How Howel Davis took a fortress by subterfuge

From the pages of Captain Charles Johnson’s A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pirates (1724).

Captain Howel Davis, one of the smarter Golden Age pirates

Captain Howel Davis, one of the smarter Golden Age pirates

Having put to Sea they muster’d their Hands, and found themselves near seventy strong; then it was proposed what Course they should steer, and differing in their Opinions, they divided, and by a Majority it was carried for Gambia on the Coast of Guiney; of this Opinion was Davis, he having been employ’d in that Trade, was acquainted with the Coast. He told them, that there was a great deal of Money always kept in Gambia Castle, and that it would be worth their while to make an Attempt upon it. They ask’d him how it was possible, since it was garrisoned? He desired they would leave the Management of it to him, and he would undertake to make them Masters of it. They began now to conceive so high an Opinion of his Conduct, as well as Courage, that they thought nothing impossible to him, therefore they agreed to obey him, without enquiring further into his Design.

Having come within Sight of the Place, he ordered all his Men under Deck, except as many as were absolutely necessary for working the Ship, that those from the Fort seeing a Ship with so few Hands, might have no Suspicion of her being any other than a trading Vessel; then he ran close under the Fort, and there cast Anchor; and having ordered out the Boat, he commanded six Men in her, in old ordinary Jackets, while he himself, with the Master and Doctor, dressed themselves like Gentlemen; his Design being, that the Men should look like common Sailors, and they like Merchants. In rowing ashore he gave his Men Instructions what to say in Case any Questions should be asked them.

Being come to the landing Place, he was received by a File of Musqueteers, and conducted into the Fort, where the Governor accosting them civilly, ask’d them who they were, and whence they came? They answered they were of Liverpool, bound for the River of Sinnegal, to trade for Gum and Elephants Teeth, but that they were chaced on that Coast by two French Men of War, and narrowly escaped being taken, having a little the Heels of them; but now they were resolved to make the best of a bad Market, and would Trade here for Slaves; then the Governor ask’d them, what was the chief of their Cargo? They answered, Iron and Plate, which were good Things there; the Governor told them he would Slave them to the full Value of their Cargoe, and asked them, if they had any European Liquor on Board? They answered, a little for their own Use; however, a Hamper should be at his Service. The Governor then very civilly invited them all to stay and dine with him; Davis told him, that being Commander of the Ship, he must go on Board to see her well moored, and give some other Orders, but those two Gentlemen might stay, and that he himself would also return before Dinner, and bring the Hamper of Liquor with him.

While he was in the Fort, his Eyes were very busy in observing how Things lay; he took Notice there was a Centry at the Entrance, and a Guard-House just by it, where the Soldiers upon Duty commonly waited, their Arms standing in a Corner, in a Heap; he saw also a great many small Arms in the Governor’s Hall; now when he came on Board, he assured his Men of Success, desiring them not to get drunk, and that as soon as they saw the Flag upon the Castle struck, they might conclude he was Master, and send twenty Hands immediately ashore; in the mean Time, there being a Sloop at Anchor near them, he sent some Hands in a Boat, to secure the Master and all the Men, and bring them on Board of him, least they observing any Bustle or arming in his Ship, might send ashore and give Intelligence.

These Precautions being taken, he ordered his Men, who were to go in the Boat with him, to put two Pair of Pistols each under their Cloaths, he doing the like himself, and gave them Directions to go into the Guard-Room, and to enter into Conversation with the Soldiers, and observe when he should fire a Pistol thro’ the Governor’s Window, to start up at once and secure the Arms in the Guard-Room.

When Davis arrived, Dinner not being ready, the Governor proposed that they should pass their Time in making a Bowl of Punch till Dinner-Time: It must be observed, that Davis’s Coxen waited upon them, who had an Opportunity of going about all Parts of the House, to see what Strength they had, he whispered Davis, there being no Person then in the Room, but he, (Davis) the Master, the Doctor, the Coxen and Governor; Davis on a sudden drew out a Pistol, clapt it to the Governor’s Breast, telling him, he must surrender the Fort and all the Riches in it, or he was a dead Man. The Governor being no Ways prepared for such an Attack, promised to be very Passive, and do all they desired, therefore they shut the Door, took down all the Arms that hung in the Hall, and loaded them. Davis fires his Pistol thro’ the Window, upon which his Men, without, executed their Part of the Scheme, like Heroes, in an Instant; getting betwixt the Soldiers and their Arms, all with their Pistols cock’d in their Hands, while one of them carried the Arms out. When this was done, they locked the Soldiers into the Guard-Room, and kept Guard without.

In the mean Time one of them struck the Union Flag on the Top of the Castle, at which Signal those on Board sent on Shore a Reinforcement of Hands, and they got Possession of the Fort without the least Hurry or Confusion, or so much as a Man lost of either Side. Davis harangued the Soldiers, upon which a great many of them took on with him, those who refused, he sent on Board the little Sloop, and because he would not be at the Trouble of a Guard for them, he ordered all the Sails and Cables out of her, which might hinder them from attempting to get away.

This Day was spent in a kind of Rejoycing, the Castle firing her Guns to salute the Ship, and the Ship the Castle; but the next Day they minded their Business, that is, they fell to plundering, but they found Things fall vastly short of their Expectation; for they discovered, that a great deal of Money had been lately sent away; however, they met with the Value of about two thousand Pounds Sterling in Bar Gold, and a great many other rich Effects: Every Thing they liked, which was portable, they brought aboard their Ship; some Things which they had no Use for, they were so generous to make a Present of, to the Master and Crew of the little Sloop, to whom they also returned his Vessel again, and then they fell to work in dismounting the Guns, and demolishing the Fortifications.

The fort was rebuilt in later years, as it was an important port in the slave trade.

The fort was rebuilt in later years, as it was an important port in the slave trade.

2 thoughts on “How Howel Davis took a fortress by subterfuge

  1. mtaggartwriter

    I’m not sure the time period would interest you, however, do you have any interest in creating a post on the happenings concerning Benedict Arnold and his treason? Especially the attack in CT. I’ve visited both sides of the river..very worth the time spent.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Brian Bixby Post author

      Hmmm . . . you know, I hadn’t heard about his raids into Connecticut until I was in my 20s. I’m still deep in a parental health care situation, but it should let up at the end of next week. I’ll drop you a line thereafter.



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