Life as a Pirate
In the early years of his career as a pirate, Charles Vane was an associate of the infamous pirate Henry Jennings and was part of the group that Jennings led during the attack on the salvage camp for the wrecked Spanish 1715 Treasure Fleet. He quickly garnered a fortune and acquired vessels.
By the summer of 1717, Vane was active as an independent captain. Later that year, he became one of the leaders of the Nassau pirates.
After King George I of Great Britain issued an offer of pardon to all pirates that wanted to surrender, Vane became the leader of the group that advocated against it.
In February 1718, Captain Vincent Pearse reached Nassau in HMS Phoenix (1694) to convince the pirates there to surrender. Vane, along with his sloop, the Lark, was caught but was later released as a show of good faith. He subsequently accepted the king’s pardon.
In March 1718, he and his men started piracy once more and repeatedly agitated Pearse. In early April, Vane made his departure from Nassau. Four days later, Pearse did as well, and Nassau was back under pirate control.
He garnered significant infamy during his time around the Bahamas. He was cruel to the sailors of the ships he captured, often beating, torturing, and killing them. During this period, his men renamed the Lark as Ranger.
Sometime in May or June 1718, Vane managed to capture several ships, including a twenty-gun French ship which he turned into his flagship. By July, he had returned to Nassau.
On 22 July 1718, Woodes Rogers came to Nassau to take charge as the new governor. He ensnared Vane by blocking one of the two entrances to the harbor. The other was too small for Vane’s ship to go through. That night, Vane set fire to his ship and sailed it towards Rogers’ blockade. While none but one of Rogers’ ships sustained any damage during the attack, Vane managed to escape on a small 24-gun sloop, the Katherine.
Vane was back in the Bahamas in late July 1718 and joined forces with the original captain of the Katherine, Charles Yeats. In August, Vane arrived in Charleston and seized eight ships there. He also captured a slave ship and relocated the slaves to Yeats’ ship. Yeats took the slaves to the governor of South Carolina and surrendered, requesting a pardon in exchange.
The merchants of South Carolina sent two sloops to capture Vane, under the command of William Rhett, whose efforts proved to be unsuccessful.
In September 1718, he came back to Nassau for marriage, making threats of recapturing the city. In October, he met Blackbeard around Ocracoke Inlet. Scholars speculate that Vane wanted the other man to work with him. That did not happen. The two crews enjoyed their time together for several days but ultimately parted ways. During this period, he was using a brigantine as his flagship.
On 23 November 1718, he noticed a large frigate. However, when he raised the Jolly Roger, the frigate responded by hoisting a French naval ensign and firing. Vane was drastically outgunned, and he commanded his crew to retreat. This was seen as an act of cowardice, and he lost his position of the captain in a subsequent vote.
In later years, Charles Vane operated around the Bay Islands. In February 1719, he and his trusted subordinate, Robert Deal, were separated following a hurricane. He became stranded on an uninhabited island.
When British ships came to gather water near the islands, he attempted to board one of the ships under a false name. However, an old acquaintance informed his superiors about who he was. He was then arrested and taken to Spanish Town, Jamaica.
He was tried and convicted on March 22, 1721. On 29 March, he was executed by hanging at Gallows Point in Port Royal. A few days before his death, he was told that Deal had been tried and hanged.