Like many a pirate before and after him, Welsh-born Howell Davis seemed to have stumbled into a life of piracy. A good liar, he was personally well-equipped for pirate life and is remembered as having lied, bluffed, and acted his way into riches and out of trouble.
He was originally the First Mate of a slave ship called The Codagan which was captured by the infamous pirate Edward England off the West African coast in 1718. Edward England enjoyed the reputation of being a generous scoundrel and actually offered The Cadogan to Davis. Davis gladly accepted the offer, planning to sell the ship in Brazil. The crew insisted upon sailing to Barbados instead, however, there Davis was accused of piracy and thrown into to prison for three months.
Upon his release, however, Howell Davis took up piracy in earnest. He sailed to the Bahamas in the hope of putting together a new crew. Once there, he discovered that the new governor, Woodes Rogers, had introduced a very active policy against piracy. Davis became part of the crew of a ship loaded with cargo and the governor's men. During a voyage to Martinique, he managed to convince all aboard, many of them having been former pirates, to mutiny. Chosen captain, Davis and his crew then managed to capture two larger French ships north of Hispaniola: He tricked the second ship by having the first captured ship appear to be a pirate ship.
They then sailed off to the Cape Verde Islands. Here Davis deceived another governor by claiming to be a privateer (a privately-owned ship authorized by a government during wartime to attack enemy vessels) and loaded up on needed supplies. From here he sailed to the island of Maio and plundered at will. They decided to keep one such plundered vessel, The Saint James, and then sailed to Gambia where, dressed like fine gentlemen, tricked the governor there into inviting them to dinner. The governor was later rewarded for his hospitality by being taken ransom and released for a stately sum of gold.
Soon after this, Davis managed to seize four large English and Dutch ships loaded with ivory and gold. He made one of these new vessels, The Rover, his flagship and then proceeded to capture an additional three English slave ships in the area. From here his fleet of pirates sailed on to Principe Island off the coast of Guinea and captured one of their last great prizes: A great Dutch ship and £15,000 of booty.
Once on Principe Island, Davis' deceptive tactics finally let him down. He told the Portuguese governor there that he was actually a pirate hunter. He even went so far as to seize a French ship he claimed to have been trading with pirates. But his trick failed this time and he and his crew were killed by Portuguese soldiers. Although, Davis in true pirate fashion, took five bullets before dropping and had to be finished off by having his throat cut.
Some of his remaining crew managed to escape and later elected the infamous Bartholomew Roberts as their new captain.