Yes, you’re reading that right. My cousin was an honest-to-goodness pirate. Well, technically in genealogical parlance, he was my first cousin – eight times removed. But my cousin still.
His name was Richard Worley. He was born to Daniel Worley and Mary Penington in England in 1686 or 1687. (Daniel Worley’s older brother, Henry, was my eighth great-grandfather. I discussed Henry and his death in London in a previous post.)
Worley’s Pirate Beginnings
Nothing is known of Richard’s history until he arrived in New York in 1718. In September of that year, he began the life of a pirate with a leaky, open boat and a crew of eight men. Because of the condition of their boat, they sailed along the shore until they reached the mouth of the Delaware River. They then sailed upriver as far as Newcastle looking for a prize.
They found one in the form of a shallop, a light sailboat used for coastal trading. The buccaneers seized the small boat, which was loaded with household goods. After taking a portion of the cargo, they allowed the boat to continue on its way. Interestingly, this action was not considered piracy but rather burglary, since it did not take place on the open sea.
The next prize, a sloop out of Philadelphia, was more of a true prize. They seized the ship and its cargo. Four of the sloop’s crew decided to join the pirates. Two days later, they took another sloop which Worley felt was more to his liking and transferred to it.
The Hunter Becomes the Hunted
About this time, the royal governor issued a proclamation for the apprehension of all pirates. The Phoenix, a 20 gun ship, was ordered out to enforce this provision. However, Captain Worley had learned of the proclamation and headed out to sea. By doing so, he avoided the Phoenix, which was searching for him in coastal waters.
They fled to the Bahamas where, in a period of six weeks, the pirates sank a sloop from New York and looted a brigantine, which they then released. Worley’s crew now numbered 25 and he had mounted six guns on his ship.
While in the Bahamas, Worley had seen a flag used by a local group of raiders. He was impressed with the design and modified it for his own use. The flag that he designed, a black banner with a smiling skull and crossed bones on it, became the standard ensign of pirates by 1724.
In my next post, I will continue Captain Worley’s exploits as he leaves the Bahamas and returns to the colonial coast.