Age of Pirates

Pirate Encyclopedia: Richard Worley

While Blackbeard and other notorious pirates were marauding in the waters off the eastern coastline of North America, Richard Worley was setting sail from New York. In the fall of 1718, either September or October, Worley took to the water with a crew of eight men. Their small boat was barely seaworthy and carried few provisions. It has been suggested that Richard Worley was already familiar with sea life, as many males were during that time. He and his men may have squandered their earnings, possibly stealing the boat to begin lives as pirates.

Worley's first successful conquest was not riches, but merely household goods from a ship on the Delaware River. This was not an act of piracy, however, but was a simple burglary since it did not take place in open waters. A second prize soon followed that included a sloop traveling from Philadelphia. Not only was Worley able to acquire better transport, he also increased his crew by four additional men for a total crew of 12.

Just as they headed for the Bahamas, a proclamation was issued to capture and sentence all pirates who had not surrendered under the edict of King George I. The Phoenix, a 20-gun ship, set sail to apprehend errant pirates, but was unsuccessful in the search for Worley.

He spent approximately six weeks around the Bahama Islands. In this time, he took a brigantine and a sloop along with additional guns and crew members. He also made his official pirate "statement" by hoisting a flag bearing his version of the skull and crossbones, which is better known today than his personal biography. The crew also drew up articles that stated they would fight to the death if apprehended.

Unfortunately, that would soon be their fate. Worley planned to return to pillaging along the coastline bordering the Colonies, but first pulled into port to refit his ships. The governor received word of the pirate's landing and due to a proliferation of recent pirate activity in the area decided he needed to capture Worley. Disputing accounts indicate he sent two to four gun ships in pursuit of the pirates.

At the mouth of the Jamestown harbor, Worley spotted the gun ships. Mistaking them for merchant vessels, he moved to block their entry, but instead trapped himself and his crew. A broadside cannon attack disabled the pirate ship. Details about the result of this attack are disputed. Some accounts indicated Worley and one of his men were seriously injured during an onboard confrontation, and all other crew members died during the fighting. If he was injured and survived the attack he would have been taken to land. Fearful that he might die before a trial, officials may have ordered his sentencing and hanging the following day. If so, Richard Worley's life ended by hanging on February 17, 1719, just five short months after the launch of his career as a pirate. However, other reports claim Worley and some crewman died during battle and 25 others were later hanged for piracy in Charleston, South Carolina. With either outcome his career was brief, but his life ended in true pirate fashion.

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