Ignatius Pell

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Ignatius Pell
Known forBoatswain to Captain Stede Bonnet aboard the Royal James
Piratical career
Battles/warsBattle of Cape Fear River

Ignatius Pell was a pirate who served as the boatswain[1] to Captain Stede Bonnet aboard the Royal James, a ship previously named Revenge.[2] He was arrested in October 1718 and testified against his crew and captain.

Battle of Cape Fear River[edit]

While waiting out the Atlantic hurricane season in the estuary of Cape Fear River, Ignatius took part in a battle between Bonnet's pirate vessel Royal James and two pirate hunters, the Henry and its accompanying sloop, commanded by William Rhett and commissioned by South Carolina governor Robert Johnson. Both sides ran aground, leaving only the Henry in range of the Royal James.[3]

Despite the early advantage belonging to the pirates, changing tides freed the Henry first.[2] Realizing they were trapped and outnumbered, Captain Bonnet ordered the gunpowder magazine blown in order to scuttle the Royal James. This order was belayed by the crew and the pirates surrendered to Rhett.[1] Along with the rest of the pirates, Ignatius Pell was arrested and brought to Charleston, South Carolina on October 2, 1718.[3]

Trial and testimony[edit]

Depiction of Stede Bonnet's execution

Upon arriving in Charleston Pell was separated from the rest of the crew and held in the provost marshal's house alongside Captain Bonnet and the sailing master, David Herriot.[2] However, Bonnet and Herriot soon escaped, leaving Pell behind for unknown reasons.

In the manhunt that followed Herriot was killed and Bonnet quickly recaptured,[3] but the event evidently left an impression on Pell. He turned King's evidence and agreed to testify against the crew of the Royal James and against Stede Bonnet personally. In his testimony he confirmed the acts of piracy made by the crew, though he made a point of exonerating a man named Thomas Nichols, claiming he had been pressed into service against his will and did not engage in the fighting.[4] He also stated that Bonnet was captain in name only, the true authority on the Royal James being quartermaster Robert Tucker. He unsuccessfully attempted to argue that Bonnet was therefore not responsible for the acts of piracy his crew had committed.[1]

Due in part to Pell's testimony most of the crew (except Nichols) were convicted and sentenced to death. Despite Pell's efforts to mitigate his crimes, Stede Bonnet was also convicted and hanged December 10, 1718.[2] Pell may have returned to piracy: a newspaper article from 1724 reported Pell in command of a 12-gun pirate vessel of his own off the American east coast.[5]

See also[edit]

  • Admiralty court, the venue in which Bonnet, Pell, and others were tried.
  • Blackbeard, Stede Bonnet's mentor with whom he sailed (or was held) for a time.


  1. ^ a b c Anonymous (1718). The Tryals of Major Stede Bonnet and other Pirates (PDF). London. Retrieved 20 December 2017.
  2. ^ a b c d Butler, Lindley S. (2000). Pirates, Privateers, & Rebel Raiders of the Carolina Coast. Chapel Hill NC: UNC Press Books. pp. 67–69. ISBN 9780807848630. Retrieved 20 December 2017.
  3. ^ a b c Johnson, Captain Charles (1724). A GENERAL HISTORY OF THE PYRATES. London: T. Warner. Retrieved 18 June 2017.
  4. ^ John Davison Lawson (1915). American state trials: a collection of the important and interesting criminal trials which have taken place in the United States from the beginning of our government to the present day. Thomas Law Books. pp. 677. Retrieved 23 March 2011.
  5. ^ Fox, E. T. (2014). Pirates In Their Own Words. Raleigh NC: Lulu Press, Inc. ISBN 9781291945218. Retrieved 20 December 2017.