It was the golden age of Piracy – a privateer out of New England went “freelance”, violating his letter of marque and plundering a fortune in Portuguese gold. Upon his return home, he was tried and sentenced amongst a deafening uproar of injustice in a region only recently recovering from the Salem Witch Trials. To this day, folks still seek the gold these pirates left behind, while living in a nation founded partly on sparks generated by this very pirate’s conviction. And odds are, you don’t have a clue who I’m talking about.
John Quelch was in many ways the very embodiment of a 1704 pirate. Beginning as a legal privateer, he followed much in the footsteps of his more famous predecessor Captain Kidd as he abandoned the terms of his commission in favor of hunting more lucrative prey. The evidence is pretty clear, and quite damning. That Quelch and his men, armed with a Letter of Marque to hunt the French in the Northern Atlantic instead headed south to Brazil to plunder Portuguese gold is pretty much beyond question. And yet, in the eyes of history this is far from an open-and-shut case, leaving many questions. (more…)