Popular History of Jersey Chapter 13

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Privateers

Jersey pirates

We now come to a matter of no little importance, as affecting not only the private and social, but also the public concerns of the Island, and the eventual career of which, combined with that of giving shelter to the King, led to a disaster little foreseen at the time: Sir George de Carteret's privateers; or, as they were commonly called, much to the disgust of Sir George and the Islanders, the Jersey pirates, which seem to have brought incalculable damage to shipping generally, and with a hardihood that astonished the natives, "actually entered into English ports and capturing vessels there, brought them to Jersey as prizes". To understand the whole affair, though excluding extraneous matter as much as possible, perhaps a few words of explanation may be useful.

Sir George de Carteret, it will be remembered, had been Comptroller of the English Navy; this post he threw up when he declared for the King against the English Parliament, which had virtually deposed Charles I. In order to harass the Parliamentarians, and to help on the Royal cause, he rigged up a number of armed boats, gave the commanders a roving commission, and let them loose "like dogs of war" on English and other shipping, the King of France (brother-in-law of Charles I) also granting many of them letters of marque. The principal captains of this fleet of some 15 or 20 vessels appear to have been Amy (of whom a word or two more by-and-by), Garnet, Rowden, and Cotton, and the record of their chief depredations seems to have been those connected with the years 1650 and 1651 (the year Charles II finally left Jersey).

Frigate purchased

Prior to this, however, some smart work had been done. Sir George had purchased from Lord Jermyn, the then Governor of the Island, the frigate Dundalk, a vessel of 60 tons, and carrying 12 pieces of ordnance; this vessel he brought to Jersey, where he had her repaired and equipped, giving her in command of Captain Cotton. And one or two instances of the Dundalk's work will perhaps sufficiently illustrate the general havoc these privateers played.

The first thing Cotton espied after sailing from Jersey was a large merchantman bound from Plymouth to London which, after a severe and obstinate fight, he captured, and within the week he was back in Jersey with the prize. The cargo, comprising barrels of sugar, bales of cotton, indigo, tobacco, dried fruits, etc, was, it seems, put in stores, and the vessel sold to a company of merchants at St Aubin for 100 crowns.

In February 1647, Cotton set out on another cruise, and descrying a sail in the distance, gave chase, opening his bow guns on her; and driving the beleaguered vessel off the Isle of Wight, boarded her, and taking possession brought her into Jersey on the 18th of the month. Here she was pronounced a lawful prize, and, according to Chevalier, she turned out to be one of Cromwell's vessels taking stores and arms, etc, to the army in Ireland.

Wealthy man

Undoubtedly it was a fine haul for Sir George, who made a considerable amount of wealth from these transactions, as also for the King's cause and others generally concerned for the cargo was found to consist of — besides 30 barrels of gunpowder, sundry chests of bullets, medicine chests, etc — muskets, carbines, pistols, swords, 500 bales each of ready made clothes and shirts, 35 bales of cloth, 450 pairs of shoes, and quantities of stores in the shape of wheat, rice, peas, butter, cheese, chestnuts, dried fruit, etc value £l5,000 sterling; the whole being duly apportioned chiefly amongst the King, Sir George, and Captain Cotton. But shortly after this, for a time, at any rate, a stop was put to these roving commissions. The King of France perforce, withdrew his letters of marque, and Sir George had to follow his example.

On 15 June Captains Amy and Garnet made a triumphant entry into St Aubin's Roads with the whole of de Carteret's cruisers decorated to profusion with flags of all colour taken out of the twelve captured merchantmen that were in their wake; though on landing the joy of the respective captains was most decidedly marred to learn of the French King's edict, and that their commissions on sea were suspended.

Edict rescinded

Matters did not last long thus. The edict was rescinded by Charles, and all again became bustle and excitement on the Island, and the "game" commenced again fast and thick. Thus, in 1650, we find that complaints reached England that on 21 February several merchantmen were taken on the western coast, on the 26th that two Dutchmen laden with salt were captured at anchor within a league of Dartmouth, two Jersey pirates having cut their cables and carried them off. How those stolid Hollanders would stare. On 1 March, and during the next fortnight, some eight or nine more captures were effected, and on 17 March Parliament was asked for frigates to assist against the depredations. During 1651 things went on very much the same, there being an almost continuous record of some deed of daring, resulting in the capture of one or two vessels; whilst perhaps the strangest part of the whole affair is — though after all not so much to be wondered at considering the bravery and hardihood of those who undertook the work — the privateers were invariably victorious.

They, however, were not all Jerseymen; some amongst them were Royalists who followed the Prince, and this brings Captain Amy to the fore. On a large slate slab in the nave of St Helier's Church, unearthed in 1800, is the record of one Garthruda Amy, who died 13 August 1647, and was buried on the 25th of the same month. She was the wife of Captain Amy (evidently, from the shield and crest upon the slab a man of no mean birth, and a Cornish gentleman who had followed Prince Charles), and her short story is not without a touch of pathos. Captain Amy, about 5 August, had been seen and chased by a Parliamentarian frigate. For ten days nothing was heard of him; meantime, amidst anxiety for his dreaded loss, Garthruda's child was born, both she and the little one dying "exiles from home" during the absence of her husband, who did not know of his loss until his return.

But to revert to our special subject. Such work as was carried on by the "pirates", combined with Jersey's predilection for the King, could not last. The anger and indignation of a relentless autocrat was roused. Cromwell's unconquerable determination to subdue the Island was up. But we shall have to leave this for another chapter.

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