxes away forward of the cabin bulkhead.
“Mr. Defoe didn’t suspect that anybody would think to look for them there,” Captain Spinnet said.
The pirate captain’s eyes sparkled and he smirked. He turned his ship and ordered all but three of his men to jump aboard the Betsey Jenkins. In a few minutes the pirates had removed the hatches and had scrambled below deck to search for the forty thousand silver dollars. In their headlong scramble for treasure, they didn’t even pause to guard Captain Spinnet and his four strong sons.
As soon as the pirates went below deck to treasure hunt, Captain Spinnet told his sons to cut the ropes holding the sails of the pirate ship and the ropes holding the main sail. He told them to jump aboard the pirate ship as soon as all of its sails were cut
“Now boys, for your lives!” he said.
His sons obeyed Captain Spinnet’s orders. They cut the fore and main halyards and they cast off the two grapplings. As the heavy sails came rattling down, the five New Englanders jumped aboard the pirate ship. The moment Captain Spinnet’s sons cut the pirate ship loose, the windswept it gracefully away from the Betsey Jenkins. They subdued and tied up the three pirates that had been left onboard the pirate ship. Then Captain Spinnet hailed the pirates on the Betsey Jenkins.
“When you find them silver dollars let us know where they are,” he shouted to the pirates aboard the Betsey Jenkins.
Captain Spinnet and His Crew Fight the Pirate Crew And Win
The pirate captain and his crew answered Captain Spinnet with half a dozen pistol shots, but they couldn’t catch him so they stood at the rail of the Betsey Jenkins and glowered at him. Captain Spinnet and his four sons steered for the ship that he had spied on the horizon. The ship proved to be an East Indiaman, a ship operating between the Seventeenth to the Nineteenth Centuries with a charter or license under any of the East India Companies of the major European trading partners Headed for Charleston, South Carolina, the East Indiaman carried a crew of about thirty men aboard. Twenty of the men at once jumped into the captured pirate ship, offering to help remove the pirates from the Betsey Jenkins.
At dusk, Captain Spinnet once again found himself within hailing distance of the Betsey Jenkins. He raised a trumpet to his mouth and he shouted, “Schooner ahoy! Will you quietly surrender yourselves prisoners if we come on board?”
The pirate captain shouted in turn, “Come and try it!” He swung his cutlass menacingly above his head.. That was the pirate captain’s last defiant act, because Captain Spinnet’s son Seth had crouched below the bulwarks, and he took deliberate aim along the barrel of a heavy rifle. As the pirate captain turned to his men, Seth Spinnet’s rifle cracked sharply and the pirate captain fell back dead into the arms of his men.
Captain Spinnet leveled a long pivot gun at the remaining pirates and waved a lighted match. “I’ll give you five minutes to surrender and if you don’t I’ll blow every one of you into the other world!” he shouted.
The death of the pirate captain and the sight of the pivot gun restored the other pirates to their senses and they threw down their weapons and surrendered. Captain Spinnet and his comrades hog tied the pirates and stowed them in their ship, delegating two of his sons to sail it.
Two days after the battle of wits with the pirates, Captain Spinnet delivered his cargo safely to Havanna and handed over the pirates to the civil authorities. He gave the pirate’s clipper ship to the American government. In return, the government gave Captain Spinnet enough money to live independently for the rest of his life and a handsome medal for his quick thinking and brave actions against the Atlantic pirates.
Cordingly, David. Under the Black Flag: The Romance and Reality of Life Among the Pirates. Random House Trade Paperbacks, 2006
Defore, Daniel. A General History of Pyrates. Dover Publications, 1999.
Konstam, Angus. The History of Pirates. The Lyons Press. First Edition, 2002.
Ritchie, Robert. Captain Kidd and the War Against the Pirates. Harvard University Press, 1989.
Roberts, Nancy. Blackbeard and Other Pirates of the Atlantic Coast. John F. Blair Publishing, 1998.