William Fly, The Pirate

William Fly was a pirate bold,
But his birthplace is unknown, I’ve been told;
All that is known, Captain Green shipped Fly as boatswain,
But in that capacity he didn’t long remain.

’Twas in the year of 1726, he sailed in the Elizabeth Snow,
Bound for the coast of Guinea, blow high or low;
And he soon found some of the men ripe for villainy,
Therefore he and the men resolved to murder the Captain immediately.

And Fly resolved to take command himself and turn pirate,
And his brothers in iniquity were all reconciled to their fate;
Therefore at one in the morning on the 27th of May,
The conspirators commenced their murderous work without dismay.

The Fly began to act like a wild brute,
And he said to the steersman, if you stir hand or foot
I certainly will blow your brains out,
Which he would have done without any doubt.

And tucking up his shirt above the elbows,
And with a cutlass in his hand into the Captain’s cabin he goes,
And told him to turn out, or his brains he would scatter,
Then the Captain asked him what was the matter.

Then the conspirators pulled him out of his bed,
While Captain Green entreated them not to kill him dead;
But he was seized by the villains with one accord,
And without any remorse they threw him overboard.

However, the captain caught hold of the mainsheet and cried for mercy,
But his hand was chopped off and he was swallowed up by the sea;
When the captain was thus despatched, Thomas Jenkins the mate
Was next brought up on deck to share the same fate.

And the mate pleaded for mercy, but his cries were in vain,
Alas! they were deaf to his cries and did so remain,
They jested with his agonies while he did cry for mercy,
Until at last they threw him overboard into the merciless sea.

Then the conspirators next held a long debate,
What should be the doctor’s fate;
And some were for sending him after the mate,
But in that the majority did feel irate.

Therefore the doctor’s life was spared because he was a useful man,
Then the conspirators began to make merry, and a carousal began;
And they pledged each others’ health in punch; resolved to do or die,
And true to their new commander, Captain William Fly.

Then from Nantucket they sailed away to the eastward,
When the wind began to blow very hard;
And they espied a fishing schooner at the run,
So, when she drew near they fired at her a gun.

Then Fly hoisted his black flag, and told them to bring to,
Or if they didn’t they certainly would rue;
But the schooner obeyed and sent her boat on board the Snow,
While the poor captain’s heart was full of woe.

And about twelve at noon, the same day,
Another schooner hove in sight while all on board seemed gay;
Which was the twenty-third day of June,
Which proved to be an unlucky day, because it sealed Fly’s doom.

Because other fishing vessels hove in sight,
Which filled Captain Fly’s heart with affright,
Because they attacked him left and right,
And, unfortunately, Captain Fly was captured that night.

So at the court-house of Boston they were brought to trial,
And when asked if they were guilty they made no denial;
And in the year 1726, and on the twelfth day of July,
Three other pirates were executed along with Captain Fly.

Thus ended the short reign of an inhuman wretch, who only wanted skill
To be as infamous as any who scoured the seas in ill;
But God in his goodness otherwise did will,
Because he was hanged along with Samuel Cole, George Condick, and Henry Greenvil.

And from New London, We have advice by Capt Harris, That in his passage hither he was taken by a Pirate Snow Commanded by William Fly, on board whereby were about 22 Men: they took from said Harris all his Wearing Apparel & Goods to the value of One hundred Pounds, detained him 24 Hours, and forced from him one of his Men, James Benbrook, and left Harris in the Lat. 28 & 20 standing for New England, and told him there were two Sloops more coming on the Coast, Commanded by Sprigg & Low, one whereof they told him they parted with 4 days before off the capes of Virginia.

Our last told you of a Snow belonging to Bristol brought in here, that Sailed from Jamaica for Guinea, beginning of May last, called the Elizabeth, under the Command of John Green, whose company to the Number of 11, excepting the Doctor, Carpenter & Gunner, Mutinied & Murdered him and his chief Mate, whom they threw overboard the 27 of May, and then proceeded in a Piratical Manner for the Coast of New England, taking several Vessels. On the 3 of June they took a Sloop from N. Carolina, on board whereof was William Atkinson a Passenger: After which they took a Schooner of Marblehead, and put on board of her 7 of their Gang, and left the Snow Commanded by Capt. Fly, who was Green’s Boatswain when Murdered. On the 23 June the said Atkinson who was detained on board the said Snow, with the Assistance of the Carpenter and two forced Men, surprized and secured the said Fly, and his Accomplices, and delivered them to the Government here.

On Monday & Tuesday last, A Special Court of Admiralty was held here, for the Tryal of Piracy, &c. wherein Fifteen Persons (being forc’d Men) were Acquitted & Discharged. Four others were found Guilty and received Sentence of Death, viz. William Fly, Capt. (who also is to be hung in Chains) Samuel Cole, Quarter-Master, George Condick, and Henry Greenvill.

Boston News-Letter, 7th July 1726


William Fly’s origins are entirely unknown, one of many anonymous sailors plying the Atlantic in the early eighteenth century. He first enters the records in April 1726, signing on as a boatswain aboard a snow (a two-masted merchant vessel) called the Elizabeth, bound for Guinea out of Jamaica, under the command of Captain John Green. It was an assignment that would end badly for both of them.

Relations between captain and crew quickly deteriorated, and on 27th of May the crew mutinied, throwing the captain and mate overboard, and raising a freshly-sewn pirate flag. They chose William Fly as their new captain and renamed the ship Fames’ Revenge.

Fly steered his ship of newly-minted buccaneers towards New England, where they made merry amongst the sea lanes, quickly capturing five smaller vessels and compelling some of their seamen to join the crew of the Fames’ Revenge.

But Fly had miscalculated. Having put men aboard his newly-captured prizes, he had just three of his original crewmates left on the Fames’ Revenge and fourteen forced men. Seeing their chance to escape an unwanted pirate career, the latter overpowered Fly and his comrades and sailed into Boston harbour on June 28th 1726 to give themselves up to the authorities. The four pirates were quickly tried and condemned to death.

Cotton Mather, puritan preacher and leading light of the Salem witch trials thirty years earlier, visited the prisoners to save their souls, but Fly was having none of it exclaiming “I can’t charge myself,— I shan’t own myself guilty of any murder,— Our Captain and his Mate used us barbarously. We poor men can’t have justice done us. There is nothing said to our commanders, let them never so much abuse us, and use us like dogs.”

At his execution on 12th July, Fly showed remarkable courage. Examining his noose, he criticised the hangman for not knowing his trade and retied the knot himself before placing it round his neck with his own hands. He then addressed the crowd, proclaiming his fondest wish that “all Masters of vessels might take warning by the fate of the captain that he had murdered, and to pay sailors their wages when due, and to treat them better; saying that their barbarity to them made so many turn Pyrates.”

Once launched into eternity, the unfortunate Fly’s body was hung in irons at the entrance to Boston harbour. Some consider his execution to mark the end of the golden age of piracy.


Wikipedia Article

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