THE Odyssey of Captain Blood, given to the world some years ago, was derived from various sources, disclosed in the course of its compilation. Of these the most important is the log of the Arabella, kept by the young Somersetshire shipmaster Jeremy Pitt. This log amounts to just such a chronicle of Blood’s activities upon the Caribbean as that which Esquemeling, in similar case, has left of the exploits of that other great buccaneer, Sir Henry Morgan.
The compilation of the Odyssey, whilst it exhausted all other available collateral sources of information, was very far from exhausting the material left by Pitt. From that log of his were taken only those episodes which bore more or less directly upon the main outline of Blood’s story, which it was then proposed to relate and elucidate. The selection presented obvious difficulties; and omissions, reluctantly made, were compelled by the necessity of presenting a straightforward and consecutive narrative.
It has since been felt, however, that some of the episodes then omitted might well be assembled in a supplementary volume which may shed additional light upon the methods and habits of the buccaneering fraternity in general and of Captain Blood in particular.
It will be remembered by those who have read the volume entitled «Captain Blood: His Odyssey» and it may briefly be repeated here for the information of those who have not, that Peter Blood was the son of an Irish medicus, who had desired that his son should follow in his own honourable and humane profession. Complying with this parental wish, Peter Blood had received, at the early age of twenty, the degree of Baccalaureus Medicinae at Trinity College, Dublin. He showed, however, little disposition to practise the peaceful art for which he had brilliantly qualified. Perhaps a roving strain derived from his Somersetshire mother, in whose veins ran the blood of the Frobishers, was responsible for his restiveness. Losing his father some three months after taking his degree, he set out to see the world, preferring to open himself a career with the sword of the adventurer rather than with the scalpel of the surgeon.
After some vague wanderings on the continent of Europe, we find him in the service of the Dutch, then at war with France. Again it may have been the Frobisher blood and a consequent predilection for the sea which made him elect to serve upon that element. He enjoyed the advantage of holding a commission under the great de Ruyter, and he fought in the Mediterranean engagement in which that famous Dutch Admiral lost his life. What he learnt under him Pitt’s chronicle shows him applying in his later days when he had become the most formidable buccaneer leader on the Caribbean.
After the Peace of Nimeguen and until the beginning of 1685, when he reappears in England, little is known of his fortunes, beyond the facts that he spent two years in a Spanish prison — where we must suppose that he acquired the fluent and impeccable Castilian which afterwards served him so often and so well — and that later he was for a while in the service of France, which similarly accounts for his knowledge of the French language.
In January of 1685 we find him at last, at the age of thirty–two, settling down in Bridgewater to practice the profession for which he had been trained. But for the Monmouth Rebellion, in whose vortex he was quite innocently caught up some six months later, this might have been the end of his career as an adventurer. And but for the fact that what came to him, utterly uninvited by him, was not in its ultimate manifestation unacceptable, we should have to regard him as one of the victims of the ironical malignity of Fortune aided and abetted, as it ever is, by the stupidity and injustice of man.
In his quality as a surgeon he was summoned on the morning after the battle of Sedgmoor to the bedside of a wounded gentleman who had been out with Monmouth. The dignity of his calling did not permit him to weigh legal quibbles or consider the position in which he might place himself in the eyes of a rigid and relentless law. All that counted with him was that a human being required his medical assistance, and he went to give it.
Surprised in the performance of that humanitarian duty by a party of dragoons who were hunting fugitives from the battle, he was arrested together with his patient. His patient being convicted of high treason, for having been in arms against his king, Peter Blood suffered with him the same conviction under the statute which ordains that who succours or comforts a traitor is himself a traitor.
He was tried at Taunton before judge Jeffreys in the course of the Bloody Assize, and sentenced to death.
Afterwards the sentence was commuted to transportation, not out of any spirit of mercy, but because it was discovered that to put to death the thousands that were implicated in the Monmouth Rebellion was to destroy valuable human merchandise which could be converted into money in the colonies. Slaves were required for work in the plantations, and the wealthy planters overseas, who were willing to pay handsomely for the Negroes rounded up in Africa by slavers, would be no less ready to purchase white men. Accordingly these unfortunate rebels under sentence of death were awarded in batches to this lady or that gentleman of the Court to be turned by them to profitable account.
Peter Blood was in one of these batches, which included also Jeremy Pitt and some others who were later to be associated with him in an even closer bond than that of their present common misfortune.
This batch was shipped to Barbadoes, and sold there. And then, at last, Fate eased by a little her cruel grip of Peter Blood. When it was discovered that he was a man of medicine, and because in Barbadoes medical men of ability were urgently required, his purchaser perceived how he could turn this slave to better account than by merely sending him to the sugar plantations. He was allowed to practise as a doctor. And since the pursuit of this demanded a certain liberty of action, this liberty, within definite limits, was accorded him. He employed it to plan an escape in association with a number of his fellow slaves.
The attempt was practically frustrated, when the arrival of a Spanish ship of war at Bridgetown and the circumstances attending it suddenly disclosed to the ready wits and resolute will of Peter Blood a better way of putting it into execution.
The Spaniards, having subjected Bridgetown to bombardment, had effected a landing there and had taken possession of the place, holding it to ransom. To accomplish this, and having nothing to fear from a town which had been completely subdued, they had left their fine ship, the Cinco Llagas out of Cadiz, at anchor in the bay with not more than a half–score of men aboard to guard her. Nor did these keep careful watch. Persuaded, like their brethren ashore, that there was nothing to be apprehended from the defeated English colonists, they had abandoned themselves that night, again like their brethren ashore, to a jovial carousal.
This was Blood’s opportunity. With a score of plantation slaves to whom none gave a thought at such a time, he quietly boarded the Cinco Llagas, overpowered the watch and took possession of her.
In the morning, when the glutted Spaniards were returning in boats laden with the plunder of Bridgetown, Peter Blood turned their own guns upon them, smashed their boats with round shot, and sailed away with his crew of rebels–convict to turn their reconquered liberty to such account as Fate might indicate.