The Pirate Captain John Quelch

August 1, 2017 Published by Guest Author

by Sarah Wade, Intern

In 1704, Captain John Quelch came ashore in the ship Charles at Boston after months spent chasing gold and glory off the coast of Brazil and in the Caribbean, but his journey’s success was somewhat tempered by its questionable legality. Quelch, a privateer turned pirate in his quest for wealth, left Boston rather unceremoniously in 1703. The Charles’ previous captain, Plowman, had just died of disease, locked in his room during the crew’s mutiny. The ship’s backers on shore expected the crew to await instructions before embarking again, but Quelch took advantage of the uncertainty and set sail for Brazil. Before his death, Captain Plowman had signed an agreement that made the crew’s attacks on French and Spanish ships, both enemies of England, legal. Due to the agreement, the captain and crew were technically privateers serving the English crown, not pirates committing crimes. However, when Quelch began targeting Portuguese merchants, recent allies of the English crown, they lost this legal protection. Upon returning to Boston, Captain Quelch hoped that his bounty of stolen gold would persuade local officials to forgive his lack of discrimination between targets. His hope was ill placed, and Quelch soon found himself in a Boston jail. Hoping to avoid the same fate, some of Quelch’s men, tried to escape on another ship. These men were pursued by a number of notable men from the area, including naval Captain John Turner II, then owner of The House of the Seven Gables. The pursuers eventually won out, and Quelch’s men were arrested and executed along with their captain.

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