Going On The Account: Blogtober – The Pirates of New York: Three

Welcome to the sixteenth day of Blogtober, where we try dancing as fast as we can to provide something to read.  Hopefully some item we’ve done here has been worth your visits…

Let’s see; maybe another history chapter.  Yeah, that seems to be working so far…..


And now, our popular history series continues; without further ado and with a lot less silliness…

Part the Third: Towards a New Nation, or Revolting Developments

Sometimes the winds die and the ship suffers the doldrums.

An honest history of New York’s involvement in the Sweet Trade would have to acknowledge that not every year was a good one for those seeking anchor there.  As happens with all noted pirate haunts, there come days when the trade has to move elsewhere; Port Royal, New Providence and Ocracoke, when their governors cracked down, all had to say so long to the colorful characters that used to be on the streets.

For New York, the end came when the governor came back, from having been scared away by the rowdies in the streets, at the head of one of the largest flotillas the Royal Navy had ever amassed.  And once he came back, he proved to be as mean a rover as any displaced raider he’d sent off.

When he was appointed governor of New York in 1771 by the Crown, William Tryon came into the position with a reputation for cruelty that would have earned the respect of the most heartless sea dogs.  Tryon was noted for the heavy-handed suppression he brought to bear against the Regulator Movement at his last posting in North Carolina, where the citizens rose up against him in part because he had grand plans for the new governor’s mansion that needed to be paid for somehow.

Perhaps it was his reputation as a hard-handed administrator who could get results and wasn’t afraid to spill a little blood that made him seem the ideal candidate for the post.  New York was in revolt as the Tea Act incited riots from Boston to Philadelphia, and the citizens insisted on turning the ships back.  In the midst of the crisis, governor’s mansion in New York burned to the ground, and Tryon was about to go through the whole process of getting a new house built, showing a certain amount of callous disdain that should have warned the colonies of what was to come…

Once word reached Manhattan as to how Boston’s Sons of Liberty treated their tea consignment, Tryon soon found his position untenable.  He left for England on April 7th, 1774, a few weeks before New York emulated Boston (probably the last time that ever happened…) when the local chapter of the Sons of Liberty seized at anchor off Sandy Hook the Nancy and the London as it attempted to smuggle the hated tea while in the harbor.  Like pirates throughout the ages, the Sons of liberty boarded the ships and seized the cargo; where they varied the routine was in the dumping of the tea into New York Harbor.

Which, when you consider what went into the rivers once the Industrial Revolution started, wasn’t all that bad…

Unfortunately for Tryon, by the time he comes back to New York, things have gotten a lot worse.  During the eighteen months since he sailed for London, British troops had fired on militias at Lexington and Concord, and open rebellion enflamed the colonies.  As agent of the Crown, he was not well trusted, and with good reason; he was active in a plot to kidnap General Washington, despite the General’s intervening on Tryon’s behalf to keep him from being strung up on disembarkation, the discovery of which forced Tryon to seek refuge aboard the sloop of war Halifax.

He would spend a good deal of time aboard her, allowing us a moment to look at the birth of the Continental Navy.  The colonies, not allowed a standing navy before the troubles, had to encourage seamen to come to the cause, and the best method available to the Continental Congress and some state legislatures was the issuance of letters of marque, offering generous shares of the booty seized from any British or Tory ships to any captains so licensed.  These supplemented the eight frigates that did manage to get to sea after being commissioned by the Continental Congress, none of which had the same rate of success as the privateers that sailed for life and liberty.

Which for some captains probably came a close second behind the booty seized…

So, this large privatized navy now fighting for the United States soon set themselves up at ports of call up and down the Atlantic.  Many of them found safe anchor in New London, Connecticut, as Long Island Sound was an active hunting ground for pirates; ships laden with loaded wares leaving New York en route to England made for very attractive targets, and the narrows as one entered the Sound going past Hunts Point and Throgs Neck in the Bronx and Whitestone in Queens left little room to maneuver away from an active pursuer who knew the wins and waters.  As a result, the Sound enjoyed a reputation in the 1770s similar to those held by the waters between the Bahamas and Cuba during the Golden Age of Piracy.

New York itself, however, did not enjoy as many pirate captains walking her streets.  And with damned good reason!

August of 1776, and William Howe sails into New York with 22,000 men, aboard 400 to 700 vessels, what some witnesses called “a forest of masts.”  There was probably a lot of far more colorful descriptions and exclamations made as well, which probably went along the lines of this modern exclamation:

(In all fairness, this came from a film made by a man who almost made a great movie about the Bismarck as his next project following his piece on that other ship tale…)

Once Howe had put boots to the ground and the Battle of Brooklyn was fought, New York’s ability to be a freewheeling port of call for pirates was for the most part finished.  Not all nefarious seaborne activity could be put down, though, as Washington would rely on the fishermen of the 27th Massachusetts to smuggle his troops across the East River out of Howe’s hands, then across the Hudson just south of what would later be called, ironically, Fort Tyron Park, about the spot where the two towers of the George Washington Bridge span the river.  (As it so happened, this was good practice for these fishermen for their more famous deployment.)  And later, Washington would rely on more smugglers to keep in contact with his Culper Spy Ring as they ferried him information out of Tory-held New York.

And speaking of holding New York…  Once Howe had re-established the Crown’s peace, Tyron finds himself back ashore, administrating a colony formerly in rebellion.  This includes establishing the prison ships on the East River, which claimed the lives of 11,500 incarcerated souls aboard them, and engaging in some wonton raiding of his own:

In July of 1779, Tyron embarked onto a fleet of British ships to raid Connecticut, coming ashore to engage at New Haven, Fairfield and Norwalk.  Designed to try and draw Washington north towards British troops in New York (which failed), the raids were noted for their ferocity and their unsparing cruelty towards civilian targets, which included the burning of homes, schools and churches.  Much like Morgan’s raid on Panama, Tyron engaged in some bloodthirsty action in his seizures and acts of destruction.

If some can say New York-based William Kidd was too harshly judged a pirate, then the argument that William Tryon not judged harshly enough as one, for his greed, cruelty and bloodthirstiness does not appear to have been fully appreciated.  If the British still judge John Paul Jones to have been a pirate, one could argue that Governor William Tryon of New York deserves no less a notation in the log.

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