THE BATTLE OF THE SAND BARS
 WHEN that estimable private gentleman, Mr. William Rhett, of Charles Town, had received a commission from the
Governor to go forth on his own responsibility and meet the dreaded pirate, the news of whose depredations had
thrown the good citizens into such a fever of apprehension, he took possession, in the name of the law, of two
large sloops, the Henry and the Sea-Nymph, which were in the harbor, and at his own
expense he manned them with well-armed crews, and put on board of each of them eight small cannon. When
everything was ready, Mr. Rhett was in command of a very formidable force for those waters,. and if he had
been ready to sail a few days sooner, he would have had an opportunity of giving his men some practice in
fighting pirates before they met the particular and more important sea-robber whom they had set out to
encounter. Just as his vessel was ready to sail, Mr. Rhett received news that a pirate ship had captured two
or three mer-
 chantmen just outside the harbor, and he put out to sea with all possible haste and cruised up and down the
coast for some time, but he did not find this most recent depredator, who had departed very promptly when he
heard that armed ships were coming out of the harbor.
Now Mr. Rhett, who was no more of a sailor than Stede Bonnet had been when he first began his seafaring life,
boldly made his way up the coast to the mouth of Cape Fear River, where he had been told the pirate vessel was
lying. When he reached his destination, Mr. Rhett found that it would not be an easy thing to ascend the
river, for the reason that the pilots he had brought with him knew nothing about the waters of that part of
the coast, and although the two ships made their way very cautiously, it was not long after they had entered
the river before they got out of the channel, and it being low tide, both of them ran aground upon sand bars.
This was a very annoying accident, but it was not disastrous, for the sailing masters who commanded the sloops
knew very well that when the tide rose, their vessels would float again. But it prevented Mr. Rhett from going
on and making an immediate attack upon the pirate vessel, the top-masts of which could be plainly seen behind
a high headland some distance up the river.
Of course Bonnet, or Captain Thomas, as he now
 chose to be called, soon became aware of the fact that two good-sized vessels were lying aground near the
mouth of the river, and having a very natural curiosity to see what sort of craft they were, he waited until
nightfall and then sent three armed boats to make observations. When these boats returned to the Royal
James and reported that the grounded vessels were not well-loaded trading craft, but large sloops
full of men and armed with cannon, Bonnet (for we prefer to call him by his old name) had good reason to fold
his arms, knit his brows, and strut up and down the deck. He was sure that the armed vessels came from Charles
Town, and there was no reason to doubt that if the Governor of South Carolina had sent two ships against him
the matter was a very, serious one. He was penned up in the river, he had only one fighting vessel to contend
against two, and if he could not succeed in getting out to sea before he should be attacked by the Charles
Town ships, there would be but little chance of his continuing in his present line of business. If the
Royal James had been ready to sail, there is no doubt that Bonnet would have taken his chance of
finding the channel in the dark, and would have sailed away that night without regard to the cannonading which
might have been directed against him from the two stranded vessels.
But as it was impossible to get ready to sail,
 Bonnet went to work with the greatest energy to get ready to fight. He knew that when the tide rose there
would be two armed sloops afloat, and that there would be a regular naval battle on the quiet waters of Cape
Fear River. All night his men worked to clear the decks and get everything in order for the coming combat, and
all night Mr. Rhett and his crews kept a sharp watch for any unexpected move of the enemy, while they loaded
their guns, their pistols, and their cannon, and put everything in order for action.
Very early in the morning the wide-awake crews of the South Carolina vessels, which were now afloat and at
anchor, saw that the topmasts of the pirate craft were beginning to move above the distant headland, and very
soon Bonnet's ship came out into view, under full sail, and as she veered around they saw that she was coming
toward them. Up went the anchors and up went the sails of the Henry and the Sea-Nymph, and
the naval battle between the retired army officer who had almost learned to be a sailor, and the private
gentleman from South Carolina, who knew nothing whatever about managing ships, was about to begin.
It was plain to the South Carolinians that the great object of the pirate captain was to get out to sea just
as soon as he could, and that he was coming down the river, not because he wished to make an
 immediate attack upon them, but because he hoped to slip by them and get away. Of course they could follow him
upon the ocean and fight him if their vessels were fast enough, but once out of the river with plenty of
sea-room, he would have twenty chances of escape where now he had one.
But Mr. Rhett did not intend that the pirates should play him this little trick; he wanted to fight the
dastardly wretches in the river, where they could not get away, and he had no idea of letting them sneak out
to sea. Consequently as the Royal James, under full sail, was making her way down the river, keeping as
far as possible from her two enemies, Mr. Rhett ordered his ships to bear down upon her so as to cut off her
retreat and force her toward the opposite shore of the river. This manúuvre was performed with great success.
The two Charles Town sloops sailed so boldly and swiftly toward the Royal James that the latter
was obliged to hug the shore, and the first thing the pirates knew they were stuck fast and tight upon a sand
bar. Three minutes afterward the Henry ran upon a sand bar, and there being enough of these
obstructions in that river to satisfy any ordinary demand, the Sea-Nymph very soon grounded
herself upon another of them. But unfortunately she took up her permanent position at a considerable distance
from her consort.
 Here now were the vessels which were to conduct this memorable sea-fight, all three fast in the sand and
unable to move, and their predicament was made the worse by the fact that it would be five hours before the
tide would rise high enough for any one of them to float. The positions of the three vessels were very
peculiar and awkward; the Henry and the Royal James were lying so near to each other
that Mr. Rhett could have shot Major Bonnet with a pistol if the latter gentleman had given him the chance,
and the Sea-Nymph was so far away that she was entirely out of the fight, and her crew could do
nothing but stand and watch what was going on between the other two vessels.
But although they could not get any nearer each other, nor get away from each other, the pirates and Mr.
Rhea's crew had no idea of postponing the battle until they should be afloat and able to fight in the ordinary
fashion of ships; they immediately began to fire at each other with pistols, muskets, and cannon, and the din
and roar was something that must have astonished the birds and beasts and fishes of that quiet region.
As the tide continued to run out of the river, and its waters became more and more shallow, the two contending
vessels began to careen over to one side, and, unfortunately for the Henry, they both careened in the
same direction, and in such a manner that the
 deck of the Royal James was inclined away from the Henry, while the deck of the latter
leaned toward her pirate foe. This gave a great advantage to Bonnet and his crew, for they were in a great
measure protected by the hull of their vessel, whereas the whole deck of the Henry was exposed to
the fire of the pirates. But Mr. Rhett and his South Carolinians were all brave men, and they blazed away with
their muskets and pistols at the pirates whenever they could see a head above the rail of the Royal
James, while with their cannon they kept firing at the pirate's hull.
For five long hours the fight continued, but the cannon carried by the two vessels must have been of very
small caliber, for if they had been firing at such short range and for such a length of time with modern guns,
they must have shattered each other into kindling wood. But neither vessel seems to have been seriously
injured, and although there were a good many men killed on both sides, the combat was kept up with great
determination and fury. At one time it seemed almost certain that Bonnet would get the better of Mr. Rhett,
and he ordered his black flag waved contemptuously in the air while his men shouted to the South Carolinians
to come over and call upon them, but the South Carolina boys answered these taunts with cheers and fired away
more furiously than ever.
 The tide was now coming in, and everybody on board the two fighting vessels knew very well that the first one
of them which should float would have a great advantage over the other, and would probably be the conqueror.
In came the tide, and still the cannons roared and the muskets cracked, while the hearts of the pirates and
the South Carolinians almost stood still as they each watched the other vessel to see if she showed any signs
At last such signs were seen; the Henry was further from the shore than the Royal James,
and she first felt the influence of the rising waters. Her masts began to straighten, and at last her deck was
level, and she floated clear of the bottom while her antagonist still lay careened over on her side. Now the
pirates saw there was no chance for them; in a very short time the other Carolina sloop would be afloat, and
then the two vessels would bear down upon them and utterly destroy both them and their vessel. Consequently
upon the Royal James there was a general disposition to surrender and to make the best terms they
could, for it would be a great deal better to submit and run the chance of a trial than to keep up the fight
against enemies so much superior both in numbers and ships, who would soon be upon them.
But Bonnet would not listen to one word of surrender. Rather than give up the fight he
de-  clared he would set fire to the powder magazine of the Royal James and blow himself, his ship,
and his men high up into the air. Although he had not a sailor's skill, he possessed a soldier's soul, and in
spite of his being a dastardly and cruel pirate he was a brave man. But Bonnet was only one, and his crew
numbered dozens, and notwithstanding his furiously dissenting voice it was determined to surrender, and when
Mr. Rhett sailed up to the Royal James, intending to board her if the pirates still showed resistance,
he found them ready to submit to terms and to yield themselves his prisoners.
Thus ended the great sea-fight between the private gentlemen, and thus ended Stede Bonnet's career. He and his
men were taken to Charles Town, where most of the pirate crew were tried and executed. The green-hand pirate,
who had wrought more devastation along the American coast than many a skilled sea-robber, was held in custody
to await his trial, and it seems very strange that there should have been a public sentiment in Charles Town
which induced the officials to treat this pirate with a certain degree of respect simply from the fact that
his station in life had been that of a gentleman. He was a much more black-hearted scoundrel than any of his
men, but they were executed as soon as possible while his trial was postponed and he was allowed privileges
which would never have been accorded a
 common pirate. In consequence of this leniency he escaped and had to be retaken by Mr. Rhett. It was so long
before he was tried that sympathy for his misfortunes arose among some of the tender-hearted citizens of
Charles Town whose houses he would have pillaged and whose families he would have murdered if the exigencies
of piracy had rendered such action desirable.
Finding that other people were trying to save his life, Bonnet came down from his high horse and tried to save
it himself by writing piteous letters to the Governor, begging for mercy. But the Governor of South Carolina
had no notion of sparing a pirate who had deliberately put himself under the protection of the law in order
that he might better pursue his lawless and wicked career, and the green hand, with the black heart, was
finally hung on the same spot where his companions had been executed.
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