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Charles Vane had a strange career as a pirate. He might well have slipped into obscurity as just another long-dead rogue if it were not for his association with some of the most feared pirates and most respected pirate hunters during the golden age of piracy.
As is the case with so many other pirates, Charles Vane's date and place of birth are unknown. It is thought that he joined a pirate crew some time in 1716 in order to plunder the salvage ships working the Spanish wrecks near Florida. These ships were recovering the silver from a fleet of Spanish galleons that had been wrecked in 1715; being lightly armed, they made easy prey for pirates.
Vane's life really changed in the year 1718. His first brush with notoriety came in May of that year when two sloop captains complained to Benjamin Bennett, the Governor of Bermuda, about Vane capturing their ships, then torturing and murdering some of their crew members. Still, nothing changed until the newly-appointed Governor of the Bahamas, Woodes Rogers, arrived in the Caribbean. Rogers was tasked with reducing the number of pirates operating in the area. To achieve this, he issued a proclamation in July stating that any pirate could receive a full pardon if they presented themselves to him and renounced piracy. Many pirates did so, but Vane did not. Instead he managed to attack the newly-arrived Governor's ship the Delicia, along with its escort frigates HMS Milford and HMS Rose. Obviously this was not going to be allowed to continue, so Rogers sent Captain Benjamin Hornigold out to track down Vane. Hornigold was an ex-pirate1 who had accepted the pardon and had taken up his new life as an official pirate hunter. Vane soon lost his pursuer and by late August was attacking ships entering and leaving Charleston Harbour, much as Blackbeard had done just a few months earlier. One of the ships he captured was a large brigantine which became his new flagship. The attack and the loss of the 90 black slaves in the hold greatly angered the locals, and the Governor of South Carolina summoned Colonel William Rhett to chase down Vane.
Vane meanwhile was cruising near Ocracoke Island when he ran into the ship called the Queen Anne’s Revenge, captained by none other than Edward Teach, the legendary Blackbeard. The two pirates welcomed each other warmly and a party soon ensued, news of which eventually reached the ears of the Governor of Virginia, Alexander Spotswood, who sent men out to capture the pair. Vane, however, did not stay in one place too long and left before Spotswood's men arrived. Rhett, meanwhile, ran into some ships that had been attacked by Vane. Interviewing the survivors, Rhett learnt that Vane was planning to sail south and set off in pursuit. This was a ruse, however; Vane had let the survivors overhear his plans, so by actually sailing north he was able to shake off his pursuer. Rhett meanwhile ran into the pirate Stede Bonnet entirely by accident and was able to capture him instead.
Things soon started to go wrong for Charles Vane, though. On 23 November the crew spotted a merchantman in the Windward Passage between Cuba and Hispaniola. They raised the pirate flag and immediately attacked, only to be surprised by the retaliatory broadside from a ship that was in reality a French Man O'War. Vane immediately ordered a retreat, which the crew carried out, but they did so grudgingly and the next day they held a vote. Confronting Vane and stating that he was a coward, the crew removed him from office and the quarter master, 'Calico' Jack Rackham, became the new captain. Vane and his loyal crew members were cast off in a small sloop.
Following the mutiny, as he saw it, Vane had to start over from scratch. He sailed to Honduras and began hunting for suitable prey ships. He had a few successes, but in February 1719 Vane was shipwrecked on a tiny, uninhabited island in the Bay of Honduras. The fierce storm that had caused the wreck also killed most of his remaining small crew. Vane survived for a while with the aid of the local native turtle fishermen, but they only provided food and were unable to take him 'back to civilisation'. Eventually a ship passed by, but it was commanded by Captain Holford, a former buccaneer who immediately recognised Vane. Holford refused to take Vane on board ship, stating:
Charles, I shan't trust you aboard my ship, unless I carry you a prisoner; for I shall have you caballing with my men, knock me on the head and run away with my ship a pirating.
Holford sailed away, leaving Vane to his island prison. However, as luck would have it, he was soon able to signal to another ship in the area. The captain of this vessel didn't recognise Vane and immediately helped him onboard; thus Vane was freed after being stranded for many months.
The pirate's life was always full of ups and downs, and after the good fortune of being rescued, Vane's luck finally ran out. The rescuing ship, which Vane was working on, met up by coincidence with Captain Holford's ship. Holford came aboard to dine and immediately recognised Vane among the crew. Holford turned to Vane's new captain and told him all about who Vane was. The captain didn't want a notorious pirate in his crew and turned Vane over to Holford, who put Vane in irons and turned him over to the authorities when they reached Jamaica. Vane was immediately tried for piracy and found guilty. He was sentenced to hang and the sentence duly carried out. Charles Vane was hanged on the scaffold at Gallows Point on 22 March, 1720. His body was then taken down and suspended in irons at Gun Cay as a warning to all potential pirates.