Outlaws of the Atlantic (III)


Henry Pitman, “Fugitive Traitor”

Henry Pitman came from a prosperous Quaker family in Yeovil, Somersetshire, England, and was not therefore a typical participant in Monmouth’s Rebellion of 1685. He was a physician and a member of the lesser gentry in an army made up almost entirely of the common sort, especially cloth workers, craftsmen, and agricultural laborers. People like Henry had kept their distance from uprisings, but Somerset itself, from which Monmouth drew most of his soldiers, had long been “the nursery of rebellion.” It had a strong and variegated tradition of self-organization and struggle from below, encompassing commoners who fought to retain their rights to the marshes, “Clubmen” who opposed both Cavalier and Roundhead in the English Revolution, and cloth workers who did not hesitate to riot in the face of increasing immiseration. It was also a place of radical nonconformity (with sizable concentrations of Baptists and Quakers), republican conspiracy, and the persistence of “the good old cause,” code words for the English Revolution, to which Henry was an heir.

Henry also looks atypical when considered alongside the millions of servants, slaves, convicts, and sailors whose experiences are central to this book. He was a learned and literate man of privilege, but one who, because of the vicissitudes of war, found himself an astonished member of the Atlantic proletariat. As such he faced many of the “great sufferings” and “strange adventures” of other coerced workers, in his own time and after. Henry’s account shows how the escape from bondage worked as a practical process, allowing us to see what kinds of knowledge and social relationships made it possible. It also suggests that escape is a rather different, and historically more important, kind of resistance than usually thought.

This point holds true even for the most highly developed historiography of escape to be found anywhere in the scholarly world: I refer to the extensive writing about running away from slavery in North America and the Caribbean in the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries. In this rich, well-mined vein we find analyses of escape in relation to a plethora of variables: skill, acculturation, seasonality, geography, other forms of resistance. We have studies of petit marronage (temporary escape from slavery) and grand marronage (permanent escape). We have what the distinguished Caribbeanist N. A. T. Hall called “maritime marronage,” of which Henry Pitman’s escape is an example. But we have few examples of how it actually worked, concretely and in human terms, as a process.

With all this in mind let us turn to the Monmouth rebel and his Atlantic adventure. His is a picaresque story of slavery and no less a story of self-emancipation from slavery. It is a story of violence, misery, and death, and it is equally a story of courage, strength, and luck (which is sometimes called providence). It is fundamentally a story of knowledge—technical knowledge, natural knowledge, and social knowledge. It might in the end tell us something about myths we have long told—and continue to tell—ourselves.


Henry came to misfortune by an odd combination of curiosity, compassion, and chance. Having recently returned from a voyage to Italy and happening to visit relatives in Sandford, Somersetshire, just as the Duke of Monmouth landed at Lyme Regis to launch his uprising, Henry decided to “to go and see whether his strength and number were answerable to what the common rumour had spread abroad.” He rode with family members to Taunton to satisfy his curiosity and promptly got himself caught between warring armies, Monmouth’s rebels on the one side, Oxford’s royalists on the other. He retreated to the former, among whom he met friends who asked him “to stay and take care of the sick and wounded men.” Before long, “pity and compassion on my fellow creatures, more especially being my brethren in Christianity, obliged me to stay and perform the duty of my calling among them, and to assist my brother chirurgeons towards the relief of those that otherwise, must have languished in misery.” Henry also treated the captured soldiers of the king, and he never actually took up arms in the cause, but his feelings of solidarity—with his fellow surgeons, fellow Christians, and fellow creatures (the last of these being a marker of radicalism from the 1640s and 1650s)—allied him with insurrection and ultimately treason. After the rout of Monmouth’s forces at Sedgmoor on July 6, 1685, many of the rebel soldiers were hanged immediately. Henry tried to escape, was captured, robbed (“pockets rifled” and “my coat taken off my back”), and committed, with about four hundred others, to Ilchester gaol. He lay among the wounded, the gashed, and the bone-shattered in a filthy, overcrowded jail, where dozens would die of fever and smallpox. Henry survived.

Conviction and Exile

The bloodbath had only just begun. Soon came the “Bloody Assizes,” presided over by the infamous hanging judge Lord Chief Justice George Jeffreys, whose natural violent irritability was at the moment made worse by kidney stones. The agents of King James visited the jails and prisons bulging with 1,300 men, promising grace and mercy in exchange for admissions of guilt. Many refused to play the game, whereupon twenty-eight were selected for trial at Dorchester, condemned, and “a warrant signed for their execution the same afternoon.” After these hangings, most of the rest were sufficiently terrorized to plead guilty in hope of saving their lives. Most of those who did were quickly convicted and ordered “to be hanged, drawn, and quartered,” but opposition arose from an unexpected quarter: the hangmen protested that they could not carry out the number of executions being asked of them. (Their work standard was a dozen a day.) Another 230 prisoners were eventually executed, some of them making “no shew of repentance . . . but justified their treason and gloried in it.” Bodies were disemboweled, heads severed, remains tarred and put on public display in what would be England’s largest mass hangings since the 1550s. Henry’s luck was stubborn: “The rest of us,” he wrote, “were ordered to be transported to the Caribbee Islands.” For him as for 850 other prisoners, the living death of slavery would be substituted for the literal death of hanging.

Henry, his brother William, and about a hundred other prisoners were given by the authorities to Catholic merchants, who immediately entered into negotiations with Henry’s family for ransom. Fearing that Henry would not be released even if the money was paid, the family members hesitated, but relented when threatened that the brothers would be singled out for especially harsh treatment if they did not pay the required 120 pounds. Meanwhile, Henry was moved from Wells to Weymouth, where he and his “companions” (as he called them) were herded onto the Betty, a London ship now bound for Barbados. The five-week passage was “very sickly.” Nine of the prisoners died and were buried in the sea. Those who survived would be linked in ways that were not yet clear to them. Henry’s luck survived the transatlantic voyage to a strange land.


Henry introduced his experience in Barbados by copying into his narrative the legislation passed by the colonial assembly in January 1686, just as he arrived, for the governing of political prisoners and transported felons such as himself. Fate had sent him to England’s richest colony, a plantation society built on the gruesome exploitation of indentured servants and slaves who produced sugar for the world market. These workers, as one visitor noted, “perform their dreadful tasks and then expire,” and indeed the death rate for workers black and white was high. Insatiable for labour power, the planters of Barbados were grateful to get Monmouth’s rebels.

The act of 1686 begins by denouncing the “monstrous villainy” of the traitors, who sought to turn the king’s dominions into “theatres of blood and misery.” Many “convict rebels” were justly hanged, the law announced, while others were sent, through his majesty’s “unparalleled grace and clemency,” to the colonies to serve ten-year terms of servitude. Henry observed sourly, “And thus we may see the buying and selling of Free-men into slavery, was beginning again to be renewed among Christians, as if that Heathenish Custom had been a necessary dependence on arbitrary power.”

The law spelled out exactly how the ruling class of Barbados thought Henry and his ilk would try to escape. They knew that some would try “to redeem themselves with money,” and some would attempt to intermarry with free women on the island. They knew that some would feign death and try to get away in disguise, others would flee the island using “False Tickets under wrong names,” still others would get shipmasters or anyone else they could to help them abscond. Some would get small craft and attempt to emancipate themselves by sailing away to freedom. (Some, the legislators knew, would die trying.) The legislation therefore preemptively forbade manumission through self-purchase or intermarriage, created a registry to keep track of the convicts, established a bevy of fines and imprisonments for any who assisted escape, regulated the use of all small vessels, and prescribed punishment for those who tried to run away: “Thirty-nine lashes on his bare body, on some public day, in the next Market town to his Master’s place of abode: and, on another market day in the same town, to be set in the pillory, by the space of one hour; and be burnt in the forehead with the letters f.t. signifying Fugitive Traitor, so as the letters may plainly appear in his forehead.” Henry considered this to be “an unchristian and inhuman Act.” It reflected the class struggle over the mobility of bonded laborers.


Despite the promises made to Henry’s family by the merchants in England, Henry and his brother were sold to Robert Bishop, who showed “great unkindness,” quashing all the petitions and entreaties for the freedom their family had paid for, refusing to give the servants proper clothes, and allowing them but a “very mean” diet, one that made Henry sick of “a violent flux.” Henry tried to play upon his class background and professional skill in negotiating with his master: he “humbly recommended to his consideration my Profession and practice, which I hoped would render me deserving of better accommodation than was usually allowed to other Servants.” His hopes were inappropriate to his new class condition and Bishop frankly told him so. Wounded, Henry declared, “I would choose rather to work in the field with the Negroes than to dishonour my Profession by serving him as Physician and Surgeon, and to accept the same entertainment as common Servants.” Bishop flew into a rage, beat Henry with his cane until it splintered, then clapped him in the stocks “exposed to the scorching heat of the sun” for twelve hours.

Over the next fifteen months Henry experienced more cruel treatment by Robert Bishop, but soon the master fell into debt and Henry was sent back to the merchants who had originally sold him. The humiliation was complete: he was now “goods unsold.” Tired of waiting for a pardon, angry about the endless abuse, and saddened by the recent death of his brother, Henry “resolved to attempt the making of my escape off the island.” He would risk “a burnt forehead and a sore back,” a branding and a whipping, but as it happened he was risking even more. As he later discovered, the planters of Barbados, once they learned of the collective escape, “were resolved, as they said, that I should be hanged!” The gallows would cast its shadow over Henry’s adventure from beginning to end.


Henry mulled over various strategies of escape; all of them were dangerous. The one he chose entailed securing a small boat, organizing a group of fellow conspirators, gathering supplies, and slipping away in the middle of the night for the island of Curaçao, a voyage of six hundred miles, with the northeast trade winds at his back. (He chose a Dutch colony because he assumed that the officials of an English colonial government would capture and return him to Barbados immediately.) His relatives in England had facilitated the escape (perhaps unwittingly) by sending goods on consignment to a friend on the island who in turn sold them and gave the proceeds to Henry. Having money was a critical advantage, but it meant little without a series of alliances on which the whole endeavour would depend.

Henry began by working with a man named John Nuthall, who was not a prisoner, nor even a servant, but rather a free man, a wood carver in “mean circumstances”: he had fallen into debt and wanted to leave the island, but he had no means to do so. Henry engaged Nuthall in a pact of secrecy and asked him to acquire the vessel for their common escape, in exchange for which he promised money, free passage, and eventually the boat itself once they had reached their destination. Henry gave him twelve pounds to buy the boat of “a Guiney man” lying at anchor in the harbor. This Nuthall did, but as soon as he registered the vessel (as required by the law) he aroused the suspicion of the authorities, who wondered where such a poor man got the money and how he intended to use the boat. Fearful that the magistrates might seize the boat, Henry got Nuthall to sink it offshore and lie low to allow suspicions to subside.

Henry now turned his attention to a second alliance. He brought into the plot two other transported felons who were political prisoners, Thomas Austin and John Whicker, the latter of whom had voyaged with him on the Betty from Weymouth to Barbados. These two gladly contributed what little money they had to the design. Whicker, a joiner, would be especially important to their voyage in a wooden vessel. Meanwhile, Henry continued to play the lead role in organizing the escape, since he had, in his employ, “more time and liberty” than Austin and Whicker. He and Nuthall met nightly on the waterfront at “some convenient place remote from town.”

The next task was to gather supplies for the voyage. Henry compiled a detailed list of necessaries “so nothing might be forgotten”: “A hundredweight of bread, a convenient quantity of cheese, a cask of water, some few bottles of Canary and Madeira wine and beer; these being for the support of Nature: and then for use, a compass, quadrant, chart, half-hour glass, half-minute glass, log and line, large tarpaulin, a hatchet, hammer, saw and nails, some spare boards, a lantern and candles.” These he stored first at a friend’s house near the waterside, then at the warehouse tended by Whicker close to their intended point of departure. Henry’s preparations were thorough and careful.

In his third act of alliance Henry expanded the conspiracy further, bringing in another debtor, Thomas Waker, and four more fellow “convict rebels”: Jeremiah Atkins (a husbandman from Taunton), Peter Bagwell (a thirty-three-year-old farmer from Colyton), John Cooke (from Chard), and William Woodcock (a nineteen-year-old cloth worker, a comber, imprisoned at Taunton). Bagwell and Cooke had been shipmates with Henry and John Whicker aboard the Betty. Old solidarities served a new design.

Henry found the right moment to escape when the governor of Nevis visited Barbados, whose own governor put on “a noble entertainment,” parading the town’s militia in arms, with “revelling, drinking, and feasting to excess.” Henry sent out word to his comrades to meet, with whatever arms they could gather, by the wharf during this time of “drowsy security and carelessness.” Meanwhile Nuthall arranged for “two lusty blacks” to refloat the boat and bring it to the point of embarkation, where, at 11:00 p.m. on the night of May 9, 1687, the men met to load their “necessaries of life.” Their grand plan was unexpectedly interrupted when several watchmen strolled by, causing panic and flight, but they did not notice the boat and continued their rounds. Henry in particular was so terrified as to be “altogether unwilling to make a second attempt” until he remembered those “whom I had engaged in so much danger.” Thomas Austin, fearful “of being cast away,” refused in the end to make the voyage. At midnight eight men rowed softly—and closely—by the fort and a man-of-war anchored in the harbor. Their small craft began to fill with water, but they could not bail for fear of “making a noise to alarm our enemies.” They made their escape to freedom in an unlikely vessel—a leaky old boat from a slave ship.

At Sea

Once they got clear of their enemies, they fell to work, emptying the boat of water, raising their mast, hoisting their sail, and setting their course southwest toward Grenada. The boat continued to leak despite their efforts to plug the gaping seams with tallowed linen and rags; someone had to be kept bailing “continually, day and night, . . . our whole voyage.” Henry was at the helm “to guide and govern the boat,” as he was the only one among the eight who knew navigation. Meanwhile, most of the rest of the crew were hanging over sides of the vessel, seasick. They began to grumble, “to wish themselves at Barbadoes again.” Henry explained that there was no going back. This was literally true; the winds made it impossible. The following morning, when they were almost out of the sight of the island, “we began,” according to Henry, “to be cheered up with the thoughts of our liberty, and the hopes of our safe arrival at our desired port.”

The high spirits did not last, for that night crisis struck. A brisk gale arose, damaging the rudder, which split, suddenly forcing them to lower sail and use an oar “to keep our boat before the sea.” John Whicker, the joiner, sprang into action, mending the helm by nailing two boards to it. “That done,” Henry wrote, “we went cheerily on again.”

Over the next few days the escape was aided by good weather but plagued by Henry’s inability to take a true observation by his quadrant “because of the uneven motion of the sea, and the nearness of the sun to the zenith.” He therefore steered a course from island to island, from Grenada to Los Testigos, to Margarita, where on the fifth day of the voyage, the men grew tired of their putrid water and wanted to go ashore for a fresh supply. Henry resisted the idea because he feared the “savage cannibals” they might encounter. But once they got to the north side of the island, which seemed to be free of the “inhuman man-eaters,” Henry relented. They brought the boat to shore, got water, and soon directed their course for Saltatudos, or Salt Tortuga.

Late in the day (May 15) the wind stiffened “and a white ring encircled the moon,” an omen of bad weather. Soon “a dreadful storm arose, which made us despair of ever seeing the morning sun. And now the sea began to foam, and to turn its smooth surface into mountains and vales.” The boat “was tossed and tumbled from one side to the other”; it was “violently hurried and driven away by the fury of the wind and the sea.” The men once again began to wish themselves back in Barbados or even on the island with the “savage cannibals” rather than face this “approaching ruin.” At this point, Henry recalled, divine providence intervened. They heard “an unexpected voice,” someone holloa­ing at them from a great distance. The violence of the winds and the furies of the raging waves ceased. With God’s help, Henry thought, they had survived.

The next morning Margarita Island lay before them. They intended to go ashore to refresh themselves after the storm, to search for water, and to repair the leaks in the boat, whose timbers had been loosened by the pounding seas. They “stood in directly for shore, thinking it a convenient place to land,” but then saw a canoe heading from the shore directly toward them. They reached immediately for their arms, blunderbusses and muskets, only to discover that they had left their bag of shot on the wharf as they escaped Barbados. So they loaded their barrels with pieces of glass and prepared for engagement. When they saw that the men in the canoe bearing down on them paddled like Indians, they decided to make haste and try to get away from them.


The canoe kept gaining as Henry and his companions watched anxiously, ready to fire. Soon the approaching men “waved their hats and hailed us,” by which gesture it was clear that they were not Indians, who did not wear hats. They seemed to be “white men.” “We enquired,” wrote Henry, “What they were?” They replied, “Englishman in distress, &c., and waited for an opportunity to go off the island.” The men in the boat were no doubt relieved, but perhaps they should not have been. It turned out that the canoe men were something rather more than marooned Englishmen. They were pirates, all twenty-six of them on the island. Formerly part of a multi-ethnic crew with Captain Yanche, who marauded against the Spanish in the Caribbean, they had gone on a raid against Indians in Florida (to capture canoes), gotten separated from the rest, and come to Margarita in hopes of finding a vessel that would carry them back to an English port.

Henry and crew were, understandably, not exactly forthcoming about who they were and what they were doing. The pirates assumed they were debtors fleeing those to whom they owed money, as was common in the Caribbean at the time. Thomas Waker, who actually was a debtor, broke solidarity with his shipmates and sought to curry favour with the pirates by explaining that most of them were not debtors but rather rebels, thinking this would make the sea robbers more likely to take him over his shipmates. He miscalculated, badly. The pirates not only resented his treachery, they, according to Henry, “loved us the better, confessing they were rebels too,” adding that “if the Duke of Monmouth had had 1,000 of them, they would soon have put to flight the King’s army.” Their affinity discovered, the pirates took the bedraggled men ashore and gave them fresh water and food and a chance to rest and recover from their hard voyage.

Later, when the escapees explained their intention to sail on to Curaçao, the pirates, said Henry, “endeavoured to persuade us from it: alleging the insufficiency of our boat, and the dangers we were so lately exposed unto.” The pirates wanted Henry and his men to go marauding with them on the Spanish Main. Most of the gang from Barbados were willing, but not Henry, who was apparently inclined to risk his neck at sea for freedom but not upon the gallows for piracy. He in turn persuaded the others not to go. Not to be outdone in the argument, the pirates promptly burned their boat, “supposing then that we would choose rather to go with them” rather than stay on the island, where they would risk attack by the Spanish or starvation before anyone arrived to pick them up. Henry was undeterred, but he was worried about survival. He therefore paid the pirates thirty pieces of eight to leave behind an Indian they had captured in Florida. He would feed those who remained—the eight escapees and or pirates who decided to stay behind—with his ability to catch fish.


The privateers (a legal-sounding name for pirates) “had no sooner left us, but we found ourselves, of necessity, obliged to seek out for provisions.” This was the new material reality for Henry and the others, who were now officially marooned. When he was narrating this part of his story, Henry’s voice suddenly changed: he became something of a natural historian, describing in detail the island he had come by accident to inhabit—how it got its name, its geology and topography, and most crucially its resources, especially the salt deposits and how they were formed, and its animal and plant life. Henry knew that such descriptions were popular parts of the travel literature of his day. In any case, this was making the most of necessity: Henry and his fellow maroons had to figure how to feed themselves in this strange land. This required new kinds of knowledge and new forms of cooperation. There was an “art”—and a history—of marooning. Henry and his mates were suddenly, and literally, commoners. They had to wrest sustenance from an island commons with an unfamiliar ecology.

In the first foray for food the escapees were “led by the example of those four privateers that stayed behind.” These men had already lived on the island for a while, but more important, they had other kinds of knowledge that would prove invaluable, for buccaneers had long lived as hunting and gathering maroons, sometimes by choice, to escape various Caribbean authorities, and sometimes by necessity, as had happened to all of the men on Margarita. The crew immediately began “to turn turtle,” that is, search during the night-time hours for the amphibious creatures and flip them over on their backs, where they would remain until the hunters returned the following day to kill and eat them. Cooking was done in the old buccaneer manner, barbecuing the turtle meat on wooden spits (boucans, used to cook slaughtered wild cattle, whence the name buccaneer). Any meat left over would be cut into long strips, salted, dried in the sun, and saved as their “winter store,” as the buccaneers had long done. Henry called turtle flesh “very delightsome and pleasant to the taste, much resembling veal.” The men also collected turtle eggs, their season fortunately being April, May, and June, beating the yolks in calabashes with salt before frying them, pancake-style, in tortoise fat.

A second major source of food lay in the fishing skill of the Native American whom Henry had retained. He “was so dextrous that with his bow and arrow, he would shoot a small fish at a great distance.” He also caught crawfish and shellfish (whelks), which made for a welcome change of diet. This too reflected longstanding buccaneer tradition. West Indian freebooters had for decades worked out alliances with the multi-ethnic Miskito Indians from the coast of Nicaragua. The buccaneers would provide military assistance in the Miskito struggle against the Spanish; the Miskito would provide skilled fishermen who would sail with the buccaneers and provide food for them. Knowledge of the local ecology was prized.

The next major task, since hurricane season was coming on, was “building houses to defend us from the stormy weather.” They built simple structures and covered them with coarse grass that grew by the seaside. Their household goods consisted of two or three earthen jars left by the pirates, calabashes, and shells. The maroons spent much time in their “little huts or houses, . . . sometimes reading or writing.” They were slowly making the island their own.

Henry turned his medical and scientific reading to new account on the island, searching out “vegetable productions” that would prove to be “of great service to us.” He found a plant he called a “Turks’ Head” that had a small nut that tasted like a strawberry, and another called the curatoe (agave) that had a variety of uses: its juice could be used as soap; its fibres made good thread; its leaves could be boiled to produce a “balsam [poultice] for wounds.” The body of the plant, when heated and placed in a hole in the sand for five or six days, produced “a most pleasant and spirituous alcoholic liquor,” which tasted like “the syrup of baked pears.” Another pleasure was smoking a plant called “Wild Sage” in “a crab’s claw.” Despite Henry’s inventiveness, however, island life remained “desolate and disconsolate.”


After four months on the island, the maroons at last spied two vessels, a sloop and a man-of-war sailing toward them. Both were full of pirates. The captain of the warship learned from the four pirates on the island that one of their number was a doctor and sent for him. Henry was welcomed aboard the ship with trumpets, greeted by the captain and ship’s doctor, and taken into the great cabin, where he was wined, fed, and given gifts. The conversation touched on the defeat of the Duke of Monmouth, which the pirates “seemed to deplore.” They too were rebels against the English state.

Henry had found compatriots on the western side of the Atlantic in the battle that had cost him his freedom in the first place.

Henry requested that he and his mates be taken to a port where they might find a ship bound for England, but the pirate captain informed him that the matter would have to be voted on by the crew, who met, debated, and decided to allow only Henry to sail with them, because they did not want to share the “rich prize” they had apparently just taken with the newcomers (which was their established practice). They did, however, entertain and give abundant provisions to the men on the island. Two days later, on May 25, 1687, they sailed away, Henry feeling “not a little grieved at my departure.”

They sailed north, between Puerto Rico and Hispaniola, where they captured a ketch sailing from New York to Providence in the Bahamas, a place that had recently been resettled after a Spanish attack. Seafaring people, many of them formerly pirates, had erected a “little commonwealth,” which was “under the Protection of no Prince.” They built a small fort, made and enacted their own laws, and selected an Independent, “a very sober man,” as their governor. The pirates were warmly received and liked the place so much that they ran their ship aground and burnt her, “giving the guns to the inhabitants to fortify the island.”

In two weeks Henry continued on with the crew of the ketch for Carolina and eventually to New York. There he met someone he knew in Barbados (who “would not discover me”) who relayed the stories of how the runaways had been pursued by their masters, how colonial authorities throughout the Caribbean had been alerted of the escape, how promises of severe punishment had been made should they ever be returned, how rumours ran wild about their adventures, and how, in the end, it was “concluded that we had perished in the sea.” From New York, Henry recrossed the Atlantic to Amsterdam, from there to the Isle of Wight, from there to Southampton, and eventually to his family, who greeted him “as one risen from the dead.” Henry’s final words were praise to God for preserving him against “all dangers and times of trial.” These last he wrote “From my lodging, at the sign of the Ship, in Paul’s Churchyard, London. June the 10th, 1689.”

In the end Henry Pitman was typical of countless other rebels who in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries found themselves flung to the edges of the Atlantic in the aftermath of a failed rebellion. Whenever authorities repressed a riot by an urban mob, a strike by workers, a mutiny by soldiers or sailors, or a revolt by servants or slaves, they often hanged a few of the rebels and sent a larger number into a miniature diaspora—such was the experience of defeat. What was unusual in Henry’s case is that by the time he returned to England, those who had exiled him, the government of James II, had themselves been overthrown in the “Glorious Revolution” of 1688, by which means Henry the “convict rebel” suddenly became a heroic martyr of Protestant resistance to the “Arbitrary Power” of the dreaded papists. This change of political power is precisely what made the publication of Henry’s narrative possible.

As we have seen, many kinds of knowledge—technical, natural, and social—were necessary to his escape. First among these was navigation, without which the eight men could never have imagined trying to escape by sea to a destination six hundred miles away. Henry gathered a compass, a quadrant, a chart, a half-hour glass, a half-minute glass, and log and line for getting bearings and plotting his course. Henry did not say where he learned navigation, but it was almost certainly during a stint in the Royal Navy, a common career choice for young physicians in his day. He was not the only Monmouth rebel with valuable maritime experience. Indeed we know from accounts of other escapes made by the Monmouth rebels that seafaring skill was central to the design. A planter named Jeaffreson of Nevis wrote that he and other plantation owners had trouble keeping their new bonded laborers “who could jump on the first ship they found, find work, and sail away.” The knowledge of medicine and of carpentry (Whicker) also came in handy.

Related to technical knowledge was a necessary multifaceted knowledge of nature, which of course navigation itself demanded—of winds, tides, latitude (accurate ways to plot longitude had not been developed), and geography. Some of this was a matter of formal education, some of it a matter of experience. Henry knew the wind patterns of the southern Caribbean, he knew the locations of the various islands. He knew political geography—where English, Dutch, and Spanish colonies were located—and he knew economic geography, the patterns of ships as they engaged in the salt trade, for example. Equally important was the knowledge of nature once he and his mates were marooned on the island of Margarita, and here it is doubtful that they would have survived if not for the pirates who shared with them the buccaneer’s knowledge of marooning amid the Caribbean ecology, and if not for the Native American whose fishing skill fed them. These were the Calibans to Henry’s Prospero, to use Shakespeare’s example of how the lowly fed and sustained one of higher station.

Neither the technical nor the natural knowledge would have been sufficient without corresponding social knowledge—how to cooperate, how to make alliances. From the beginning Henry knew that his escape would depend on a broad and various lot of people, but even he could not have known just what a big and motley crew they would be: the indebted woodcarver John Nuthall; his fellow political prisoners and transported felons; two enslaved Africans; three shiploads of pirates; a Florida Indian; fellow maroons; and numerous crews of sailors who carried him hither and yon. The “shipmates” with whom he originally came over to the island, with whom he had suffered a deadly “middle passage” (and no doubt because of it developed strong bonds), were especially important as the core members of the conspiracy, but all of the above played essential roles. The pirates, with their own hard-won wisdom about survival and traditions of self-organization, were particularly instrumental. The circulation of proletarian knowledge and experience, not to mention simple mutual aid, was perhaps the linchpin of Henry Pitman’s successful escape.

In the end, Henry’s bid for freedom required that he and his mates know how two modes of production actually, concretely worked. The first was the capitalist economy as it operated in the Caribbean and across the Atlantic—the workings of plantations and ships, colonies and imperial metropolis. The second was the communing no capitalist economy of the uninhabited islands of the Caribbean such as Margarita. He had to know the resources of the latter and be able to find the “necessaries of life” there, while he had to know the commodities, connections, and variety of workers of the former. The central lesson of Henry’s case is this: no matter how the story may be told, his escape, like almost all others, was not only not individualistic, it was collective and in this instance triply so—collective in the planning and execution by a group; collective in its sharing of knowledge; and collective in its dependence on cooperation in the division of labor.

This conclusion takes on additional meaning if we compare Henry with Robinson Crusoe, the protagonist in Daniel Defoe’s famous novel a generation later that would inspire a new generation of maritime novelists. The parallels between the real character and the fictional one are numerous: both were middling types who were enslaved and managed to escape in small open boats; both were subsequently marooned, in similar kinds of places, in similar geographic locations; both had minions, Henry his Indian, Robinson his Friday; both returned home to embrace the nation. None of this is accidental, as British historian Tim Severin has recently and convincingly shown. Although the marooned Scottish sailor Alexander Selkirk may have been the inspiration for Robinson Crusoe, Henry Pitman was the actual prototype, the literal model for the modern individualist hero. But notice what Defoe did in the translation of Henry’s story: he makes Crusoe the solitary, independent individual, shorn of all natural ties, living outside society, involved only with nature.

Crusoe would in turn pass into the classical political economy of Adam Smith, David Ricardo, and others as homo economics, the progenitor and epitome of bourgeois individualism for the eighteenth century and after. This was, of course, as Karl Marx pointed out, an illusion and a deception, both of which were necessary to the mythology of capitalism. And here we find an odd parallel, for like Crusoe, the runaway slave, the person who dared to escape the peculiar institution to freedom, has been treated in the historiography of slave resistance as the individualist, over and against the collectivist who rose in insurrection. The story of Henry Pitman shows that both judgments, about Crusoe and about the escapee, are fundamentally wrong.







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