Authors: C.G. Mosley
It seemed that July 6, 1717 would surely be my last day on God’s earth. Four days prior my ship, a modest sloop named
, was overtaken by a man-of-war from the Royal Navy. My entire crew and I were taken prisoner. That’s not to say that every member of my crew was still alive when we were taken, quite the contrary. Out of seventy-one men, only thirty of us lived to face the harsh consequences of piracy.
As soon as the man-of-war dropped anchor at Port Royal, Jamaica, I was separated from the survivors of my crew and placed in a cell that made it impossible for me to know of their well-being. This was not a surprise to me, for I was their captain and pirate captains were commonly separated from their crew immediately after capture. All I could do was sit and wonder, but deep down in my gut a little voice told me that what remained of my loyal crew was probably just as dead as the others were now.
Now I found myself shackled and struggling to walk down the long, stone hallway that undoubtedly led to my trial that would in turn lead to my execution. The notion of having a trial for a pirate seemed like a waste of time. It was very seldom that any pirate managed to escape the gallows. I’d accepted my fate as soon as I was taken prisoner. That didn’t mean I was happy about it. I was literally sick to my stomach, but there was absolutely nothing I could do about it.
I thought about the skeletons I’d seen on occasion hanging in iron cages that greeted anyone who visited Port Royal. The skeletons were former pirates, and their rotting corpses were hung near the entrance of the harbor as a clear warning. Pirates were not welcome in Port Royal and if any were caught, they would be hanged.
I thought about those skeletons and I imagined myself hanging in one of those iron cages. The thought made me shiver and did nothing to settle my nausea.
There were four guards escorting me; two in front and two behind. We finally reached a pair of large wooden doors and the guards in front shoved them open with ease. The guards behind guided me to a single wooden chair placed in front of a large table. On the other side of the table sat the governor of Port Royal and several other old men who I could only assume were his assistants.
“Mr. William Reeves I presume,” the governor said, with a most boring tone.
“I am indeed William Reeves,” I answered.
The governor had dark, beady eyes that gazed upon me over a long, pointy nose. I estimated he was approximately sixty years old. He seemed to look down on me over that long nose.
“Have a seat young man,” the governor said, motioning to the chair behind me.
I sat down, and took a moment to rub the soreness around my wrists and ankles.
“I am Governor Charles Winters and I will be presiding over the trial set forth on this sixth day of July in the year 1717. It seems that a vessel of the Royal Navy spotted a pirate ship while in route to Port Royal. They engaged in a brief battle with said pirate ship. The battle resulted in vast casualties and ultimately the pirate ship, the…,” the governor seemed to lose his train of thought and turned his attention to a document laid out on the table before him. “Ah, here it is…the sloop named
was not salvageable and soon sank into the ocean depths. Thirty men were taken prisoner; you were among them Mr. Reeves.”
There was a long silence and the governor continued to peer at me with those beady eyes as if he were awaiting some sort of response from me. I wasn’t sure what he wanted to hear. I was a dead man and I knew it. Knowing this made me defiant and I decided right then that I would volunteer no information to the governor or anyone else for that matter. If he wanted to sit in silence and wait for me to speak, then he would be waiting for a long while. A few more moments passed and the governor let out a deep sigh.
“So it seems you have nothing to say,” he said with a grin. “I know who you are Captain Reeves. Or should I call you, Captain Redd?”
I swallowed when he called out my name and the room was so deadly quiet that my gulp seemed to echo loudly. I remained silent and although I must have seemed distraught, I did the best I could to keep my composure.
“We’ve questioned your men, but to be honest, they refused to reveal your identity. They were tortured and beaten, but those men are fiercely loyal to their captain.”
The governor seemed to get a sick pleasure as he went on to describe the ways he tortured my crew. I tuned most of it out. I didn’t want to know what sort of horrors they went through. I was grateful for them wanting to protect me, but I felt incredible guilt too.
“Your men never once hinted that their leader was the notorious Captain Redd,” the governor continued. “Unfortunately, the Royal Navy crew that overtook your ship was unable to plunder its contents before it sank to the bottom of the ocean. Mr. Reeves, there was seemingly nothing available to us to confirm you are indeed Captain Redd.”
I couldn’t help but smile. No one knew the real name of Captain Redd. I liked it that way and I wasn’t going to volunteer that information now. The secret would go with me to my grave.
The governor continued:
“I’ve always heard that Captain Redd got his name from the fiery red hair that adorns the top of his head,” he said, eyeing the fiery red hair atop my head. “Unfortunately, that’s not enough evidence to confirm my suspicions. So little
is known about Captain Redd; so the color of his hair could be like any other number of stories that are floating around about him. Are you familiar with any of these stories Mr. Reeves?”
I remained silent and just stared at him. It didn’t seem to bother him.
“One story I’ve heard is that once Captain Redd and his crew were surrounded by three Spanish warships. Somehow Redd and his crew overtook each ship, one at a time, until the sea around them turned red with Spanish blood and afterward the pirates made off with a Spanish galleon loaded with untold piles of gold. I’ve heard that gold is still hidden somewhere on a tiny island in the vast ocean.”
The story the governor had heard was for the most part true. Except it was four Spanish warships and one galleon. That made a total of five ships, not four. And we spent the vast majority of that gold; however, there are a couple of chests buried on a small island near Tortuga. Nevertheless, I remained stone-faced and said nothing.
“There was one other story I heard that gave a clue concerning the identity of Captain Redd,” the governor said. “A merchant ship sailed into port several months back and the captain told me a story of a pirate ship that robbed him of all of his medical supplies. He said the pirate ship flew a black flag adorned with a human skeleton. The skeleton had a cutlass in hand and a red skull. Mr. Reeves, you can imagine how my eyes widened as I realized that the merchant ship captain had just described the ‘Jolly Roger’ most commonly associated with Captain Redd.”
I swallowed again, but remained calm.
“As I said before, Mr. Reeves, the Royal Navy was unable to search the sloop before it sank. However, they did manage to salvage one vital piece of evidence.”
My eyebrow arched as the governor leaned over and picked something up off the floor. As soon as he arose, I knew exactly what it was and I knew the secrecy of Captain Redd’s identity was gone.
“I believe this belongs to you, does it not?”
The governor grabbed the corners of the cloth and shook it until the folded black flag opened up completely. It was Captain Redd’s flag…it was my flag. The ‘Jolly Roger’ was the one thing used as a means to identify all pirates and I was no different. It was just as that merchant ship captain had described it to the governor: a skeleton with a red skull holding a cutlass.
I took a deep breath and considered my next move. There was no need to continue my stance of remaining silent and denying everything. Clearly, the governor knew all along that I was the notorious Captain Redd. I looked at him, and I looked at the other old men that flanked him left and right. They hadn’t said a word since I’d been in the room. Then something else occurred to me. Why wasn’t my trial being held before a Vice-Admiralty court? Colonial governors had not presided over trials such as mine for over fifteen years. Something was off about all of it and I wanted to get to the bottom of it immediately. I began to chuckle lightly.
“You got me governor,” I said, clapping my hands together in applause. “I am the one and only Captain Redd.”
The governor slapped the table in a joyous fashion, he was clearly happy to hear me say the words.
“I knew it,” he said cheerfully.
“You were just too smart for me sir,” I continued. “However, I must confess that I am somewhat confused by this court arrangement.”
Governor Winters’ joyful mood suddenly subsided and was immediately replaced with worry. The kind of worry one gets when they know they’ve been caught doing something dishonest. In fact, I imagined I had a similar expression across my own face moments earlier when the realization set in that I’d been found out.
“What are you referring to Mr. Reeves?”
It annoyed me that the good governor defiantly refused to refer to me as Captain Reeves; especially since I made it known that I wasn’t just any ordinary pirate captain. So it didn’t bother me at all to return the disrespect toward Governor Winters.
. Winters,” I said with a smirk. “I believe King George would be displeased to know that the colony you oversee does not conduct it’s trials under a Vice-Admiralty court.”
The governor’s face began to turn red and the rage building within him was evident in his eyes. The other men at the table began to move uncomfortably in their chairs.
“And just what do you know about a Vice-Admiralty court, pirate?” Governor Winters snarled.
His mood didn’t rattle me the slightest bit.
“I know that for at least the past fifteen years every pirate trial is overseen by dignitaries and sea captains from right here in Port Royal,” I replied. “I know many sea captains and high ranking officials that reside in this town. I don’t recognize a single one of the men seated at the table with you.”
Governor Winter’s looked toward the guards on either side of me. For an instant, I thought he was going to ask one of them to assault me. Instead, he asked them to leave the room. After a brief moment of bewilderment, all four guards exited the room leaving only Governor Winters, his assistants, and myself.
A normal person in my position would’ve surely felt fear at this moment. I, on the other hand, felt nothing of the sort. I’d already accepted that this day would be my last. If I was going to die by the hand of a corrupt colonial governor, so be it.
“Pirate, you are correct,” the governor said, suddenly much calmer. “This court is nothing more than a clever trick.”
As you can imagine, I was suddenly very confused.
“A trick?” I asked.
Governor Winters nodded and suddenly stood from the table.
“I had to make sure you were who I thought you were,” he replied. “Now I’m sure.”
I shook my head, still unable to process what was going on.
“Governor, I’m afraid I don’t understand.”
“Captain, it was of extreme importance that I made sure you were Captain Redd because the task I have for you is daunting to say the least.”
“Daunting? Task?” I said, still confused.
The governor hastily strolled around the table and stopped in front of me. He reached in the pocket of his long, black robe, and retrieved a small key. He inserted the key in my shackles, freeing me.
Awestruck, it took a moment for me to find my next words. However, there was one obvious question that I wanted answered immediately.
“Will I be executed?”
Governor Winters returned to his chair and stared at me with those beady eyes. After a long moment he gave me a cryptic answer.
“That depends,” he said flatly.
“I have a most dangerous task for you Captain Redd. The reason I had to make sure you were who you are is because I truly believe you are the only man that can accomplish this task. The fate of your life is very simple: complete the task I give you and you will be granted a royal pardon.”