Of the origins of Charles Vane, the rashest member of the Flying Gang, we know very little. Prior to going pirate in 1715 or 1716, he was living in Port Royal, Jamaica, although records of his trial indicate he was not from there. He joined the crew of the privateer Henry Jennings prior to his epic assault on the camp from which the Spanish were attempting to salvage the wrecks of the 1715 treasure fleet, and later became one of the denizens of Nassau, where the Flying Gang created its pirate republic.
Charles Vane, in an early 18th century engraving made by an artist who had never seen him.
Vane was in Nassau when Vincent Pearse of HMS Phoenix first confronted the pirates in February 1718, and subsequently slipped out of the harbor with his own band of pirates, first operating out of open boats. From then on, Vane remained a thorn in the side of British authorities attempting to subdue the Bahamas, capturing their trading vessels and regularly returning to Nassau to taunt them with his prizes.
By July, 1718, Vane had become the de facto leader of Nassau’s die-hard faction, the pirates who did not wish to accept the king’s pardon and who wished to resist the arrival of would-be-governor Woodes Rogers. Vane’s most infamous act came on the night of July 26, 1718, when he nearly destroyed two of the naval frigates escorting Rogers into Nassau harbor. His pirate gang escaped Nassau in a swift sloop and did their best to disrupt Rogers’ tenuous rule by raiding Bahamian shipping while attempting to organize an invasion of the island. On August 30 he blockaded the port of Charleston, South Carolina, capturing several vessels.
According to A General History of the Pirates, Vane tracked down Blackbeard, then living in “retirement” in North Carolina, probably in an effort to convince him to join an assault on Nassau. Their crews were said to have partied on Ocracoke Island – part of the Outer Banks – before separating to face their respective destinies. The meeting is sometimes dismissed as a legend, but period documents found while researching
The Republic of Pirates suggest the meeting probably did in fact take place in September or October of 1718.
Vane, like the fictional Jack Sparrow, was ultimately deposed by his own men, after he declined to attack a French warship in November of 1718; command of his brigantine to Calico Jack Rackham. Vane and 15 followers were left with a captured sloop, with which they tried to rebuild their fortunes, brazenly attacking vessels around Jamaica, headquarters of the Royal Navy’s West Indies squadron.
While Vane avoided the authorities, he could not outrun the powerful hurricane that wrecked him on an island off the coast of what is now Honduras or Southern Belize in February 1719. He was ultimately captured there, when a merchant captain recognized him and turned him over to authorities in Jamaica. For reasons that are unclear he remained incarcerated for more than a year before being hung at Gallows Point, Port Royal, on March 29, 1721