Williamsburg, Virginia, November, 1718
Alexander Spotswood had just finished his substantial breakfast when acommotion began in the foyer. The servants were calling to him, their voices shrill with panic. William Randolf, his treasurer, and husband of Elizabeth, had collapsed on the hardwood floor, just inside the opened door of the mansion. His horse, out side, was covered in a thick, white froth of sweat, whinnying in distress, near collapse itself, with one of the governor’s servants trying to calm it. Two of the house maids and the Governor’s personal servant, Charles, were tending Randolf when Spotswood stepped into the foyer and began to give direction to the chaos.
“Minnie, fetch some cool water. Charles, remove his coat and his waistcoat and bring him into the parlor.” He noticed a sealed parchment clutched tightly in William’s hand. Spotswoodtook it and preceded them to the parlor, where there was better light for reading. The seal was Charles Eden’s. The message inside informed him that Eden’s sources were telling him of a conclave of hundreds of pirates, led by the infamous Blackbeard, at Oakracoke, where they were building a fort to establish their own “Pirate Nation”. Eden had put a bounty on Blackbeard’s head and he was asking that Spotswood do the same. In addition, Eden had sent an assassin to kill the pirate leader, but so far he hadn’t heard from the man and assumed him dead. Having no naval forces of his own, nor access to them, Eden suggested that, Spotswood should send the forces of His Majesty’s Navy stationed at Hampton. They could trap the pirates on the beach at Oakracoke and put an end to them, once and for all.
Spotswood had always been deeply suspicious of Eden, his motives and his relationship to Blackbeard and other pirates, but he held these thoughts to himself, as things he would discuss with William, when he was able. In the mean time, it was inconceivable to him, given the circumstances, that a man he considered to be a useless idiot, ruling the colony at his southern border, had offered no assistance in the matter of these pirates, whom he had as much as invited to his shores. He offered no gold, no ships, no troops, but only some unreliable information and the suggestion that the Royal Navy might capture the pirates if the colony of Virginia would send the resources to do the job. He crumpled the note so tightly in his fist that his freshly manicured fingernails dug into his palm. He watched as Charles brought young William into the parlor and settled him on a divan near the windows.
“Give him water and open the window. Keep his face and forehead moist, and
fan him till he cools,” he ordered his servant.
With that, he stormed from the room and went straight to the stables, ordering his groom to prepare his carriage and saddle horses for his personal guard.
When the governor and his entourage arrived at the wharf in Hampton he found the port filled with merchant ships and busy with cargo. Spotswood, his aide and two of his personal guard pushed their way along the crowded quay to the King’s Street Tavern where he knew Captain Brand, the naval commander assigned to him by the Admiralty, would be staying. Inside, the interior of the tavern was dark, cool and quiet. One sailor sat slouched on a bench in a darkened corner of the public room, a flagon in one hand and a long, clay pipe in the other.
“Is the proprietor here?” The governor called out to the man, who mumbled something incomprehensible. The governor was about to ask a second time when a man wearing a dirty apron appeared from a back room carrying a heavy wooden crate. Upon seeing the governor, he quickly deposited the crate, nervously wiped his hands on his apron and bowed.
“Your Lordship. Its’ an honor, sir.”
Spotswood looked around the room, despairing of the odorous filth and shambles.
“I seek Captain Brand. Is he here?”
“Oh, no sir, Yur Honor. He’s gone on leave, Lordship.”
Spotswood’s face colored and he roared, “On leave my arse! He’s gone off with some whore, I know the man, I pay his wage and I was not informed of any leave! Where’s he taken the wench and how long does he usually stay?”
“Oh, I wouldn’t know Yur Honor,” the innkeeper begged. “Only that I’m to ‘old his correspondence till he returns, sir.”
The man blinked nervously, searching for something more to say, something that would appease the governor’s obvious exasperation. It struck him a moment later and he said, “Lieutenant Maynard’s his second in command. He might know the captain’s whereabouts, Lordship.”
“Maynard, you say.” The governor repeated, turning to his aide, indicating that he should take note. “And where might I find Mr. Maynard?”
“Oh, ‘e left early this mornin’ Yur Honor, over to the yard to check on ‘is men and ships, sir.”
“Yes, Lordship. Captain Brand’s ships are careened, over at Woodes Landing, in the river, for repairs.”
“Damn!” Spotswood exploded at the news that the navy ships Lyme and Pearl were under repair and unavailable for his use. “Why wasn’t I informed of this?” He complained to no one in particular.
He turned to his aide. “Go and secure a longboat to take us across to Woodes Landing. I must speak with this ‘Lieutenant Maynard’, right away.”